One of the most confusing things to me in the past year has been hearing about how many people have severe problems due to anxiety. First it started with some friends of friends, then I read about NBA players, and eventually I learned that some of my closest friends and family had been suffering. I know I’m lucky to have brain chemicals that give me an optimistic/not too stressed outlook on life, but I still couldn’t understand what all of this anxiety was about. It’s understandable to me for people who are in war, in severe financial hardships, etc., but the people I knew didn’t actually have any serious issues from my perspective. Recently I think I have begun to understand first hand the feeling of anxiety.
To put out a disclaimer I didn’t have an anxiety attack or anything extreme, but I have been unconsciously in a spiral that has put me in a state of regular mental and physical tension. The weird thing is that my life is really good right now, in many ways the best that I can think of. I’m not a doctor and can only share my personal experience, but hopefully there is something helpful for you if you ever get some of these same feelings. I’ve always been pretty good at self reflection and diagnosis of my life, even if I don’t follow my own advice. This weekend after another week of clenched jaw and terrible sleep I finally realized something was wrong and decided to make some changes.
What were the signs that made me realize things were not good? Waking up every few hours with my mind racing, compulsively checking my phone/computer to give me a shot of energy, constantly tired, taking too many extra helpings of caffeine to counter the low energy, I put in 50% energy at the gym when I go, I started missing meditation sessions or quit early, I used to read over 1 book per week and now barely read non-computer based things, and my mood has been volatile. Seems bad enough right? Once I realized this I thought about how can I fix this. If the problem is stress/anxiety I need to reduce (or eliminate) as many areas that add to that as possible. Here’s how I’ve begun to self-correct, and just acknowledging this has been huge for me.
I think we all have little vices that aren’t normally bad for us, just things we do to relax our brain. For me one of those has been following the minutiae of University of Michigan football, the college I attended. The team has been pretty good the past few years, and I genuinely enjoy watching the games if they aren’t getting beat too badly. Just some extra drama in my life that is pretty drama free. The games are only once a week a few months of the year, but the recruiting and team news is year round. I follow a website that has multiple updates a day, and while I know a lot of fun/useless info about the team, when I was figuring out where are the sources of stress in my life I realized a huge one was this website.
To get extra information on my football team (and something I’ve adopted in general for news articles, tweets, etc.) I found it’s often as insightful to read comments as the actual articles themselves. People can post information anonymously, and often without the same biases that a news outlet will have. The problem for me is that these comments on a football page are the haven for other people’s fears/desires/insecurities that are magnified X 10 behind an anonymous name. When I’m in a normal frame of mind I can brush past these, but when other areas of my life have been draining me, the constant barrage of people talking about how “our team is doomed”, “we’re losers now”, “we only won because we got lucky” even after we’ve won 4 games in a row is taxing. Why do I continue to read these comments? The occasional positive comment, or some interesting info about a player, but these are buried amongst the collective anxiety/neurosis of one of the biggest college football fan bases in the world. I stopped for now.
Another drainer is Twitter. It’s actually one of the social media platforms I’ve come to enjoy over the past year, but periodically I need to do an overhaul of the people I follow. Right now I follow a bunch of crypto trading accounts in addition to some good people, looking to help me generate new ideas. I know the majority of the ideas posted for free on Twitter are terrible when it comes to trading, but I often find opposite ideas or kernels of slightly different ideas from what the people post. The downside is that I have to sift through the deranged fear, uncertainty, doom, and greed of these people too. I realized I haven’t found any meaningful ideas from here in a long time, but again pumping anxiety (especially when tired) into my brain multiple times a day isn’t good. I’m stopping Twitter for a few days at a minimum, and when I resume I’m already planning on curating a new feed (putting the crypto people into a separate list for when I want to see them in the future) of humor and positive/spiritual things.
My final major drainer has been my research and trading. This is a tricky one as it’s my profession at the moment. My results have been improving on a regular basis, yet I started fearing terrible scenarios during my last few trades. The problem, and I knew it’s been a problem but not big enough to take action on, is the constant checking of my results. Looking multiple times an hour every day at my trades when they are profitable and feeling fear that I should take the winnings now/ greed it’s going to get way better and increase my trade, and fear when I’m losing that it’s going to get worse, is not a sustainable way to live as a trader. After years of trading and playing serious poker I can only point to my mental abilities to handle stress as the thing that is seemingly my advantage, but that skill is rusty at the moment. The funny thing is that my research is all quantitative based, and the actual decisions I make are done with programs I created and feel confident in, yet I created stress from this for no reason (so ironic because I’ve been doing this over a year and it’s going better than at any point). My solution to this is to halt new research for a few weeks (I’m in a pretty sophisticated place now) and set alarms on my phone spaced widely throughout the day that I can check and adjust things at those times as necessary. If the alarms aren’t ringing wait, or check a little early if necessary for my schedule and turn the next alarm off. I’m also really working hard on my mental mindset. Just looking at my trades the same way as my computer does: the results of an algorithm, but no emotional attachment either way.
The final little things are to reduce my caffeine intake for a bit (1 cup of coffee and however much tea is fine, no abusing of coffee until things are back to normal), use a lot of the new time that is freed up from my time wasters with reading books (especially comedic and enjoyable things), and take a short trip somewhere to help reset (probably here in Puerto Rico, some really nice glamping spots in the mountains).
It’s only been a few days, but I already feel so much better. It’s just one of those obvious things, and it hasn’t even been that hard as the longer I go without any of my anxiety producing compulsive habits the better I feel. I think it will be something like a 5-10% a day tension detox until I’m back to normal.
I’m also looking forward to blogging about new things outside of me going stir crazy programming and doing data science on crypto.
For my close friends and family I want to reiterate that I’m genuinely doing well. I knew that during this ramp up of anxiety, I just didn’t realize how my actions were compounding in a bad way to make me feel otherwise, and that’s why I let things slide too far.
Leaving you with a pic of me at the beach yesterday. The ocean here is so therapeutic, it’s been equivalent to me hiking in California.