For those of you who are wondering, it’s Vanessa (Groove Therapy Founder) writing here from New York. It’s been almost 6 months since I moved here and I’ve loved every second of it. Having said that, there was a point at which I felt the familiar sensation of an invisible boa constrictor wrapping itself around my chest and tightening. Ahh my old friend, anxiety.
Now there’s something you need to know. This isn’t the part where I spill about how my life is falling apart. I’m good at identifying when my body is feeling anxious well before my conscious state of mind knows what’s bugging me. Better yet though, I’ve developed an incredible set of coping mechanisms that keep me on top of my mental health and life in general.
Just in case you’re a bit curious you can read on and check out the four questions I like to ask myself:
1. How am I valuing my time?
Have you ever sat back after a whole day (week/month) and thought ‘what have I even achieved?’ Personally I feel the worst when I’ve thrown away my day mindlessly watching people’s insta stories, attended time waster meetings that didn’t need to happen, sent a slew of vague, inconclusive admin emails back and forth and click-baited my way through every cat video on the internet.
I tell you what though, I learnt the value of time whilst reading Cal Newport’s the insightful book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success
in a Distracted World. a few months ago. Newport has never owned any sort of social media account and uses this to make a case for working hard, working deep and avoiding distractions so that the end result is something truly considered, original and valuable to the contribution of humanity. Newport argues that all the cases we make for needing social media accounts (i.e. keeping in touch with people or marketing our endeavours) can be swapped out with far more impactful life choices. Newport argues that for all the time we spent fracturing our attention-span could be channeled into sinking into one project at a time with more depth. Need to keep in touch with loved ones though? New suggests swapping our shallow online communication for real quality time with loved ones. The proof is in the pudding too. With no social media accounts (ever!) Newport has written a slew of best seller books, is a computer-science professor at Georgetown University and has a long list of articles published in notable scholarly journals.
Re-considering time made me realise that I could get a days work done in 3 – 4 hours. You cut the bullshit on vague emails, you set strict meeting timelines, you start your day with a list of things that need to get done and you methodically cross each of them off in a frenzy to get to the beach.
It really got me thinking – why as a society do we waste our time on such shallow screen time? You have my word that I am going to try a few tips and tricks to reduce my social media, email and clickbait habits and I will share them with you if anything sticks in the next few months.
2. Who is my community right now?
No really who is it? You’re the average of your environment and the product of the five people you hang out with the most. I’m privileged to have a loving family and emotionally mature boyfriend and this keeps my own emotions and ability to handle stress at a great level. All my girl friends are thoughtful, intelligent and pour their energy into trying to understand the world and how they can help make it a better place. Despite this though, I’ve just uprooted everything to move to New York. This means finding a community all over again. Are you surrounded by a healthy community of people? To what extent can you control this? To what extent can you find a new community (even just a weekly activity after work) that can help you feel a sense of grounding?
At Groove Therapy, you may constantly hear us say ‘we’re a community, not a scene’ and this ethos is built into the fabric of our organisation – it’s not just a marketing tagline! To us, a community is about seeing familiar faces each week, learning names, adding positive routines to people’s lives and building a fam of like-minded people.
Since moving to New York I’ve gone back to my original dance roots and enrolled in a classical Indian dance school here. I attend class 2 – 4 times per week on top of house classes every Friday, hip hop classes on Wednesdays and a heels or vogue class whenever my schedule will let me squeeze it in. After the last 6 months, being a face that your teacher and other students recognise has been huge for my mental health!
It validates my existence and lets me know that a city as big as New York doesn’t have to feel so big or overwhelming.
3. How much money do I need?
My bf just told me the most mind-blowing quote from Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy which sums up my rambling life ethos in the most simple sentence.
“If you don’t know how much you need, the answer is always more”
When I’m stressing about growth, sales and projected numbers on excel spreadsheets I like to go back to a baseline happiness budget I drew up a year ago. It’s simply a spreadsheet that lists the costs of pay rent, eating, treating myself and funding our community projects. It turns out that I don’t need to make nearly as much money as I keep stressing over. I know money is a yuck thing to talk about but honestly, a baseline happiness budget has been a HUGE reliever when putting work/money into perspective. It’s a huge cause of loosening my little invisible boa constrictor friend.
We will research, dig up and post more articles on financial health = mental health for you but until then, check out this thoughtful article on personal finance!
4. Have I danced this week?
Coming back to the tightened chest I was experiencing, as a dance enthusiast, my first question will always be ‘have I danced recently?’ In this case the answer was no. It had been some 7 days since I’ve danced and I’ve spent the evenings drinking cocktails and eating chips. This is an excess of sugar, alcohol and fried food in my system without any of the natural endorphins, cardio and self-expression that dance gives me. What is your dance de-stresser equivalent? In my bf’s case it’s surfing or getting into nature. For other people it’s lifting weights. You just need to try all the things and see what sticks I guess.
These four questions got me thinking. I was feeling unhealthy as I hadn’t danced or had a sense of routine in my life for a week. On top of that we’ve just launched online dance classes which is a scary new life chapter of the unknown and a huge load of work to put together and run.
It’s left me feeling overwhelmed, unhealthy and sluggish. So my quick fix involved the following: I had a little dance session in the hotel room, found a cool little vegan cafe that filled my body up with good nutrients and time managed the day to write a list of actionable admin goals whilst giving myself the second half of the day off with no guilt allowed!
It ended up becoming a really exciting and productive day! My tight chest was gone.
Now this was a mild tight chest situation and this is just MY way of dealing with mild anxiety. I know a bowl of veggies doesn’t just fix you but my enormous ego was sufficiently stroked by thinking I’d been mad healthy and efficient *once* and this was a huge reliever for me.
I completely acknowledge that we can’t just write down simple blanket dot points to ‘fix’ people. We’ve all walked different life paths, we’re all built differently and we’re all prone to dealing with stress differently.
I just hope that you’re not letting life slip by on this wonderful day by letting stress always get the better of you. I hope you’re taking care of yourself and maybe reading this to know that we all have good and bad days.You are not alone.
I’d also love to hear more. What are your coping mechanisms?