J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

How To Prevent Stress Spirals

Supercell by Kelly DeLay

Supercell by Kelly DeLay

Rough week, in a first-world-problems sort of way. Upgraded my Macbook Pro to a 1T internal SSD. Restoring from my SuperDuper backup didn’t work, so I had to install macOs Sierra and migrate. That meant no more support for my old M-Audio Firewire 1814 audio interface. No problem, I’ll order a Focusrite 18i20, a great piece of gear with great reviews, and documented to fully support Sierra. Got it Fedexed, unboxed the beautiful thing, spent half a day unplugging and replugging my rack (and lots of dusting). Seemed to work, except no audio AT ALL from Cubase. Okay, maybe it’s time to make the leap to Cubase 8.5. Paid for it, downloaded the 9GB installer, installed Steinberg’s latest. Tried to activate. ELicenser crashed. Tried the 35 troubleshooting steps I found on the Cubase forum. No go. I’m out about a grand so far on this “upgrade”, and no audio.

And those are just a few of my 99 problems.

Anxiety is the modern scourge. Humans in 2016 have complex lives: more information, more complex decisions, more decisions. We have it good, better than ever, global poverty plummeting, most of us with access to enough food, basic healthcare, shelter. One’s chance of dying a violent death is lower than ever. But we’re plagued with anxiety because our minds are racing, decisions are hard, and everything feels like it needs doing at once.

I’m weathering the aforementioned tech stress pretty well, but sometimes my anxiety gets the better of me, spiraling tighter until I’m paralyzed into inaction, feeling like a prisoner in my own life. The kid comes home from school having sustained a minor injury. Doctor says I’m in great health but I get a twinge here and there, will it be the thing that eventually kills me? Clients need things yesterday. I’ve got money but is it enough? A track is missing from the artist’s release. I’m low on hard drive space. House is a mess, dishes in the sink. Family member in the hospital. Kia has her own stresses, and sometimes those get to me (as mine do to her). Same for my friends. The big picture for forty-somethings is pressure from many directions, many people who need things. Would I wish these obligations away? No way, they’re what bind me to others, giving me relevance and meaning, a place in this world. But yeah, 99 problems, right?

Other times I feel bulletproof. Nothing can touch me. Obstacles appear surmountable. I knock an item off my list and look forward to taking on the next one. I sit down to attempt to create something, and the ideas are there, the right words or sounds present themselves. I hear the demands of others for what they are (most of the time): polite requests. I take care of myself, and am better able to help others. The stressors are still there, but they whisper instead of shout.

My tools work when I work them. For what it’s worth, here they are:

Accept uncertainty, make plans based on probabilities

I don’t know when or if my studio will be fully up and running. But based on past experiences, it’s highly likely I will get things working again, and probably within a week or two. Realizing that helps me calm the F down.

Clean house, mentally and physically

Mental house cleaning, for me, is a simple meditation where I let each worry or concern come to the surface of my mind, and acknowledge it, and then visualize it in a bubble floating away. Or sometimes I make a list. Or something Kia and I ask each other if we can “list our worries” and then we just vent while the other person listens and keeps asking “What else are you worried about?” until the worries get really tiny like “We’re almost out of Tapatio sauce.”

Physical house cleaning. Do the dishes in the sink, even if I didn’t make them. Straighten up. Sweep. Knoll everyone’s shoes. For borderline OCD types like me, reducing the external chaos is essential for reducing the inner chaos.

Synchronize heartbeat and brain with slow deep breathing

This is not woo-woo. Read the study. Slow, deep breaths actually synchronize your mind-body system.

The subjective feeling, when I remember to do this (for at least a minute or two) is a release of physical and psychic tension, and mild euphoria.

Anxious Times

The whole country is tense, and for good reason. Here’s hoping for a good week. Not everyone will be celebrating, but I’m hoping national stress levels go down across the board.

So that’s my approach. Other things helps too, like exercising, eating well, spending time with people I love, practicing gratitude, and trying to maintain deep focus.

What do you do to stay sane and not freak out?


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  1. J.D., Thank you for this post. For me, it is incredibly timely; between work and the election vibes, and planning the final weeks of the semester, I found myself in what I call an anxiety-tailspin this weekend. My techniques for managing the stress are to do Morning Pages (or just free write to empty my mind), remind myself that it is only a phase and think of other times I have been in a similar state, and go back through the memories connected to their passing. And I also repeat to myself (mentally), “I am the creator of my own life,” which gives me a sense of creative freedom and control over how I want to handle the decisions I need to make, and to try and make them with a sense of ease.

    • That’s a great affirmation — too easy to forget how much control we DO have and focus too much on the things we can’t.

  2. The military teaches a breathing technique to calm and center soldiers when facing life-threatening events. Don’t recall what they call it but I refer to it as 4x4x4 which describes the technique: 4 second inhale thru the nose, hold for 4 seconds, 4 second exhale thru the nose, hold for 4 seconds, and repeat. Wrote about it here: http://www.garmaonhealth.com/create-your-day-5-minutes-biohack/

  3. Hello JD, I loved your post. Sometimes it’s personal stuff like that that actually touches people, because we all have to deal with the same sh**. I wrote a post the other day about changing a flat tire that had become a very intense and annoying experience (sorry, it’s in french).

    It’s good to remind ourselves that overall the world is not going down as much as it seems when you year Trump’s speech or libertarians or lots and lots of others. Yes global violence is down and the opportunities are as real as the threats, thanks to technology, but as primates that were less than one million 10.000 years ago, we are not doing that bad.Sometimes listening to Peter Diamantis is good too

    I will check in detail all your links. I do think that accepting uncertainty (if tomorrow was written, we’d know about it) and letting go of things we don’t control help a lot.

    But after reading your post I’m going to clean my kitchen/office which is full of papers I’ve been procrastinating to fix the whole week-end !

  4. Julia

    Thanks for the post, J.D. Life lately has been very stressful in our household with work stress, my dad’s health issues, worrying about my own health and my husband’s since we are middle aged, my son getting teased at school, etc, etc. The stress was manifesting itself through some not so fun GI issues. I think I was internalizing it all too much, my husband was too and once we started talking about it, things got better all around. We are really looking forward to the winter break when we can just hunker down and not do much of anything.

  5. tools: 2x daily TM, holosync, heartmath [ I use that far less than others]; a daily buddhist practice that brings me back to gratitude, compassion for others, prayers for family friends, places, ‘enemies’.., all of it i sent blessings for healing to, and sometimes a reiki practice for myself and others. A commitment to walk 3x/day even if just for 15 minutes[ not as firm as i’d like it to be;-) but i do get up to move, get wood we burn for heat, do dishes, laundry etc.., and often am in the yard working]. My supplements: phosphatidylserine morning and night seems to reduce cortisol response[ dr sara gotfried] ; ashwhaganda helps adapt w/ greater ease to situations that arise, tulsi tea daily, and sometimes l-theanine what i believe is in basil and green tea. It also helps w/ stress. Stopping to meditate for 5-6 minutes w/ just watching thoughts arise. My stressors: money and relationship to it in my marriage w/ my husband and i having very different backgrounds and financial sources/amounts; a property i need to sell.., but keep having problems that need solving first: bats!, mold!, attachment! things needing to be fixed[ gutters, ext ptg, tubs, you name it! artwork not getting tended to,and stress [ esp $ stress] threatening to affect health, sleep and background chronic situations. Otherwise, i DO have tools, and I DO use them, i AM addressing w/ less emotion our financial discrepancies and after 20 years of it bubbling under surface, I believe my husband is listening, and we are approaching the unknown territory where we will have a better understanding and agreement about money[ yay! for that!] life is fairly golden, the day is gorgeous in south central VT, garden work is enjoyable and we are super fortunate.

  6. If you can’t find contentment now the future will fail you as well no matter if you achieve your goals or not.

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