One of the most discouraging aspects of fighting anxiety: it’s rare to experience an instant victory.
During intense panic, we can do the mindful breathing, we can drink the chamomile tea, we can lay flat on the ground and close our eyes, but very rarely do these techniques make anxiety go away “poof” like a bad dream we can wake up from.
One of the techniques I tried before taking anxiety medication was an intense workout. As much as I wanted to believe one session at the gym could take away all my bad feels, it just wouldn’t. And starting the workout? It was plain miserable. When already my heart was skipping beats and my hands were shaky and I was short of breath, the last thing I wanted to do was a hard-core workout routine. I instead wanted to wrap myself in a cozy blanket and NOT move. (As most of you probably know, this wouldn’t help much either…)
The best and very painful truth was learning that it took a while for my anxiety to build up, no doubt years upon years, and it would take time for the anxiety to subside. It’s not a truth I wanted to accept, let alone hear. But hidden within that truth is a tiny bit of comfort. I’m not damaged beyond repair. I’m a human being fashioned with such complexity - layers upon layers of tiny pieces and parts - and it’s okay, even normal, to not overcome anxiety in a short period of time.
I began looking at my situation as a journey to go through verses a single test to pass. It took a lot of pressure off my expectations, causing me to relax (just a bit! But hey – I’ll take it!); this, of course, in turn did great things for my anxiety. Because a journey involves planning, right? I became more proactive versus reactive. I discovered the importance of using tools, such as deep breathing, even when I’m not stressed. And deep breathing when I’m not panicking? It’s incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. I find myself drawn to it, so that even when the anxiety sets in, that specific coping mechanism is more natural and comforting.
It’s not an instant victory, but it’s still a victory. And I think that’s what I have learned about fighting anxiety: it’s not just one giant win for me, but instead a succession of smaller wins. And I am okay with that.
For those of you who relate to what I’m writing, please know I care about you, and are not alone. We are fighting together.
I got a Marco Polo message from a friend of mine who was having a rough day. She was feeling a little down and very frustrated with her current circumstances. But as I listened to her chat, her words really resonated with me. She said, “one of the beauties of being older is that you recognize that these things pass…so you just gotta get through them. And I knew once I got up and got showered and went out for a little bit that I would feel better.”
I listened to her message and typed it out word for word so I wouldn’t be misquoting her. Because I think she’s right.
She got up, she showered, she went out for a little bit, and she felt better.
Now keep in mind I’m not talking about days with serious depression. I’m talking about those days that you just feel a little blue – I like to joke and say I’m a pale azure blue, verses a bright blue or a turquoise blue. Adulting is hard. The longer we live, the longer we experience our ever-changing moods and know that most of us don’t ride a constant high. We have those lows, and sometimes we can’t instantly snap out of them, no matter how hard we want to.
But thankfully time and experience, like gentle friends, remind us that we typically will level out our mood. We’ve gone through this before, and we will come out of it, just like before. And as my friend suggested, sometimes the best thing to do is to get up (change your physical position), take a shower (that good clean feel can make SUCH a difference), and go out for a little bit (change your atmosphere): three simple actions that can be just the direction we need for a hard day.
I keep hearing that “older” people are on Facebook, and that it’s not really used so fervently by the generation after me. Well, I guess I’m older, because I’m totally on Facebook – in fact, some of you are reading this blog post because I posted it to Facebook. It may not be the latest and greatest form of social media, but I still enjoy it, especially with a nice cup of tea.
Until I don’t.
I’ve heard so many of my friends say how much harder it is to NOT compare our lives with what we see on Facebook (and of course other social media like Instagram.) And I agree. Scrolling our Facebook feeds can result in its own unique strain of anxiety and depression.
As a result, I’ve unfollowed people who I love and want to keep in my life, but who post things that aren’t serving to encourage me. Simple as that. And I know a lot of you do the same. It’s nothing against the person and everything to do with what I want on the glowing screen in front of my face.
The SECOND best thing I’ve done is to also join Facebook groups who encourage me. Their posts build me up when I see them appearing in my feed. One of my favorites is “No Sidebar”, a group of people whose focus is on slowing down life and living more simply. Their description:
We want to help you figure out what’s getting in your way, at home and at work. We want to help you let go of distractions, online and off. We want to help you turn down the noise that disrupts the quiet of your heart and mind and soul.
Let me tell you, this group has been such a happy spot in my life! It may not be interesting to you, but I have a feeling there is your own version of “No Sidebar” in the Facebook world.
I have also joined a fitness group that exercises as I do, a group that celebrates all things hygge, and multiple blogger groups to help encourage my writing.
It’s taken me awhile, but I finally have a Facebook feed that I enjoy and that lifts me up. Scrolling Facebook is not anxiety filled. I actually take pleasure in it now. Do I still have my moments? Sure! But they’re fewer and far between. And I hope that by sharing some of the changes I’ve made, you will join me, and soon feel the same way.
I’m not a counselor, so this is far from professional advice: but there is something so encouraging about music that I find healing. Something about it can lift my spirits in a special way. Especially music from my past that reminds me of “the good old days.”
I wrote in a previous blog entry how encountering something like a song from our past can really remind us of the part of us that was made/created during those good times. The part of us that learned to smile a little broader, laugh a little harder, and notice beauty in life that we hadn’t seen before.
Listening to enjoyable music from years ago can be so deeply personal. It’s as if the music comes along beside me like a friend, shows me a timeline of my life, points out the good times and says, “Remember this? And this? This is your history. This is YOU.”
While adulting, I’ve found that turning up the volume on certain songs is just plain necessary. It energizes me. It moves me back in time while I stay firmly planted in the NOW, which is where I want to be, and where I should be. But, I’m feeling much more encouraged and ready to face the world.
I hope you will take a minute today to listen to a special song that you haven’t heard in a while. A song that reminds you of a fantastic time in your life.
Ironically, as I’ve aged, I’ve had to learn to breathe again. I’m not talking life giving breaths – or I wouldn’t be typing this. I’m talking about the deep breathing that helps calm the body and subdue anxiety.
I became incredibly interested in breathing when I started having panic attacks – again. And I was so tired of them and living in fear of them. They are debilitating. They make me miserable.
I scoured YouTube and listened to people talk about ways they overcame their anxiety attacks, and a common theme was breathing techniques. I narrowed my search, pairing words like “anxiety” and “breathing”. And I stumbled on a TED TALK that really was a game changer for me: “Breathe to Heal." The speaker was Max Strom.
Max Strom...to begin with, his voice is so soothing. He could have told me my toes were falling off, and I would have smiled and known everything was going to be okay. But about 14 minutes into the video (actually a little before), he shares a breathing technique that helped me endure and overcome anxiety attacks. I won’t go into the details of his technique, because you can watch the video and hear him explain it in a beautiful way that I could never type out. What really caught my attention was his assurance that the technique forced your body to calm down. There was no positive thinking involved, no special yoga pose, no fancy tools. Just me and my body doing something very natural. I grabbed hold of this like a life raft. And I clung.
And it worked.
It was not an instant solution. During my next anxiety attack, I was still very uncomfortable for a while. But I continued the deep breathing and counting my inhales and exhales, and slowly, amazingly, my body was forced to calm down (just as Max had said), and the panic attack subsided. For me, this experience was life changing.
I’ve continued doing deep breathing, and it’s absolutely not a cure all, but it’s a tool in my toolbox that I can pull out when needed. And it’s an effective tool. I can’t guarantee his breathing method will work for you, but I want to share my experience, because it might work for you, and because I want to give you hope, just like Max Strom did for me. I still sort of shake my head in disbelief that the answer was with me all along. I could be corny and cliché and even say, “right under my nose”, and it would be true.
I’m thankful that I don’t wonder so much what people think of me. And I don’t say this in a way that’s harsh or bitter. I just really don’t care as much as I used to, and that’s huge, especially if you have people pleasing tendencies like myself.
I spent years always wanting to make the best impression and wanting everyone I encountered (including the lady at the grocery check-out) to like me. I’d worry I said or did the wrong thing. I knew in my heart that people were what life was all about – not possessions – but I wrongfully wanted “them” (whoever they are) to like me, and I got much of my self-esteem from interactions.
AND to be honest, I really believed that if I stopped caring about what other people thought of me, I wouldn’t look after myself. I’d let myself go, so to speak, and end up neglecting self-care and not doing some of the things I enjoy – like wearing a pretty headband or making sure I wiped the cat hair off my pants (I can’t help it – I enjoy being tidy.)
Slowly, through the years, the truth began to unfold, as I realized that not only do most people I encounter NOT even remember who I am, they just really don’t care that much. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. They have their own little worlds, and I am a stranger to them, just interacting for a few minutes. My role in their life is more minor, and their role in my life is minor.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t treat everyone with kindness and respect; that’s not to say we shouldn’t hope that even just a few minutes with someone might better their life. That’s not to say that a chance encounter with someone might lead to something more.
But it’s about establishing boundaries for ourselves. It’s about walking in the truth that the world just really doesn’t revolve around us, which is a very good thing! And the best thing of it, (though unfortunately, it took a while for me to learn it): we have the power to decide whose opinion is going to mean something to us.
I’ve written in a previous blog post about older members of my family passing away, and how it feels incredibly discouraging at times. Let me just be blunt: How can we better cope when our loved ones die (and not just from old age)?
Everyone grieves differently, but I’d like to share something that helps me with the grieving process.
I’m a very tactile person. I like to have something I can hold in my hand to help me remember and be encouraged. I think it started when my sister got me “bad day” earrings. They were a pair of earrings she gifted me to wear when I was having a bad day. I would put them on and know that I was loved by her. And while earrings didn’t change my situation, they changed my mindset. And that made a huge difference.
So, when a loved one passes, I like to designate a special item to remember them by and to help me make it through the tough time. It might be a mug; it might be a key chain. The item itself isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that it’s something that visually grabs me and brings that person to my mind.
When two of my grandparents passed away, I purchased a necklace to wear that reminded me of them. It’s not an ornate necklace - just a simple one I can put on and I know it’s a symbol for them. I see it reflected in the mirror or in a photograph, and even just the feel of it around my neck reminds me of their love and care for me.
Am I saying these actions took away my pain? Of course not. This is just one way I help myself cope, and I find it incredibly comforting. Because while the person I’m grieving isn’t physically alive on earth anymore, I can combat the loneliness with something that’s tangible, that will help me keep memories alive, and that will make me smile and remember their impact. Because that’s what I really want, and it’s something I know they would really want for me, too.
What helps you grieve?
I love your comments! Let me know your thoughts below!
Creator of Love, Auntie.