Leave your worry zone
By Sophie Pélissier
Art by @fart_lyfe
Each night before bed, I sit down to write. I write so much that I’ve gone through two journals this year already, my pen pouring out ink with the enthusiasm of a wine glass filling up on a Friday. But don’t be fooled: this isn’t my debut novella, a collection of poems, or a coming of age screenplay – I’m writing a worry diary.
“I just don’t understand, you’ve got nothing to worry my about.” My dad told me, exasperated as my sleepless nights spiralled out of control last year. And it was true; my worries amounted to nothing more than the next person's, but leaving the safe family nest again after Christmas and returning to an empty flat in cold, miserable London, I sensed a rising apprehension. I was going back with the New Year’s resolution to get out of the repetitive client relations job that I was fed up of, and wondering how to fix a long-term relationship that was crumbling. On top of that I was feeling slightly frayed from having listened to the ‘Serial’ podcast about a high school murder while on the train. I switched off my light at 11, and lay in a bed of worry right through until 7. It was the start of 12 months of worrying whether it would happen again the next night, and the next…having never before known the lonely vigil of being the only one awake at night. New Year, new me indeed.
Insomnia is now a well-known millennial affliction, up there with other mental health woes of depression, anxiety, hypochondria, body dysmorphia, and more –ias I’m sure haven’t been named yet. Based on actual scientific research, national news headlines now label us as the ‘anxious generation’. But when the Formula One speed of London living collides with the urgency to keep up with our peers on Instagram, then it is easy for our fragile sense of self-belief to take a battering. Before the idea of creating the perfect life (or lie, for the more deeply cynical) on our Instagram profile became a basic requirement, nobody gave a hoot what everyone else was doing with their time, let alone scrolling through it.
So the pressure to keep up with each other is understandably huge. I’m confident that most of my friends have, are and will battle some form of mental problem at some point in their twenties. I’m certainly not the only one who has gone into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or counselling to help them keep their sh*t together. Fortunately millennials are good at breaking the silence around their problems. We laugh together about the time we had a desperate freak out on a commuter train like it was a holiday anecdote, or when we had IBS but misdiagnosed ourselves with appendicitis after panic-stricken googling.
But in the fear-addled logic of our anxious brains, our worries still take on a frightening likelihood. Anxiety is something of a bygone human function gone wrong in the twenty-first century. That punchy adrenaline rush and weird fine-tuning of your senses that make you feel like you could outrun a racehorse, despite no obvious threat other than your own mind. When it strikes at night, hey presto, now you’re an anxious insomniac.
So back to the bedtime worry diary. This is a common CBT technique that I was given to try and break the negative cycle of sleep anxiety every approaching bedtime. Insomniacs are strange, in that they forget about every normal night’s sleep they have ever had, and obsess instead over the 1 or 2 nights a week that they spend lying awake worrying about not being asleep, paradoxically. The worry diary involves transcribing all these apprehensions on a page and then challenging them with mundane questions like “how likely is this to happen on a scale of 1-10”. Pretty bloody likely, I used to think. Then curiously the rationality of the exercise started to work, and when combined with turning my iPhone off earlier and using a good old fashioned alarm clock, I started to make it to the end of the week without a single bad night. I was going to bed more often with the realisation that the self-induced roundabout of anxious thinking was rarely as believable or as scary as it would have me think.
I still have the occasional bout, like a bad cold now and then, but I have made peace with the fact that these are bound to happen. And if I were to rate the likelihood on a scale of 1-10 that someone else my age is up late worrying about something too, I’d say it was pretty bloody likely.