Phew! These last few months have been a ride, am I right??? I remember back in January and February, hearing about some strange virus going around in China, and brushing it off thinking, “Eh, it’ll all blow over.” Well it’s BLOWN OVER, but less like a gentle wind and more like an, (excuse my language mom,) FREAKING HURRICANE TYPHOON MONSOON! I know I’m not alone when I say that the last couple of months feel like a karate kick straight to the gut that came out of nowhere. I talked a little bit in my last post about how I felt like I was doing really well throughout all of this quarantine business, but that my depression fought it’s way back into my life. That’s kind of a jumping off point for today’s post, so if you haven’t read that post, head on back and take a look.
So I talked a lot in the last post about how I’ve been handling my depression and how I worked through some stuff that happened in the beginning of the month. What you haven’t heard from me in awhile is how I’m handling the other side of the coin, my anxiety.
If you’ve read a lot of my posts, you know that through the work I’ve done in therapy as well as through personal development reading, I’ve discovered that my anxiety is deeply rooted in a need for control in my life. I feel like I have to control every single aspect of everything or it’s all going to implode and I will end up an epic failure, bumming off of my parents forever and living creepily in their basement. There are a couple things wrong with this mindset however, not the least of which is that my parents don’t actually have a basement for me to live creepily in!
All kidding aside, this need for control and fear of letting go has created significant problems for me in this life, especially because let’s face it, we control VERY LITTLE in our world when we actually get down to it. One of my favorite personal development gurus says that we only truly have the ability to control 2 things in our lives: Our Attitude and our Effort. (Thanks Rachel, you can check her out here.) So when I realized that quarantine and COVID, not to mention the current Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, was going to challenge my ability to control my attitude and my effort, I set to work to devise a strategy that would allow me to keep my mental health in as healthy of a place as possible.
*Note: Like everything I write about, this is my personal story and my personal strategy. Not everything I do will work for everyone, and you shouldn’t worry if my strategy doesn’t work for you. You are doing great, just as you are, as long as you are seeking to help yourself and you remember to love yourself right where you are in your journey.*
Controlling My Attitude:
Often times when we think of the word “Attitude,” we think of when our mommas told us “Don’t you use that attitude with me!” It’s usually used with a negative connotation. But I like to think of my attitude as the way I approach the world and the space from which I project myself onto others. When I have a “Good Attitude” I am reaching and turning towards other people, I’m looking for ways to see the good in situations and in others, and I’m prepared to handle any crisis that comes my way because I’m grounded in the person that I want to be. Achieving this type of attitude is much more difficult than you might think, especially with anxiety. So how do I do it?
Tip 1: It’s an unpopular belief, but most of the time you actually DO have control over your mood. When you wake up in the morning, you can choose to either be happy and positive about the new day, or you can choose to be grumpy and sad.
(Of course, somedays that choice is a lot harder, or somedays you choose to be sad because it’s what you want or need to feel that day. For example, when my grandfather died, I made the choice for a few days to be sad. I allowed myself time to fully grasp the loss I was feeling and to mourn. But after a few days, or weeks, whatever you CHOOSE for yourself as a mourning period, you have to start choosing to be happier again. That’s a big part of healing.)
My point is, we are in charge of our own happiness. We get to choose how we approach the day and the people in our lives. So when we first received the “Stay at Home” order, I decided that I would embrace each day and try my best to do so with an attitude of acceptance and contentment. The easiest way I have found to do this is through a daily gratitude practice. Every day I come up with 5 simple and little things to be grateful for, and I try to make them very specific. For example, instead of “I’m grateful for my husband,” I would write “I’m grateful that Drew did the laundry today and remembered to hang dry my favorite shirt!” (Which is true, he did that today!) As you get into the practice, you start looking for things to be grateful for throughout the day which makes it easier to embrace positivity all day long. I also INSIST on writing my gratitudes down, because when I’m feeling really sad about the world, going back and looking at all the things I have to be grateful for really helps.
Tip 2: Do you have goals? Something you are working towards on a daily basis? If not, I highly recommend you sit down and make some. My goals have been exponentially helpful throughout the COVID Pandemic, because every day I know I am still making progress on something. Your goals don’t have to be big, (though I hope that they are!) they just have to be something you genuinely care about. Something like paying off a credit card, or finally losing that last five pounds, or making a healthy dinner 3 nights a week would be totally achievable and simple! Or maybe you have bigger goals, like running a successful business, or if you’re like me, making an income with my writing. (You can help me reach this goal by liking, sharing, or commenting on my blog posts… just sayin’!)
Whatever your goal is, make sure that you’re planning for it and taking steps toward it every day. This has done wonders for my mental health, because when we are stuck at home it’s easy to get lost in social media, or TV, and then we lose our good attitude, and we start feeling anxious and depressed. When you work every day towards a goal, you give yourself momentum, and when you go to bed at night you can be proud of the fact that, no matter how small, you made a step towards something that is important to you.
Side note: I write my goals down every day, and I plan for them. I have a notebook that I write my 10 big goals in, following the Start Today Journal Process created by, you guessed it, Rachel Hollis. Writing out my goals every day re-centers my brain around what’s important for my day and what I’m reaching for. Try it! It’s a great attitude enhancer!
Tip 3: Find something you love to do, and do it. I know, I know. “I can’t go out dancing/drinking/reading at the library/etc because we are in quarantine!” True, but you can learn a new line dance in your living room, you can make yourself a margarita and face-time a friend, and you can check out books online through your local library and read them on your mobile device. Get creative and find something awesome to do with your time. I always schedule in some “Me time” into my day, but I make sure to not use that time to just scroll on social media. Schedule an hour to read your favorite book, or to color or paint! (I love coloring, it’s so relaxing!)
Controlling my Effort:
Okay, so in my opinion, this is where a lot of people with mental illnesses go wrong. They may have the attitude portion and have best of intentions, but in order to actually feel better, and I’m probably going to get heat for this, you have to actually put in the effort.
Hear me out! I KNOW. It’s HARD. In fact, some days it feel completely impossible. But remember how I was talking about choosing to be happy? It’s an unpopular opinion, but I truly believe that “motivation” as the concept that we’ve created it to be, is a lie. People let their whole lives slip away waiting for the “motivation” to lose weight, or to start their business or to finish the renovations on their home. The thing is, you can’t wait for motivation to come to you. You’re never going to “Feel Like” sitting down and putting in the hard work.
Let me give you a really personal example. Right now, I’m sitting at my grandparent’s dining room table, helping to care for my grandma who is sick right now. I’m exhausted, and worried, and stressed, and the last thing I felt like doing was sitting down to write this blog post. But here I am, writing, because I have goals, and I know that in a crazy , stressful time, I only have control over my attitude and my effort. So I’m choosing to put in effort so that I can work towards my goals in this little pocket of time while my grandma naps and my grandpa eats lunch.
So how do we control our effort, especially when we don’t feel motivated to do the things we know we should do?
Tip 1: Effort builds momentum. Have you ever sat down to do something, like weed a patch of garden, fix a pipe under the sink, or start on a craft project, and suddenly you find that it’s 4 hours later and you’ve accomplished way more than you originally intended to? That’s proof of this theory that I’ve adopted from others that putting in effort is actually the thing that makes us feel that “Motivated” feeling. When we feel motivated, it’s usually actually because we feel MOMENTUM building from the effort we are putting in. It’s that “I’ve come this far, I can’t quit now feeling” that we’ve all had at one point or another. How do you cultivate that? Just get to work. This sounds harsh, but you’re never going to feel like it, so you might as well try now right? I would recommend starting with something really simple and easy, like sorting your email inbox or making one phone call, or walking to the mailbox and back. You would be surprised how much momentum you can gather by just doing one thing at a time. Which leads me to tip 2.
Tip 2: One thing at a time. On of the biggest killers of effort for me is trying to do too many things at once. Overwhelm will suck the life out of your momentum every single time, and will make it harder for you to rally the strength, courage, and grit to put in effort next time. My rule of thumb is, I only work on one thing at a time, and I put everything else aside for that moment, INCLUDING MY CELLPHONE! Right now, my cell phone is living behind my computer screen, because that way I can’t see it, and I won’t get distracted by all the things that so desperately want my attention.
Have you ever experienced that frustrating ordeal where you have a to do list and you’re working on six of the items at once, and you spend all day being “productive” but at the end of the day you have nothing to show for all of your hard work? You put in so much effort, but because you weren’t focused on one thing so you never accomplished any of the things you needed to. That’s what happens every time you multitask. By picking one thing to accomplish at a time, you can build your momentum and conquer task after task without losing any ground. This can also alleviate your stress load because you know that by finishing one task at a time, you’ll actually be FINISHING more than you would be otherwise.
Doing one thing at a time takes practice and you’ll need to set yourself up for success. The best way that you can do that is by making sure that you schedule time in your day for each of the activities you hope to accomplish. For the first few weeks this will feel really restricting and until you get the hang of it, you’ll feel like you’re never going to have time to yourself again. But I promise that with a little practice, scheduling your to do list into your day will feel so freeing.
Other General Tips:
Finally, I want to leave you with some life-saving tips for this time.
- Turn OFF the NEWS! News media is designed to make you keep watching, and the place in the brain that it targets is your fear center. If you’re afraid, your brain wants to get more information and consequently you want to watch more TV. Find two reliable news sources, like the CDC Website or the World Health Organization, and learn about the funding behind your news sources. Don’t have the TV on all day, it’s not good for your brain!
- Limit your use of social media to a certain amount of time per day, or a certain period during your day. Don’t look at it first thing in the morning, or right before you go to bed.
- Create routines for yourself: A morning routine is a great start, but also try to get in exercise, and other types of things you enjoy. Maybe you listen to a great podcast with lunch every day, or maybe after work you read a novel for 15 minutes. Whatever it is, try to have it be something you enjoy, not something you think you “should” be doing.
- Love the people who are around you with all the passion you can. Especially because we have all been surrounded by the same people for so long, it’s incredibly important to approach your relationships with joy and understanding. I know it’s hard, but the people you’re around are doing the best they can too, and by loving on them, you’re not only helping them but also helping yourself.