12 takeaways from Notes on a Nervous Planet for anxious days

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Photo by Noemi Macavei Katocz

When it comes to writing about mental health, Matt Haig is one of the best authors of our time. Reasons to Stay Alive, his 2015 memoir about depression, soared up the bestseller charts, and Notes on a Nervous Planet is one of the best books about anxiety.

In Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig explains that we’re living in an anxious world – and that’s making us more anxious, too.

We sleep with our phones next to us, notifications send our hearts racing, and traumatic news stories are more visible and fast-moving than ever. It’s increasingly normal to find it hard to sit still without distraction. We struggle to slow down. And it’s certainly easy to find things to worry about. Matt writes:

“I worry about people being in prison for crimes they didn’t do. I worry about human rights abuses. I worry about prejudice and politics and pollution and the world my children and their entire generation are inheriting from us. I worry about all the species going extinct because of humans. I worry about my carbon footprint. I worry about all the pain in the world that I am not actively able to stop. I worry about how much I’m wrapped up in myself, which makes me even more wrapped up in myself.”

We browse social media for some mindless relaxation, but that can quickly turn into comparison and self-doubt. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this paragraph:

“You will be happy when every photo of yourself gets 10,000 likes on Instagram. You will be happy when you have transcended earthly woes. You will be happy when you are at one with the universe. You will be happy when you are the universe. You will be happy when you are a god. You will be happy when you are the god to rule all gods. You will be happy when you are Zeus. In the clouds above Mount Olympus, commanding the sky. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.”

Notes on a Nervous Planet is an easy read, divided into bite-sized chapters that you can consume a few of at a time. I read it over the space of about a week, leaving time between reading sessions to look at my own life and how I was feeling.

The book got me asking:

  • Was I spending too much time on my phone?
  • Was I feeling on edge?
  • How fast was I trying to go about things?
  • Was I actually enjoying scrolling on Instagram or chipping away at my confidence by looking at bronzed beauties living in vans?

12 takeaways from Notes on a Nervous Planet for when you feel anxious

Here are some of the best takeaways from Notes on a Nervous Planet to turn to on days when you’re feeling anxious. Read them when you need some reassurance that you’re not the only one who feels like this – and also, that there are some things you can do to start feeling better.

1. Comparing yourself to others will make you miserable

“How to be happy: 

1. Do not compare yourself to other people. 

2. Do not compare yourself to other people. 

3.Do not compare yourself to other people. 

4.Do not compare yourself to other people. 

5.Do not compare yourself to other people. 

6.Do not compare yourself to other people. 

7.Do not compare yourself to other people.”


2. Use your breath to rebalance yourself

“Breathing is the pace you set your life at. It’s the rhythm of the song of you. It’s how to get back to the centre of things. The centre of yourself.”


3. Do things you love (offline)

“Do something somewhere in the day that isn’t work or duty or the internet. Dance. Kick a ball. Make burritos. Play some music. Play Pac-Man. Stroke a dog. Learn an instrument. Call a friend. Get into a child’s pose. Get outside. Go for a walk. Feel the wind on your face. Or lie on the floor and put your feet up against a wall and just breathe.”


4. Remember the basics

“Never delay a meal, or sleep, for the sake of the internet.”


5. Spend time with animals

“Non-human animals are therapeutic for all kinds of reasons. One reason is that they don’t have news. Dogs and cats and goldfish and antelope literally don’t care. The things that are important to us – politics and economics and all of those fluctuating things – are not important to them. And their lives, like ours, still go on.”


6. Resist robotic tendencies, be mysterious

“Be a mystery, not a demographic. Be someone a computer could never quite know. Keep empathy alive. Break patterns. Resist robotic tendencies. Stay human.”


7. Remember that marketing feeds our discontent

“If you were already good enough what on earth would you spend your money on?”


8. Be mindful of how you use social media (and how it makes you feel)

“I used to think social media was harmless. I used to think I was on it because I enjoyed it. But then I was still on it even when I wasn’t enjoying it.”


9. Redefine what beauty means

“Reframe your idea of beauty. Be a rebel against marketing. Look forward to being the wise elder. Be the complex elegance of a melting candle. Be a map with 10,000 roads. Be the orange at sunset that outclasses the pink of sunrise. Be the self that dares to be true.”


10. Check in on yourself

“Keep an eye on yourself. Be your own friend. Be your own parent. Be kind to yourself. Check on what you are doing. Do you need to watch the last episode of the series when it is after midnight?”


11. See your physical and mental health as one

“Panic is physical as well as mental. For me, running and yoga help more than anything. Yoga, especially. My body tightens, from hours of being hunched over a laptop, and yoga stretches it out again.”


12. Be kind to yourself (here’s how to make it easier)

“How to be kinder to yourself about yourself: 1.Think of people you have loved. Think of the deepest relationships you have ever had. Think of the joy you felt when seeing those people. Think of how that joy had nothing to do with their looks except that they looked like themselves and you were pleased to see them.”

If you can relate to feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and comparing yourself to others, pick up a copy of Notes on a Nervous Planet. It’s a great guide to living well in an anxious world – slowly and rebelliously.

You might also like my list of the best books for anxiety, books to read on the hardest days when you feel hopeless, and takeaways from Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig’s bestselling book about depression.

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