Why anxiety makes me anxious

imageAfter two years of trying to overcome my symptoms of anxiety with the help of my therapist and my own self-will, it had gotten to the point where I realized it was time for some medicated help.

I had fought the idea of Xanax for some time because I felt my anxiety was still under my control. Eventually though I began to feel that my anxiety was controlling me more so than the other way around.

My doctor and I began discussing the benefits of Xanax.

“What are the side effects?”

“Will it be hard to lean off of it?”

“When will it start working? Better yet, when will it stop working?”

I asked question after question after question. Then I stopped myself when I realized I was having anxiety over treating my anxiety!

Dealing with anxiety is often a more anxious experience than the anxiety itself.

As humans, when something is uncomfortable and unpleasant, we want to make it go away as quickly and easily as possible.

Unfortunately, anxiety is not quite so kind.

I think I speak for others who also have an anxious brain when I say it is scary to think that this discomfort will always be present.

How can I ever truly be myself if my personality is always wrapped inside of this anxious cloud? Will my authentic self ever be revealed?

The truth is, asking these questions only generates more anxiety. Being anxious about being anxious is the worst form of anxiety in my opinion, mainly because there is no end to that mode of thinking.

What is the answer to why can’t I just stop being anxious? Asking that question is only tightening the grip that anxiety has on you.

We need to be committed to finding ways of managing and gaining control over our anxiety rather than wrestling with how to rid of it completely.

When we shift our energy towards coping strategies and tools we can use in those moments of anxiety, I guarantee they will be more useful than clinging to the thought of, “Why won’t this just stop already?”

I have tried the latter and it simply is not an effective strategy.

So the time has come to find a new approach. I am not sure what that is for certain, but dedicating my time to finding it out, rather than perpetuating negative thoughts, seems like a good place to start.

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Steps to align our external world with our internal voice

 

imageDo your actions reflect what is going on inside of you?

You want to lose weight, but you dine at McDonald’s.

You want to spend less time at the office and more time with your kids, but yet your day planner consists of endless corporate meetings.

Here is a personal example: I absolutely hate feeling hungover. My body has never responded well to alcohol, even if it’s just a drink or two. I despise waking up the next morning tired, achy, and with zero energy.

But yet, more weekends than not, I find myself enjoying a couple glasses of wine, completely ignoring that voice of reason that is reminding me of my poor decision.

Human beings are a highly intelligent species but yet our mode of thinking often suggests otherwise.

So many things that overwhelm and stress us out, believe it or not, are within our control.

I could choose not to drink alcohol and it would rid of my hangover problem. It is that simple!

So how do we make our actions reflect our internal desires?

First, make clear what your internal wants and needs are. Make a list. Write out that you want to lose weight or start working out. Start out with just one or two of your top priorities so that you do not overwhelm yourself.

Second, make a list of what your life would look like if it reflected these goals. For example, if your life reflected your desire for weight loss, maybe your refrigerator would be stocked full of fruits and vegetable. Perhaps, you would go on evening walks. Envision which external actions would reflect your internal goals.

Lastly, after you have made clear what your internal desires are and what they look like on the outside, make a plan. Keeping with the example of weight loss, plan a trip to the grocery store with a healthy grocery list in hand. Make arrangements with a friend to begin walking a couple nights a week.

It can be helpful to find a buddy with similar goals to help hold you accountable but if you can’t, then hold yourself accountable.

Humans have much more willpower and self-control than we give ourselves credit for. The hardest part is tapping into it. Be commitment. Experiment and find what works for you. If you are visual, write out lists. If you need reminders to keep you committed, put up post-its around your house and in your car.

Happiness is increased when our outer world reflects our inner thoughts. When everything is aligned, there is peace. Make a commitment to seeking this peace, followed by a commitment to the steps necessary for getting there.

My Mind, Body, and Soul Revelation

ImageSo I went and got inspired and decided to tweak my blog to reflect this.

These past few weeks have made me increasingly aware that happiness is more than having a straight mind. Ironically, I sort of stumbled upon this revelation by accident.

For whatever reason, I have been on a health food kick lately. I began eating mostly whole foods and felt so much healthier and energized that I started thinking of other ways to attain this good feeling.

I began working out more consistently, switching up my workout routine. I ran along Lake Michigan and started a yoga class. Once again, I was feeling so good that I wanted to keep it going.

Then, it dawned on me that I could reach a higher level of happiness by nourishing not only my mind, but also my body and soul. This is by no means a new revelation I have stumbled upon. But I guess I had to experience the benefits of it before buying into it.

This idea of nourishing mind, body, and soul has really opened me up more to life. I find myself more open to new experiences that I know will leave me feeling good about myself. I welcome all positivity.

This “good feeling” feels almost like a drug. I want to find it wherever I can and as often as I can.

The best part is, unlike seeking the pleasurable, short-lived feeling found in alcohol, relationships, or money, I feel I am attaining this feeling through bettering myself.

It is like a double reward: I am feeling good in the moment and making long-lasting  benefits to my mind, body, and soul.

So this trinity will now be the focus of my life and this blog. I hope that through my experience, I can help others strengthen their minds, bodies, and souls.

What could be better?!

Achievement of a perfect moment

birds

Ever have that moment in life when you stop and think, “Things aren’t all that bad?” It happens in an instant. A flash of peace and contentment pierces through you. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have these moments as often as we’d like and when they do occur, they pass quicker than they arose

I had one of these moments this morning and it got me thinking how I could get more of them. I went for a run down to Lake Michigan and though it was particularly cold and gloomy for a Spring morning, I could see the sun slowly trying to peak through the clouds. For some reason, I instantly compared it to happiness trying to peak its way through a string of negative thoughts. The past 24 hours have been filled with anxious, somewhat lonesome thoughts for reasons I won’t bore you with now. If there was ever a time I needed to find that perfect moment, now was it.

On my way back home, I walked past a pond. It’s nestled back in some woods and is particularly peaceful. I felt compelled to just stand there and observe. As I stood there looking out on the water, the most beautiful bird touched down just a few feet next to me. Then, a second one accompanied him (or her I suppose). I watched as they peacefully rested there looking out onto the water and the Chicago skyline.

To make this moment even better, a song came onto my Pandora that I had never heard. It was called “Let her go” by the British band, Passenger. If I could have written a song myself to express how I felt in that moment, I’m pretty sure that would be it. It was the perfect touch to a perfect moment. (I highly recommend taking a listen)

This moment was simple. It wasn’t particularly exciting. But it brought calm and clarity to my life. I can’t help but wonder how much more at peace I would be overall if I could accumulate more of these moments. I don’t think these moments can be planned out. I think they find you when you aren’t even looking for them. The only thing we can do is be open to them and ready to invite them in when they find us.

How to practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere

For all of you anxious and stressed out folks out there (and who isn’t these days?) I wanted to provide a simple how-to for practicing mindfulness and incorporating it into everyday life. In theory, the practice is rather simple, but in practice, in can be tricky. Like everything else in life, it gets easier over time. I’m no expert but I have attended a few classes, interned for Paul Harrison (themindfulnessmovie.com) and have been researching it for my final research project in graduate school. I think I have gained the most insight on mindfulness however, through being an anxious person who has used the technique as a way to regain focus and find clarity.

Mindfulness is all about being in the moment. A common misperception is that mindfulness is “not thinking.” I hate to break it to you anxious ones but to have a completely clear mind is impossible. But who wants to have an empty brain anyway? Wouldn’t we all rather focus on the beauty around us that we may not otherwise take notice of? Here are a few different ways I practice being mindful:

1.) I have tried to get into the habit of laying out my yoga mat first thing after I get out of bed and sitting quietly for atleast five minutes. Sit indian style, back straight, arms relaxed, eyes closed (or open if you prefer) and focus on what flows your mind. If your days to do list begins to run through your head, don’t immediately shue it away. Recognize it. Don’t judge it. Don’t yell at yourself for thinking about it. Just observe it. It is a challenge at first but slowly the thought will float away. If thoughts of your afternoon doctor appointment begin to arise, do the same thing. Observe the thought and release.

2.) You don’t need a yoga mat to be mindful. Today I practiced it for a few minutes on the train. Instead of allowing myself to be flooded with thoughts of things I needed to get done once I returned home, I listened. I listened to the guy across from me talk on his phone excitedly about his job. I listened to the sound system politely request that passengers don’t litter or assault one another. This pulled me from my inner chaos to the present moment.

More tips:
~Focus on your breath. Try breathing from the depths of your stomach. Observe the inhale and then release of the exhale. Feel your body begin to calm and muscles relax.

~Morning commutes are a great time to practice mindfulness. Rush hour traffic makes us all angry. What better time to practice being calm? Turn off the noise of the radio and put your phone on vibrate. Even two minutes of breathing and observing techniques will calm you.

~I have found that choosing one sense to focus on is a great way to direct my attention. As mentioned above, sometimes I focus entirely on what I hear. Or turn your attention to everything you see. Observe the car in front of you, the person sitting next to you (but don’t be creepy about it), the buildings your pass, the color of your socks, anything you see! Try not to judge what your are observing, rather stay in the present moment of just noticing.

I could go into further detail but want to keep this post simple as I understand practicing mindfulness can be overwhelming at first. It can be frustrating initially but it honestly gets easier every time you do it. Practicing for just a few minutes a day is a great start. Maybe think of the time of the day you are most stressed or anxious and set aside a few minutes to practice then. Or before bed or after you wake up. Experiment and stick with it. Life is intended to be lived in the moment and mindfulness is a great reminder of that.

Does it take a death sentence to finally start living?

ImageMorrie Schwartz said it best: “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

How should we be living? Are some better at it than others? What qualifies as a ‘good life?’

Those who are provided warning ahead of time, often remark how they did not truly understand what was important in life before they were told they did not have much longer to live it.

Does it take a terminal diagnosis to fully understand how precious life is?

Must we all first be dying before finally living?

I don’t think we can fully grasp the awareness and appreciation that comes with being informed your time on this planet is limited. But do we need a medical doctor to give us permission to live before we finally decide to do so? In reality, aren’t we all living on limited time? Just because someone isn’t sitting across from you in a white coat giving you an estimated timetable of how many days, weeks, months, or years you have left, does not mean you cannot live as if, God forbid, this may one day be the case.

What if we spent our lives as if we were preparing for a theoretical doctor’s visit where we discover our time is running out?  For many of us, living with this mindset would generate different conversations, different actions, an overall different life.

Our smiles would be wider, our words kinder, our hearts fuller. A shift in focus from the everyday hassles to the everyday beauty we are often too busy to take notice of would change our perspective.

We all live on the same planet, yet we each perceive life on this planet differently. Essentially, our reality is not life itself but how we interpret life, the good and the bad. It is difficult to fathom how we all breathe the same air and look up to see the same sun, but yet, our perceptions of what goes on around us is so subjective.

This difference in perception is proof that we are in control of what makes a happy life and what makes a miserable one. If you have the ability to look at something in a negative, distaining light, you also have the power to look at with joyful, loving awareness.

So don’t wait for a death sentence to set a fire under you to start living the life you have always dreamed. Always bear in mind that we are not promised more than this day, this moment. We are all dying but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of every breathing moment to live.

To quote everyone’s favorite Shawshank Redemption quote,

“Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”

What one week of dog ownership taught me

Image

It sounded like a recipe for disaster from the jump. Single girl living in a 500 square foot apartment in Chicago seeks large dog for companionship. Well, when worded that way it actually sounds like a really desperate, slightly disturbing personal ad.

I initially moved to the city from Ohio with a friend whom I had grown up with since third grade. We made up silly dances at recess in elementary school, fought for the affection of the same boy in middle school, decked ourselves out in our school’s colors to attend football games in high school and even roomed together for two years in college. There was little we did not know about one another. After living in the city together for a year, we were treated to a third roommate, another girlfriend of ours that was the third member of our ill choreographed dance trio from fifth grade.

The three of us went way back and together; we were starting a new chapter in the big city.  This bliss was short-lived however, as they both decided to return to their roots in Ohio, leaving me as the last standing member of the trio.

After the sad exit of my girlfriends, a break up with my boyfriend, and the move into my newly renovated, extremely lonely apartment, I decided that now was the time to adopt a dog. I had talked about it for two years and figured now was as good a time as any. I was alone, living off loans from the government now that I attended graduate school and had plenty of time to tend to a pet.

Why not? Well, in retrospect there were plenty of answers to that question.

I arrived at the local animal shelter on a sunny, Sunday morning prepared to bring home an older, slightly larger dog (I have nothing against small dogs other than the fact that I do not like a majority of them). I was taken into a private room with a couple of dogs, many of who were running around as if amphetamines had been slipped into their breakfast bowls. I asked for a dog that was perhaps a bit less likely to destroy my apartment and in trotted Zeb.

Zeb was a 50-pound Labrador Retriever and only 7 months old. I was apprehensive at first of the fact that he was still a young puppy. But after two minutes in the room with him, I was in love. I had never witnessed a dog with such a calm, sweet demeanor! It did not matter that they said he could grow to weigh as much as 90 pounds. With a temperament as sweet as any animal, or person for that matter, that I had ever seen, I thought I could handle it.

Well, as it turned out, I could not.

Zeb, whose name I changed to Gaston, was cool as a cucumber the first few days after I brought him home. In fact, I did not even hear him bark until about day 5. After he became comfortable in his surroundings, Gaston went from cool and calm to hyper and crazy. He was a puppy. That is what they do. I totally get it. But to try and control a hyper active puppy in a tiny studio apartment just seemed cruel.

I walked him about 5 to 7 times a day just to tire him out. (I ultimately lost about 5 pounds that week from all of the activity myself). I signed him up for obedience classes, spent an outrageous amount of money on toys to keep him entertained (pet stores are ridiculously overpriced by the way), and hired a dog walker.

Ultimately, I realized that I was the one who was not ready to take on the responsibilities of my boy, Gaston. I fight issues of anxiety and the added pressure that came with being responsible for a pet, was too much to bear.

It was unbelievable how much he and I bonded in such a short period of time, though. When I realized that the situation was not fair to Gaston and that I needed to return him, I packed him up in my car, along with his ridiculous amount of toys and $150 dog tick prevention medication I had purchased after taking him to the vet.

I bawled like a baby all the way to the shelter, while saying goodbye to him, all the way home, all through the night, and basically the rest of the weekend. I have never felt like such a disappointment. I had let this dog down. It was the first time I discovered what it truly felt like to be deeply depressed.

I called the shelter everyday, often more than once, after I dropped him off to see if he had been adopted yet. Not surprisingly, a family who had kids and another dog adopted him two days later. This was the environment he deserved and a part of me knew it all along.

My motives for adopting Gaston were selfish. I was alone for basically the first time in my entire life. I was lacking a support system and thought Gaston could be it for me. I have always taken pride in being a strong, independent woman but not until after all of this occurred, did I realize how irrelevant my independence was in comparison to my need for social support.

Humans are wired with the need to connect to other humans. It is our nature to crave connections and bonds. After I had been stripped of so many of mine, I looked to a dog to fill in the gap. Essentially, I looked to a dog to find happiness.

After my week with Gaston, I learned happiness couldn’t be sought. I always envisioned my life would be happy and rich with the companionship of a dog. As is the case with most things though, when you go into a situation with unrealistic expectations, you will undoubtedly be let down.

I now value my friendships, both in the city and beyond, more than I ever have. I live for the small, often short-lived human connections I make throughout the day, whether it is a conversation with a stranger in an elevator or the guy who makes my coffee at Starbucks. Strive to find happiness within those moments because I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

I often think of Gaston and those crazy seven days we shared together. He probably would not even recognize who I was if I saw him today. I am grateful he has a good home, though and for the fact that I have finally found some contentment in living alone.

Happiness is not something you can chase nor easily attain. However, keeping close to those you know well and connecting with those you do not, is a good place to start looking. That is a pretty profound lesson to learn from an adopted Lab.