It came as no surprise to me to read that almost half of the British public are going through a life crisis. The majority of the last decade of my life has been spent in the state of a life crisis – either about to have one, in the middle of one or coming out the other side.
"WHY" is the crux of their general theme – "why am I still in my overdraft?", "why have I been single for four years?", "why did I spend all that money on drinks for that table of people I hardly know?", "why do I always have to prove to people at dinner parties that I know every word to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap? Why? WHY?"
And over the years, I've found there are some ways of avoiding them; some simple to put into practice, some a little harder. But I've found even doing just one will make difference.
1. Marvel at something massive
A personal crisis is more often than not an inward collapse of identity or confidence. One of the most healing things you can do is get out of your head, let yourself be distracted by something mind-blowing and get some perspective. Go for a walk on a rugged coastline, go stare at big trees in Kew Gardens. Go to the British Museum, look at the mummies and try to get your head round how many humans have roamed the earth with broken hearts and dreams and managed to carry on. You have a part to play in the universe, but it is only very, very small. And take comfort in that. The implosion is in yourself, not at the earth’s core. You’re a speck of dust in the air; you’re singular plankton in the sea. Float accordingly.
2. Don’t lie
If you're not careful, so much of your life can be spent performing; be it pretending there are two people in the flat when you’re on the phone to the takeaway place ordering two pad thais and eight spring rolls or faking an orgasm so your one night stand doesn’t feel let down. These lies, however big or small, engender shame and make you feel closer to a crisis.
Admit them – admit that sometimes after you come home from a dinner with friends who earn much more money than you, you buy a birthday cake from Marks & Spencer and you eat it in bed under the covers. Admit you have been having an online relationship with a Texan man called Travis you met in a chat room for two years. Admit you only wash your bed sheets once a month. If you admit it, you’ll probably change it. “You’re as sick as your secrets,” is what you’re told in AA. Lift the lies you tell from your life and you’ll start feeling lighter.
3. Don’t wash your bed sheets once a month
Come on, dude. Once a fortnight, minimum. Once a week is better. Wash them once a week and also be one of those nutters who irons them too. I PROMISE you it will make you feel better. Self-care is one of the most wonderful things you can learn and it’s nearly impossible to have a crisis when your house is clean and tidy, you’re stomping around on eight hours sleep and your body is crammed with fresh air and poached eggs on toast.
It’s the small things that make you feel invincible – not the huge lifestyle upheavals. You don’t have to be the woman who only consumes green juice three days a week or owns cashmere knickers to feel like everything’s together. Finding peace and routine happens in the habitual. I once heard Lena Dunham say in an interview that the way you know you’re being healthy is if you have developed habits you’d be proud of people knowing about. So wash your damn sheets once a week and have a shower every day.
You have a part to play in the universe, but it is only very, very small. You’re a speck of dust in the air; you’re singular plankton in the sea. Float accordingly.
4. Go outside
It’s a boring and obvious point to make but everything is clearer once you’ve gone for a walk. Go out of your way to spend as much time as possible outside. Walk to work if you can – even if it takes an hour. That’s probably as long as your commute would be door-to-door; you save money, your waistline and you can listen to nearly two episodes of Desert Island Discs.
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5. LOG OFF SOCIAL MEDIA
You’re a product of what you ingest. Read a Bill Bryson book, listen to a Patti Smith album, watch a Mike Leigh film. If you take in big thoughts and clever voices, you’ll cultivate big thoughts and a clever voice. Don’t cram your brain with an endless stream of photos of girls you don’t know in workout clothing doing peace signs then wonder why your head feels so fuzzy and lethargic.
And don’t be embarrassed if you have to be strict with yourself. There was a long period when I was wasting so much time on social media, I had to ask my flatmate to change all my passwords so I could have a monitored five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night, like a conjugal visit. God, I got a lot of work done.
6. HELP OTHER PEOPLE
It has long been a central rule of American therapy that you can’t help others until you yourself are completely happy. Well, I’m calling bullshit on this idea. I think one of the best ways to stay balanced and fulfilled is to look after other people. I don’t mean putting on apron and volunteering at a soup kitchen every night – although it’s great if you want to do that – I mean buying a Big Issue; sending your friend soup and dumplings to work when she’s having a bad day; offering to carry an elderly woman’s Tesco shop back to her house. Taking a Saturday out to help your little brother move into his new dingy flat he’s so excited about even though it smells of chicken Jalfrezi. It’s really simple – stay connected to other people and you’ll stay connected to yourself.
7. STOP GETTING DRUNK ALL THE TIME
One of the hardest pulls in life is the one between being Keith Richards or being married in Tunbridge Wells. The answer to this particular conundrum: you can be somewhere in the middle. You can have a few a drinks. Hell, you might even get drunk on the odd Saturday night. But getting pissed three times a week will have an effect on your mental health. Trust me – I’ve put the hours in on this line of research.
Think of it this way: there’s a chain of events. Three drinks at the pub = in bed by 12 = up for work at 8 feeling a bit floppy. Six drinks at the pub = onto the next pub = another few drinks = going back to someone’s house = more booze = embarrassing confession = an expensive taxi at five AM = being late for work = eating rubbish food all day = crying on your sofa = thinking about selling all your belongings and going to an ashram because you obviously are having a life crisis. You’re not having a life crisis, my friend. You’re having a serotonin crisis. Stop at three drinks and get the bus home next time.
8. YOU DO YOU
Above all else, the best way to avoid a life crisis is to put your blinkers on. And this bit is the really hard bit. Work out what you want – it might be your own business, it might be to save up money to travel the world, it might be a husband and a couple of babies – and every day keep focused on those goals and let them inform your decisions. Do not let yourself get distracted and down when you hear about other people’s journeys. Don’t convince yourself at your friend’s baby shower that all you’ve ever wanted is a baby. Don’t read an interview with a stage actress and suddenly panic that you never gave musical theatre a go and now it's too late to ever be big on Broadway. Stay focused on your path and you might just learn to enjoy it, crisis-free.