Everyone gets stressed. When we do, it’s easy to look for ‘the cause’. For the one thing responsible for your stress – as if there is ever only one thing. Sometimes we find something and cling to it: it’s my commute; my huge project at work; my uncle being sick. Those big things that are clearly responsible.
But it’s never just those big things. Everything is connected.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past year. Shortly before Mundane Magic was released, I was very sick. When trying to work out what was wrong, my doctor took some blood tests, looking for hormonal problems. They showed, to my surprise, that I was stressed: my stress-related hormones were markedly elevated. When I explained that I have a severe anxiety disorder, the doctor said that probably went some to explain the levels.
This was a strange experience for me. I’ve had tests in the past to make sure my mental health problems weren’t rooted in any physical cause, but none had ever shown anything. It was overwhelming, this far into my diagnosis, to be told that physical evidence of my anxiety had been found.
Based on that and the results, the doctor suggested that part of the problem – the other part being a severe vitamin deficiency – was not just that I was anxious, but that I was stressed. And so I started to wonder what it was that was causing it.
Obviously, I was publishing a novel, and that was pretty intense. I was preparing for some other projects as well, and I was stressed by the fact that I was ill. But as time went on and I started to work out how I could reduce those causes of stress, I began to realise that it wasn’t actually the big things that were the problem.
It was the quiet, small, insidious ones: the house being messy; the bathroom being so in need of decorating it’s awful to clean; the emotional labour of waiting. The things that don’t scream “cause of stress” at you, but build up and up like an invisible layer.
So my greatest advice if you’re struggling with stress is to look for those little things. Because often, the big things aren’t things you can do a lot about in the immediate term. It might be financially impossible for you to leave your job, you might be locked in a tenancy that stops you sorting your living situation, and you certainly can’t cure someone you love just by wishing.
But you can deal with a lot of the little things.
I started doing just 15 minutes of cleaning every day: slowly, I won the battle against the house, and got it to a manageable level. We pushed on and did more decorating, so even though our bathroom still isn’t done, I now feel more optimistic that it’s something we’ll get to in the near future. I couldn’t stop myself feeling the awful anticipation of waiting for things, but I try to be more compassionate towards myself in those times.
So work out what your little things are. See what you can do to alleviate them. Because you never know – they might be weighing on you heavier than you think.