Hi friends! I have been incredibly itchy the past week or so, from my scalp to my toes. It got to the point where I would have my camera off during work Zooms or I was so incredibly itchy that I had to tap out of meetings because I couldn’t possibly pay attention while constantly scratching my body.
At first I thought it was an allergic reaction. I am a person with many allergies so it was the logical reason. I thought about what I ate recently (was it anything new?) or did I use a different soap or lotion or detergent? The only thing that I had that I’d never had before was coffee that was a gift. So, I tried a different coffee the next day. Still itchy.
Then I had a flashback to senior year of college during finals. I had broken out in shingles from the stress.
I put two and two together and yeah, you guessed it. Stress and anxiety can cause itchiness because your body’s stress response may kick into overdrive. Last night I had a good night’s sleep. I woke up relaxed and itch-free. About an hour into my work day and having looked at the internet a bit, the itching started back up.
I’ve talked about burnout and completing the stress cycle in previous issues of this newsletter. But let’s be real: most people aren’t going to read a whole ass book right now, especially when focus is nowhere to be found for anyone I know. Also, I am not going to insult you by saying, “hug it out!” or “exercise it away!” because the amount of stress we are all under due to the pandemic, the attempted coup, and many other things depending on our demographics and lives is not going to go away after we make some macaroni art.
I saw this Tweet from Hillary Dixler Canavan a few weeks ago:
“My husband said something that’s really helped me think about where everyone is at emotionally, why everyone seems mad at you or like you can’t do anything right: ‘Everyone needs more than anyone can give right now.’”
This tweet has haunted me for weeks. It is so accurate and especially hard for those of us who often do a lot of labor for other people, whether that be partners or friends or parents (hello to all of my fellow only-children!) and we don’t even have the capacity to take care of our own needs and mental health right now much less anyone else’s. Nor are other people’s feelings our responsibility but that’s a whole other post for a whole other time. We are simultaneously “in this together” and “on our own” in a way that has not occurred, at least, perhaps, not in living memory. Definitely not with our access to information in the same way.
So what do we do? How do we manage? I honestly don’t know the answer to this and it’s going to be different for everyone. That being said, I will share the things that I’ve started doing to help me manage as best as I can. Tiny things that make it so I at least can get out of bed (it’s increasingly harder) and can function enough to do some work and write this newsletter. Maybe these things will help you too or guide you to something more suitable.
End of day meditation ritual
Historically, meditation has not been my thing; however, I have health coverage under Kaiser Permanente and they are currently offering access to the Calm App for free for members (Have Kaiser? Look here). I’ve started to do 10 minutes of guided meditation via the app immediately at the end of my work day for my day job. Like, immediately. I do not go onto any websites or check my phone messages after I finish my day job. I sit with my headphones on and meditate. I am creating a ritual to tell my body “okay, the necessary day job portion of your day is done. You are now free to do things for yourself, your home, and your family.” I view it a bit like how Mr. Rogers would come home and put on his cardigan and his house shoes to signify he is comfortable and at ease. The first few days of doing this were difficult but after a couple weeks of doing it, I now find that I crave those ten minutes of just sitting with my eyes shut and focusing on my breathing and body.
You definitely don’t need a paid app to do this! YouTube has many guided meditations available. I did a quick search for “guided meditation for anxiety” and got plenty of hits. There are also many for guided breathing which seem pretty useful.
No phone in bed immediately pre-sleep or post-wakeup
Last week I gave a bunch of resources for putting your phone down. Personally, I find that turning off my phone wifi and having a little willpower goes a long way. It’s just enough for me to reflexively pick up my phone, see I have no notifications, remember that I have my wifi off and WHY, and set my phone back down. Not having dozens of notifications when I wake up is also really good for my brain. I can get up, take meds, use the bathroom, etc. and fully awaken before I deliberately start the deluge of information and news.
Taking breaks from electronics (mostly the internet)
These breaks are usually only 5 - 10 minutes. I get away from my laptop and phone and consciously do something that doesn’t involve either. Make a pot of tea. Read a couple pages of a book. Floss my teeth. Put a couple things away or dust something. Take out the recycling. These break up the firehose of news and awfulness constantly being shoved into my brain. It will not put an end to any of it, but it gives my brain and body a few moments of respite.
Okay, yes, my focus is shit right now just like most everyone else’s. I have to read for my side-gig so I don’t really have a choice to NOT read; however, having something to read has been an absolute savior. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy or important, but it can be. It can also be sci-fi graphic novels or favorite books you’ve already read or erotica or fantasy or anything else. Rereading old favorites can actually be super helpful for those who lack focus for new things and want to escape into the comfort of familiar characters and no surprises. It’s likely that unlike me, you don’t have any parameters on what you can read so read what makes you feel good.
If there are things that help you feel grounded or sane during this time, I would love to hear about them and share them with others.
That’s it for this week! You can shop any books I’ve mentioned in this newsletter at The Infophile’s Bookshop and support independent bookstores. If you want to send me some snail mail, you can find me at P.O. Box 21481, Oakland, CA 94620-1481. If you enjoy this newsletter, please subscribe, share it with a friend, and/or give me a tip!