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.

 

 

Living in the Middle Ages

I feel as though I’ve turned a corner recently. I ordered some comfort shoes recommended by my doctor. My body has decided to stop agreeing with things like coffee after 10:00am and more than one cocktail per sitting. People are calling me “ma’am” more.

I’m less than a month from my birthday and I’m feeling a bit unsettled about turning another year older. This is not a milestone birthday. I’ve already hit 21, 30, and 40. This is is 44 and it feels odd. It feels mature, adult, responsible, slightly boring…old(er). I feel that I’m these things. I feel that I might be a little less bright, a little less magnetic, a little less…young.

I don’t remember stressing out over any of those previous milestones. I do remember being a bit weirded out by turning 27. My feelings then were not dissimilar to now. Adult. Mature. Not so young anymore. Not able to use youthful ignorance as an excuse. My glow a bit more dull.

I am now the adult in the room. For better or for worse, I am older, wiser, and more self aware. I am better able to process my emotions and feelings. I am better able to respond to the needs of others. I am better able to cultivate relationships and choose to spend time doing what is meaningful to me. I am more than willing to release the crap in my life, both physical and emotional.

And still, the prospect of getting close to checking a new age range box is a bit strange, a bit unwelcome.

Deep breath. I am looking forward.

Look Who’s Back….

I believe in New Year’s resolutions. I also believe that there is no wrong time to resolve to improve areas of your life that you’re unhappy with. Make St. Patrick’s Day resolutions if you want, or use the feeling of freedom wrapped up in Independence Day to make some changes…whatever works for you. There is no wrong way to resolve.

One of my resolutions is to start writing more. It’s been almost a year since I’ve visited this space and I’ve missed it. 2019 was a year of me taking charge of my mental and emotional health. It was out of character for me, but I dialed back my online output in order to save my energy. It took work and commitment, but I ended it with a framework in place to keep me healthier and happier than I had been when the year started.

The three things that have helped me stay relatively balanced, and better able to cope with what life throws at me are meditation, yoga, and journaling. I have meditated for 587 days in a row and have done yoga for 582 days. Sadly, I missed a day of journaling recently, and so I’m currently on a 4 day streak.

When I decided to focus on these habits, I set some non-negotiable ground rules. My bare minimum was five minutes of meditation and yoga everyday. My journal rule was even less strict, I just had to write a sentence, if nothing else. I found that taking the pressure off myself made it easier to work these things into my day, but also prevented me from making excuses to get out of it. No matter what was going on in my life, I could find a total of ten minutes to help myself. The result is that I am in less physical pain and am better able to recognize and process my emotions. My depression and anxiety will not go away, but through these practices, I am able to see them for what they are.

We often make grand declarations for our resolutions. We get focused on the big picture or think that if it’s not a major, earth shaking change that it doesn’t count. Not true. Meaningful, important, and lasting change can happen with small, dedicated motions. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. Focus on what you can reasonably do to get to make the changes you want to make. If five minutes of meditation seems overwhelming, try one minute of sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Instead of filling a journal page, try writing one sentence. It doesn’t have to be deep. Take one minute to stretch one part of your body that could use it. There is no wrong choice. Remember, no pressure on yourself.

Maybe these aren’t your goals, maybe your goals have to do with eating better or moving more. In that case, maybe your small steps would be to try a new vegetable every week, to drink one extra glass of water per day, or to walk for at least five minutes each day. Five minutes seems to be a sweet spot for me. As I said, it’s hard for me to weasel out of that amount of time and if I do five minutes, I’ll often add another five.

This year, I’m resolving to make each habit a ten minute habit. I’ve proven that I can do five, why not ten? And now that my mental and emotional health are in check, I’d like to start working on my physical health. I’m dealing with an ankle injury at the moment, but plan on starting an outdoor walking habit when it’s healed. Moving more would help me immensely.

Resolve. Find your bare minimum. Commit. Do. Enjoy the benefits.

I’m Thankful That I’m Not a Robot

Like any good student of self care, stress management, or wellness, I have a daily gratitude practice. Every morning or early afternoon (because, really, there’s no wrong time to be grateful), I write down a few things in my life that I’m thankful for.

I’m not going to lie, for months it’s read like a Gratitude Greatest Hits. Notable, good, sometimes even authentic, but also overplayed and lacking in meaning the more I cycle through the usual list. The list has become automatic. My home. My dogs. Schweetie. My friends. My neighbors. My family. New opportunities (a wonderfully vague way to be grateful without actually having to come up with anything). Now, I am actually grateful that these things are in my life. My world is bigger, happier, brighter, and more filled with love because of all them. However, I was just parroting these same few things back to myself every day. Anything overdone loses its power and its intended effect. I realized that there must be more. There must be some finer points of gratitude…Gratitude B Sides or Deep Cuts (to continue the album analogy), if you will.

And so, I’ve spent the last two mornings looking for the lesser appreciated moments in my life. The smaller things. The little instances that are bright and beautiful and perfect. Taking the time to zero in on new and less obvious things has helped me to feel more connected and truly appreciative.

I noticed how delightful the sun is when it shines brightly through my bathroom window. I’m thankful for the stranger on the street that wished me a hearty “Happy New Year!” in a moment where I was feeling a bit out of sorts. I am grateful for a relatively healthy body that allows me to take a walk each day.

It feels good to try being more specific with my gratitude practice and I am thankful that I feel renewed and reconnected to it.

First Resolution of the New Year: No more robotic gratitude lists.

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.)