Handling Anxiety in/about Today’s World

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.

Cheers!
Kyra

 

 

Handling A “Depressing” Weekend

Handling A “Depressing” Weekend

Sometimes, on this journey to mental health wellness, we get to thinking that we’ve got it made. We start thinking, I’m on top of it, I’m doing all the right things, and I’ve fixed myself. That’s where I was about a week ago. This quarantine has actually been remarkably easier than I expected it to be. I’ve been working out, drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep (for the most part,) eating healthy foods, and taking good care of my brain by not watching a lot of TV and avoiding social media posts that are unproductive or mean. I’ve been super proud of myself for how I’ve handled everything that’s been thrown at me, and I’ll be honest, I started to get a little cocky.

Cue the last five days. Now, I’m going to preface this story with the note that I’m not going to share the details of the “Why” for this event, because one, it’s personal, and two, there are more people than just me involved and it’s not okay to share someone else’s story without their direct input, so you’re just going to have to be okay with that.

So last Thursday I woke up with major depression. I hadn’t been getting enough sleep, or drinking enough water, and I had been spending a significant amount of extra time on social media for the last two days. Apparently two days are all that it takes to shake this “Extra-Strong, I AM WOMAN” mental state I thought I had cultivated. I woke up, and in my bones I knew that my depression was back. I normally get up at 5:30am, but on Thursday, I finally drug my myself out of the comfort of my weighted blanket enhanced sleeping nest at 7:30am. I knew I had to get up because the worst thing you can do when you have depression is to stay in bed all day. So I got up, I made some food, and I drank my pre-workout. I ended up working out, and then going outside and mowing the lawn, as well as rearranging some panels back at our barn. This seems like a lot for someone struggling with depression, and for a lot of people it is, but I’ve fought this beast before, and I’ve got a couple tricks up my sleeve. Depression is afraid of sunlight and hard work, so I went out to give it a dose of both.

It didn’t work.

Friday was exactly the same, hard to get up, hard to get moving, and I wasn’t nearly as successful at getting anything done.

The thing about Depression is, it’s kinda like a video-game monster. When it gets even a little win, it grows stronger. So Saturday I slept in until 8am, snoozing my alarm every 30 minutes, and my depression rejoiced in my lack of discipline to get myself up. I worked Saturday afternoon, and was by myself in my office for a little while which made me feel anxious (ya know, a young woman, alone in an office building, upstairs with no one around… it’s like the beginning of a crappy horror film,) and the depression fed off the anxiety and grew stronger. By Sunday morning, my depression that started out the size of a house cat was now a hippopotamus of doom, and was growling. So I did the worst possible thing I could do, but also the only thing I felt like I could do: I woke up, ate breakfast, and went straight back to bed. I made it to the kitchen table for church, which actually did make me feel a lot better. Win for Kyra, the Depression shrunk to an alligator.

Later Sunday Afternoon, a friend came over to run through some dance stuff that we needed to go over. I really enjoyed getting my dancing shoes on, and Depression shrunk again; I was WINNING!

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. You know in old video games when the boss starts to shrink and you think you’re winning, and you’re almost to the death swing, and then the enemy pulls out a vial and drinks some potion, or eats some creepy plant, or lands a good blow to your forehead, and all of a sudden, you’re losing? Sunday Afternoon was my Depression’s Poison/Plant/Death Blow moment.

Like I said before, I won’t go into the why. But I will say that conflict ALWAYS escalates mental health issues, especially when you’ve not been focusing on self care like you should. Suddenly, I found myself inside an uncomfortable conflict that I wasn’t expecting, and my depression snapped down onto this opportunity so quickly that I didn’t know what hit me.  I don’t normally cry in my depression, I usually just feel more of an emptiness and a consuming chill, but this time I sobbed my way through Sunday, and into Monday, getting very little sleep, which as we know, makes Depression stronger.

The good news is that we settled the conflict, and worked through it, and the even better news is that I get to look back on this weekend, and see what the takeaways can be about my mental health.

Takeaway #1: Don’t get Cocky
Over the last few months I have been very intentional about my self-care and mental health routines. I’ve been doing everything right, which meant my anxiety and depression were more dormant than they have been in months, and I had allowed myself to become complacent and let my guard down when it comes to my mental health. That means that I stopped taking as good of care of myself as I should be, and I allowed other things in my life to become a priority over my brain. The best example I can think of is the fact that I started watching TV in the evenings with my family, and would often stay up too late watching a show, instead of getting ready and going to bed early enough to practice my sleep hygiene routine. This led to less sleep, which is my first line of defense. If I’m tired, my anxiety and depression immediately seize control. When I am taking good care of myself and my brain, a crisis is still stressful, but it usually doesn’t have the power to send me into a metaphorical pit of despair. By getting cocky, and thinking I didn’t need to take as good of care of myself, I opened myself up to the possibility of a crisis being much more stressful than it would have been if I had been squarely centered in self-care.

Takeaway #2: Sometimes doing the bare minimum is Okay.
I’ve always been a high-achiever, and I feel horrible about myself if I’m not doing at least one thing productive at all times. I can’t even watch a movie without needing to knit or do some other craft that will create something useful. The hardest part of depression for me is the lack of willpower to do absolutely anything. I had heard about a technique used by several different therapists where they instruct people with Depression to gather the energy to do “Just the Next Thing.” I decided to try this on Monday, since I had errands I needed to run and several other projects to get done. I’m happy to say that this method really worked, and even though it was the bare minimum, I still got SOME things done, which made me feel better and not beat myself up so much for not getting anything productive done. I encourage you to try this technique the next time you feel overwhelmed or depressed. The next thing can simply be “Stand up.” Then the next thing might be “Walk to the dresser,” Etc. It was super helpful and I’ll definitely use it again.

Takeaway #3: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Moving Your Body
We know that physical activity is good for us, and gives us endorphines, etc, but how many times when we feel anxious or depressed do we actually turn to a healthy form of exercise as a coping mechanism? I will be the first to say I don’t do that enough. But since I’m currently on a workout program that has assigned days, I didn’t want to miss out or fall behind, so I did my workout even though I didn’t feel like it. It was incredibly helpful and made me feel a lot better, plus BONUS, I got really sweaty, so the hardest task for anyone with depression, taking a shower, became really easy because I was ready for the cool water and to feel clean again!

Takeaway #4: Don’t Allow Others to Steal Your God-Given Joy (The one where I get religious for a minute.)
I’m a Christian, and I fully believe that God gives us an infinite amount of joy in this world. It’s just up to us to seek it and embrace it. Sometimes, we let other people influence our mood or our mental space, and we lose sight of thejoy that is our gift from our Heavenly Father. I learned this weekend that sometimes in the midst of fear and stress and self-doubt, the best thing we can do is reach out for our Father, and ask him to restore our joy. When I relinquished control, andasked Him to wrap me in peace and Joy, I instantly felt better about the situation, and I know that’s what he was asking me to do. The comfort I felt from Him was overwhelming and I knew that He would provide for me, if only I would let go of trying to solve the problem myself and allow Him to work through me. Instead of staying in my bed, where I had retreated in the afternoon, I got up, put on a cute dress and some killer red heels, and went to dinner to celebrate my husband receiving his Doctorate Diploma in the mail yesterday. And you know what? God Answered my prayers and helped to remove the stress and tension from my life, just like He said He would.811F5354-B84C-4C3D-948D-E67DB016A4AF_1_201_a

Stop Comparing Your Child’s Anxiety to Mine!

Stop Comparing Your Child’s Anxiety to Mine!

The more openly I talk about my mental illness, the more that this issue seems to crop up, so I have decided I need to address it. Recently, I was talking to a mother whose child is a young teenager, living with several mental illnesses, including anxiety. She was asking my advice on how to help her daughter, which I just want to say, is incredibly admirable. She is seeking help for her child when many family members would be inclined to brush mental illness under a rug. Now, I’m definitely not a professional or licensed counsellor, but I understand that for some people, it’s easier to approach a friend for advice than a doctor, so I will give advice, if asked, based on MY experience with anxiety, and no one else’s.

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One of my biggest pieces of advice that I give parents is to be VERY structured with their children, and to encourage them to do the very thing that scares them over and over until it’s not scary anymore. For example, if a young girl is not behaving in school, and the parents and doctors agree that it is because of her anxiety, I don’t believe the answer is pulling her out of class every time she gets anxious. This only teaches her brain that there is something to fear. Instead, I always suggest that parents encourage their kids to sit in the discomfort of anxiety for as long as they can. Of course this is much more beneficial if you can be open with the child’s teacher about the situation, and if the child is seeing a therapist who can give them coping strategies for sitting in their anxiety.

Basically, don’t create a habit for your child of getting out of situations that scare them or trigger their anxiety. Anxiety will prey on that, and soon your child won’t even be able to leave their bed without fear. I understand that usually the idea of getting your child out of something that is hard for them seems like you’re on the right track, because when they are out of the situation, the anxiety dissipates. But here’s the thing, if every time your brain thinks it’s going to die for absolutely no intelligible reason (Which is basically what anxiety is) you run from that situation, your brain is going to think that it was right to be worried. If, however, you are able to stay in that situation and prove to your brain that there is nothing to be scared of, your anxiety levels will go down with time, because your brain learns that there is nothing to fear. #science #reversepsychology

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When I shared this advice with this mother, however, the words that came out of her mouth were ” You don’t understand though, her anxiety is BAD! It’s nothing like yours, you can control yours, she CAN’T!”

Wow. That hurts my heart. Not for the reasons you might think though. I’m not hurt because she’s saying that I don’t understand her daughters anxiety; she’s right, all anxiety is different and it’s experienced vastly differently by each person. I’m also not upset that she thinks my anxiety is under control; I’ve given her no reason to suspect otherwise, and she’s right, most of the time my anxiety is under control now.

No, I’m upset because she is crippling her daughter on the basis of what she sees another person doing. Let me explain.

By comparing her daughter’s experience as a 13 year old, just learning that she HAS anxiety, let alone how to cope with it, to someone who has been in therapy for 12 years, she is virtually writing off any success her daughter IS making because it’s not on par with how I live MY life.

I have spent YEARS going to therapists. Not to the same one… I think in total I have seen 7 therapists, but 12 years is a long time. Let’s compare shall we? That 13 year old Girl has literally only been ALIVE one year more than I’ve been in therapy. Not only have I frequently seen a therapist once a week for 12 years, but I have done TONS of work outside of therapy, things like reading books, journaling, meditating, reading more books, exposure therapy, having panic attacks in bathrooms on planes, reading even more books, doing more journalling, researching the newest tools, buying the newest tools and having them not work, reading more books… you get the idea. I have been EXTREMELY proactive about helping myself, and learning as much as I can about my brain and how it works. I’ve had to become incredibly self-aware, I’ve learned to stand up for myself when something is too much, but I’ve also learned that the only way to conquer a fear is often just to do the thing that scares you so many times that it doesn’t scare you anymore.

By comparing yourself or someone else to me, and what my life looks like now, you completely sell yourself or that person short because what you can’t see is all the work that went into BECOMING the person I am today.

To that end, let’s take a trip back in time shall we? WHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! (imagine swirling around and around in a TIME VORTEX!!!!)

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Okay, that’s much cooler in movies, but I digress.

When I was 6 years old, I started having panic attacks. The teachers called it extreme separation anxiety, but we really didn’t understand what was going on. My mom had to volunteer almost all day. every day, at the school until 5th grade. It was A LOT. I couldn’t do sleepovers at friends houses because the panic attacks would come at night. I couldn’t go anywhere without my mom because I might have one, but even if my mom was there I still had them. We started going to doctors because we didn’t know what else to do and this issue was getting worse. Fast forward through LOTS of medical testing, I even swallowed that green goo that makes you light up like a christmas tree on the inside, because the doctors thought I might have some GI issue- (My panic attacks masquerade as a stomach bug or food poisoning or both,) and we were getting desperate.

I was back in my pediatricians office, at 15, still very confused and still with no answers. Why after lunch every day did I feel like I was going to die and would go to the school bathroom to cry for 10 minutes? Why did my heart race like it was going to explode? Why did I have inexplicable stomach issues at all times of the day and night, no matter what they cut from my diet or even if I didn’t eat at all. My doctor was looking over my extensive chart, and all of a sudden it was like a light bulb came on and he asked the question that forever changed my life “What does it feel like inside your body right before all of these things happen? Is there one feeling that always comes before all of this?” My answer was something like “Well yeah, my heart races, my head spins, and I feel super scared that it’s going to happen again.” That was the beginning of the answers for me, and it has been a very long road.

So back to my original point: When you compare your or your child’s mental health journey with mine, you are sabotaging yourself or your child right up front. It’s simply not fair. If you were learning to play tennis, would you compare yourself to Serena Williams? Of course not! (Not that I’m any mental health Serena Williams, but you get the point.) You would look at that Queen, say “Wow! She’s so good!” and then you would keep on practicing your own tennis game. Of course, you’re going to get frustrated sometimes, but really, even Serena can’t hit the ball in just the way you can and you can never hit like her. You’re different people for heaven sakes! And that’s my point.

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We are all in different levels, places, and spaces in our mental health journey. Why do we feel the need to compare? When you compare your child’s successes to mine, OF COURSE they won’t measure up, and they aren’t supposed to because they aren’t me. They are learning how to cope with their anxiety and live in their world. The best thing you can do is to provide them the tools they need to grow and learn. I’ll also do a separate post about learning to lean into your anxiety instead of running away from it, but the basic motto is this: Exposure therapy works. Don’t give your child excuses for why they can’t do something with anxiety, instead, give them the tools they need to be successful in whatever environment they are required to be in.

I guess, in the end, what I want people to know is this: Be patient with the journey that your loved ones with mental health issues are on. If you’re raising kids with anxiety, don’t coddle them, but do get them the help that they need. Don’t stop at “Good Enough,” because your children should be allowed to flourish, and sometimes, part of that is letting them experience the discomfort of training their brain.

See my next post for tips on how to train your brain to tolerate situations that make you anxious!

Cheers!

Kyra

*Artwork from Canva.com*