Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com A Guide for Anxious Humans Sat, 24 Mar 2018 10:43:42 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 I’m Anxious – What Do I Do Now? http://www.walkingoncustard.com/im-anxious-what-do-i-do-now/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/im-anxious-what-do-i-do-now/#respond Sat, 24 Mar 2018 10:41:56 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2813 Quite often, I get asked “what should someone do after they realise they’re anxious?”

There’s no definitive answer to that question – every person and every situation is different, so it’s impossible to give one-size-fits-all advice.

But there are a few ideas which might help someone figure out the next step for them…

First, …

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Confusion by QuinnDombrowski, on Flickr

Original Photo © Quinn Dombrowski, QuinnDombrowski on Flickr.
CC BY-SA 2.0

Quite often, I get asked “what should someone do after they realise they’re anxious?”

There’s no definitive answer to that question – every person and every situation is different, so it’s impossible to give one-size-fits-all advice.

But there are a few ideas which might help someone figure out the next step for them…

First, it might be worth acknowledging that simply recognising anxiety is the problem is a big step. It took me years of constant anxiety before I realised a) that wasn’t normal and b) there were things I could do about it. Even admitting the problem exists can be a relief!

After that, though, things can get very confusing. I was drowning in advice and options and strategies.

(Admittedly, this is better than drowning in anxiety itself, but when you’re already exhausted from being constantly anxious, it’s hard to make decisions even about what steps to take to make it better.)

If you’re in a similarly confused state, here are some potential avenues to explore.

Although! Please remember that these ideas may or may not work for you, and that that’s fine.

It just means that isn’t the right idea for you! It’s easy to jump into catastrophic thinking like “OH GOD THIS SOLUTION EVERYONE SAYS HELPS DIDN’T HELP ME; I’M A HOPELESS CASE; I’LL BE ANXIOUS FOREVER”. After all, that kind of thinking is what the anxious brain is really, really good at..!

1) Accept the Anxiety

In my experience, fighting anxiety only feeds it further. Thinking thoughts like “I hate anxiety! I wish I wasn’t anxious! Anxiety go away!” only magnifies it.

It feels wrong, but forcing myself to think things like “oh, hello anxiety, I’m totally relaxed about you being here again” is very helpful for massively reducing my anxiety. And this frees up energy to take other steps.

(I wrote a fairly silly post a few years ago which explores this dynamic a little more.)

2) Believe you can do something about it

One of my least favourite anxious feelings is the fear that terror will never go away, that I’m condemned to feel constantly afraid forever. But I no longer believe that is true.

It may (will?) require help – and the feelings may only be reduced, not eliminated – but hold onto the hope that you will not feel this way forever: feeling better is possible.

3) Acknowledge it’ll require some change

Clearly, continuing exactly how you are won’t help.

Something has to change; whether its some habitual negative thoughts, your environment, your internal chemistry, or whatever.

And any change requires at least a little effort.

This effort doesn’t have to be scary. It might be good to start with tiny, achievable changes – like taking a walk, or drinking some water, or breathing slowly for literally five seconds every now and then.

These tiny changes might just break the anxious cycle of ruminating on whatever your anxiety is currently fixating on, and from a slightly more relaxed position, a slightly bigger change might appear more achievable.

4) Find help

This is the big, obvious one. (This perhaps ought to be step #1, but I wanted to focus first on a few little things you can do yourself.)

It can be scary to talk to somebody else about anxiety for the first time. But, in my experience, people tend to react overwhelmingly positively to genuine requests for support.

(Of course, it helps if you’re already friends with the person and not, say, talking to a supermarket cashier at the time. Judge for yourself where is a sensible place to look for support!)

Whether it’s your friends, family, peers, colleagues, school pastoral support, a group you’re part of, a local charity, a therapist, a doctor, an online community, or anything else, it’s really helpful to find a place where you can be supported.

Of course it’s possible to achieve a lot on your own – there are tonnes of resources, blog posts, books, self-care ideas out there – but remember that working on anxiety isn’t a straight line from “ANXIOUS” to “NOT-ANXIOUS”, so it’s incredibly useful to have somebody you can vent to whenever you inevitably dip back down into “ANXIOUS”.

5) Don’t worry when anxiety comes back

Okay, saying “don’t worry” is admittedly a bit ridiculous. If I could just ‘not worry’, then most of my problems would already be solved!

But you know what I mean! Accept in advance that you can’t just flip a switch and fix everything.

There will be days when you feel better, and days when you feel worse.

The aim is to move towards having more of the good days, and fewer of the bad – but having a bad day isn’t a reason to freak out. It doesn’t mean all is lost, it doesn’t mean all your effort was for nothing, it simply is what it is: a bad day.

6) Perhaps choose a single improvement and work on it for a short time

It’s great that you have so many options for changing things, any of which might help with your anxiety! But it can also be overwhelming.

Should you aim for more sleep? A better diet? More exercise? Therapy? Meditation? Undoing a common thought pattern which gets you stuck in an anxious cycle?

Even listing all the possibilities can be anxiety inducing!

Try to recognise that you have limited resources right now (this is one of the sneaky ways anxiety traps you – it sucks up your resources so you can’t fix the thing that is sucking up your resources!), and resist the temptation to declare “I am changing my entire life and will live well FOREVER!”

Instead, perhaps choose a gentle, achievable commitment like “for the next couple of days I’m going to eat more vegetables”. Or take a quiet walk for ten minutes. Or notice when I’m stuck in an anxious loop. Or whatever.

Your brain might object, with something like “eating more vegetables won’t solve our problems!” And if so, your brain is correct! This isn’t supposed to solve all your problems. It’s merely supposed to help.

Thinking that any one thing CAN solve all your problems might even be part of the problem in the first place! We can obsess over finding the one thing that will fix everything, and just give ourselves new sticks to beat ourselves with.

(“I failed at my million self-improvements today, I’m terrible and deserve to be anxious forever” is an anxious trap I’m very familiar with)

Over time, lots of tiny helpful actions add up to increased energy and decreased anxiety. None of them individually solves anything much, but together they help us to feel better.

7) If you can, use the good days to work on the roots of the problem

When you have a good day, it’s tempting to stop putting effort into self-improvement (or whatever you want to call it).

Unfortunately, this can just lead to a cycle – feeling bad, so taking actions to feel better; feeling better, so stopping; then feeling bad again.

In the better times, it seems wise to spend some energy on deeper analysis – where did the anxiety come from in the first place? What’s the deep root of it?

This is hard work, and may well require assistance from friends or, ideally, professionals. But it’s this foundational work which leads to a more resilient life, and keeps us off the custard for longer.


I hope these thoughts might be helpful. This post isn’t exhaustive, or universal – some of it may work for you, some may not, and I’m absolutely sure there are plenty of aspects I’ve not touched upon.

But hopefully this can help you find a starting point when you’re confused.

If you have other tips for someone just figuring out how to begin tackling anxiety, then please share them in the comments!


No unachievable ambitions were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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The Examined Life Is Not Worth Living http://www.walkingoncustard.com/examined-life-not-worth-living/ Fri, 23 Feb 2018 14:13:40 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2820 “The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

THOUGHT: The over-examined life isn’t exactly worth living, either.

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“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

THOUGHT: The over-examined life isn’t exactly worth living, either.

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What Am I Doing?! http://www.walkingoncustard.com/what-am-i-doing/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/what-am-i-doing/#comments Thu, 25 Jan 2018 11:47:41 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2742 I rarely talk about my actual life on this site. So today, an update.

In short, it’s fine.

But, in long, there are two big projects to update you on:

Another Book – And This One’s a Novel

I wrote another book!

This one is an adventure set in the pre-life (a world …

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I rarely talk about my actual life on this site. So today, an update.

In short, it’s fine.

But, in long, there are two big projects to update you on:

Another Book – And This One’s a Novel

I wrote another book!

This one is an adventure set in the pre-life (a world like the afterlife, but before we’re born), all about the magical shop where humans choose what kind of person to be when they get born down on Earth.

Readers of Walking on Custard will recognise The Shop Before Life from the very brief short story… but it turns out there’s a whole world around the Shop to explore, full of mysteries to discover, and questions about life & death, and who we are, and who we become.

So far, the feedback has been absolutely lovely.

(If I may permit some mild showing off, one early reader said “I want to make fan art of it. it’s in my heart now.” – how gorgeous is that?!)

Im very excited for you all to read it, so stay tuned for more soon!

I’m Also Still Speaking

Of course, I literally speak with my mouth pretty much every day, but what I mean is that I’m still giving talks at interesting places.

For a while I’ve been meaning to share some pictures from a fun talk I gave at the EBRD HQ in London. It was a great day, with a delightful audience and some fantastic conversation around anxiety and managing our emotions.

As usual, every photo had me pulling a silly face, unnatural gesture, or often, both:

This is a POWERFUL GESTURE

And I’ve really enjoyed giving talks in schools, too – with many more to come in 2018.

If you would like someone to speak with humour about anxiety, mental health and happiness at your school, business, university, conference, etc, then please get in touch!

That’s The Main Bits

I am also toying with whatever the next big project will be now that The Shop Before Life is approaching the final stages.

But that will have to wait for another day.

Whatever you’re up to, do feel free to say hello – and I hope your life is going well too 🙂

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Not Reviewing the Year – 2017 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/not-reviewing-year-2017/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/not-reviewing-year-2017/#respond Tue, 02 Jan 2018 15:02:42 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2795 Last year my main achievement was writing a novel (which hopefully you’ll all get to read sooner than later!), but otherwise I’m not even sure where 2017 went.

I feel like my life has been fairly static for a long time now, and while that’s no bad thing, it feels like I need to shake …

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Last year my main achievement was writing a novel (which hopefully you’ll all get to read sooner than later!), but otherwise I’m not even sure where 2017 went.

I feel like my life has been fairly static for a long time now, and while that’s no bad thing, it feels like I need to shake things up.

I’m just not sure how, exactly… so I’m going to take time in January to chew over where I’m at and where I’d like to be.

Anyway, in the meantime, I wanted to share with you this post about my ‘Awards’ system for reviewing the year which just got published at Puttylike.

You might find it fun or interesting to try it yourself (and if you do, I’d love to hear how it works for you!)

Talk soon, once I’ve done some thinking 🙂

The Awards – A Super Fun and Insightful Way to Review Your Year

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A Jar of Human Traits! http://www.walkingoncustard.com/jar-human-traits/ Tue, 19 Dec 2017 12:46:23 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2798 The post A Jar of Human Traits! appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

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There’s a proper update coming soon but someone made me this and I couldn’t resist giving you a sneak peek!

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the battery level doesn’t help either :D http://www.walkingoncustard.com/battery-level-doesnt-help/ Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:49:51 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2791

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Being an Adult Child (in a Good Way) http://www.walkingoncustard.com/adult-child/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/adult-child/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 08:10:45 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2743 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

I never really grew out of childishness.

It’s just so fun. Children get to be curious, silly, and playful. And there’s something delightfully mindful about the capacity they have to get absorbed in an activity for hours on end.

Naturally, we can’t remain entirely childlike forever, …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

I never really grew out of childishness.

It’s just so fun. Children get to be curious, silly, and playful. And there’s something delightfully mindful about the capacity they have to get absorbed in an activity for hours on end.

Naturally, we can’t remain entirely childlike forever, but I’ve been thinking lately about which parts of childishness we might benefit from, even now we’re Definitely Responsible Adults. (Which I am.) (Honest.)

Growing Out of Wonder

What strikes me when I think back to my own childhood is a powerful sense of wonder. The world seemed massive, too big to even begin to grasp. Everything seemed possible. To a child, magic and electricity and dragons and computers are all equally likely.

But unfortunately, I grew up, and that sense of wonder faded as I learned what is actually real, and what isn’t.

Once you develop an accurate model of the world, wonder necessarily fades. New facts no longer create whole new categories in your mind—they’re just details. Learning about Viking sea burials is cool… but it’s less exciting than discovering that Vikings existed in the first place.

That feeling of discovering a whole new category is still one of my favourites. That moment of “wait, that’s a thing?!” is the closest I come to that childish feeling of constant wonder.

Believing You Know Everything

Of course it’s necessary to develop a more accurate model of the world. But, as well as decreasing the sense of wonder, it brings some other traps. For example, like many teenagers and young adults, I fell into the common trap of thinking I knew everything.

With hindsight, it’s obvious why that trap is so tempting. We grow up from total helplessness and dependence to being able to—pretty much—look after ourselves. Of course that makes us feel more confident: we’re finally getting a grip on how this world works! As kids our minds were blown by a light switch, but now we’re mature teenagers, we’ve pretty much got everything sorted…right?

On top of that natural confidence in our growing abilities, there’s a huge social pressure to signal that we’ve grown out of our weak, dependent childish stage. It becomes very tempting to act like we know everything to signal confidence. (And from there, it’s easy to start to believe our own hype.)

But, luckily, I learned an important lesson: we don’t actually know everything.

More than that: and we never will.

And even more still: and that’s okay!

These turn out to be fun lessons, because they re-open us to the possibility of childish openness. There’s loads more to learn, and that’s exciting!

Childishness as an Adult

Thinking about childishness has made me more determined to keep embracing that natural childish curiosity.

It’s easy to forget that I don’t know as much as I think I do. There’s a constant temptation to be dismissive of new knowledge, to assume that what we don’t already know isn’t worth knowing.

But, to state the obvious, we don’t know what we don’t know. Dismissing everything we don’t already know freezes us into position—often positions we formed, ironically, as children.

The worst combination is a child’s understanding of the world with an adult’s unwillingness to learn… but that’s an easy combination to accidentally fall into.

Ideally, I think we should aspire to be the other way around: a child’s willingness to learn, informing an adult’s (growing) understanding.

Rediscovering these positive aspects of the childish state isn’t about the trappings of childhood – the clothes, the toys, the silliness, or the self-centeredness. It’s about embracing a childish attitude – being open, curious and, above all, believing that there’s always more to learn.

And this attitude remains within us, if we want it.

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When Should We Run Away From Our Problems? http://www.walkingoncustard.com/when-should-we-run-away-from-our-problems/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/when-should-we-run-away-from-our-problems/#comments Tue, 31 Oct 2017 08:08:51 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2716 [status: pretty obvious stuff, but may be helpful to people – like me – who tend to overthink things]

Recently, somebody asked me for advice about making a big decision.

Obviously, the fact they were asking me demonstrates terrible judgement, so I told them whatever decision they THOUGHT they should make, they should probably do …

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I run away by Simy_Orifici, on Flickr

Original Photo © Simy_Orifici, Simy_Orifici on Flickr.
CC BY-ND 2.0

[status: pretty obvious stuff, but may be helpful to people – like me – who tend to overthink things]

Recently, somebody asked me for advice about making a big decision.

Obviously, the fact they were asking me demonstrates terrible judgement, so I told them whatever decision they THOUGHT they should make, they should probably do the opposite.

I kid, of course. But I was interested in why they were asking: they weren’t sure if the big change they were considering was a good idea, or if they were just trying to run away from their problems.

I think their worry was confusing a few separate issues together, but I can see where it comes from.

You know the old saying “wherever you go, there you are”? It’s the folk-wisdom way of saying you might THINK moving to a tropical island will solve all your problems, but it won’t if the issue is within you in the first place.

And it’s obviously true! If I’m always unhappy, then wherever I go won’t solve the problem.

But, also obviously, sometimes making a big change IS helpful. A genuine fresh start in a new city or job can be huge!

To an overthinker, well-meaning advice like this can become an extra thing to worry about.

Making a big decision is stressful enough, and this adds an additional voice in the back of the mind saying “hey, wait, does this count as ‘running away’?! OH GOD I’M DOOMED AND TRAPPED WHERE I AM FOREVER BECAUSE ALL CHANGES ARE RUNNING AWAY”

So, in different contexts, the same action – a big life change – could be us burying our heads in the sand, or a heroic and brave new start.

HOW DO WE TELL WHICH IS WHICH?!

Clearly, It’s Context

Honestly, sometimes it seems like “it depends” is the answer to almost every human problem, from “should I eat this out-of-date yoghurt” to “is it a good idea to quit my job and move to Gloucestershire”.

But let’s break down the context to see WHAT, exactly, “depends” in our particular situation.

In this case, I think the most helpful divide is “internal/external”.

If you have an external problem – like noisy neighbours, an unpleasant boss, or a wild squirrel living in your garden that hates you – then of course it’s possible to solve the problem by changing the circumstances.

This isn’t “running away”, it’s making a positive change to fix a negative external situation.

(And, depending on the exact problem, making the change might even be the best solution.)

But internal problems – like anxious brain habits, negative attitudes, unresolved trauma – can’t be escaped by changing external circumstances.

Of course, even with internal problems, external changes can still help. Moving somewhere you like, meeting someone new, getting a pay rise, trying new medication, a better exercise regime… any positive change can reduce our burden, which gives us more energy to address any internal issues.

And sometimes a change is the kickstart we need. If we’re currently unhappy, then doing the same things isn’t going to suddenly bring us happiness.

But, fundamentally, if the issue is internal, then we can only sort it by doing the work required – whether that’s emotional processing, changing our brain habits, learning a new technique to manage anxiety, or any of the other ways to take more charge of our own brains.

The Relevant Questions

Of course, even the fact someone is worrying about this at all suggests they’re not the kind of person to run away from problems in the first place.

It seems FAR more likely to me that they’re overthinking it and generating problems by searching for them with a tiny, detailed microscope. (I speak from years of experience of doing exactly this.)

Still, even self-generated problems are still problems. And I usually find it reassuring to have processes for figuring this stuff out, so here are a couple of questions that might be useful to explore if you find yourself worrying about this sort of thing:

  • Does this potential change have a decent chance to be positive, i.e. might it make my life better, even if only a bit?
  • Am I expecting this change to magically fix everything? i.e. are my expectations realistic?

If our expectations are realistic, and the change might reasonably make things better, then great! If not, then perhaps there is an element of ‘ignoring the real problem’ going on, and we need to figure out what that is, and how to solve it.

(Obviously, for any big life change there are far more important questions than these! But if you’re caught in the “oh god am I just trying to run away” trap, this might help you out so you can contemplate the really important questions.)

My friend is still deciding, but hopefully they’re not worrying about this anymore.


No major life decisions were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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It Might Not Matter “Why” We’re Anxious http://www.walkingoncustard.com/might-not-matter-why-anxious/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/might-not-matter-why-anxious/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:35:50 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2291 At my most anxious, I spent a LOT of time asking “why”.

If only I understood the reason for my anxiety – if I could understand it, explain it – then I could solve it.

But this was just a distraction. In fact, it made things worse.

Every time I wondered why, my brain came …

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good question by e-magic, on Flickr

Original Photo © Eric, emagic on Flickr.
CC BY-ND 2.0

At my most anxious, I spent a LOT of time asking “why”.

If only I understood the reason for my anxiety – if I could understand it, explain it – then I could solve it.

But this was just a distraction. In fact, it made things worse.

Every time I wondered why, my brain came up with a new possibility:

Perhaps it’s nuclear war?
Or you’ve secretly got cancer?
Maybe it’s some buried trauma you’ll never dig up?
Or is it that thing you said to someone the other day?
Perhaps it’s an upcoming deadline…
Or death. It might be death.

You see what happened? I instantly came up with hundreds more reasons to worry. Asking “why” only ADDED to my anxiety.

Instead, I tried to just accept it: “okay, I feel anxious. Doesn’t matter why, I just do.”

And then I focused on fixing it, calming down, doing something else.

Then, later, when the acute anxiety had faded, I could spend some time looking into the root cause.

This isn’t a foolproof plan, and it may not be true for everyone. But if you fall into the same endless anxious rabbit hole of “why”, then it might be helpful for you.


No question words were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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A Short Thing I Will Develop Properly Eventually http://www.walkingoncustard.com/short-thing-i-will-develop-properly-eventually/ Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:30:38 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2731 Don’t hold onto a certain bad due to fear of an uncertain good

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Don’t hold onto a certain bad due to fear of an uncertain good

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