There’s a column in The New York Times entitled “How I Hold It Together” in which writers from the paper list six things that they find helpful when they are feeling anxious and stressed.
It’s unlikely that I will ever be a columnist for The New York Times but I don’t see why I should have to miss out on the fun and so, in celebration of what is shaping up to be a sunny and warm bank holiday weekend in England (the third this month), here is “How I Hold It Together.”
#1 I don’t.
One of the things I have learned over the years is that sometimes, fighting uncomfortable and debilitating emotions is a waste of time.
Surrender is not only easy but allowing oneself to be emotionally flattened can be surprisingly cathartic.
#2 Cook, even if it’s tearful.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a house which consists of a bedroom, a kitchen and a garden but, if there is, I would happily live in it.
There is little guaranteed to calm me down more successfully than pottering around in my kitchen.
I once spent a residential week in the Scottish borders learning how to make sourdough bread when I was in the midst of my first bout of depression.
Sad bread is better than supermarket bread, and if that isn’t written on a t-shirt somewhere it bloody well ought to be.
You don’t have to go to these lengths of course. An omelette will probably do.
#3 Walk, always with the dogs, and preferably with a camera.
If you ever need a reminder of what it looks like to “live in the moment” you have only to gaze at a dog sniffing the piss on a thistle.
I realise not everyone has a dog or even likes dogs (what’s wrong with you?) but animals in general care about what’s happening right now and, in terms of limiting anxiety, that’s as good a lesson as there is.
If more people had dogs and looked after them properly there would be less work for therapists, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.
#4 Play the guitar for badly behaved dogs.
Yes, another one that won’t appeal to all of you but think instead more broadly. Think about your hands.
The exception to this rule is when your dogs decide it’s a good time to fight behind you on the bed while you’re playing and then mount one another.
Frankly, it ruins the mood.
#5 Find more space for plants in the garden where there are no further spaces for plants.
Something has changed this year and I have noticed an enduring devotion to tending to my garden that has proven elusive previously.
The dedicated watering and thinning out. The careful nurture of seedlings until they are ready to be pushed into the sweet-smelling earth. It’s such a soothing way to spend an hour or two.
Growing something, even on a windowsill, and taking responsibility for it while you watch it grow thereby repaying your time and patience is a simple but hugely precious pleasure.
I used to feel excited about going out for an evening at the pub. Now I need little more than an attractive geranium.
#6 Take care of little Graham.
It’s probably something I do more often than I realise but, once I had reached the point (through years of therapy) where I felt a love and care for my younger self that had for so long been absent, everything changed.
In moments of emotional pain, stress and anxiety, I imagine myself as a small boy and hauling him up onto my lap for a cuddle.
I tell him that everything’s going to be OK because I’m here to take care of it.
Sometimes, it isn’t the absence of reassurance in childhood that leaves a vacuum it is simply that for some reason we could not feel it.
If none of these things works, I write about everything, and then I send it to you.