The Mean Reds

Words by: Stephanie Booth
Art by: Meili Tan

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn’s character describes “the mean reds” as “like the blues only the blues is for when you’re sad, the mean reds are for when you’re scared and you don’t know what you’re scared of…”

At night I fall off things. I plunge from tall buildings, plummet from balconies, trip backwards down flights of stairs. Being jolted awake by these harrowing scenarios is enough to amplify my heartbeat so loud that it reverberates up through my ears, destroying any possibility of returning to sleep.

Night terrors are truly awful. But they aren’t real.

For me it’s night terrors, for a friend it’s the feeling of cold liquid steel running through her veins, for another friend it’s the need to immediately leave the room he’s in; the mental and physical impacts of anxiety present themselves in a myriad ways.

Anxiety doesn’t present itself because of one particular issue or scenario that well-meaning friends and family might eagerly offer solutions to, it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain, not inherently who you are, or something that happened.

We’re hearing a lot recently about the need for increasing our focus on mental health, following the COVID-19 pandemic that has thrown a spanner in the absolute shit-show of a year 2020 was already shaping up to be.

The word ‘anxiety’ is being used by press and politicians with such repetition that it’s giving ‘unprecedented’ a run for its money, when words like: worry, concern, apprehension or fear could just as effectively convey the way many of us are feeling without diminishing the considerable impact of true anxiety and depression.

Anxiety takes many shapes and there’s no one-size-fits-all list of symptoms. There’s also no one-size-fits-all approach to managing it. But here’s a handful of suggestions you might like to try next time the ‘mean reds’ rears its ugly head. (Don’t worry, it’s not Live, Laugh, Love).


It’s the last thing you’re going to want to feel like doing but it expands and contracts the muscles in your chest, helps you breathe and increases endorphins.


Whether it’s Rick Ross or Sufjan Stevens, music is magic. Force yourself to sing along, force yourself to move to it. It’s a distraction, and distractions are good.


Can’t sleep? Get up and move to a different room. Get a blanket and read by low-light. Don’t look at your phone. Read something easy, something you’ve read before, something gentle — this is not the time for Peter Carey’s Illywhacker. Let yourself become drowsy again.


Have a good cry. Let it out. Watch something sad or read something sad. Crying can be exhausting, but it can also be just what the doctor ordered.

Then, when you feel ready, whether it’s a day, a week or a month later, talk to someone about what’s happening. Beyond Blue, On The Line (1800 859 585), Better Health.

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