Day 19 update!



My engagement ring. It is even more beautiful now with the matching wedding band. :)
I found the ring! Thank goodness. (It was on the paper towel rack).
Did I spend all day worrying about it? Believe it or not, no. I managed to take my own advice for a change and guess what? It worked! Had I not been intentional about changing my thinking yesterday, I would have spent the whole day worrying about it unnecessarily and ruining a perfectly good day. All I can say is, phew!!!

Day 19 – Practice What You Preach

This wasn’t how Day 19 was supposed to go… I didn’t plan this and I most certainly am not happy about it. But it is what it is…
The first thing I did when I arrived at work this morning was put lotion on my hands. It was at that moment that I noticed something was missing from one of my fingers: my wedding ring. I immediately felt a physical response to this realization in the form of a racing heart and instant nervousness. There are two potential places I could have left it at home: one , on my paper towel rack (random I know, but there is a little metal part that sticks up resembling a ring holder and I’ll put my ring there sometimes when I am working in the kitchen) or two, on my actual ring holder in the bathroom.
I can’t remember taking it off last night. So, if it is not at home where is it? Another thought occurred to me. The only other time I take my ring off (aside from cooking/cleaning at home) is at work when putting on lotion. I recently got my wedding band and engagement ring soldered together in December and so I have been extra careful not to get lotion in between the cracks.  A week or two ago, I stepped away from my desk and when I returned saw my ring sitting there as I had forgotten to put it back on. That is what scares me! Did I do that again? It is nowhere to be found here at work and yet I can’t remember taking it off at home last night either.
So, I called my husband frantically trying to reach him before he left for school so he could check and see if the ring is anywhere at home. He didn’t pick up. I texted him, not one, not two, but three times! No reply. I finally got a hold of him but he was already in the car. Shoot, that means I am going to have to wait all day to find out if the ring is at home! My finger feels naked and I am antsy knowing what a long day I have ahead of me.
My husband lovingly, yet firmly, reminded me of something during our conversation. I have been going on and on about taking control of anxiety the past 18 days. Now it’s time to practice what I preach. Wow. Reality check!
He is absolutely right though. I have been given the perfect opportunity today to do just that. I have a choice: worry all day about whether or not the ring is at home, or set these fears aside and focus not only on work, but on having a good day. I can ask those, often nasty “what if” questions, like “what if it’s gone forever?” or I can ask the more hopeful version of “what if’s” such as “what if I find it when I get home tonight?” That would be amazing!
It’s so easy to have head knowledge about this stuff but when it comes to living it out, it’s a lot harder! But do-able. And today I am making the decision to do just that. I don’t know if I’ll find my ring. I’ll be incredibly sad if I don’t but aside from a naked ring finger, nothing will really change. Sure, I’ll have to grieve the loss of my beautiful engagement ring and the matching wedding band I was so thrilled to pick out a few years ago but the ring itself is merely a symbol. It says nothing of the love my hubby and I share and  without it, we’ll continue to love each other and remain committed to growing our marriage.
*Sigh*… Today is gonna be a long day. I don’t know what’s going to happen… But I resolve to use this day as an opportunity to grow and convert some of my education about anxiety into real life experience.

Day 18 – Mind/Body Connection

We all know exercise is important. It improves cardiovascular health, increases muscle tone and speeds up metabolism in addition to a myriad of other health benefits. But, did you know it can also play a crucial part in decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety?

When someone is depressed or anxious, they may have a lower amount of certain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, in the brain (seretonine, dopamine and norepenephrine specifically) than those who are not depressed or anxious. One of the goals when it comes to treating someone who is experiencing these symptoms is to regulate those neurotransmitters (which in turn will regulate the person’s moods). This is commonly done through the use of medication but research has also shown that exercise can lead to a similar outcome.

Rather than explaining all of this myself I thought it would make more sense to include some interesting articles related to this subject:

1) USA Today, “Exercise Helps Fight off Anxiety, Depression” (4/26/20)

2) Losing it With Jillian Michaels, “Everyday Stress Got your Metabolism Down?”
* This one explains the relationship between stress and weight loss.

My belief is that a multi-faceted attack is most helpful when trying to eliminate anxiety. That’s why I have included so many varied topics in this blog series, from the way we think, to the way we feel, and all kinds of other possible remedies in between. From personal experience, I can say with certainty that I feel better when I am exercising regularly. My energy increases, I sleep better at night, I have more confidence and on the whole just feel like a healthier individual.

A few suggestions:

* If you don’t enjoy exercising much, find to an activity that’s interactive. I have a friend who joined a flag football team that played a few times a week on the beach which was awesome because she met new people and worked out. Another friend who loves to run joined a training group that worked out together on week days and raced quarterly in 5 and 10k competitions.

* My husband and I like to take walks together. When we lived in Newport Beach, CA we would walk around one of the local neighborhoods that overlooked the harbor and had gorgeous homes. Walking is nice when the scenery is beautiful and you have someone to chat with.

* I have another friend who likes to run/walk alone. She uses the time to pray, listen to music and just have some alone time once a day.

* Group exercise classes are fun as well and there is something motivating about being in a room with a group of people, listening to loud, fun music and having a blast while working out!

* It’s always wise to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

See you tomorrow!

Day 17 – Can’t we all just get along?

I mentioned this earlier in the series and am gonna dig into the topic more today: Support System. We all need it. We all crave it to some degree. We were created for relationship and designed to live in community. Yet this can be really hard sometimes. In today’s individualistic society, with so many options and ways to fill our time, spending quality time with others often drops down on our to-do list. Many people don’t see the benefits of cultivating strong, healthy relationships anymore. So today I am going to plead my case and explain why taking the time to develop relationships is crucial, especially when dealing with anxiety (or depression). I’ll also address the qualities of a supportive relationship. Here goes…

I can’t emphasize enough how valuable my friends and family are to me. When I go through hard times, they surround me with love, unconditional care and support. When my mother-in-law passed away, many of them came to the memorial service and called frequently afterwards to check in. When I experienced a bad breakup many years ago, my friends were available to hear me vent, process and complain about what I was going through. When I moved across country a few months ago I got numerous phone calls, daily text messages and even snail mail reminding me how loved I am. To be close to others is to walk alongside one another through life’s ups and downs. It is more than simply seeing them at work or out around town; it is being together through some of the biggest challenges and greatest joys in life.

 Other benefits of having a strong support system:

  • When you know you’re loved, you become more comfortable as you are (therefore increasing your self esteem – see Day 14). I have noticed this a lot since I got married. My husband likes certain qualities about me that I can’t stand in myself. But as I have begun to feel accepted by him, I have grown more comfortable with those aspects of myself as well.
  • Supportive people validate your feelings rather than making you feel weird or wrong for experiencing emotion. (See Day 15 re: the importance of emotional expression).
  • Supportive relationships allow you to focus on someone other than yourself. You can be there for your loved ones too, allowing for mutuality and growth.
  • Supportive relationships are fun and often consist of shared interests and compatability. We can enjoy life by sharing it with other people.

A few tricks of the trade when trying to develop a support system:

1) Not everyone needs to be in your inner circle. Strong relationships require trust. If you lack trust in someone, they may not be the person you should share everything with. I definitely don’t mean cut them off necessarily or hold a grudge against them! But, there are varying kinds of friendships and that includes different levels of closeness as well.

2) Pay attention to the people who have a proven track record. Do they have other close friends who speak highly of them and respect their character? Or do they spend a little too much time around the water cooler gossiping?

3) Find people with similar interests so you can have fun together.

4) If you’re dealing with a particular issue, a support group might be helpful. I have led support groups in the past and one of the things participants inevitably mentioned was that it was nice to be around others who “got” them.

How is your current support system? Do you feel accepted and cared for? Can you count on them to be around during life’s big moments?

See you soon for the last 4 days of the series! Time flies!

Day 16 – To cope or not to cope, that is the question

Coping mechanisms… these are the positive or negative ways we choose to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness, grief and all the other yuckiness we inevitably have to deal with in life. Coping mechanisms can be used to avoid what we don’t want to face (and can at times be incredibly destructive as well) or they can be positive and adaptive.

First a few boring fascinating definitions and then we’ll get into the good stuff:

Adaptive mechanisms: These are positive and wonderful ways to help us cope

Behavioral mechanisms: These change our behavior (duh!)

Cognitive mechanisms: These change our thinking

I’ll just stick with those because they make three perfect, alphabetically-ordered points. :) The others are the negative ones anyway!

What are our options when it comes to coping in a healthy, positive manner?
* Problem-solving: Sometimes the issue that we’re dealing with simply requires a solution. Either using our own resources or with the help of others we can figure out how to solve our problem and move past it.
* Figure out the root issue: Sometimes we live out patterns that have been ongoing in our lives. These may have existed for weeks, months or even years before we work on resolving them. More often than not, unless we get to the root issue causing the pattern,  we will most likely continue moving forward in the same way.
* Perspective: We can choose to have a positive perspective on our situation and focus on the good versus the bad.
* Growth: We can use our hardships to promote spiritual, mental and emotional growth in our lives.
* Temporary distractions: We can take breaks from our problems by relaxing and caring for ourselves.

When I was in graduate school and working as a Marriage and Family Therapy Intern, a group of colleagues and I came up with a list of “self-care” items. Our professors always hammered this idea into our heads: You have to take care of yourself if you’re going to be effective helping others. Then, with this idea in mind, we began to notice a common thread in the clients we were working with as well; many suffered from depression, anxiety, difficulty coping with transition etc. and never took the time to just be, to relax, to have fun and step away from the heaviness of life. So, we came up with a list of all kinds of fun ways to relax and practice the art of self-care.

via

Some of these ideas are:

  • Take a bath
  • Exercise
  • Journal
  • Watch a sunset
  • Watch and listen to the waves at the beach
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Do yoga
  • Knit
  • Garden
  • Coffee with a friend
  • Eat an ice cream cone (in moderation of course!)
  • Draw, paint, water color
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Watch a movie
  • Get a massage
  • Window shop

What else can you think of? Reminder: These are not replacements for actually dealing with whatever’s going on in our lives, no matter how difficult that might be! Depending on which self-care activities you choose, they can get expensive and cause other problems if you’re not careful! But, they can also be wonderful ways to enjoy life a little more, cultivate a hobby and nurture yourself.

See you tomorrow!

Day 15 – Feel what you feel

Emotional expression is a difficult thing and for a lot of us, it does not come naturally. For me, it definitely does not! It is a continual process of growth to become comfortable in my own skin and feel safe enough with others to let them in on how I really feel. There are a number of possible reasons some of us struggle with this:

Fear of rejection: If I let someone see who I truly am inside, will they still love me? In fact, will they even like me?? Personally, I don’t always think the nicest thoughts and sometimes my emotions get a little confusing, even for me to understand, let alone others. My husband lovingly calls me, “Beautifully Complex.” :)

Fear of looking bad/weird/ugly: You know how Oprah has her “ugly cry?” Well I hate to admit it but we all do! No one wants to be vulnerable and then feel insecure about looking weird at the same time! We have reputations to uphold!

Shame/embarrassment: What if the issue I’m emotional about is not “worthy” of my expression? (Look at that, a “what if” to boot)!

Whatever the reason, expressing emotion is hard… but here’s the problem. If you don’t, your emotions will still find a way out of you some way, somehow. It could be in the form of a headache, tense muscles, fatigue, irritability, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression or some other equally distressing manner. Holding our feelings inside can be incredibly harmful to our overall health and well-being. In fact, as I mentioned earlier in this series, I think one of the primary causes for my own anxiety was an accumulation of stress and a lack of dealing with the many changes going on in my life at the time.

So what now? How do you get over the fears associated with not only expressing emotion but even allowing yourself to feel emotion?

1) Start by journaling what you are thinking and feeling. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – censor yourself! Your journal is for your eyes only and if you can’t be honest on a sheet of paper, you will have a hard time doing it with other people.

2) Know that emotions are okay. I haven’t gotten into spirituality much in this blog but I am going to now. Many people, particularly some Christians, believe it is somehow wrong to feel emotion. Feeling angry or feeling sad does not mean you lack faith or are any less of a Christian. Dwelling on bitterness, anger etc. can cause serious damage to our health and relationships, but to not experience them is to not experience fully who God created us to be; we are people, not animals or inanimate objects, and therefore we are capable of feeling all kinds of feelings. Allow yourself to do that. Check out David’s range of emotions in the Psalms if you are still not sure… if the man “after God’s heart” did it, so can we!

3) If one of the reasons you hesitate to express yourself is because you’re not sure what the heck you feel most of the time, check this list of feelings. I found it online but I have given similar lists to clients many times! Increase your Emotional IQ by referring to this list and making a conscious effort to figure out what’s going on inside of you. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

4) Find a safe person if you don’t have one already. A spouse perhaps? A close friend? I’ll talk about support systems later but having a confidant is crucial for emotional health. Eventually you’ll become more and more comfortable expressing yourself on paper thru journaling and once that happens it would be helpful to branch out to talking with a friend or family member. It is a risk and I’m not denying it is scary at first! But again, worth it. Not only will you feel better/healthier, but being vulnerable with others can help develop stronger relationships.

I get it – emotions are a scary topic. I used to oversee a lay counseling ministry at a church and for many potential counselors taking the class, they had difficulty not only expressing emotion but even sitting with someone else while they did. It can be very uncomfortable for people, even those with a desire to serve in a “helping” capacity. But know… it is incredibly important and could be a missing piece in the puzzle that is your struggle with anxiety.

See you tomorrow!

Day 14 – I am awesome

Self-esteem is kind of an awkward concept. No one wants to feel like they have low self-esteem. It seems like something teenagers would struggle with, not mature adults. But self-esteem is a struggle for many and can be a big hindrance to experiencing a peaceful, anxiety-free life.

How does self-esteem relate to anxiety? Well, when we have a high sense of self, we respect ourselves. We are confident about our decisions and when we make mistakes, we accept the consequences and move on (rather than beating ourselves up over it). Instead of gaining value from our circumstances or from people, we have a belief deep within us that we are valuable based on who we are, not on what we do. So, when the world is chaotic around us, we are able to maintain peace within us.

If you found yourself resonating with any (or all) of the faulty beliefs explained in the previous few posts you may be able to benefit from some of the below tips to increase your self-esteem and decrease worry and anxiety:

1) Focus on your strengths. What can you do? What are you good at? What are your positive personality qualities? I am a firm believer that we should focus on our strengths rather than trying to turn all of our weaknesses into strengths. When we spend the majority of our time mulling over the things we wish we could change about ourselves, we end up becoming either complacent or depressed. No one is good at everything! When we live in our areas of giftedness we will experience great passion and fulfillment in our lives.

2) Speak kindly to yourself. As the famous psychologist, Albert Ellis used to say, “Stop shoulding all over yourself.” Don’t judge yourself so harshly. Many of us treat others with great respect and kindness and yet we beat ourselves up constantly for every little thing. Be nice to yourself. Approve of yourself.

3) Take risks. I don’t necessarily mean the kind of risks the contestants on “The Amazing Race” take. I mean, take risks in relationships. Trust others with glimpses of who you really are, knowing they may or may not approve. That’s okay. You don’t need everyone in the world to like you. Trust others with your feelings. Don’t share everything with everyone but give it a try with a close family member or friend. Speak your mind every once in a while. Others may disagree. That’s okay. Make a decision for yourself. Give it a try!

Did you know…

You don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

You are lovable simply because you’re YOU.

You are capable of achieving great things.

You are unique, special and there is no one else in the world who is exactly like you.

See you tomorrow!

Day 13 – Worry much?

Remember those “What Ifs…” from Friday (Day 12)? Well, as I mentioned, the root cause of these two ever-so- frustrating words is, worry. Why do we worry? Well I think it gives us a sense of control. I had a realization a few years ago. I was wondering why I worry and stress out so much when a friend or family member is going through something hard. I concluded that for some twisted reason, I feel like I care more if I think about the situation constantly. And if I let it go or manage to have some fun in the meantime, it means I’m not caring enough. Like I said, twisted. But have you ever thought that before?

I hear this from people dealing with grief (and have experienced it as well). After a certain amount of time has passed, you actually find yourself wanting to have fun again or at least not be sad 24/7. And once the more pleasant feelings begin to crop up, you immediately feel guilty, like it’s somehow wrong to feel that way after something so tragic occurred.

Worrying about someone does not mean we love or care about them. Worrying doesn’t give us control over anything either. In fact, the opposite ends up happening when our worrying starts to spiral; we start to feel like we’re spiraling out of control too. Until we begin to believe  – truly believe – that worrying serves no purpose, it will be hard to stop. Trust me.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, knowledge is power. Becoming aware is the first step. As you consciously begin to notice when any of the negative thought patterns surface, you can replace them with more positive thoughts. You can change negative “What Ifs” into positive ones. You can balance out extreme thoughts with more realistic ones. You can change your shoulds into coulds as Coach Carrie so eloquently commented the other day!

A couple more techniques:

* Write your worries down. Do you keep a journal? Journaling can be a wonderful way to get your worries out of your head and onto a sheet of paper instead.

* Take your mind off your worries by doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation (see Day 5) or the simple, yet effective counting backwards exercise (see Day 6). Not only will these serve to relax your body but they will also help you focus on something other than your worries.

I hope these help! See you tomorrow!

Day 12 – What if?

We’ve started down this road where we are beginning to connect our thoughts and our feelings. Today I want to focus on one type of thought specifically: The “What If…” thought. These can be killers!

“What If” thoughts are centered around worry and thinking them can spur on a series of worries that are absolutely imprisoning! Some examples:

Money: Those of you who have been to med school or law school (or are married to someone who has) will totally understand this, but money is a big concern when you’re in this situation. (My hubby is in law school at Duke hence our move to North Carolina a few months ago). Money becomes tight when you’re young, one spouse is new to a career, the other is in school and you’re living off one income! Plus add kids to the mix (which thankfully we don’t have yet) and things get even more tight. Budget, budget, budget is all you think about! (Or is it just me)? Anywho… the “What If” questions tend to flow out like an unwelcome leak in the faucet. What if we can’t pay our bills? What if we never get out of doubt? What if money is a concern forever? The list goes on…

Relationships: I have heard this from so many women and I remember thinking the same thoughts before I got married. What if I never meet someone? What if I never get married? What if I never have kids? What if I am alone forever?

Career: What if I never find the right job for me? What if I never get promoted? What if I make this much money forever?

Why do we ask ourselves these thoughts? There is very little benefit. Yes, it’s important to be aware of the varying aspects of a particular situation… in the money example, knowing that there is a chance you won’t be able to pay your bills is important and helps you make plans. But to ask yourself these questions constantly does nothing but absolutely freak you (and those around you) out!

Next time you think in terms of “What If” notice what happens to your body. I guarantee you’ll feel some changes (increased heart beat possibly, a rise in body temperature, headache or nausea maybe). Try to link your anxious feelings to whatever thoughts are running through your head.

Ask yourself: What if I can pay the bills this month? What if I do meet someone fabulous and get married? What if I make tons of money in a few years once I have moved a few more steps up the career ladder? Aren’t these “What If’s” just as feasible?

Think about it and have a great weekend!

Day 11 – Irrational/Distorted/Faulty/Just plain BAD, pt. 2

What did you think of yesterday’s post? Did any of those thoughts resonate with you? Again, we all think these kinds of thoughts sometimes. It’s normal! Just because the thoughts are bad doesn’t mean YOU are! However, if we can prevent some unnecessary anxiety by improving our thought processes, we might as well, right?!

So on to more of those pesky beliefs:

Labeling:
Labeling is when we… well, label someone or something because we’re unhappy. For example, a teenage girl wants to stay out late on a date with her boyfriend but her parents say she has to stick to her curfew. She thinks to herself, “My parents are such dictators. I can’t stand them.”

Feelings are Facts:
Contrary to popular belief we do not have to be controlled by our feelings. Often times we think that because we feel a certain way, it’s reality. That is simply not true! Especially for women, this can be a huge struggle sometimes. An example of this is: You’re feeling lonely one weekend because you don’t have plans and you think to yourself “No one likes me. I must have a terrible personality because I have no friends”.

Forecasting:
Forecasting is when we predict that things will turn out badly. For example, you go to the doctor to get a biopsy and, before you get the results, think to yourself “it must be cancer.”

Judging:
Judging is when we are critical and often use such words as should, must, have to etc. For example, after writing a blog you think to yourself “I never should have written that. People are gonna stop following me now!” None of us ever do that right?! :)

Self-Blaming:
This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s when we blame ourselves for things that are not our responsibility. For example, a woman who is married to an alcoholic might think, “It’s all my fault. He wouldn’t drink if I was a better wife.”

Do any of these types of thinking make you go hmm? Don’t stress if you struggle with these! Information is power! Now you know!

What now though? Here is an exercise for you: Write down the 2 you struggle with most on a 3 x 5 card. Tape it to your bathroom mirror to remind yourself not to think like that! You are worth a lot more than your negative self talk leads you to believe! When you find yourself thinking one of those types of thoughts tell yourself “stop” and change your thought around to be something positive.

See you tomorrow!

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