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*

Celebrating Success

Celebrating Success

Hi All, I hope you’re enjoying your weekend, and that you’re getting the rest you need and deserve. This morning I want to write to you about Celebrating your Successes, and recognizing success when you see it. This is something I still struggle with and have been trying to be better about this year, and I hope you will join me in being mindful of your small successes!

When I first began my anxiety journey in high school, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. The whole world seemed SO scary that I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything but my fear. I was scared of going to school, I was scared of being home, and I was scared of my friends. I couldn’t understand that there would be a time when I would be able to do anything except cater to exactly what my anxiety wanted me to do.  However, one of the first things I learned to do in counseling was to celebrate when I had done something I previously couldn’t do. It has been a hard road, but here are some things I have learned about celebrating success.

First, I set my goals low to start. If I’m planning on doing something that scares me, I start with just the basic, bare minimum. For example, before the move to Tennessee, I was paralyzed with fear. For a long time as we prepared to move, I counted my day a success if I packed 1 box. Just one. Think about that for a minute; 24 hours, with all the things you own in your home, and moving in 4 months across the country, and yet my “Success” was packing a single box. It doesn’t seem like much to celebrate, but the fact is, I was still doing SOMETHING productive. And I celebrated each box that I packed. Before the day of the move, I decided that on that day, I would be proud of myself if I simply got into the moving truck. I could break down the instant I closed the door, and I could cry and scream and freak out the whole first day, but as long as I got into the truck and shut the door, I would count the day as a success. By celebrating small victories like this, I encouraged myself to keep trying.

The next step after you have met your low goals for awhile, is to up the ante a bit. Give yourself a slightly high goal to achieve. An example of this is staying the night at a friends. First, I would set my goal to just stay the night, no matter what. I could have a panic attack, freak out, throw up, or all of the above, but as long as I stayed until daylight, it was a success. Next, I would set a goal to stay the night, and also get (Insert number of hours) of sleep. It could be 1 hour, 3, or 10, depending on how I felt, but I would set that number and as long as I met those two requirements, I would count it as a success.

So what’s the point? I mean, this seems pretty silly right? Isn’t the point to stop yourself from having panic attacks or anxiety? The answer is yes, this IS silly, and yes, the point is to stop yourself from having panic attacks, but guess what? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if it’s taken 276 years to build Rome (Yes, I googled that thank you very much) then you’re not going to beat your anxiety in one day, sorry. Anyone who says differently is selling something. The point is, that you give yourself evidence that you can be successful. If you keep setting goals too high and failing, you will begin to feel that it is hopeless to try. But it’s not, you’re just shooting too big too fast.

Another important step for beating my anxiety is creating bundles of evidence. I know, what the heck does she mean “Bundles of Evidence.” Well, what do detectives do when they are trying to prove that someone is guilty? They create folders and folders of evidence to support their theory. I do the same thing. Whenever I start feeling anxious about something I start looking for evidence to support what I’m feeling. You do this too, you just don’t know it. “The last time I went to a party, I had a panic attack, so I’ll for sure have one this time!” “The last time I went to a counselor, they wanted to put me on medication, so I’m sure this one will too!” We do it every day! But the counter-curse (yes, I used a Harry Potter Reference) is equally as easy. You just have to build a pile of evidence to support your success! For example “The last time I had a panic attack at a party, I had drank too much alcohol. This time, I won’t do that, so I will be okay.” or even better “The last time I was on a plane, I DIDN’T have a Panic Attack, so I won’t have one this time.” That’s why celebrating successes are so important. Knowing that you had a successful flight, or meeting, or party last time, is evidence in your folder for why you can do something again. If you didn’t celebrate what you accomplished before, you won’t have any evidence to help you the next time.

Another way celebrating success has helped me is with my depression. I’m a very Type-A personality. I am WAY too hard on myself, or so my husband tells me on a daily basis. So often my depression hits me by telling me all of the things I didn’t get done, how everyone else is doing better at everyTHING else than I am, and that I shouldn’t even try, because it’s never going to amount to anything, (I’M never going to amount to anything) anyway. But, what my depression doesn’t know is that I have a secret weapon that I can use in advance to stop it in it’s tracks. When I celebrate my small successes, it gives me an arsenal of things I can look at that show me examples of when I DID get it right, or when I DID succeed at something I wanted to do! When depression sneaks up behind me and tries to ruin my day, I just slip in all the things that I’m doing well at, and it becomes a little easier to turn out the negative voices in my head and listen to experience instead!

So, before your next big thing, whatever it is that brings anxiety or depression to the forefront of your mind, make a list of all the successes you have made, and CELEBRATE THEM! Take yourself out to frozen yogurt, watch that movie you’ve been meaning to see, snuggle with your dog on the couch instead of writing that email. It’s okay to take time to celebrate the little things you do everyday. Because if you’re living with anxiety, depression, or any other type of mental illness just know, YOU’RE SUPERMAN/WOMAN and you’re going to do great things!

Let me know in the comments what you are doing to celebrate. I want to hear all about your successes! And know that I’m always here to reach out to if you need it!

Blessings,

Kyra

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Conquering the Air: How I went from Crying as I Boarded to (almost) Cool as a Cucumber

Conquering the Air: How I went from Crying as I Boarded to (almost) Cool as a Cucumber

How many people here are terrified of flying, raise your hands! (My hand shoots into the air!) Now, granted, I’m not afraid of the stuff that normal people are afraid of. I trust the plane, I trust the pilot, I’m not afraid of crashing, or of turbulence, or of the whole thing spontaneously combusting in mid-air… Whoops, probably scared some of you more there… sorry… Anyways, I’m not afraid of crashes. I’m afraid of being stuck inside a big flying cylinder with 200 people, and having an unexpected panic attack. Why? Because honestly? People judge. I don’t care what you say, when I’m next to a stranger on an airplane, and I’m sitting there sweating, and shaking, and freaking out, they look at me and 9 time out of 10, they’re thinking “What the heck is wrong with this woman!?!”

So when I moved to Tennessee and realized I would be flying a lot more than once every couple of years, and often by myself, I went into panic mode. We are talking, full on, called my mom, sitting on the bathroom floor, wailing, Panic. But then my always helpful good friend and counselor, Nancy Olsen, got ahold of me. See, the cool thing about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (The type of therapy I’m in) is that it is based on evidence and training. So off on a grand adventure I went!

In counseling, Nancy and I came up with a plan for when I would fly. We created back-up plans to my back-up plans, and practiced seeing tiny improvements as successes. And that’s the important part. We decided that each time, I would set a small goal, and if I accomplished that goal, I would choose to see the whole trip as a success. To help me with these successes, I needed a few things; Zipper, Dramamine, prescription anti-anxiety meds, and my trusty flying backpack kit.

First, Zipper. Having Zipper flying with me gives me something to focus on besides my anxiety. I have to focus on taking care of him, and making sure his needs are met. I also have to make sure that I’m protecting him from evil rolling suitcases and those little club car things that race around everywhere in the terminal. Zipper is also trained to help me in a panic attack, by getting on my lap and laying on my chest. His weight is calming and helps me come down from an attack much faster. Also, if I get stranded somewhere, I don’t panic because I’m alone, since I have Zipper with me. Trust me, he’s worth his weight in Gold during layovers and delays.

Second, Meds. Now, I wrote a piece a few months back talking about medication, and how I’m not a huge fan, but I’m taking it now to help me through a rough patch in my life. Well, I consider planes to be an exception to the rule. Whatever will help me get through a plane ride without and anxiety attack is something to use. I don’t drink alcohol so meds are the next best thing. Obviously, all of these medications have been approved by my doctor, and you should always talk to a doctor before taking new medications. I get motion sick on top of having anxiety, so I usually take one dramamine about an hour before my flight is scheduled to depart. Then I have my prescription on hand to take if I feel an attack starting to come on.

Third, My trusty flying backpack kit. What is in my flying backpack kit you may ask? All of the distraction and entertainment I could ask for. Movies and puzzle games downloaded onto my ipad, actual physical puzzle games, headphones, a good book, a journal and pen, my favorite stuffed animal, and usually some kind of bready, salty, snack. This way no matter what, I have something fun to do.

Which leads me to the final piece of my plan. I get to do things on the plane that I never allow myself to do on the ground. I have one particular jigsaw puzzle game that I LOVE. It’s called Magic Puzzles and its soooo addicting. But to help myself look forward to flying, I’m only allowed to play that game when I’m on the plane. This is a great mind trick to play with yourself and I truly recommend it!

The first task that I had to complete was to get myself into the airport and onto a plane where I could practice. I highly recommend avoiding practicing completely by yourself like I did, but I was kind of forced into a situation where I had to fly alone on my first big trip. I was headed back to Tennessee, by myself. I got to the airport early, so that I could make sure nothing would go wrong enough to prevent me from boarding. I was determined to make this work, so into the airport I walked, with my head held high and Zipper prancing along beside me, like we owned the place. I truly believe confidence is everything, and if I believe I can do it, then I can.

I’m not going to say that it was easy, in fact my first solo trip was interrupted partway by an unexpected 13 hour layover in San Francisco, by myself, with no one to help me stay sane, so it was FAR FROM EASY. But I like to say that even though I cried my way through almost the whole 24 hours, it was a success. Why? Because I accomplished my small goal, of “Getting on the Plane.” Once I did that, it didn’t matter because I had chosen to set that goal as my measure for success. I also learned so much about Flying and airports on that trip that I didn’t know before. For example, don’t run for a flight if you only have 5 minutes, because the boarding doors will be closed already. Just find a ticket counter and have someone help you book a new flight.

I’m also very grateful for the Flight Staff on almost all of my flights. On that first flight, the attendant let me sit with her on her jump seat for most of the flight and talked to me because I was so nervous. They are also very helpful when it comes to getting Zipper where he needs to be and with stowing my luggage. They fly for a living, so if you are nervous, TELL THEM. They are usually really good about checking in with you and making sure you’re doing okay.

Finally, Practice makes perfect. Try to go on as many flights as you can, and see some incredible new places. Exposure therapy truly works, and the more you expose yourself to things that make you uncomfortable, the more you will find that they don’t scare you as much anymore.

I’m still nervous when flying, but I don’t cry as we take off anymore, and once I even fell asleep during the flight! So yay! It’s all about putting in the work and reaping the rewards!

Happy Flying!

Kyra

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Our little set up when we fly. My feet go on either side of him.

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Chill-ish as a cucumber!

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During our 13 hour Surprise Layover.

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Reap the Rewards! What a beautiful View!

 

Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

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Survival. The one word can mean so many things. Usually, we consider survival to be the bare minimum. “At least she survived that horrific shark attack,” “He was fighting for survival in the woods for 5 weeks,” “I’m not trying to just survive, I’m trying to thrive!” Something a lot of people without mental illness take for granted is their ability to simply survive without trying. For those of us with Mental Illness, survival is a daily goal. I’ve often said to myself, or out loud, “I just have to survive today.” And I’ve meant it.

Survival is often a daily struggle for me, and while I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts, many people with mental illness do, so surviving is a VERY real battle for them. Somedays, it’s all I can do to move from my bed to the couch. Sometimes, just staying awake once I wake up is hard. These are very few and far between days for me now, but they still happen. So how to I prevent these types of days? The answer lies in a whole lot of self-care, and coping mechanisms!

(Before I go any further, I would like to say that I currently see a counsellor for my anxiety and depression, and while these coping mechanisms below may work for me, they may not for you or for someone you know, and THAT’S OKAY! They also may take time to start working. My best advice to anyone struggling with mental illness (Or really just anyone at all) is to find a counsellor or therapist to help you. We all need a mental tune-up once and awhile and mental health professionals are great at tuning up your brain! I’m not a mental health professional, so please don’t sue me if one of these coping mechanisms doesn’t work for you. I have no money for you to take anyways!)

So here’s a breakdown of all of the different coping mechanisms I use to help me get through my days and be mostly productive:

Meditation: I haven’t been as good about doing this one lately, but it really does help. Meditation is all about being aware of your body, and noticing feelings and emotions without judgement. This is particularly good for people with mental illness because it teaches you both to listen to what your body is telling you, and helps you practice not labeling things you think or feel as good or bad, but simply as they are. I’m going to do a whole blog on this topic later, but it’s very important to see your mental illness as something apart from you, instead of you. It’s okay to be angry with your anxiety or frustrated that it’s back, but if you don’t define it as something other than yourself, it often feels like you are mad at yourself, which simply isn’t fair to you. It’s not your fault you have mental illness and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do! Theres a great app for your phone that you can get called “Calm.” It has all kinds of meditations from beginners to advanced, and will guide you as you learn about meditation. To find out more about the app, click here.

Puzzles or Brain Teasers: For me, a big part of preventing a full blown panic attack is taking my mind completely off of whatever is causing my anxiety. A great way that I have found to do this is to engage in something that hold your brain’s focus, and makes you think. For this reason, I have lots of puzzles and brain teasers around my house and on my various pieces of tech. There’s a super useful one that I’ve found called Flexi Puzzle. It’s a string of cubes on an elastic that you have to manipulate to create over 80 patterns. I’ve been using it for a year now, and I still haven’t figured out all the patterns. I use it both before a panic attack and during to help my brain refocus and find something else to think about. It has about a 95% success rate for me, which is pretty incredible for a toy that costs $7.99 at Target! 

I also use a jigsaw puzzle app on my tablet called Magic Puzzles, that is great for when I’m on the plane. The puzzles are pretty tricky and engaging, and there are lots of different modes. I’ll link it here.

Exercise: Man, this is a big one. I hate exercising, going to the gym, or even looking at my yoga pants sometimes, but exercise really does help my anxiety and depression, so I do it anyway. Now, I’m going to say this really clearly: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, TELL SOMEONE THAT ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS EXERCISE AND THIER MENTAL ILLNESS WILL GO AWAY. That’s not how it works, but for some reason people think that exercise is like the Holy Grail of mental illness. IT’S NOT! For me, it helps take the edge off, but I still have anxiety and depression. Some people love exercising, and find that it truly is a miracle cure, and that’s awesome! But it’s just not that way for me unfortunately.

Exercising is helpful though, and I like to combine it with other fun things and use it as a way of self-care. For example, I love obstacle courses and challenges, so I like to go rock climbing or to an adventure park once in awhile. I like audio books, so I listen to them while I run, and Yoga is great for practicing mindfulness while doing something active. I would say, giving exercise a try is good for everyone. I’ve found it especially helpful during bouts of depression because it helps with the insomnia for my body to be tired at the end of the day. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you enjoy it at least a little bit, but also don’t over-do it. Listen to your body, and it will tell you what it needs.

Pets: If you follow me on facebook or Instagram, you know that I have a Trained Service Dog that goes with me to most places, especially when I travel, (More on service dogs in a later blog,) so the cuddles are pretty much endless when I need them, but for a lot of people, just having a pet is a great way to combat mental illness. For example, if my dog has to go out to potty, I HAVE to get out of bed and take him. Having something to take care of is a big help when you feel like you might have nothing to live for. If you have a pet, that’s awesome, but don’t feel like you have to own a pet to help your anxiety. There are lots of animal shelters who need volunteers, or services like dog walking for you to get your fix!

Breathing: Okay, this is the big one for me, and it should be for everyone honestly. Breathing exercises are some of the easiest and most effective ways of calming and centering yourself in any situation, after all, you always have your lungs with you, and unlike exercise, it’s not hard to do! The key is to find a breathing pattern that works for you. My personal pattern that I like the best is breathe in for a count of 6, hold for a count of 1, and breathe out for a count of 8. You can find all kinds of breathing patterns on line, but here’s a good link to get you started. It comes from Spire, which is a stone that is proven to decrease stress. You can read about it in the review I did of the stone here.

When ever I am in the middle of a situation that may make my anxiety act up, I begin my breathing pattern, and a lot of times, that’s all it takes for me to be able to calm down and go about my day. Not always though, and especially when you first start using breathing. Sometimes it just helps me maintain a non-crazy person appearance until I get to a place where dealing with a full-blown anxiety attack is something I can handle. For example, when I fly and have a panic attack, I use breathing to get me through until we land and I can find a bathroom to implode in. In short, keep breathing, it’s good for you!

The 5-Second Rule: This is my newest thing that I have started doing and it’s really helping me take on my day in the morning when anxiety and depression make me want to stay in bed and not participate. I’m going to post the link to the video here, but the gist of this technique is to count yourself down and go with your gut. In my case, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I open my eyes, and count 5-4-3-2-1, and shoot myself out of bed before I have time to think about it. It works on other places too. When I’m nervous about going into a building or a meeting, or when I’m afraid to speak up about something, I count in my head 5-4-3-2-1, and then I just do it! Without giving my brain time to talk me out of it. Seriously, watch the video, it’s good for you! (Then google Mel Robbins and get sucked down a motivational rabbit hole and fall in love with her as much as I have!)

And that’s all of them for now; I hope that you’ve found one of these ideas worth trying at least! Tell me what you use to cope in the comments and let me know what you want me to write about next! I’m going to try to be better about writing more (I know, I say that a lot!) but I want to know what you would like to read! Until next time!

Kyra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Admitting Defeat

Admitting Defeat

What does it mean to lose? The dictionary defines “Defeat” as many things, but I think most often when we hear the word “Defeat” we think of this definition from Dictionary.com “The act or event of being bested; losing.” Defeat isn’t a fun thing to go through; it’s not easy, and it doesn’t feel good, but sometimes admitting defeat is the best thing you can do for yourself.

But wait Kyra! How can losing be a good thing? Aren’t you all about being successful no matter what?? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is a little different, and that’s what I want to explain to you, (and to myself,) today.

See, it all depends on your definition of success. On my anxiety journey, success has always meant managing my anxiety without help from medication. I’ve often sang the praises of non-medical coping mechanisms, and simple therapy techniques, in response to questions about why I’m not on meds.  Recently, however, those same strategies that have been working for me for years, have started failing me, and it has made me reconsider my current definition of success in terms of anxiety.

For the last 8-10 months, my anxiety and depression have been steadily increasing, silently and slowly, so that I haven’t really noticed. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being relaxed by the pool with a drink in my hand, and 10 being watching a toddler slip over the edge of the Grand Canyon, I used to float at around a 4; what I would describe as the average person’s fear of public speaking. 4 was a good level for me, my anxiety was manageable, and when something happened that would elevate my anxiety, I had a decent amount of wiggle room between 4 and full-blown panic attack. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s much easier to bring anxiety down from a level 8, than it is to stop a panic attack (Level 10) once it’s started.)

However in the last few months, I’ve noticed that I currently float at around a 7… Not a lot of wiggle room from that to a 10. What this means is that things that I normally would be able to handle with only a 2-3 level increase, send me straight over 10, and into Panic Mode. We are just talking SIMPLE things, like making a phone call, or changing an established plan, this doesn’t even take into account big things, like traveling or having an argument with my husband.

I finally hit a breaking point in February when I traveled to visit a friend several hours away. Traveling hasn’t been an issue for me lately. It used to be a big problem, before I found counseling and coping mechanisms, but lately, traveling is something I actually kind of enjoy,(as long as the place I’m staying has functioning plumbing, and I don’t have to sleep in a tent!) But for some reason this trip opened up a whole new struggle, and the short story is, my anxiety kept me awake for close to 2 days. It came on quickly, and since I was already floating at an 8 from driving all day, there was no space for me to work it back down before the panic attack took hold. And MAN DID IT TAKE HOLD! I was in sheer distress mode for the whole night, and most of the next day, and none of my current coping mechanisms worked long term.

Since that event, I have lived between an 8 and a 10 most days, with the simplest things setting me off. Changing my dinner plans has me crying, and forgetting to respond to an email has me curling up in bed and waiting for the panic to subside. It keeps me from doing almost anything productive, and focusing on anything for very long pushes me to the point of sheer exhaustion. I sleep about 12-13 hours on average right now, and I’m still completely wrung out by 5pm. It’s no way to live my life, especially for someone like me who usually thrives on a busy schedule and productivity.

When I experienced another 2 days of crippling anxiety and fear on my trip to Orlando, FL, I decided that something had to change. I simply can’t keep living like this, and feeling this miserable all the time. So when my yearly check-up with my Primary Care Physician rolled around, I talked to her about what type of medication we could try. I wanted something gentle, because my last experience with medication for anxiety ended really poorly, but also something that was more useful than an herbal remedy. She had lots of options for me, and we finally came to rest on a very low dose of Buspirone every day to start, and Hydroxyzine tablets as needed to help with panic attacks.

Now, I’m not going to lie, the first few weeks have been kind of rough for me, in several ways. First, becoming adjusted to the meds has been a challenge. Through taking these meds we also discovered that I have severe allergies, and fluid buildup behind my eardrums, which made me dizzy. So I’m also taking two types of allergy medication now along with the anxiety medication.

I’ve been really cautious about taking the medication, which logically I know is not the best way to approach it, but so far I feel like it is truly beginning to work. We started with half doses morning and night and once I am comfortable there we will increase to see if that helps even more. Currently, the only differences that I notice are that I’m a little more patient, and I feel like the edge has been taken off slightly. I’ll be interested to see what happens as we increase the dosage in the next few weeks.

So, it’s time for the moral of the story, (I’m a writer, forgive me!) and that is this; Sometimes the best thing for you is the thing you fight the hardest against. I was too proud for too long to even give medication a try, and in doing so, I was unconsciously adding to the stigma that I so greatly disagree with. So I’m saying it loud and proud now. I take medication to manage my anxiety and depression, and it makes me a better, more productive person. And there is nothing wrong with that.

If you have anxiety or depression, I encourage you to examine your definition of defeat, and see if admitting defeat might just help you too!Canva - Pills, Medication, Tablets, Bottle, Drugs, Drugstore

Tips and Tricks: How to Choose the RIGHT Counselor

Tips and Tricks: How to Choose the RIGHT Counselor

Hey all, how are we doing? I know, we haven’t seen much of each other lately, which is something I am really going to try to change this year, it’s one of my new goals for the year. Now, I know most of you have set goals for the new year too, and (hopefully) one of them might be to take care of your mental health! If so, a really good first step would be finding some kind of mental healthcare professional to help you get started on your journey, and guide you as you go! If this is something you are interested in, I applaud you! It’s not easy to ask for help, and I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself so well! I’ve searched for a new counselor several times now, and each time I have learned a few things to make the next time a little easier. Hopefully these few tips and tricks can have you headed to the PERFECT Mental Health professional right away!

Tip 1: Types of Therapy

There are many, many, different types of Therapies, Philosophies, and Practices out there in the world, and it can be really hard to know what kind would best help you. The best advice I can give you in this area is to do a little research. There are some common ones out there, and I will explain my favorites, but make sure to do a little google searching before you even start looking for a counselor to see what type of treatments you might be interested in knowing a little more about.

There are a few therapies that I have had experience with that I absolutely love. I’ll share a little bit about them to give you an idea. Remember that I deal with Generalized Anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, as well as depression, so these techniques are tailored toward that end of the mental health spectrum, and you should always make sure to talk to a licensed healthcare professional before beginning any kind of mental health program.

I personally LOVE Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based (MBCT). I have also heard really amazing things about EMDR for trama-based disorders, but I have not personally experienced it.

Psychologytoday.com has definitions for these four approaches and I will list them here, as they do a much better job explaining them than I could, since I’m not a licensed mental health professional.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “…a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Unlike traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, which probes childhood wounds to get at the root causes of conflict, CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.” -Click Here for the full article

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: “…provides clients with new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four key areas. First, mindfulness focuses on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in the current moment. Second, distress tolerance is geared toward increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it. Third, emotion regulation covers strategies to manage and change intense emotions that are causing problems in a person’s life. Fourth, interpersonal effectiveness consists of techniques that allow a person to communicate with others in a way that is assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships.” -Click Here for the full article

Mindfulness Based (MBCT): “…a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises. Using these tools, MBCT therapists teach clients how to break away from negative thought patterns that can cause a downward spiral into a depressed state so they will be able to fight off depression before it takes hold.” -Click Here for the full article

EMDR: “…a unique, nontraditional form of psychotherapy designed to diminish negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic events. Unlike most forms of talk therapy, EMDR focuses less on the traumatic event itself and more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that result from the event. Treatment includes a hand motion technique used by the therapist to guide the client’s eye movements from side to side, similar to watching a pendulum swing. EMDR is a controversial intervention, because it is unclear exactly how it works, with some psychologists claiming it does not work. Some studies have shown, however, that EMDR is effective for treating certain mental-health conditions.” -Click Here for the full article 

What I personally like about the first three treatment approaches, is that they all focus not on venting about my life, but on finding practical and permanent solutions to my anxiety. There is work involved, and I come away each time feeling like I learned something or have another skill to practice or try. There are a LOT of therapies out there though, so poke around and see what you might be interested in trying!

Tip 2: Psychologytoday.com

One of the best resources for mental health information on the internet right now is Psychologytoday.com. Not only can you find information about each treatment approach but you can read articles, research mental disorders, and, my favorite thing, look for a new therapist or counselor! They even have a section where you can take self-tests to find out all sorts of things about yourself. It’s a one-stop mental health shop, and most of it is free! But, I’m not here to tell you about a website, I’m here to help you find a counselor, so here’s how I use this website to my advantage.

On the home page, you can enter your city and state and it will bring up a list of all the mental health providers in your area. I searched Nashville TN just to show you.Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.02.47 PM You can see on the side of the page, you can add filters. For example you can have the site show you only therapist who accept your insurance, and then you can select which issues you want them to be able to treat. I selected BlueCross and BlueShield, and the issues I selected were Anxiety and Depression.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.06.00 PMNext you can refine the search to include only male or female professionals, as well as a few other filters: I chose “Show only Women” and “Christian” as an example. As you can see, your choices are listed at the top left of your screen.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.09.49 PM Next is the important part; If you have found a few treatment approaches that you would like to know more about, you can select them from the list on the left now. I selected CBT and DBT because those are my two favorites right now. This narrowed my choices down to 2 Therapists. I could always take off some of the filters that weren’t as important to me if I wanted more options. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.11.52 PM Now that I have a few choices, I will move on to the next phase of my process.

Tip 3: How to choose a few professionals to interview (You heard that right, INTERVIEW!)

The next step of my process is to narrow it down to 2-3 counsellors to interview. In the example above, I would probably remove a few filters to give me a wider range of people to choose from, but the process remains the same.

First, I read their info section on their page. You can get there simply by clicking on their name. I’m looking for them to tell me what we will work on together. I don’t need to know their whole backstory right now, and I certainly don’t need just a list of their credentials, (Which is listed below their info section.) I’m looking for someone who is interested in the needs of their clients, and who clearly states what they will do to help clients. This counselor is a great example; She focuses on the words “You” and “We” instead of making it all about her. This can reveal a lot about what a counsellor will be like. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.18.11 PMWhile I’m here I also check qualifications, and make sure that the issues I need help with are in the “Specialties” area. (In green in the photos above.) In this case, anxiety is, while depression in an issue that she covers. I would probably consider this therapist for an interview.

As you are selecting 2-3 people to interview, I can’t stress enough, USE YOUR GUT. If you really like one person’s page, but they don’t have one or two things you wanted, contact them anyway, it could be a great fit. I would also recommend sending these pages to a close friend or family member who knows you well to get their opinions on who you should interview with.

When you are ready to set up some consultations, use the orange “Email Me” button to make contact and set up an appointment for a consultation. Make sure you let them know that it is only a consultation, and that you will have some questions for them.

Tip 4: Successful Consultations

Before you head to your consultation appointments with your “Finalists,” it can really help to prepare a few quick things so that you feel in control and in charge of the appointment. First, I always prepare a list of questions that i want each of the therapists to answer. I usually have answers that I will and will not accept in my head, so they either get a pass or a fail on each question. These questions can be as simple as “How long have you been in practice?” or as complex as this one from my personal questions “I believe that my parents are a huge support system for me, and while many counsellors feel I should distance myself from them, I refuse to do so as I believe it would be detrimental to my health. Is that something that you would be willing to respect or would you encourage me to reconsider?” Get creative, and ask about things that really matter to you. One thing I always ask at the end is if the counsellor feels like they are a good fit for me, because it does matter to me if they an see themselves being able to handle all that I will be needing.

Before going to my consultations, I also prepare a quick little back story/ mental health history, print it out, and bring it with me for them to have. I find that this allows us to make the most of our short consultation, while allowing me to share what they need to know about me. It also keeps me from rambling, as I’m known to do. Only include what you feel comfortable, but a timeline of some kind is often useful.

If you know that this isn’t going to be the person for you, or you start to feel uncomfortable at any time during the consult, feel free to get up, thank them for their time, and leave. There’s no sense in staying in a situation you don’t want to be in for longer than you need to, especially if you don’t sense a client-therapist relationship is possible.

Finally, if you are at all nervous, it is totally acceptable to bring along a close friend or relative with you the first time. Most counselors will be just fine with that, and if they aren’t, you can probably write them off as someone you don’t need to be seeing.

Tip 5: Making the Selection

After you have done all the interviews, and they have answered all your questions, it’s time to make your choice. This can be a slightly tough decision, especially if two therapists seem equally right for you. At this time, I would encourage you again to go with your gut. You will find that you usually connect better with one person than another, so just try that person first. Ask for a month trial period, just to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and to make sure that they remain a good fit as you get to know them.

Congratulations! You’ve got a shiny new Counselor who can help you through just about anything.

Tip 6: Mistakes I have made

As I said in the beginning, I have done this search several times now, and each time I have learned things that I could do better next time. Here are some of the big mistakes that I’ve made on my counseling journey:

1- Not asking questions: It’s as important for you to ask questions as it is for them in the consultation. If you don’t have questions to ask, how will you know if they are a good fit?

2- Not being selective: I have ended up in some pretty weird sessions before because i just took a friends word for it and booked a full session with someone that was not even close to a good fit for me. It’s not worth it guys, be choosy!

3- Staying way too long: I have two times that I’ve done this. The first was when I first got a counselor at 15, and she made me very uncomfortable right away, but I didn’t know how to get out of the situation (I was 15 after all) and so I stayed for the whole session anyway. I learned that day that the minute I feel uncomfortable, it’s time to WALK OUT. Luckily, nothing bad happened, and I was fine, but always listen to your Gut.

The second time I stayed way to long was when I found a counsellor I thought was going to be a good fit, but after a few weeks it was clear that she wasn’t going to be able to handle all of my issues. I felt bad canceling on her though and didn’t want her to be upset, so I kept going to her for 5 MONTHS! It wasn’t fair to either of us, and when I finally got up the nerve to call things off, I think we were both relieved.

4-Not being straightforward and honest. Counsellors are here to help, but they can’t help you if you don’t tell them the truth of what’s going on. I know how hard it can be to open up to someone who you don’t know well, but I promise that once you do, you will feel so much better, and they are TRAINED to HELP YOU. That’s their job, and almost all of them are very good at it. Be brave my loves and be honest!

 

I hope this helps you to find an amazing counselor to help you through some of life’s tricky spots. If you want to know more about anything in this blog, from what questions I ask, to sending me counselors you are considering and getting my opinion, please don’t hesitate to ask. I am more than glad to help!

I wish you the best on your mental health journey and remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Love,

Kyra

There’s a Hole in my Bucket!

There’s a Hole in my Bucket!

Hi there! First, I want to apologize for not writing for so long. It’s been a very crazy couple of weeks, but the good news is, soon there should be a very set schedule to my days, and I will be able to find more time to write.

Today, I want to talk about two things that actually go hand in hand. I want to talk about why having anxiety and depression is so exhausting, and what the difference is between having a panic or anxiety disorder, and having a moment of panic or anxiety. These seem to be two of the hardest things for people who don’t have these disorders to understand, and they actually are pretty interrelated. So let’s dive in, shall we?

The moment that spurred this topic happened a few weeks ago, during my Real Estate Class. When I’m in a class, I always tell the instructor about my panic disorder, and explain which things I have to do differently to be successful, and why. As I was explaining this, someone said “Oh I know how that is, I was panicking today because I thought traffic was going to make me late for class!”

SIDE NOTE: First of all, a big part of becoming okay with my disorder has been learning to forgive people for not understanding it. It’s not their fault that they haven’t necessarily experienced what I go through, and I can’t expect them to fully understand something they don’t live with. I wouldn’t expect people to fully understand all the inner workings and tricks of driving my car if they’ve never driven my car before right? Same concept. So what I usually do is just nod and smile with them, because calling them out for not understanding something in front of everyone isn’t a kind thing to do. It could make them feel embarrassed, which would only feed the stigma of “Don’t talk about mental health” (because someone will jump down your throat if you do.) If the moment presents itself later to have a conversation with that person one on one, I will let them know a little more about my disorder and maybe ask them if they experience anything similar. It could even be that they actually DO have a panic disorder, and just didn’t want to say so in front of everyone. You don’t know what fears and insecurities drive people until you get to know them, so I always try to air on the side of being kind and understanding.

This comment got me thinking, and I realized that something many people don’t understand (because they often can’t see it) is that these disorders are more than just moments of panic. So I decided then and there to write this blog.

The thing that makes anxiety and depression so exhausting is that you never quit fighting it.( I assume this is true for a lot of the other mental health disorders, but I can’t know for sure… leave me a comment and let me know if you deal with this too.) From the moment I wake up in the morning, until I finally lose consciousness at night, every thought I have, every decision I make, every thing I decided to do or not do, every phone call, text, email, every food or drink I consume, is about anxiety in some way. When I wake up, the first thing that happens is my depression suggests that I just stay in bed because nothing I will do today will matter in the long run. (And people ask why I hate mornings. haha) Usually this means that I lay in bed, and watch inspirational videos on a channel I like on youtube, I’ll put it here, if you’re interested, until I get motivated enough to get up. Once I’m up, I head out to the kitchen, for my morning tea. About two years ago I gave up coffee. Caffeine is really bad for anxiety, and once I quit drinking it, I felt more in control than I had in a long time. So I stick with herbal tea, even on the mornings when I only got 4 hours of sleep, because the caffeine just isn’t worth the panic attack later in the day. Next I usually have oatmeal or fruit for breakfast, because those are two proven foods that keep me full but don’t make me feel sick in the morning. Hunger and anxiety are an interesting pair, I can’t be too full, because the full feeling makes me feel a little sick and I’ll have an attack, but I can’t be too hungry either, or I’ll start feeling faint which will lead to an attack. Next I take my shower and get ready for the day. I listen to really upbeat music on Pandora in the morning and try to memorize all the songs, because it keeps me from thinking too hard about my day and keeps my depression from finding a way to convince me to just get back in bed because the day will be too hard. As I get ready, I usually try on three to four different outfits and decide on the one that BEST fits my day, based on who I will see, what activity I’m doing, if the people I see will think less or more of me depending on the way I dress, and I spend a lot of time obsessing over the fact that “I shouldn’t care what people think of me, and I should just be happy with myself,” but all the while battling the anxiety building inside me that I’m not good enough, or pretty enough, or stylish enough. This type of thinking goes on throughout my day, and underneath all of these decisions, and texts, and distractions, and good, non-anxiety producing choices, the anxiety is still there.

Anxiety never goes away. It’s always there, dictating what I should or should not do, showing me all the possible ways that something can go wrong, making me hypersensitive to the world around me. I see the cracks in the sidewalk from my window and wonder if an earthquake hit, would they get bigger. I see the rain forming puddles outside and hope that if it floods our apartment won’t be drowned. I see the dog do something weird and spend the next 30 minutes watching him to make sure he’s not sick. It’s constant. Which brings me to; “What is the difference between this, and a moment of Panic?”

I want you to imagine something for me. Imagine you’re at the Grand Canyon with your family. You look up and you see a child, (your child, or someone elses, either way) walking along the edge of a cliff, giggling, and not knowing the danger. Then, their foot slips. There’s no way to get to them in time if they fall, but your body spurs you into action anyway, and you fly over to them and barely snatch them away from the fall, hold them close, and know they are safe. Now, remember the sheer dread you felt when you saw their foot slip? That is the feeling I have underneath every other emotion I feel, and it is there All. The. Time. There is no moment of relief following a moment of panic. It’s like the child in this scenario is forever frozen mid-fall and you are forever frozen two inches away from grabbing them. It’s always there, and most of the time, it’s completely invisible, because I have learned through the years how to hide it, and how to deal with it. I have learned how to live my life, without letting the panic, and fear, and dread take over. And the only time you see it, is when it breaks through and I have a panic attack.

That’s the difference between “I panicked because I thought I was going to be late” and “I have a panic disorder.” The “Disorder” part means that my panic button is stuck down, and no amount of prying can get it unstuck.

So you can see, then, why people who suffer from these disorders are tired all the time.  I fight all day long, every day, even though you can’t see it, the battle is raging. It’s a constant battle, and in order to live a fulfilling life, I have to win more battles than I lose. When I lose a battle, we get to have a Panic Attack, which I would like to avoid at all costs.

My therapist and I recently came up with a great analogy for this, and I’ve used it as the title to this blog. Pretend that everyone has a bucket. And each night as we sleep, our bucket gets refilled with water. Mentally healthy people have a good solid, stainless steel bucket. People with mental illness have a great bucket too, but in the bottom of their bucket they have a hole called, in my case, anxiety. Some days the hole is small, and some days it’s big, but there’s always a hole. Now, as we all go through our days, during each exchange we make, each text we send, every meeting we go to, we pour a little water out of our bucket. At the end of the day, we need sleep to replenish the water, because our bucket is now empty. But for those of us with a hole in our bucket, our water level goes down much faster, because we lose some water during the whole day through the hole. Now depending on how big the hole is that day, we could lose all the water in our bucket in the first two hours we are awake. Which means we go the rest of our day, with no water to pour out in other exchanges.

If we think about the water in these buckets as emotional energy, we can see very clearly that those with a hole in their bucket are going to get tired much faster than those without a hole. If we are conscious of the holes in other peoples buckets we can be more understanding of them, and help them to refill their bucket. You can ask them what they might need to recharge, and then help them do it if you can. You can offer to let them skip the meeting and have it tomorrow, or you can say “Hey, why don’t we stay in tonight, and we can go out to the bar next Friday.” You may be surprised at how grateful we are for those little things.

For those of you who have holes in your buckets, it’s OKAY! It’s not your fault that you have a hole in it, and while there are things you can do to make the hole smaller, like therapy, making good food and drink choices, staying away from drugs, etc, it may never completely go away. Find people who are accepting of your limited energy and who help refill your bucket, and don’t worry about people who don’t.

Do you (or someone you know) have a hole in your bucket? What are some of your ways of coping? Do you want to know more about how my anxiety affects my day? Comment below!

Cheers!

Kyra

Watering Can

Courage is not the Absence of Fear…

We all have our challenges, and certainly, mine are not as difficult to fight as some that many of you are battling. But I also believe that facing our challenges is how we as humans grow. Something Drew brought up to me the other day, as I worried about this newest challenge I’m facing is a quote from one of my favorite movies. In The Princess Diaries, Princess Mia’s father writes her a letter before he passes away and part of the letter reads “Courage is not the Absence of Fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. The Brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all” I’ve been repeating this mantra quite frequently lately as I faced one of my biggest fears this week.

For me, the scariest kind of challenge is not heights, speed, or even spiders, (Although I’m not particularly fond of spiders…) no, one of my biggest fears is spending all day in a classroom. I am currently taking a 3 week real estate course, and on the first day, I had an awesomely impressive Panic Attack. I wrote the following while in the grips of the attack, and wanted to share with the world, the inner workings of a Panic Attack mind. Because I want to preserve the rawness of the moment, I haven’t edited, meaning it may jump around, or not be written in perfect grammar. Sorry about that in advance, but I think it helps to get across how a Panic Attack mind works in the moment. Hopefully you find it helpful, either as a fellow anxiety warrior, or as someone who loves one.

Today is the first day of my real estate course, and my preparations began last week. I began working on my strategies for being successful in the class, such as getting enough sleep, going to the gym, sitting in the back of the room, and having good, realistic success goals. Classrooms are scary for me for many different reasons. First, a lot of my anxiety comes from feeling trapped. While I know classrooms have doors, and I’m not physically trapped, there is an expectation that you stay in class, in order to get the attendance points. I can’t leave without losing these points, which are what I need to pass.

There’s also the social aspect of it. I don’t want people to think I’m flaky, or be concerned about me being sick. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. So getting up to go to the bathroom, (to breathe and deal with my anxiety) 16 times is a little attention drawing, and is therefore out as an option. 

Another issue is that I am sitting still. Classrooms don’t really offer the option to move about, walk around, sit on the floor, etc. My anxiety is kept at bay often by the act of moving around, at home I’m always fiddling with something, doing chores, walking the dog, etc. Many people say they can’t believe how busy I am, but what they don’t understand is that busyness is what keeps me sane, often. So in a classroom, I’m not allowed to move around, (understandably, because it would distract other people,) but that makes my anxiety ten times worse. 

Finally, this class is especially rough because it is 8 hours long. I’m there from 8:30am to 5:00pm. Which makes for a very long time to fight the monster that is my anxiety.  As I’ve said before, I’m always fighting off my anxiety, but sometimes it gets the best of me. So the longer I fight a heightened anxiety level, the harder it is to starve off a panic attack. Classes this long tend to push the limits of my “magic” abilities when it comes to keeping my anxiety in check.

With all that said, I think my first day was rather successful. Part of living with anxiety is setting realistic goals and being kind to yourself. My goal for today was to go to the class, and stay for the whole time. I told myself it was fine if I had a panic attack, but I hoped I wouldn’t. 

I did just fine until about 2pm, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly the room spun around me, which shot involuntary panic up my spine. Anxiety attacked full force in that split second of panic, and suddenly I was dealing with a cold sweat, dizziness, nausea, a racing heart, and a clenched stomach. In that moment, I was taken from the defensive line, straight to clean-up duty. I began with a trip to the bathroom. I used the facilities, and then spent a few moments doing jumping jacks, to get some energy out, pacing, to move my body and relieve the adrenaline factor, and put some wet, cold paper towels on my neck and forehead to cool off. I also took my jacket off to get cold, because that usually helps. 

Once I had a bit of the edge off, I returned to my seat and began to use some of my other coping mechanisms. First, I pulled out my phone and texted my friend, Rachel*, who is in this anxiety warrior battle with me. I asked if she had time to text with me and help me get through the rest of the class. She, being the wonderful human being she is, responded with coping reminders, and pictures of puppies. 

Next I switched from actively learning to listening, and writing out how I was feeling, hence this dialog. I followed along in the book, but did not take notes on what the instructor was saying. While I know this is not an ideal learning style, after years of trial and error, I have learned that it is much better to figure out how to remain in class and just listen than it is to leave class and let anxiety keep me from my education. I can study hard at home tonight and ask questions tomorrow in class when I have recovered. As long as I sit in class, all day, no matter what notes I take, I count it as a successful day.

While doing these things I kept my breathing steady and deep. I also tried to focus on all things I know to be true, and wrote these things down. “My anxiety cannot kill me, this is just a phase in my day, I just have to sit here and do nothing else, I can leave it I choose to, my anxiety is not me, there is no immediate danger,” writing these things out, over and over, helps convince my brain that they are true. 

At this point, class ended and I was able to go home. But I would like to talk a little bit about some reflections I did after I got home that day. I think reflecting on what caused the attack and what i could have done to help myself be even more successful is very useful in this life-long battle.

First, I made a seating mistake. Normally, the best place for me in a room like this is to sit in the back. That way I don’t have people sitting behind me and I don’t worry about not being able to see those people. I also try to sit on edges so that I don’t feel as trapped. I violated both of these rules on Monday, by sitting near the front of the classroom and on an inside seat. I felt weird being the first person in the room and sitting in the back row. In other words, I let the judgements of others limit my success. Don’t do that people. Do what you need to do to be successful, and don’t let the judgements of other stop you.

Second, I drank coffee. I know better, but the room was so cold, and the warm coffee looked so good, so I had a cup. Caffeine and anxiety do not go well together. At all. If you have anxiety, I HIGHLY recommend you cut off all caffeine intake as soon as you can. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you feel on a daily basis. I switched to de-caffeinated tea and water about 2 years ago, and once the caffeine headaches went away after about 2 weeks, I have never looked back.

It was about an hour after I drank the coffee that the full-blown attack hit, so I think that just pushed it over the edge.

In short, I survived my first day of school and the next few days, I made sure to only drink echinacea tea, I took an calming herbal supplement in the mornings, and I brought my stress-ball to class. But the best part of this story, and the part I want you to remember, is that I STAYED IN CLASS, and I SURVIVED! You can to. When you face a situation where you think your anxiety is going to get the best of you, FIGHT BACK. My Mom, in her incredible wisdom, always told me “You can do anything anyone else can do, you just have to do it differently.” And being different is what makes us all so special. Remember that “Courage is not the absence of fear.” I challenge you to be courageous and face your fears. You can do it.

Let me know in the comments what battles or challenges you are facing or have faced, or if you have any questions about my coping mechanisms. I would love to hear from you.

Kyra

*Rachel’s name has been changed to protect her privacy