Tag Archives: anxiety

The Conservatory of the Mind Palace

sherlock__s_mind_palace_by_firelight_12-d4oc1nhWith absolutely no disrespect meant to Benedict Cumberbatch, he doesn’t own the phrase “mind palace”.  Using the method of loci (or going to your mind palace or whatever you want to call it) is a very useful thing to do, especially if you’re like me and your memory is about as reliable as Southern Rail.  I’m currently working on a show at the VAULT Festival, and a lot of the conversations I have with my producer Kate rely upon the idea of a mind palace, because we’ve got so many things to do:

“What was that rehearsal technique I said I wanted to use next week?”
“I don’t know, dear.  Look in your mind palace.”

“We said we were going to email Adam about something.  What on earth was it?”
“Er…I dunno, let me look in my mind palace…I can’t find it.”
“Have you checked the library?”
“Yep.”
“The ballroom?”
“Yep.”
“The cupboard under the stairs?!”

So far, so silly.  But what I am discovering is that, quite apart from being just an excellent memory aide, having a mind palace is a very healthy thing to do for emotional reasons.

For example, people talk about burying their feelings or locking negative thoughts away.  This would be very easy to do in a mind palace, because you could build yourself a cellar or a dungeon or whatever else took your fancy.  However, being the proud architect of a mind palace makes you feel the need to be more creative about these things.  For example, when I come across a particular fear or worry I let it loose in the palace grounds to run around the rose garden and splash in the ornamental fountains.  Mentally ‘releasing’ bad feelings is very helpful, because you can acknowledge their existence in your life without constantly feeling the need to monitor them.  They can really get under your feet if you keep them cooped up all the time.

“Hey Vicki, nice mind palace.  Where’s your fear of commitment got to?”
“Oh, he’s running around on the croquet lawn with my concerns about career trajectory.  They’re having a great time, don’t worry.  Would you like some tea?”

The best room in my mind palace is the conservatory.  It has no strange wicker/fabric combo bits of furniture in it, and it most certainly does not have leaves all over the roof.  It is a quiet, calm room where there is always sunlight streaming in from all angles, and it’s very warm and cosy the whole year round.

The sunlight in this room is a concoction of all of the things that make me happy: memories, people and other bits and pieces of life.  Highlights include the moment in Moulin Rouge when Jim Broadbent runs away screaming “LIKE A VIRGIN!”, my friend Andy’s laugh, the smell of coffee, the Dad’s Army theme tune, cheese jokes, watching Christmas movies with my family and excitement about my best friend’s wedding next year.

The reason why I am talking about these big, small and silly things that make me happy in my mind palace conservatory is that they are a huge part of how I maintain my mental health.  I think mental wellbeing is a very specific thing, and a huge part of why we struggle with it is that we always end up feeling isolated by our own thought processes.

One of the greatest and loveliest things about the show that I’m working on is that we teamed up with mental health charity Mind.  Mind do incredible work for people who struggle with their mental health, and I am so pleased and proud that they promote conversation about what is still a pretty taboo topic.  They effectively knock on the door of everyone’s mind palace to check that they’re ok, and to reassure you that you’re never alone.  Mind palaces exist in neighbourhoods.

So to conclude, dear reader, go and build yourself a mind palace that you would love to live in, and invite people in who will appreciate being there.

Have a stupendous evening.

 

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Stress Can Sod Off

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s your day going so far?

Today I’d like to broach the awkward subject of anxiety; specifically, anxiety related to pressure and stress.  We all feel anxious, tense and worried at various points in our lives, and it can be petrifying (in the original sense of the word, i.e. it temporarily immobilises you).  Fun aside: when I was about eight years old, my family went on holiday to Norfolk and, good little Catholic clan that we are, we invited the local priest round for dinner one night.  Apropos of absolutely nothing, he kindly informed us that the word ‘petrified’ comes from the idea that the apostle Peter was the rock upon whom Christ built the Church, and that it basically means being as still and solid as a rock.  I have no idea how true this is.  Looking back as an adult, it doesn’t seem very likely.  I’ll look it up.  Anyway…

The problem with being immobilised by worry is that it prevents you from resolving the very things that are making you feel stressed.  Being so worried that you can’t think straight is no way to tackle your to do list, and giving yourself insomnia over a crisis is not going to do anyone any good.  So what the heck do we do about it?

Well, first things first: make that to do list.  Even if it’s full of jobs that that you’re sure you’ll never be able or in the mood to do, write them all down.  All of them.  Break bigger, scarier tasks into smaller ones, and include every single item that is giving you even the smallest amount of stress.  That way every item you tick off that list (including, if you like, “get out of bed”) gives you a sense of achievement, and it will make the daunting tasks seem less scary and separate from your day to day life.

Secondly, prioritise.  Which email has to be sent off first thing in the morning?  When is that job application due in?  Order the tasks in a way that honestly reflects which ones you need to do first.  If you’re anything like me (i.e. a hopeless procrastinator) you’ll probably find that those big, scary tasks have all ended up at the top of the list.  Ah…

Here’s what you do now.  You set yourself a goal – one scary task and two small ones, for example – to do today.  Be realistic about how much you will be able to do in the time that you have.  Don’t worry too much about tomorrow, or the next day, or the rest of the week.  One of the reasons that anxiety is so debilitating is because it forces us to look at the sheer enormity of our workload and it makes us feel overwhelmed.  Well, scrap that.  We only live one day at a time.

Intersperse your to do list with little rewards.  Keep it simple: a piece of chocolate, ten minutes on Facebook, a big cup of tea – and don’t integrate your treats with your tasks.  You won’t enjoy them if they’re alongside your stress.  Give yourself something to work towards, not something to distract yourself with.  Once you’ve achieved your goal, stop working for a minute and focus on enjoying your reward.

I know that this all sounds incredibly simple and obvious, but it’s surprising how little time we spend properly looking after ourselves and how, after years of exams and deadlines and suchlike, we don’t always give ourselves a chance when it comes to being productive.

So be nice to yourself, and have a stupendously brilliant Tuesday.