So I started Music Monday to share songs I find to empower me when driving because my panic usually happens in the car, on the highway. Something I have to do everyday for 40 minutes to get to work. Yikes, tricky tricky.
However this edition of Music Monday will not feature music. Because sometimes music does not cut it for me to be honest. Lately I have taken up a new defense mechanism against wandering thoughts and anxious feelings I experience on the road. When it comes to entertainment in regards to tv and books I always gravitate towards uplifting and growth inducing. I love Oprah’s OWN Network with shows like Super Soul Sunday and Lifeclass, where well-known spiritual and thought leaders appear. However with no time to ever actually watch these shows with work and a baby and social obligations, it has been some time since I have seen an episode.
And then I realized that YouTube is a wonderous and resourceful site to find clips or past episodes, sometimes in full. And since I have a YouTube app on my phone and my phone can be plugged into my car, you see where I am going here. And the beauty is, these shows don’t require to watch anything since they are interviews, you just need to listen.
So I have made a YouTube playlist that expands past just interviews with some of my favorite spiritual and motivational speakers on Oprah’s channel. I have some Tony Robbins in there, some guy named Geert in Brussels who is a regular guy who beat anxiety and now has his own little method and tips for dealing, I have some TED Talks on there. So I get in the car, select my playlist and let it play through. Before I know it, I am at work and the time seemed to fly which is what I really need when driving!
To me this is the equivalent of what some people may get out of going to church in the morning, or praying. To fill my mind with such inspiration and motivation and positivity before I even officially start my day has given me a little extra pep in my step. I am the midst of what I know is a passing funk so I can use all the extra pep I can find. And right now I find it on YouTube.
A blizzard is on its way where I live and it is reminding me of a great lesson a past blizzard had taught me. There are opportunities for lessons everywhere, even in the weather. It goes like this…
There was a time when I could not be alone. My anxiety and panic was new, and it was terrifying and I required a constant rotation of friends and family by my side forcing me to avoid my scary thoughts and feelings and use them as false sense of security. I was unable to feel safe by myself. I feared my thoughts would put me over the edge, that I would go crazy, and I needed someone always. I was single at the time living alone so this meant spending a lot of time crashing on the couches of others. The nights I did have to spend home were torture. The funny part is, this couch hopping actually made me feel worse because I would tell myself that this would make me feel better and naturally it didnt. They couldnt jump in my head and untangle the mess of thoughts and they could not go in and soothe my frazzled nerves. So it actually frustrated me because deep down I knew I had to learn to be my own safe harbor. I knew that nothing anybody could say or do or how many people I surrounded myself with could fix my panic and anxiety disorder. The only thing it did bring me was a tiny sliver of peace knowing if I went crazy someone was there to make sure it didnt get out of hand.
And then a blizzard was coming. A state of emergency, snowed in for days, stock up on essentials, better get a good shovel and snow boots, hell of a storm. I knew I would have to be alone. I had to do this and what better way then when you cannot leave and nobody can get to you. It was exposure therapy at its finest. I could in theory go be snowed in at someone else’s house but I decided that this had to be done. I told myself that if it broke me, if I went into a crazy anxiety panic downward spiral from it then at least I tried. I faced the fear of being alone with my thoughts and unpleasant feelings.
And something miraculous happened. When I did not have the option to run, when I did not have the option of calling someone over, or getting in my car to go somewhere I was forced to deal. And I had zero anxiety or panic the entire three days. I mean ZERO. In fact it was a turning point for me. Those three days restored my confidence in myself and my strength and let me know I can overcome this, I can learn to deal. I am stronger than I think. Facing the fear shed light on it, it was not so scary. Having the options in the past made it easy for me to crumble and cave. Having no choice was like a switch in my brain went off.
When the snow outside started to melt, slowly so did my symptoms. Facing a fear head on and the regaining of confidence from doing so is a powerful thing. I diminished it to nothing just by facing it. That was the end of running to other people’s house. I slowly started not getting anxious on my drive home from work knowing all the co-workers and conversation and busyness of the day would be gone and it would just be me. I didn’t fear weekends without plans, or weekends with plans. It really was the start of the healing. And that little bit of confidence gave me the strength back I needed to do other things to help the healing process that I was too burned out in the anxiety cycle to focus on prior.
Is there something in your life you are avoiding or running from that you can attempt to face? Think about it, even if it is small it is worth a try. You may relapse at times ( I did at certain points) but to less severity and still with the knowledge that I have and can get past it with real life proof of that.
Yesterday I had a hell of a panic attack. This may not seem surprising to you since I write a blog about anxiety and as a sufferer you may assume I have panic attacks all the time. Not true. Do I have anxiety attacks, rumination, racing thoughts, monkey mind, unsteady breathing and racing heart, and all the other truly darling things anxiety brings, yes. But not so much panic. I would say I average one panic attack every six months and they are usually a one and done, phew glad that is over with, let’s carry on with our day, sorta thing. Now there was a time in my life, the nervous breakdown which you will hear me reference often, that I was in a constant state of panic attack for months so I am not a stranger, but it has been almost a good 4 years since then. My last panic attack was in August and it was isolated to a situation meaning once I got back home I was fine and unfrazzled. And prior to that August one I had not had one for almost a year.
And then there was yesterday. I was in the car on the highway on the way to work. If you have read my previous blog entries you know most of my anxiety happens in the car especially on highways. I have had anxious thoughts almost everyday on my way to work but like I said, it never really escalates to panic. Yesterday I was tired, I had not slept. I have a little bit of stress happening with the planning of a wedding, my Grandma is ill and possibly not going to make it through the weekend, things at work have intensified. It makes sense. Only on the surface I do not feel like I was thinking of any of those things. What I was thinking is, I feel anxious, remember that time I had a nervous breakdown, oh god what if that happens again, is it happening now, what if I have a panic attack and I can’t calm down and I am already half way at work, I am having a panic attack. Shit. Call the fiance, tell him to come get you. Turn around, go home. Turn around, turn around. I wont make it home, I am going to pass out.
It went something like that. My thoughts normally always go to “What if I get as bad again as I use to be” ( the nervous breakdown constant panic attack state aforementioned). On strong days I shut down those thoughts real fast with facts. 1- you came out of it 2- it led to great spiritual growth 3- You did not know what it was then, you have knowledge and resources, it won’t ever be that bad and many other self affirmations I have stored for such occasions.
But on weak days, when I am tired especially or have pent-up stress, not much helps. So I did call the fiance and he strongly urged I do not turn around and he was right because once you turn around and go home your confidence goes down. At least for me. Then negative self talk begins, “You are not strong enough to push through” and it becomes a cycle where you always turn around and then you get trapped in the fear that you cannot push through and you just always default to staying home and that is dangerous territory. So I arrived at work and he showed up to offer hugs and support. Once he left I was on my own to battle the mind and make it through the day. For the most part when I have a panic attack in the car, almost immediately as I step out of the car at my destination it immediately lifts like magic. Yesterday it did not. As I emerged myself in work the anxiety and lingering panicky aftermath started to fade and by 3:00 I chuckled to myself over how absurd it is that I don’t feel anything like I did this morning. Man is panic and anxiety weird! So now you are thinking, yay happy ending, she felt great by 3:00pm and she conquered the day. Not really. So I left work and on the way home I started to feel frazzled again. And then this morning I woke up with residual anxiety. Now lucky for me I am working from home today but I believe strongly that if I had to drive to work I would panic again over memories of yesterday. BUT at least I could tell myself that I survived yesterday and I survived today.
The big difference to panicky me now as opposed to panicky me during the breakdown is now I don’t panic over panic as much. It is so uncomfortable, it makes you feel like it will never go away and you won’t ever feel better and sometimes feels impossible to beat but I just tell myself that I have felt this way before, and then I have felt better in days following and it is an ebb and flow and just go with it and take it as it comes and it too shall pass.
In the past I would have freaked out and reacted so much to the panic which obviously just makes it grow. So although I did freak slightly I kept going forward and I guess sometimes that is the best we can do. Today I sit here with residual anxiety. I feel worried about driving to work tomorrow and if I am being quite honest I feel a panic attack creeping up just thinking about having a panic attack tomorrow but I try to take the perspective that each attack is an opportunity to implement techniques for coping and each incident that I cope will make it easier and easier. It is why I truly believe I have been able to keep panic attacks at bay in the past.
Send me some good vibes for tomorrow’s commute!
( Good vibes back at ya!)
“Oh my god I would have a panic attack!”
“I almost had a panic attack!”
“I’m seriously going to have a panic attack!”
These are things people often say in jest. Just the other day I was talking to a co-worker about how I did my Christmas shopping in one day, 7 hours in the mall and he said ” I would have a panic attack.” To him this is a simple exaggeration and his way of saying he could never do that. It is too much shopping, not something he is interested in. And so many times you hear people utter the phrases up top in a light-hearted manner. But when you are someone who ACTUALLY does have panic attacks the light-hearted response hits a bit deeper.
My first reaction to his comment in my head was “Oh I wonder if he suffers from anxiety too.” But in reality I know saying things like this is said in the casual tone similar to when people jokingly say “I’m gonna kill you” Because people who do and would have panic attacks rarely make a public statement like that about it. However I am the opposite, I tell anybody who would listen as hiding it or pretending it is not happening actually makes it worse for me. But that is for another post.
Whenever I hear someone make a statement as such I find myself thinking about how nice it must be to say something like that knowing you really won’t have a panic attack and although the situation might stress you out and you would like to avoid it, saying you are going to have a panic attack is just said to symbolize how strongly you dislike it. I envy those people. Ah to be able to say it in jest and not really live it. Same thoughts go through my mind when someone says they are anxious because of xyz. “I am anxious I have to give a presentation tomorrow.” “I am stressed and anxious because I have a lot of work on my plate right now.” I would LOVE to have actual factual reasons for anxiety. Something I could link it back to. That to me that is easy peasy to deal with. Cause and effect. You know the source, you know why, you might even know how to alleviate it. But when anxiety and panic hit you with no obvious and forefront cause, that is another level of displeasure.
Because of my awareness of this due to my own personal background I make it a point to be very careful with my words and sensitive to what I am saying. For instance, if I am really bummed about something, but fleeting sadness, something happened to cause me to be sad, I try really hard not to say “this depresses me, or I am depressed over it” because I know how deep and real depression is and you never know the inner struggles of your audience. Someone experiencing depression will not appreciate you putting your sad moment in the same category as their debilitating darkness. I know that the majority, if not all the people, who say these things in jest are not purposely being insensitive by any means. I cannot control what they do however I can use what it feels like to be on the other end of that and make sure going forward I choose my words carefully and make sure I don’t speak lightly of serious things to those who may struggle. Just something to think about and be aware of when communicating emotions to others. I would hate to contribute to the desensitization of such disorders and those who truly suffer deeply to be made to feel like what they are dealing with can be made light of.
And I know that those who have never suffered or experienced such dark moods do not know what it feels like and might truly think a panic attack is being stressed out and frantic in the crowded space of a mall during Xmas time. Or someone who is really sad about a break up may think that it is similar to what depression feels like because they do not know better. But us who do know better, we can choose our words wisely going forward. And maybe even help those who don’t know, understand and perhaps make them more aware and sensitive to the words they select when describing what they are experiencing. I guess my point is, I would like to fight for awareness and help stop the desensitization of these words and this seems like an easy situation to help do it in both by making you aware of how you may speak to others and help correct others when they speak to you using terms in jest, that hold a lot of weight to those suffering.
“I miss the days my mind would just rest quiet
My imagination hadn’t turned on me yet
I used to let my words wax poetic
But it melted a puddle at my feet now
It is a calcifying crime, it’s tragic
I’ve turned to petrified past life baggage
I want to disappear and just start over
So here we are
And I’ll breathe again…
Cause I have sent for a warrior
From on my knees, make me a Hercules
I was meant to be a warrior please
Make me a Hercules” – Hercules, Sara Bareilles
I am having an off morning. One filled with sleep deprivation, foggy mind and anxious thoughts about future things that may not happen. I feel like a table with a wobbly leg, or an umbrella on an extremely windy day. I need to be stabilized; I need to get back to sturdy. For times like these I tell myself to “Sturdy Yourself”. Now if only it was as easy as just telling myself to “Sturdy Yourself” but that is just not going to be enough. So what do I do, I sturdy myself with an action plan.
Sturdy Yourself in Facts
The first thing I do is anchor myself in facts.
Fact # 1 – I did not sleep good last night
Fact # 2 – I have not been drinking enough water, dehydration can make the brain not as sharp.
Fact # 3 – I have a lot on my plate, it is okay to feel anxious and a little stress, it is within reason.
Laying out the facts gives you a better view of the landscape of your mind at this time. It is easy to get caught up in “Why am I feeling this way, why can’t I just feel good.” Work through it, pinpoint why you may be feeling this way. Be your own therapist. Dig a little. But don’t over analyze. Let the facts be the facts. With facts you can feel less overwhelmed.
Sturdy Yourself with Breath
I am known to hold my breath or not take proper inhale/exhales. I believe that not breathing correctly keeps feelings trapped. So I let bad thoughts and feelings out through my breath. I visualize them leaving me with every exhale and good thoughts and positive sunshine coming in with the inhale.
Sturdy Yourself with Mind Games
I made up a game called “Let’s see how far you can go.” game. When I am anxious before work or anytime I need to go somewhere I use this game to help propel me forward. It is just what it says. I see how far I can get through the day. I start with the drive. Let’s see if I can drive to work. If I feel like turning around, keep going. Let’s see if I can make it there. Once there I say, let’s see if we can try to start the day feeling like this. Then let’s see if we can go another hour, and it continues until most of the times the anxiety subsides and the game fades.
Sturdy Yourself in Song
The lyrics from the song in the beginning of this post is one of the songs on my “Sturdy Yourself” playlist. Mine is at least 100 songs long but I will give you a little taste of some of the songs on there. Maybe some will help you. I suggest you make yourself a playlist!
Age of Worry – John Mayer
Brave – Sara Bareilles
Living in the Moment – Jason Mraz
Think Good Thoughts – Colbie Caillat
Marchin On – One Republic
Darlin Do not Fear – Brett Dennen
Every Storm Runs out of Rain – Gary Allan
Life Happens – Brandon and Leah
This is just a small sampling, I have 100’s. Maybe I will post the entire list one day!
Sturdy yourself in Gratitude
I have a gratitude journal app on my phone that makes it super simple to write down the things you are grateful for. Focusing on the positive in your life is a no brainer as to why it would help eliminate negative thoughts. By taking five minutes to write down all the things you are grateful for today, you are forcing your mind down a positive path.
Sturdy Yourself with Universal Love
One of the best things I have ever signed up for is daily Notes From the Universe. A mantra I constantly repeat when things in my head or life gets crazy is “The Universe loves and supports me.” By believing that and truly accepting it, you are trusting in the Universe that it supports you no matter what and the right thing will always be done. I believe that anxiety at the heart and center of it is fear. Fear is based on not trusting and the unknown. Trust the unknown, and the Universe and know that you are part of the Universe just like every other living organism. We are one. The world is not out to get you, the Universe will support you if you trust it. I suggest you sign up for these emails. They are quite beautiful and poignant. Sign up here: Notes From the Universe
Sturdy Yourself with Positive Quotes
I have a sheet full of positive quotes or passages in books that have really helped me. I keep them altogether on one sheet, in my purse for easy access. I refer back to them whenever I need a lift. A good resource is Tiny Buddha
These are just a few of my “Sturdy Yourself” action plan items. Put together your own plan, use my ideas, use ideas that have worked for you in the past and develop your own plan of attack. We all get a little unstable sometimes but it does not mean you cannot be fixed. A wobbly leg table can be fixed so can you! This morning I was thinking of how I use to be and I would immediately turn around and go home and how weak and worse that made me. I felt bad about myself for not being able to “Sturdy Myself” and how small and hopeless I felt. I know it does not have to be like that. Like I have said time and time, anxiety is a muscle that needs to be worked out to become stronger. Every day that I sturdy myself some more, it is making me stronger. The alternative, succumbing to it all and crawling into a ball is not something I want to do again so like the song in the beginning says, I am ready to be a Hercules.
I don’t know about you, but I imagine most anxiety sufferers are with me on this, most of my anxiety and anxious thoughts come from future, unknown, things/events that may or may not happen ( they usually don’t happen in my experience). The majority of my anxiety is anticipatory.
And sometimes it is about the past. Rarely if ever is it about the present moment happening live in front of my very eyes. When it is about the past it is usually about me getting upset about the fact that I have had anxiety breakdowns and then I tend to judge myself and then it jumps forward to the “What if” I get so bad again? I cannot remember a time I was anxious about what was happening. I live anywhere from 1 day to 50 years in the future. I rarely live in the day I am in ( sad). Even at my worst when I experienced depersonalization and extreme anxiety and panic to where I could not function, I still was focused ahead thinking “What if I feel like this forever?” Instead of tackling the triggers and symptoms of the day I was focused on the “forever” thought which led to more panic and anxiety. Rookie mistake.
Visualization techniques really work for me. So for times when I find myself anxious about something not happening, that may never happen, or has happened already in the past, I visualize the signs you see at the mall on the directory with the arrow that says “You Are Here”. It is how I remind myself that I am right here, I am not in the future nor the past, this is where I live. Right here. I had to do this a lot today, and that is okay. Having a visual helps me focus on something other than thoughts. Anytime I would find my mind wandering forward I had to repeatedly say ” You Are Here” and snap my focus back to only the things going on right now, right here. The past is gone, I cannot change that. The future can be greatly impacted by my outlook and perspective today so the very best anyone can ever do for themselves is make themselves awesome and strong in the present, and it will carry over into the future.
This works for me, maybe it will work for you when runaway mind is determined to predict the future and get there much faster than necessary. You Are Here
Today I am having a day. I did not sleep well last night and being tired and not well rested is an anxiety trigger for me. My defenses get low; I don’t feel mentally strong to implement my anxiety fighting tools and tricks I have gained over time. I feel defenseless and usually my first thought is to turn my car around, go home and ride it out under the comfort of my blankets. History has proven that this tactic actually makes things worse because then what happens is I feel bad about myself for having to do that. I worry about missing work. I then think “I can’t just stay home every time I feel anxious.” Trust me I did that once, went home every time, and it did me no good. In fact it made the anxiety stronger as I let it win.
So the other option is to ride it out. Feel uncomfortable and remind myself that I most likely will not feel this way tomorrow because I did not feel it the day before or the day before that. And if I do feel this way tomorrow it is okay too, because I know I can get through it. Is it uncomfortable, oh yes. But it is not forever. I think what use to keep me in a bad cycle is that when I felt this way I assumed I would feel this way tomorrow and the next day and the next day and forever! I would be essentially making a date with anxiety telling myself I would feel it tomorrow. And then of course I did, because I was telling myself I would. One of my favorite songs is by an artist named Brett Dennen. The song is called “Darlin Do Not Fear.” And one of the lyrics says “ Darlin do not fear, what you don’t really know.” And I repeat that to myself often. I do not know what tomorrow will bring or how I will feel so why should I fear it right now, in the present moment.
So today although I feel “squirmy” with anxiety and fatigued I can only think about today and how to power through and do the best I can. Like the quote in the title says, not every day is good but there is something good in every day and you can focus on that or you can focus on why it is not good. So today I decided to focus on other things. I wrote in my gratitude journal, forcing me to find the good in today. I made a massage appointment for later and I will make sure to meditate when I get home. It doesn’t mean I am not still anxious as hell but I am deciding to let it be. Let the feelings run through me and don’t fight them, judge them or try hard to combat them. Let it be for today and hopefully with a little rest tonight, tomorrow will be better.