High Anxiety

It’s not just a Mel Brooks film, it’s also my life this week. Or rather, how I’m experiencing life this week.

I’ve taken on some new responsibilities at work, and while I’m excited to expand my role and feel completely capable, I’m nervous to move out of my comfortable work routine. I’m having anxious work dreams for the first time in a long time. I think this will naturally get better on its own the more I move through the tasks and see that I’m doing just fine.

To piggyback off of my last post, one of the things I’ve been trying is workshopping with a band. I’ve been taking voice lessons for five years and decided that this year was the year that I was going to do something with it. So, I signed up to practice with other likeminded folk and to play a show next month. I was fine until this week when my nerves set in. I’m panicked that I’ll forget lyrics onstage and wake up at 3:00am with them going through my head. I guess the positive of that is, clearly I’ve got the lyrics in my brain.

And…I’ve got just enough social events on my schedule to be anxious about. Everything from going to see a movie tonight with a friend I’ve never hung out with by myself, to having to decide which movies I want to see with another friend on Saturday. These are good things, but my anxiety continuously rears up at social situations.

This morning an anxiety attack was triggered by my normally angelic, sweet dog growling and snapping at me when I tried to get a high value toy away from him.

I decided that I needed to work this out. I took some deep breaths. I went for a walk to grab a healthy lunch. I made it a point to notice fun things in my neighborhood like plants in bloom and a cute sign someone had posted. I enjoyed the sun and its warmth. I decided to give myself an hour off to eat and regroup. I picked up a knitting project and worked a few rows of pattern. (Knitting has been shown to help manage anxiety.) I texted my sister. I gave some gratitude to my band mates, my co-workers, my dogs, and my husband. I forgave the grumpy dog.

All of this might sound silly, but it helped. I feel more relaxed, more focused, and more willing to tackle some tasks this afternoon. I share this with the hope that it might help someone else. In short, when anxious, try some focused breathing (maybe count to three as you inhale and exhale), focus your mind on something (like knitting), think of what you’re grateful for, find some positives, move your body, and if you’re able to, spend time with dogs.



There is a Try

“Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.”                         – Robert Louis Stevenson

I’ve returned to this quote over and over again, but it’s only recently that I feel like I understand it. I think the word fail is a little strong. I prefer to substitute the word try. We can do or do not, as a wise little green creature named Yoda once said, but we shouldn’t be afraid to try.

We don’t know what is possible unless we give it a go. Sure, we can rest comfortably and safely in the security of the known, but we’ll never see what’s possible unless we move beyond. It takes courage to move forward and go about our business in life. It is bold to try.

When we try, we increase our confidence, we prove ourselves capable, and we often decrease our anxiety. One of the most anxiety provoking things for me is the unknown or the worry about what might be. When I move through a process, when I show up and put in an effort, I eliminate that factor and often the outcome is far less horrific than any of the scenarios in my head.

Trying helps us to see what works and what doesn’t. It helps us to see what truly matters to us and to see where our skills lie. We see what is no longer worth our time and what would be a better use of those minutes and hours. It is in the trying that we learn and grow and develop a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Not to say that success is a bad thing, but we can’t succeed unless we try. If we don’t try, we don’t give ourselves opportunities to make changes or discoveries. If we don’t first fail, we won’t achieve a larger level of success.

Try, accept the (possible) “failure”, try again, learn from the experience…keep repeating.

I’ve Meditated for 187 Days Straight

And boy, is my mind tired! (Ha ha!)

But really, I have. And I’ve done yoga for that length of time, too, give or take a day or four. And this is why I started and why I’ve kept up with it….

Back in June of this year, I felt like I was losing my grip on my peace of mind, my emotional balance, and my overall world order. I wanted everything to stop so that I could take a break for awhile. I wanted to wrap myself up in a blanket and rock back and forth to save my soul. I wanted to be left alone, but I also felt lonely. The funny thing is, there was nothing really specific happening other than I was alone for almost two months straight while dealing with a rescue dog who wasn’t a perfect angel right out of the gate. That made me feel even worse. I felt like I was overly anxious and emotional without a “good” reason to be so. (If you read this, BoBo the Chiweenie, please know that the problem was me not you and you’re an awesome doggie!)

I’d had the feeling before that I was experiencing anxiety, maybe even panic attacks. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, much less talk about it with others. I’d feel a pressure like a fist squeezing my chest. It would hurt. It would be hard to breathe. I’d get very light headed, almost faint. I would break out in a sweat. When I look back, I see that I’d been experiencing this type of thing off and on for most of my adult life. The frequency of these episodes had been steadily increasing. I have pulmonary issues because of my autoimmune disease and these attacks do not do my lungs any favors. I used my emergency inhaler just in case.

I was feeling this way again in June and knew that I had to get myself back on track or I would be headed toward an unhealthy place that I had no interest in visiting. I had a flash of something I thought could help, something that my body and mind seemed to be asking for when I sat still quietly enough to listen. I decided to commit to 30 days of meditation and yoga. I set a minimum goal of 5 minutes of each daily, figuring that no matter what was going on, I could find 10 minutes in my day to care for myself and my mental health. At the time, it was so important to me to get myself better, that a daily practice was immediately non-negotiable. I used guided meditations from a variety of sources. (Still do! Having someone else talk me through it gives me something to focus on so that my mind doesn’t wander too much.) Initially, I focused on reducing anxiety and achieving a calmer mind. Within a week, I was feeling more calm and able to focus. Within two weeks, I realized I was happier, more optimistic, and starting to feel less physical pain. I kept going….

And now, here I am at 187 days straight. I am even happier. I feel more balanced. I still have periods of anxiety (I had one this morning!) and I assume I will for life, but they are less frequent and less likely to be triggered by something trivial. I am better able to manage the episodes that I do have. I stand taller. I am more confident and less socially anxious. I reduced my reliance on things like alcohol, social media, and retail therapy. I am in considerably less physical pain and have been able to reduce medication that helps me manage it (this was Ok’d by my rheumatologist). I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian (again). My skin is clearer and my eyes are brighter. I feel more grounded and connected to the world outside my head. If I feel my chest starting to tighten or my heart starting to beat out of my chest, I immediately turn to focusing on my breath or, if location and time permit, I run through a yoga sequence. I’m going to keep going. Can I make it to a year straight? Can I make it to 1000 days?

Through this journey and process, I’ve had a lot of realizations and have been able to process patterns of behavior, choices I’ve made, and aspects of my personality that I’ve never been in love with. I’ve been able to release things that it does not serve me to put energy toward and I’ve been able to better consciously choose what I bring into my life. I’ve become clearer about that all important life goal: “the Purpose”.

It is my intention to start sharing what I’ve learned about myself and how I’m dealing with life after the acceptance of the role anxiety plays in it. (I should probably be super spiritual here and express gratitude to my meditation practice for connecting me with awareness for how anxiety was manifesting itself and disrupting my life, but I’m not there yet. Maybe I’ll be grateful after 374 days straight, but at Day 187, I’m still not thrilled.)