Five top tips for keeping calm and carrying on

Sometimes you must accept what you can’t control, stop freaking out and get on with your life. Here’s an exclusive extract from Sarah Knight ’s ‘Calm the F**k Down’ that will help you navigate your way through the world Five tips for calming the fuck down about the world falling apart:

LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE

An informed citizen doesn’t have to be gathering information over breakfast, on the toilet, astride an exercise bike, during their commute, AND right before going to sleep (or trying to go to sleep, anyway). A once-per-day news dump should be sufficient to keep you in the know without also keeping your blood pressure higher than Snoop Dogg. Sarah Knight BALANCING ACT

If you can’t dodge the twenty-four-hour news cycle, for every @WashingtonPost you follow, add a palliative account to the mix. I recommend @PepitoTheCat, which is just time-stamped black-and-white footage of some cat in France coming and going through his cat door, accompanied by the captions “Pépito is out” or “Pépito is back home.” I like to scroll through Pépito’s feed before bed. It’s like counting sheep, but instead you’re counting the same French cat over and over again. Trés relaxing. Pépito is back home (04:22:17) pic.twitter.com/EE72rEE3D5 — Pépito (@PepitoTheCat) January 19, 2019 BONE UP

It may seem counterintuitive, but doing a deep dive into whatever single current event is giving you the biggest case of the what-ifs can help you vanquish some of your more paranoid fantasies. For example, researching how the “nuclear football” actually works and learning that a certain feeble-minded president would have to memorise certain information in order to launch an attack may have done wonders for a certain someone’s ability to stop worrying [quite so much] about the prospect of this particular mushroom shitcloud sprouting anytime soon.

TAKE A MEMO

Drafting an angry letter— to a global leader, a local representative, or, say, morally repugnant NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch— can really get the mad out of you. Journaling is scientifically proven to help calm you down by moving all those burning, churning thoughts out of your head and onto the page. And you don’t even have to send your angry missive to reap the in-the-moment benefit, but for the cost of a stamp it might be nice to know it’ll reach its intended target. Or at least clutter their inbox, which in my opinion is a fate worse than death. DO GOOD

When I’m feeling powerless about the state of the world, one thing that brings me comfort is donating to a cause—be it a natural disaster relief fund, a local charity, or just a single person who needs a hand. Is this my economic privilege talking? Sure, but if spending my freakout funds this way makes me feel better and helps someone less fortunate, all I see is a two- for- one special on good deeds.

And “giving” needn’t require a cash outlay— you have other means at your disposal. Time and energy spent calling your reps to protest inhumane immigration practices, volunteering at Planned Parenthood, or mocking up some zesty protest signs and taking a brisk walk around your nearest city centre will help you sleep better in more ways than one. Now if you’ll excuse me, while my husband is watching the orange howler monkey’s latest antics on MSNBC, I have a French cat’s whereabouts to monitor. (Pépito is out.)

STIRRING THE SHIT

Okay, folks. We are neck-deep in part II. I trust you’re starting to see that, logically and rationally, much of the shit you worry about is unlikely to happen— and that you can do enough PHEW- ing to ensure that even the likely stuff can be made less terrible with some effort on your part. Just don’t get cocky. I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that it is possible to trick yourself into thinking you’re PHEW-ing, when what you are really doing is WILLING A SHITSTORM INTO EXISTENCE.

In psychological terms, “catastrophising” is the belief that a situation is worse than it actually is. And I promised I wouldn’t argue with you about how hard things suck for you right now. I fucking hate it when people do that. But if you do happen to be catastrophising, you may also be creating your own catastrophe— something I can and will caution you against.

That’s right: you have the ability to send a shitstorm out to sea, but also to conjure a Category 5 out of thin air. For example, if your friend Andy hasn’t gotten back to you about you taking his extra ticket for the Cubs game tomorrow night and you’re paranoid that he’s mad at you even though he hasn’t said anything specific, you might text him to be like, “Hey dude, are you pissed because I wrote your email address on that Church of Scientology sign-up sheet? Sorry, they surrounded me when I was leaving the gym and I panicked. My bad.”

And maybe he wasn’t mad at you (just busy getting off the Church of Scientology mailing list). BUT NOW HE IS. If you’d stopped to study all available data you would have realised there was no way Andy could have known you were the clipboard culprit. If you hadn’t panic-texted, he never would have put two and Xenu together and you’d be slammin’ deep dish in the box seats— no harm, no foul. Instead, you overthought it and you’re watching the game on TV with your good friend Papa John. Calm the F**k Down Other times, when a shitstorm is already tracking as “inevitable,” your actions may significantly hasten its arrival and amplify its effects. Historically, this has been a bit of a problem for yours truly. On the one hand, and as I wrote about in You Do You, my natural tendency toward anxiety can in some ways be a good thing. It helps me plan ahead, because I can envision the perils and consequences of not doing so. It helps me be prepared, be on time, and generally stay on top of my shit. But every once in a while, the anxiety, and the overthinking it enables, knocks over a domino that might never have fallen on its own.

And then I’m left picking up the whole damn pile.

THAT WAS NOT A CHILL PILL

It was finals week during my junior year of college. I had exams to study for and papers to write, and both time and energy were running low. I’d done all the research for my last remaining essay, but it was already early evening the night before it was due.

My late-nineties desktop computer sat there judging me like Judy. I was mentally and physically exhausted, at the end of an already frayed rope. I knew I didn’t have the juice— let alone the hours on the clock— to pull this one out. But as a classic overachiever and rule- follower, the prospect of not handing in an assignment on time was simply off the table. I couldn’t fail to show up at my professor’s office at 9 a.m. with dot-matrix printout in hand, and I for damn sure couldn’t beg for an extension on a final paper. That would be madness!

Speaking of which, I had started to go a little nutso myself worrying about what would happen when I blew this assignment— and in the throes of the ensuing freakout I made a Very Bad Decision in service to what I thought was Productive Helpful Effective Worrying. Can’t stay awake for the limited number of hours left in which to craft a piece of writing that will account for 25 percent of your final grade in a Harvard undergraduate seminar? Accept two mystery pills from a friend who tells you “This will keep you up and help you focus!”

NARRATOR: It kept her up. It did not help her focus.

By dawn I was thoroughly cracked out, defeated, and dehydrated from an hour or so of inconsolable sobbing triggered by the realization that I was definitely not going to finish this paper on time. Since swallowing the mystery pills I’d spent ten hours growing increasingly frantic, my heart thumping in my chest, fingers shaking over my keyboard, and pacing my dorm room like an extra in Orange Is the New Black.

Now it was time to swallow something else: my pride.

Still huffing and snuffling, I pecked out an email to my professor. Rather than compound my sins by concocting a dead grandmother or severe tendinitis, I decided to tell her the truth— that I had backed myself into a corner time-wise and attempted to rectify my [first] mistake with an influx of energy-by- what-wasprobably- Adderall. I was sorry and ashamed and had generated four pages of gobbledygook instead of fifteen pages of cogent argument. I needed an extra day.

Then I collapsed onto my futon and waited for the other Doc Marten to fall. (As mentioned, it was the late ‘90s.) My professor didn’t curse or rage or threaten to have me expelled. She was matter-of-fact about the […]

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