Taming Clive, the anxiety monster

This is Clive. Clive is a motherfucker but he doesn't scare me.

I have lived with varying degrees of anxiety for as long as I can remember. But don’t worry – this is not going to be one of those posts about racing hearts and hyperventilation taking over my life to the point that I can’t leave the house. There has been that, but that’s long gone now.

If we met, you probably wouldn’t have any idea this is going on in the background. I am boringly normal on the outside, for the most part. (If you want to know what goes on inside the head of an anxious person, check out this hilarious checklist on Buzzfeed – how many can you tick off?)

Instead, I have made friends with my anxiety. He is like an unwanted house guest that I know I won’t be able to get rid of, so I have made up the spare bedroom, but not with the good sheets. I know he’s here to stay. And yes, I know it’s a ‘he’ – he just is. I call him Clive.

Clive hangs around in the background and makes me painstakingly pick over every conversation I have had during the day to work out whether I talked about myself too much/interrupted others too much/didn’t ask enough questions about them. He means I let chaos in my house stress me out to the point I think I will lose my shit if anyone leaves another juice carton on the bench instead of putting it back in the fridge (although, to be fair, just put the fucking juice back in the fridge, seriously). And Clive loves me to keep my hands busy – nail biting, scratching at my skin or playing Wordchums on my phone because I cannot bear to be still for a second.

nataliedee.com
nataliedee.com

But Clive and I have an arrangement. Clive knows his place these days. I let him have those little pleasures and he agrees to leave the big stuff to me. The stuff that means I am confident in myself, that I can walk down the street and meet new people and work as a freelance writer – all without doubting who I am and what I am capable of. And that’s because I have reached a stage where I have established who is boss in this relationship. I wear the pants, Clive, not you.

Here are some simple Clive-controlling strategies. Maybe they can help you take charge of your Gerald, or Malcolm, or Persephone:

  • Exercise – exercise releases endorphins, which make us feel fab. Clive doesn’t like exercise. He tries to tell me to stay in bed a bit longer and snooze instead. I tell Clive to shut up, and lace up my running shoes before he can convince me otherwise. (If I don’t go first thing in the morning, Clive generally wins.)
Eat my dust, Clive!
Eat my dust, Clive!
  • Sugar-free diet – I mostly eat sugar-free, but I’m reasonable about it. I know sugar doesn’t cause anxiety, but I also know that eating sugar makes my anxiety worse. You can read more about it here if you like. Clive loves lollies. Bad Clive!
  • Meditation – I have long been a fan of meditation for controlling anxiety. It creates a beautiful stillness that is hard to achieve any other way. If you have trouble taming your monkey mind, there are some great apps that can help. There is a wonderful hypnosis one (which, let’s face it, is just another way of meditating) specifically for anxiety called I Can – Anxiety Free. Clive very often tells me I don’t have time to do this, and sometimes I believe him. I am working on getting more consistent with this one. It’s gold – totally worth it.
  • Yoga – breathe, stretch and relax. There are loads of websites with some great poses specifically for relaxation – here is one. But regular yoga classes create a beautiful space for you to get away from everything and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I go once a week and it makes a huge difference. Sucked in, downward facing Clive.
  • Herbs – there are many that various people swear by but my favourite is tulsi. I drink it as tea and sometimes take it in tablet form. Tastes great to humans; bad to Clive. I really notice the difference if I’m feeling stressed out and take some tulsi.

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  • Listen to music – some of you lovely Cartellians helped me put together a great ‘happy’ playlist a while back. I listen to this when I am in need of a pick-me-up and it works every time. Find music that makes you happy and dance, sing loudly (and in my case, badly), bash pots and pans in time with the music. Whatever pisses Clive off.
  • Acupuncture – I have only just started seeing an acupuncturist to try to get a handle on Clive and his cheeky shenanigans. But I like what I have experienced so far. How does shoving a whole lot of needles in my belly and my forehead stop Clive taking over my life? Like this.
  • Minimise spare time – I may complain about how busy I am from time to time, but I know that being idle is my worst enemy. I work, I have three kids, I blog, I exercise, I visit friends, I pretty much do anything to ensure I am not sitting still. I hate sitting still. Clive digs it.
  • Take the ‘will this matter in five years?’ test – whenever I find myself getting worked up over something, I try to take a birds’ eye view of my life. Like I’m looking down at it as an uninvolved observer. And I think, “Will this matter in five years?” The answer is inevitably no. And I feel able to separate myself from the emotion of a situation. Clive loves unreasonable emotion.

So that’s it. Clive lives here, but he’s not running the asylum, and that’s good enough for me.

What about you? Do you have any Clive-control strategies to share?

Written By

Carolyn is the editorial director of Champagne Cartel and a freelance writer. In her spare time she is a long-distance runner, peanut butter enthusiast, and single mum to three incredible humans.

53 Comments

  • I always do the ‘does it matter in five years time’ test and it really works. Such a great list. I’ve never tried those herbs. I will look out for them. I think it’s absolutely brilliant you’ve named your anxiety. It brings such a sense of humour and acceptance I guess to it. I have a painfully annoying constricted throat issue when I’m stress. I seriously need to come up with a better name than constricted throat. You’ve got me thinking now …

  • Oh god I know Clive and all his mates! Christmas is bring out the very best of them this year. Great tips and reminders , thank you amazing and most beautiful Champagne Carolyn.

  • Nice article Carolyn. I’ve come to accept that anxiety is a part of who I am and something that will always be present in my life, and that simple acknowledgement is the first step to taming it. I’ve gotten a bit lax with my meditation and exercise though, and only get back into the day or two before I know I’m likely to have an issue – which is not that effective. I need to start putting time aside at the start of my day too and stop letting the ‘more sleep’ argument win.

      • You know, sleep is quite a funny thing Carolyn. I used to get very anxious about getting enough sleep and how important it was to be in bed for 8 hours or else I would be tired in the morning and that would make me feel stressed and anxious and unwell and headachey and I’d probably get an upset tummy from the headache and then the whole day would be a disaster….(yes that was how my mind would process it). I would look at the time when I went to bed and then decide on what time I should get up based on it being 8 hours after I turned the light out. Of course being anxious about getting enough sleep generally meant that even though I was in bed, I wasn’t actually sleeping, especially if I had something important on the next day. But for the last couple of months I’ve been trying something different. I saw this tip on Coping with Jane about accepting that some times you will be tired and not worrying so much about the exact number of hours you sleep. So I stopped paying attention to the time I went to sleep and now I get up when I feel like it (or the alarm gets me up), and even though I am sometimes a bit tired, I am no longer concerned that a bit of tiredness will turn my day into a disaster. Stopping stressing about sleep and accepting tiredness as something that happens has actually improved my anxiety.

        • Thanks for sharing that, Glenda – that’s so fascinating! I love Coping With Jane – she has some great advice, and I think you’re right – if you have trouble falling asleep, lying there worrying about it is definitely not going to help. I don’t have trouble falling asleep because I have a precious little bundle that wakes me every morning between 4am and 5am. My trick is that I get so excited to have that ‘adult’ time to myself at night that I tend to stay up late reading or faffing about on the computer. Then the next day I am exhausted and a bit of a psycho hose beast.

          I have been reading a book called Eat, Move, Sleep about the correlation between the three factors in our lives. So if we don’t sleep well, we are too tired to exercise, and make bad food choices – and then aren’t physically tired enough to sleep early enough the following day. I love the theory of it but still working on the practice! Getting out for a run in the morning isn’t always easy but I do it a few times a week and find it helps enormously.

  • Brilliant work, you wonderfully successful lady, you!
    The ‘keeping busy’ part was what spurred the foundation of The Urban Nanna, so I can totally dig what you’re getting at there. 🙂

    One thing I’ve been trying to do instead of telling my anxious personality (I call her 8- something that came out of a hypnosis-based session with my lovely psychologist) to shuttup when she’s being mean to me, is to create another, more forgiving and supportive personality take up residence as well.

    Her name is Martha, and she is wont to state – out loud – how well I’m doing and how proud she is of what I’ve done already that day/week/month etc if 8 starts getting bitchy. She also talks to 8 and calms her down in a kind of teacherly/grandmothery type voice and listens to her fears and tells her it’ll be ok, so she doesn’t always feel like she’s getting told off.

    It may seem a bit over the top and leaning towards MPD, but I’ve recognised that being actively and vocally kind to ALL the parts of me that exist is a strategy that leaves me feeling more calm and less of a failure for having anxiety in the first place.

    Thanks for sharing your list and your ideas- this was a great read!
    Xo

    • Oh that is all kinds of awesome! I love Martha! She is totally invited to my house now too. That is such a great strategy, thanks for sharing. I tell you what, if I could do any of those awesome crafty things you do, I would be doing that too. Every few years I buy a pair of knitting needles and some wool and try to teach myself to knit, to no avail. Even youtube clips for kids can’t help me!

  • Annd from The Urban Nanna wanted me to put this comment on (she’s not on WordPress):

    Brilliant work, you wonderfully successful lady, you!

    The ‘keeping busy’ part was what spurred the foundation of The Urban Nanna, so I can totally dig what you’re getting at there.

    One thing I’ve been trying to do instead of telling my anxious personality (I call her 8- something that came out of a hypnosis-based session with my lovely psychologist) to shuttup when she’s being mean to me, is to create another, more forgiving and supportive personality take up residence as well.

    Her name is Martha, and she is wont to state – out loud – how well I’m doing and how proud she is of what I’ve done already that day/week/month etc if 8 starts getting bitchy. She also talks to 8 and calms her down in a kind of teacherly/grandmothery type voice and listens to her fears and tells her it’ll be ok, so she doesn’t always feel like she’s getting told off.

    It may seem a bit over the top and leaning towards MPD, but I’ve recognised that being actively and vocally kind to ALL the parts of me that exist is a strategy that leaves me feeling more calm and less of a failure for having anxiety in the first place.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and your list- this was a great read!!
    xxoo

  • Clive is a MOFO and lives in my head too. Running gets rid of him, avoiding caffeine and I found the best lavender tea by Madame Flavour today. Worked a treat! When Clive is being really irritating, I clean the house. Ultimate OCD but whatever works, hey.

    • Alex, if Clive is ever bothering you, feel free to come to my house and clean too. I wish he affected me that way! Thanks for the tip re Madame Flavour tea. You know, you are the third person to mention that tea to me in the past two weeks. That’s the universe telling me I need to buy new tea (I love buying new tea!).

  • I have a Clive too but my ‘friend’ doesn’t have a name. I try to ignore it (see, it doesn’t even have a gender!) but it can be hard to shake. I’m always busy too and half joke that I keep myself busy so I don’t have to think too much – bloody Clive!

  • There are some great tips here Carolyn. I don’t really suffer from anxiety per se, but there were quite a few things here I could really relate to (over analysing every conversation etc.)
    I know what a huge difference exercise makes for my mood overall. There are days when I feel so overwhelmed I don’t want to do it, but I know not doing it will make it even worse, so I push through, and I’m always glad I did.

    • Absolutely, Jess! I still have loads of days where I don’t feel like exercising but it is so important and I am trying to get more consistent. And if nothing else, it is a break from work, kids, home, etc. to spend with yourself (which can be great but sometimes confronting in itself).

  • You are so awesome! I wish I had such good control of my anxiety, at the moment some little yellow pills keep it in it’s place but I also use mindfulness to work through the intrusive thoughts and the ‘what ifs’.

    • Thanks Annaleis, it’s amazing when you start talking about it, just how many people can relate. We are all so busy trying to seem ‘normal’ that we fail to realise just how many others around us are going through the same thing. (And I reckon anxiety is overrepresented in bloggers – I’m sure there is a thesis in that for someone!)

  • I LOVE THIS – I used to have a very enthusiastic Clive but over the years, and since having kids I just don’t have the time or energy to listen to him anymore. He does still make me over analyse shiz WAY too much, but that might just be because I let him. Right now I need to use that 5 year rule, got a major shit fight happening in my life right now and I need some perspective, thanks lovely x

    • Hey Emily, I think you are absolutely right about having kids – I am definitely more assertive and worry less what others think of me since having kids (or it could just be getting older too). But I have always struggled with that period when they are tiny and you are sleep-deprived and spending loads of time alone at home. Luckily I am coming to the end of that for the LAST time! So sorry to hear there is a shit fight going on in your life. I hope it sorts itself out in the best way possible very soon. (Hey, BTW did I see somewhere you are going to the Digital Parents Conference? If so, save me a deckchair – we need to have a drink!)

  • I am so hearing you on this one, what a great post! The last few mores for me have been huge for personal development, I’ve learnt my anxiety and need for control come from fear and if I can deal with what I’m afraid of I can keep a lid on everything else. I love your tips for dealing with it though, thanks for sharing.

  • I can totally relate to this! I have severe anxiety disorder that went into overdrive when I had my baby. I currently control it through drugs lol and aside from that – exercise, proving myself wrong (i.e. turning my thoughts that I can’t do something into a challenge whether I can), take small steps instead of big steps. Mine is not called Clive, but my psychologist refers to it as “monkey mind” because I have a million thoughts at once. I like to acknowledge monkey mind and then do the opposite of what its telling me.

    Oh and to prove just how crazy my anxiety is, these are the points that relate to me from that list – 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 & 22 (and thats after being on drugs!). I am getting a lot better though. I described to my therapist today that being on zoloft makes me feel like I’m drunk – you know how you get that awesome confidence when your drinking and don’t care about being embarrassed or what people think? I feel like that and its great.

  • Another great post, Carolyn. I love the idea of giving anxiety a name to take away some of the control it has over us. So interesting reading the comments too, great community happening here!

  • I have had anxiety all of my life and only starting to accept it now and go with the flow a little more. Never thought of giving the little bastard a name … so yes I will do that. Cause yes I do wear the pants. Love this post!

    • I think that’s such a great moment, Gayel, when you stop railing against it and just learn to live with it. Everyone has crap they live with – Clive is mine. Let me know when you give yours a name – maybe he or she can have playdates with Clive. 🙂

  • Wow, can definitely relate to everything you have said! I know I struggle with anxiety and it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, but I am facing more things I didn’t face when I was a teenager.MY anxiety actually takes a toll on my body as well my blood pressure rises so high you’d think I needed to be on medication to control it, and I know, I’ve had my BP taken whilst anxious, or really taking my BP makes me nervous! I’ve heard the use of some herbs and scents like jasmine help with anxiety but never used anything, don’t know where to buy it so I tend not to try those things out. But am hoping to find some sort of hot tea that will help me get to sleep at night and not stay awake for hours mulling over past events and future events which I have no control over!

    • Thanks for your response, Katie-Ellen. It’s tough to stop it taking over your life, isn’t it? I can’t recommend acupuncture highly enough. And Tulsi tea has been amazing for me too (available from health food shops). I hope you get on top of it soon. xx

  • I found your post on a particularly hard night dealing with “Clive”, and I have to admit I bawled like a baby! Finally, someone who understands! I’m not alone after all. I’m going to keep this article close by and practice these tips! Thank you! 🙂

    • Oh Tracey, you absolutely made my day with that comment! I am beyond pleased that anything I have written has helped someone else to feel better. Sorry it’s taken me a while to respond – I’ve been a bit unwell (and truth be told, Clive most likely had a huge hand in that) but feeling much better now. And ready to take on Clive yet again. He never goes home, the fucker, but I find new and interesting ways to make his stay as uncomfortable for him as possible. Stay tuned – I have another couple of posts coming up on how to beat Clive about the face and head with sharp and heavy objects. Much love to you. xxxx

  • Fabulous post, Carolyn! I think so many people generally relate to feeling anxiety and keeping their anxiety monster hidden away. If David Attenborough narrated a documentary on the anxiety monster, he’d probably tell us that the nifty thing about these not-so-little critters is that they thrive when they’re kept hidden, and they feed on yummy things like tiredness, not eating well, and when their human is not taking time out for herself they can go bananas and double in size!
    I also like what you mention about minimising spare time. I think we can often take slowing down as keeping time to do nothing – but this can quickly turn into hours trapped in a room surrounded by empty packets of sea salt kettle chips, empty wine bottles and our anxiety monster having the time of his life vegging out and watching re-runs of Come Dine With Me. I love your site because it encourages women to take time out for themselves but inspires them with things they can do with that time to boost their wellness, happiness and spirit.
    And mine? Dudley.

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