I am going through a period of change and uncertainty in my life. Everything seems to be happening all at once. Big things—not all bad—but many things I feel I have little-to-no control over. My chest is constantly tight. I feel dizzy, have headaches, and nightmares are the norm. I have a million things going through my mind at the same time, and I have the same few things on repeat. I am finding myself overreacting to small things in ways I don’t usually. To put it simply, I am stressed.

Over the years I have made up a very useful expression to explain this mental state. I say: ‘I am wound up like a screw’. It is a little silly, quite metaphorical and easily accessible. I like making people giggle as it is so universally relatable. That makes me giggle in turn, which gives me some relief and human connection.

I have found it so useful, as it says something to people about where I am at, without having to go into all the details every time. It also shows people how I am experiencing it at that exact moment, and that it can get better. Surely if a screw is wound up it can wound down, right?

However, a screw does not fully loosen itself. Conscious pressure needs to be applied, to unscrew it. In fact you have to apply pressure with a screwdriver. This is exactly what I have learnt through my past experiences.

I can’t just think the screw unscrewed. I need to exercise, mentally and physically. When I am screwed up tightly, I need to exercise much more than I ordinarily do. And if the screw doesn’t budge the first, second or even third time, I need to keep putting the pressure of exercise on.

Exercise is most important, but I also need social contact—a particular kind of social contact. I need people I know well and trust, and we need to be doing relaxing activities. I need to be busy with my hands, like cooking, art or engaging in my electronics hobby. I write and work through lists I have made to try to address some of the uncertainty. It doesn’t overwhelm me as much when it is written down and I can start ticking things off.

I have been feeling so unusually reactive recently, so when my supportive family member said to me recently, “How can I help unscrew you?” it made me feel overwhelmed with feelings of being heard. It made me feel understood and supported. It also made me giggle, so I said, “let’s go for a walk and tell stories”. That definitely unscrewed me a notch and strengthened our bond.

Better keep that unscrewing going…

Anita Conlon 
Peer Program Developer, Wellways