An Idle Mind is Anxiety’s Workshop

It has long been said that if your time is not being occupied with something productive, you will find yourself getting into trouble instead. I feel that the same applies to the mentally ill mind. According to an article by Origins, higher IQ is not only associated with “more and earlier drug use,” but also with more mental illness including anxiety and depression. My intelligence has always been something I take great pride in, but I also understand that it can be a curse at times.

It’s difficult to tease apart correlation and causation, but in my personal story I would say that high intelligence led to mental illness beginning at a young age, which then led to early drug use as an attempt to disassociate or slow my mind down for a while. I still love to self-medicate, but I believe that mentally healthy people have no interest in using drugs. If you are happy, you don’t feel the need to take any amount of risk in order to find relief, so why would you?

In recent years I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy. It seems like each and every moment is filled with a task or activity for me to direct my attention toward. I’ve begun to actually fear not having anything to do. I know I will start to worry, ruminate, and subsequently spiral if I’m left with nothing to occupy my mind for any significant amount of time. Even once my daily habits become too routine to demand much of my attention, I begin to notice negative, stress-filled thoughts clouding my thoughts.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

Proverb

The original quote is referring to keeping the physical body busy so that we don’t start making mischief. This is a lot simpler than keeping the mind busy, and that is especially true for highly intelligent minds that need a lot more stimulation. It’s a beautiful thing when my mind is set to work on a difficult problem or complicated task. I am energized, focused, and engaged. However, it isn’t always easy to find something my mind deems worthy of it’s full attention.

Depression and anxiety can make it hard to focus. And that inability to focus exacerbates the anxiety and/or depression. It is a viscous cycle that sometimes feels impossible to break. Similarly, depression and anxiety can cause us to lose interest in even things we once greatly enjoyed. This also makes it harder to find things to occupy our minds adequately. It’s quite difficult to focus on anything that you aren’t interested in or motivated by.

I think this is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading so much. When I’m reading, my brain is fully engaged in the story unfolding before me. My anxiety all but disappears while I’m losing myself in a book. It’s also a relief when we can redirect ourselves towards thinking about other people rather than our own problems. It requires a lot of attention and thoughtfulness to help others or work with them to solve their problems. Other people are always interesting and complex in their own way, which makes them excellent opportunities to get out of our own heads.

Sometimes my anxiety won’t allow me to focus on anything else. It tells me that it’s concerns and fears are urgent and pressing and must be at the forefront of my awareness. Then the difficult thing becomes not only finding something I’m more interested in to do, but to convince myself that it’s safe to redirect myself to that other task or train of thought.

If you notice yourself sinking deeper into depression or working yourself up into a frenzy whenever you have a lot of free time on your hands, consider implementing some safe guards to help prevent this pattern from occurring. When you find yourself in a good mental space, make a list of some activities that you enjoy or tasks you’ve been wanting to work on. Then when you have spare time, you’ll be able to refer to your list even if your mental illness has raised it’s ugly head and already begun to affect your ability to think clearing and redirect your attention.

In these stressful and/or depressed states, none of the items on your list are likely to sound very appealing to you. Just pick one and do it anyway. Trust that if you surrender to the task and allow your mind to be fully immersed in it, inevitably you will start to feel better. Don’t worry about the quality or outcome of whatever you decide to focus on. Remind yourself that it’s the focused attention you’re after, nothing more. Mental illness tends to fester in an unoccupied mind. A focused, busy mind is a happy, healthy mind.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s