“The opposite of play is not work- the opposite of play is depression.”
If you had the chance to read my blog last week about Anxiety and Self-Worth, thank you! I would love to hear your feedback on it and if any of it resonated with you. If you haven’t landed here before- I am doing a series of blogs right now discussing how your Self-Worth, whether positive or negative, impacts so many issues that we face in life. This week I’m moving on to how Self-Worth plays a part in depression. Let’s jump in.
If you don’t know who Brené Brown is, you need to. She is one of my favorite human beings and also a fellow social worker. (Google her. Read her books. And especially watch her Netflix documentary, “The Call to Courage”.) I absolutely love this quote from Brené: “The opposite of play is not work- the opposite of play is depression.” I am fascinated with this because it is such a unique illustration of depression and certainly true.
Many people think depression typically presents as sadness and lots of constant and uncontrollable crying, but that is not the typical case I see in my office at all. Mostly people with depression are holding down a job, raising children, serving in their churches, in healthy relationships, and even being wildly successful.
The majority of people that I work with who are living with depression (although I do not formally diagnose in my office anymore to avoid labels) usually have very little awareness that depression is what they are dealing with. They would just say they feel... checked out. Life is passing them by. They are unhappy, sure, but don’t have enough energy to try to fix it. Not a lot of energy for most anything, honestly. Nothing excites them, hobbies aren’t fun anymore, family is draining, they have very little to give. Life is pretty disappointing. There is absolutely no “play” in their lives.
I typically start asking questions like, “Looking back, what kinds of things did you enjoy growing up? When was the last time you felt excited? When does it seem like this started to change for you?” I need to know- when did you stop playing?
That usually tells me so much. Some event (or a series of events) in life started giving you a message about yourself (remember those negative core beliefs we talked about last week?) and you internalized it. They became a belief about yourself that you accepted. Again, those negative beliefs can sound like:
I’m not good enough
I’m a failure
No one will ever truly love me
I don’t deserve good things
Here we are again, staring our self-worth in the face. If you haven’t done the work and taken the time to define for yourself what you are worth, where your worth comes from, and what your truths are- the message other people give you gets adopted as your own. Their words become the internal narrative that plays inside your head, like a song on repeat. Before you know it, it’s not their voice saying you aren’t good enough, it’s your own.
For many people anxiety and depression come as a combo package (life is fun like that). Like I talked about last week- when you are put in a situation where your negative belief is on display for others (like the bad annual review with your boss) anxiety kicks in because you are being given the same, painful message again. Your alarm system is activated. Depression, on the other hand, often comes when you are home alone and the only one saying those hurtful things is you.
The constant stream of thoughts that beat you up is so completely draining and takes so much energy, no wonder there is hardly any ability to be invested in life at the end of the day. Every time you try, it just feels like another failure and a waste of time. No wonder there is no more playing. Because at this point, why bother?
This is exactly why doing the work to define your worth is so important (and never too late). We work to go back to those events that taught you something negative and we rewrite that script. What do you want to be able to believe at that time? What do you want to say to that younger version of yourself? How can we reject what you were taught and reclaim your truth? That’s where change begins.
Believing that you are worthy and DESERVE to live a full, happy, rewarding life gives the energy to play again.
If you are ready, don’t wait another day. If it feels daunting, you can do this. We can start small. If you are taking the time to read this, that tells me that you are ready.
No wonder by the time we are in our 30's and 40's we suddenly start to feel anxiety that we never experienced before! The snowball has grown!!!
Last week I shared a blog about how Self-Worth (SW) is, to me, at the core of so much of who we are. It can have such a positive or negative impact on our lives, depending on how we see our worth and how that leads us to show up in every aspect of our lives. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some thoughts on how the problem of not developing your SW shows up in so many different ways, for many different people.
Today we’re starting with ANXIETY because that is surely something most of us know at least a little bit about! (I also wrote about anxiety a few weeks back if you want to take a look at different symptoms and how it shows up for everyone differently).
So, how could Self-Worth be impacting your anxiety levels?
Here’s my theory: Anxiety is a snowball- not a single event. That means every time in life that you have been given the message that something, whether physically or emotionally, could be dangerous or potentially hurtful, your brain sends you a message to be aware, concerned, or ready to implement that fight-flight-freeze response if necessary. Anxiety is your brain’s alarm system that something could hurt you.
When events that have caused the alarm to go off aren’t properly processed, your brain ties those feelings to the memory forever because it doesn’t know what else to do with them. It just stockpiles the emotion. It starts a snowball. Properly processing the events means that by the end of the day, you have accepted that you are safe, you aren’t at fault, and that your worth hasn’t changed based on the day’s events.
I’m not just talking about severely traumatic events (although those definitely contribute here). I’m talking about tripping on stage in front of the entire elementary school, middle school mean girl run-ins, subtle messages from family that you are worthless, boyfriends cheating, failing tests. All of these experiences are emotionally unsafe.
Our brains are wired to protect us. Unfortunately, sometimes we hold on to emotions that we need to let go of. As the emotions build from each of these events they cause “Negative Core Beliefs” to form about yourself such as:
I’m not good enough (probably the most common I see in women)
It’s unsafe to share emotions
I’m a failure
Once we establish a negative core belief, every time something happens (again, big or small) that sets off our alarm and FEELS similar, it gets added to the anxiety snowball. So in the moment when you are sitting in your boss’ office, getting a bad annual review and you can feel your breathing get shallow and your hands start to sweat- you aren’t just experiencing the stress from that moment. You are feeling the emotion from every unprocessed memory that has given you the feeling of your negative core belief (say in this case, “I’m being told I’m not good enough”). No wonder by the time we are in our 30’s and 40’s we suddenly start to feel anxiety that we never experienced before! The snowball has grown!!!
How does SW fit into this equation? Because your self-worth has been grounded in a serious belief that you aren’t good enough (or any of the others I listed above and countless others). That is where you are operating from on a daily basis now because of all these messages you have been given.
One of the things I work with clients on in therapy is revisiting some of those major events that have contributed to the negative core belief and we reprocess them from a different lens- one of reclaiming your SW in that moment. You can look back on those moments and rewrite what you tell yourself you are worth on that day. As we go through and define your SW for yourself (not by what others told you on that day), the snowball diminishes. The anxiety melts away.
It’s absolutely possible to redefine your self-worth and undo what was planted, even at a young age. If this sounds like the work you are finally interested in doing, I challenge you today to make the call. Contact me so we can start the journey of increasing your self-worth so we can get rid of that anxiety, once and for all!
"If you are feeling the pressures of society are too much, that's because they don’t fit you. They aren’t your rules. Expectations shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all for what a woman is “supposed” to be. "
My favorite topic? Self Worth. (You might have picked up on that by now ; )
Why is it so important for me to talk about? I deeply believe it is the heart of so much of who we are and yet we spend the majority of our lives unaware of its importance or impact! I mean really- have you taken much time in your life to think about your worth? (It’s okay, I hadn’t for many years of my life either- but I changed when I did.)
Self Worth differs from self care, confidence, and from loving yourself. It’s not the same thing as self-esteem either, which many people confuse. It’s so much more important. You can also find it at the core of almost every issue- that’s why I talk about it so much! So, HOW is it different?
In my opinion, your worth is what lies underneath all of these other things. If you think your problem is your confidence, dig a little deeper and you’ll hit on a lack of self worth, I can almost guarantee it. How can you be confident when you don’t know what you are worth? How can you take care of yourself if you don’t have your worth defined?
A lack of connection to your self worth contributes to so many different issues: anxiety, depression, relationship problems, difficulty with boundaries, the need for perfectionism. When my clients present with any of these things on the surface, I always take it back to their self worth (or lack thereof). That seems to always be my ground zero to begin building a foundation to support all of the other good things that follow.
The biggest problem the average woman has with her self worth is that she doesn’t know what it means, where it comes from, how she wants to define it for herself, or what would/could potentially change it. You can easily be shaken and persuaded to believe what someone else tells you you’re worth, if you haven’t taken the time and done the work to define it for yourself. Believe me, the world is sending you messages about your worth from a million different directions at any given time. That’s why we do this work in therapy, by the way.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to write a blog series on how self worth impacts each of those important categories:
Difficulty setting and holding boundaries
The need for perfectionism
(and any other topic that you would like me to weigh in on- just comment below)
I also talk a lot about defining your worth for yourself. What does that mean? It means you get to explore what’s important to you and write your own rules. If you are feeling the pressures of society are too much, that's because they don’t fit you. They aren’t your rules. Expectations shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all for what a woman is “supposed” to be.
I hope this resonates with you. I hope it has you thinking. I pray that you are at least contemplating beginning to challenge what you have been told about your worth and knowing that you have the option to reject it. And stay tuned as we start exploring how your self worth may be the underlying cause to some of life’s biggest troubles.
Brandon and I at prom 2005.
Which, by the way, was still segregated. For more on that story, visit http://www.southernritesproject.com/
"Recognizing your privilege does not mean you did not work hard for what you have... It means your skin color was not something that was constantly working AGAINST you as you fought your way up."
I grew up in a small town in rural south Georgia. I would like to share an example of my white privilege.
My high school/college sweetheart was black. He drove a Chevy Caprice, and if you don't know what that means, you aren't from South GA. Cops didn't like Caprices. Black men did. You were targeted if you drove one. Do not argue with me about this because it is true and that is not the point I'm making here (although this story is evidence of it).
One night, I was probably about 20 years old, we were driving back from spending the day in Atlanta with his family. It was late and we were on a 2 lane hwy in the middle of nowhere aka Soperton, which was about 15 minutes from home (Vidalia). Police there are notorious for racial profiling so boyfriend was making sure not to drive over the speed limit. We saw a cop car parked on the side of the road with his lights off. Before we knew it, blue light were flashing behind us.
Police officer immediately asks boyfriend to step out of the vehicle (which he does) and he is escorted to the back of the car. After asking a couple of questions, officer requests to search the vehicle. Boyfriend gives permission.
(Insert my white privilege)
Officer asks me to step out of the vehicle too. It's cold. We did nothing wrong. I tell him, politely, that he has no reason to search the vehicle because we did nothing wrong. I asked why he pulled us over to begin with and he replies "You have a crack in your windshield that is a safety concern. And your license plate is so dirty I couldn't read it, therefore I have reason." (Black men do not let their Caprice's get that dirty just FYI.) He had great night vision to see a cracked windshield at midnight on a moving vehicle.
I hear boyfriend say, "Julie just do it."
I step out. I'm PISSED at this point. I'm not going to be polite anymore. This is WRONG. I stand up for what's wrong! And I'm tired of the guy I love going through this, because it is certainly not the first time. Officer asks to search my purse after finding nothing in the trunk or rest of the car. Absolutely not! You have NO right to. You have no reason to believe I've done anything wrong. You are out of line!
"Ma'am, you are being suspicious by refusing to let me search your purse. You look like you are guilty of something." Are you kidding me?? There is nothing suspicious about knowing my rights and refusing to let you violate them.
Boyfriend is silent. I am low key frustrated with him for letting this officer violate his rights. Stop letting police treat you like this- you have done nothing to deserve this. You are a good guy, you broke no laws, and they have no right to treat you like a criminal. Don't just give them what they want.
The officer didn't search my purse that night.
Fast forward 10 years and I remembered this night. It took me over a decade to recognize my white privilege had been screaming at every moment. I thought since I was there, getting treated the way I was for being WITH a black man, that I was experiencing the same thing he was. I thought we were the same that night. That isn't true.
Here's the difference: I had been taught I had the right to stand up for what was right, even to authority.
Boyfriend had been taught this: Do whatever you have to do to come home safe.
I thought we both could have stood up to that officer. Boyfriend knew he didn't have that option, that privilege. His only goal was not to go to jail. Don't get yourself shot. I thought we could/should be able to drive without being harassed. Boyfriend knew better. His instinct was to comply to stay alive. When I think back on that night now, I'm not frustrated with boyfriend. I'm frustrated with myself because I potentially could have made that night a lot worse for him, with the bad, self-righteous attitude I thought I was allowed to have.
It was hard for me to recognize my privilege on that night- it has literally taken years. It is hard to see something that you may have never realized was there. Recognizing your privilege does not mean you did not work hard for what you have, because I know I have. It does not mean anything was handed to you. It does not mean your family was wealthy and things always came easy. It means your skin color was not something that was constantly working AGAINST you as you fought your way up. Your race was not a barrier to your success. In fact, it probably never crossed your mind. That is a luxury black people do not have. We have work to do, my white friends.
Oh and my boyfriend did go to jail that night. For the license plate.
"How can donuts be okay/acceptable/good/notbad in MY grey? That does not make sense and trying to get used to it makes my brain hurt sometimes. "
Most of us can admit, in some area of our lives, we are very black and white in our thinking. It’s either gotta be this way or that way. There is no in-between. But why are we like this? What is so hard about the grey?
I’ll tell you my theory: There is no way to judge yourself in the grey.
Follow me here- with black and white thinking, there is a set of “rules” that you are forced to live by. There is a right and a wrong. When you are following those guidelines- you know whether or not You are doing good or bad. And I think we crave knowing whether or not we are doing good or bad. Do we get to give ourselves a check mark for today or do we need a little self-blame and guilt to “motivate” ourselves to do better tomorrow? Only the black and white rules can answer that question. We need to know, deep down, “Am I good or bad?”
Maybe this goes all the way back to smiley or frowny faces by our names on Pre-K chalkboards. Certainly it comes from letter grades from the time we are able to perform. At all times, we want to know how we are doing (especially in comparison to others). Black and white thinking gives us that answer we are looking for.
I used to have very black and white thinking when it comes to my diet, for instance. If I was following the Whole30 diet (which I did, for a very long time) I was doing good. I was good. Whew- I felt relieved. Check mark. Gold star. There are very strict rules to follow that someone else made up (so I didn’t have to be the decider of the black and white) and it was very easy to determine if I was following them correctly. I was good when I was following the rules. I was bad if I was not. I knew where I stood and could judge myself accordingly.
But here’s the thing- I don’t even think this is necessarily a quest for perfection. Even when we can say, “I’m doing bad on my diet” (followed by a string of negative self talk) we still, in some weird way, are okay with that- BECAUSE AT LEAST WE KNOW WHERE WE STAND. And again, we have a deep desire to know where we are. It is all about knowing how to rate/grade/judge yourself. The grey causes anxiety because if you don’t know what the rules are, you don’t know how to make a plan (and don’t we all need to think we have a plan for everything). We are not in control without the black and white.
I think this is why the concept of Food Freedom is so hard for so many people (myself included). There are not strict, universal rules that someone else has decided that you should live by that will tell you if you are doing it right or not. You have to make the rules for yourself and that includes allowing room for some grey. It is scary and does not feel natural. It is ingrained in us that donuts are bad, always. How can donuts be okay/acceptable/good/notbad in MY grey? That does not make sense and trying to get used to it makes my brain hurt sometimes.
Living in the grey is like being in uncharted territory. You do not know what you are dealing with there. There is no ranking system, nothing there to tell you where you stand, no way to know if you are doing good or bad. This constant judgment of ourselves even makes self hatred more acceptable than not knowing (it is more comfortable to think the usual “I ate a donut, I’m bad” than to think “I ate a donut and even though everything I’ve ever known says I’m bad, I’m actually….okay?”). For many people, it is easier to beat yourself up for eating donuts than to even imagine food being a neutral thing that has no moral value. No rules around food is scary.
I honestly think this is something we are all struggling with right now. We are living through completely uncharted territory and people are freaking out because black and white has changed into grey with little warning, and we are desperately looking around for something to tell us whether we are doing okay. Am I handling this like I should be?
Before, not being productive was bad. But now, people are saying it is okay to not be productive? What does that mean?? How can I be good and unproductive- those two do not match. What about if I stop working out because my gym is closed? Am I good or bad for not focusing on fitness during quarantine? Again- normally that is a black and white thing for people, and we are being challenged to live in the grey.
I repeat this almost daily- self awareness is half of the work in therapy/life, and I believe that applies here too. Knowing and acknowledging that some of our anxiety, some of our unsettled feelings, could possibly be coming from not knowing how to tell if we are doing good right now is important. Not knowing how to process the rules having changed. I’m asking you to sit with that if you are feeling overwhelmed, reminding yourself that this is new and we have no measures. Wherever you are and however you are taking things a day at a time- you are doing okay. You are good. And grey is okay.
*Update on 1/27/2021 -This is the first January that I haven't done #JanuaryWhole30 in several years. It has been glorious. I've eaten several donuts. I have no desire to ever force myself back into those strict black/white rules again. It has taken me a long time and a lot of internal work to get here- but God, I'm thankful for it. I'm in the grey and I know I am good.
You can get there too! The first step- walk away from the rules! And then...get yourself a therapist :)
So what does it mean to be conformed to this world? To me it means you buy into all of this BS above. It means you accept these pressures and standards as truth and spend your life and energy trying to live by these rules/ideas. And even worse yet, you pass them down to the next generation.
Let me share with you how this verse shaped the entire mission statement for Empower Counseling.
As a therapist, all day I am working with clients to sort through and process emotions, experiences, thoughts, and difficult situations. Women come in because, one way or another, the way things are going just isn’t working for them. They need change. They are lost, defeated, anxious, unhappy, and feel broken. That’s because the way the world tells us things should be is not the way God intended them.
Here are some examples:
Body image issues come from what the world tells women we should look like and it’s absolutely unobtainable.
Self-esteem issues develop because the world tells us we have to prove our value and that we are “good enough” based on what we do, what we have, how we look or some other ludicrous measure of worth.
Difficulties balancing work and home is the world telling us we should be able to be everything to everyone and that setting boundaries is selfish (or means you can’t handle pressure, which no one wants to feel).
Relationship problems- the world telling us it’s really every woman for herself and you should look out for yourself first. Selfishness runs deep in this world, but it’s disguised in many different ways (even as protecting yourself, isn't that God's job?).
And here’s an unpopular one- that we should all be happy, all the time, or something is wrong with us. Even happiness is used as a measure of whether you are doing “good enough” at life. How unreasonable.
There are a million other examples. Take a moment to think about what “issue” you are dealing with and how maybe the problem is coming from the values and standards of the world. Write it down like I did the ones above so that you have it in front of you to confront.
So what does it mean to be conformed to this world? To me it means you buy into all of this BS above. It means you accept these pressures and standards as truth and spend your life and energy trying to live by these rules/ideas. And even worse yet, you pass them down to the next generation.
Often in the Bible if there is a command, it comes with a promise, just like Romans 12:2. Here’s the command: DO NOT be conformed to this world. Do not buy into this image described above! REJECT IT. The NLT says “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” Pause for a moment and imagine the power that is behind that statement- He will do the work, you just have to allow Him the space to do it. What’s the promise from obedience to that command? THEN you will be able to learn God’s will for your life. Which is GOOD, pleasing, perfect. Is that not the sweetest promise? Is that not what we are all searching for?
What is counseling if it is not the transforming of your mind? One of your goals for therapy should be to change the way you think, to evaluate your mindset, to be willing to grow and change your perspective. Once you have allowed God to transform the way you think in therapy- THEN you will be able to decipher His will for your life. It also takes the pressure off of you to figure out His will. He has promised that will come. Your job is simply to be obedient to His command.
Let’s identify what the world has taught you about yourself and how it has led you to a place of pain and grief. Let’s allow God the space to transform your entire mindset. And then let’s find His good, pleasing, and perfect will for your life.
I don't have a list of 10 things for you to do today to deal with these emotions. I'm just in need of space to acknowledge mine and hopefully validate yours.
Today, I lost a piece of me.*
Many things make up who we feel we are- relationships, career, faith, friendships, etc. And today I lost a piece of who I have been that I really loved and thought would be a part of my life for a lot longer. I'm not going to lie- it sucks.
All of this was my decision, my choice. A hard choice no doubt, but a necessary one. I took my time in making this decision- I prayed about it, did my pros and cons list, talked it out with someone I trust. I know it's for the best but right now it feels gross and awkward and heavy.
We talk about boundaries in the mental health world a lot- how hard they are to set and even harder to enforce. Even identifying the need for a boundary can seem foreign if you were never modeled healthy boundaries growing up. We anticipate the push back we might receive but it always seems to come with a promise of eventual relief and better balance in life. We prepare ourselves for that.
I think we miss something though. I don't think we talk enough about what hard emotions to expect on our end that come with setting a necessary boundary. We prepare ourselves for the other party's emotions (their anger, testing of the new boundary, not understanding your reasoning, etc), but not for our own. Today I am recognizing that I didn't expect to be grieving right now, which brings such a range of emotions. Any loss or unmet expectation can cause grief and that's what this is, so how did I not expect it? I'm sad I needed to set this boundary and disappointed that my expectations were so incorrect. I'm angry too. I don't feel good enough. I wasn't prepared for this.
I asked my IG friends what unexpected emotions they felt after setting a boundary and this is what I got:
Loss of security
Guilt x 10
I don't have a list of 10 things for you to do today to deal with these emotions. I'm just in need of space to acknowledge mine and hopefully validate yours. And also to remind us both that as hard as this can be, as much as it sucks, it's still the thing that needs to be done. You can't always anticipate how something is going to feel before it happens, but I think offering yourself space to explore can ease some discomfort later.
If this resonates with any of you, what were your experiences like? I would love to hear what you felt and how you worked through it.
*I feel the need to say "I know that sounds dramatic" here. Why do I feel like sounding dramatic means I'm taking up too much space? At least it got moved to a footnote this time, instead of first paragraph. #progress
The point of the quarantine is to be proactive in protecting other, more vulnerable populations. This is an act of love.
It's Day One for me of our 2020 Quarantine and I'm already in need of a plan to protect my sanity. We live in a society that struggles with sitting still as it is (I'm totally guilty of this too) and the idea of needing to be at home for the foreseeable future is scary. So I'm putting together a list of things that I plan to do to protect my mental health and make the best of a tough situation.
**Before I dive into my tips, can I please point out that I am not quaranteening myself out of FEAR. Quite the opposite. The point of the quarantine is to be proactive in protecting other, more vulnerable populations. This is an act of love. It would be selfish of me to try to keep on with business as usual. We have to protect elderly people at all cost.**
10 Tips to support your mental health during quarantine:
1- Keep a schedule.
I'm an Enneagram 3 so this is probably more important for me than for some others, but having a routine to structure my day is so important. If I sleep in, my whole day is off. If I don't know what I'm supposed to do, I feel lost. So I'm setting my alarm every morning, getting dressed and putting on makeup, eating meals at regular times, and I have an end time to my work day. Even if it's earlier than normal, there needs to be a time that you are "done" for the day just like any other day.
2- Make a To-Do list.
This keeps me on track for the day and helps me prioritize my time. For those that are scrambling with more work than is feasible to do in a day or for those that have found themselves homeschooling (prayers up for you guys!)- make a list of what needs to be done for the day, do it, and then log off (physically and mentally). I know everyone's situation is different right now, but please protect your mental health by setting boundaries wherever you can.
3-Do things you have been putting off.
For those of you that are not overwhelmed with work and you are trying to find ways to fill your time- tackle the things you have been procrastinating on. It's the perfect time! Imagine how good it will feel to have those things off of your plate when things do go back to "normal." So Spring Clean, do the home project, clear out your inbox, etc. You will be so glad you did.
4-Remind yourself that downtime is okay.
Like I said, we live in a culture that values being busy. We'll sleep when we're dead. The grind never stops. And let me tell you- we are paying a high price for it. Maybe this is a good time to re-evaluate how we view downtime and embrace the NEED for mental health care. I encourage everyone to play around with some sort of daily quiet time such as journaling, meditation, or reading. If you find it difficult to sit in silence, I am going to venture to say you have some level of underlying anxiety and now is a good time to address it.
If you want to learn what constant stress is doing to your body, I recommend the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky.
5-Check on others.
"Social distancing" doesn't mean social isolation. Use this time to check on those that you love. Reconnect with an old friend. Offer assistance to an elderly neighbor. We have so much technology that allows us to continue to get our social needs met but you have to be proactive!
6- Help others.
We all have different challenges to work through here, but it's important to be aware that many people aren't just being "inconvenienced" right now. People are actually suffering. This is yet another example of how people living in poverty take the biggest hit and are so vulnerable. There are many creative ways to show love and support here! Find a local charity to donate to, use your power to ease the burdens of others (can you waive late fees? Delay evictions? Give your employees extra PTO?), offer to grocery shop for elderly neighbors so that they don't expose themselves to public places. Anything you can do will help. And side note- there's plenty of research that shows volunteering is good for YOUR mental health- so you are helping yourself out as you help others.
7-Find the good in the bad.
I think this is so important. Focusing on the good doesn't mean living under a rock and minimizing the importance of what's going on. It is reminding yourself that EVERYTHING is not bad and it never is. Find some way to focus on what good things are happening. I personally am relying on memers for this right now and can't stop laughing when I scroll IG. And I need that.
At this point we really don't know what the future holds. I'm hopeful and optimistic that we will not be quarantined for months (I am also PRAYERFUL for this- can we all agree that this needs to be happening daily?) Regardless of how long this last, let's all pace ourselves. If you knock out every project and to-do list in the first week, you are setting yourself up for a breakdown later on. If you let your mind run away with panic that this could last all summer, you could cause unnecessary anxiety. Let's all try to take it a day at a time.
9-Move and hydrate.
Please move and hydrate. Do a home workout. Stretch. Drink water. Care for your body.
10- Remember, everyone is different.
Please be kind to others. Everyone is having a different experience with this. People can't visit their loved ones in nursing homes. People are struggling to find daycare options. People are being furloughed and don't know how they are going to pay bills. People are working overtime to keep shelves stocked. People are in recovery and have limited access to support.
We all need different things at this time but what nobody needs is to be judged, yelled at, or told they aren't handing this correctly. You are not an expert on other people and neither am I.
This is MY list- I hope you take the time to make your own according to your circumstance, personality, and family situation. This is a chance we have to all be in this together and show love to our fellow human. And if there is any way that I can support you- please reach out. I'm happy to do what I can.
With so much love,
(like, omg if I could just let it go DON’T YOU THINK I WOULD??)
I recently posted a poll asking for suggestions on topics to explore together and the overwhelming response was anxiety. I’m honestly not surprised about this. Our society is dripping with anxiety, especially the past few weeks over the Coronavirus and how the average adult seems to not normally wash their hands very often. Whether you are feeling panicked about that or not, anxiety is a feeling that the majority of us can relate to.
I figured this would be a good intro topic for a mental health blog.
First thing- like so many other words, we overuse the word “anxiety.” I need to make sure to point out to those of you that have never experienced true anxiety that it is not simply feeling nervousness or worry. Everyone has felt those things at some point, but not everyone has experienced anxiety. So please keep in mind that saying “It’s going to be okay” and “Just let it go” or my personal favorite “You just need to give it to God” are extremely unhelpful and invalidating (like, omg if I could just let it go DON’T YOU THINK I WOULD??)
On the flip side, anxiety does not always look like a panic attack either. Many people deal with anxiety on almost a daily basis and have never experienced it as a full blown attack. That also should not invalidate what you are feeling and saying “Well it’s not that bad” to yourself is not helpful. There is no need to judge or compare our intensity- if it is distressing then you deserve help.
Another point worth noting is that people struggling with anxiety often cannot tell you what it is tied to. Why am I feeling anxious? I have no idea and not knowing only exasperates the feeling. It also makes it feel harder to “fix” (without a therapist) because you are not sure of the source- however there are some universal coping skills that can help regardless of the origin that I will share in a bit.
Anxiety also presents very differently for everyone. Here are some common symptoms of anxiety:
Negative self talk
Shortness of breath
Irritability (this is often how mine presents and it took me a very long time to recognize that)
Loss of or increase in appetite
This is not a complete list by any means and I encourage you to make your own so that you can identify your own list of symptoms.
You will hear me say this over and over, but I believe that awareness of a problem is half of the work. If you can work to increase your awareness (what, when, why, and how you are experiencing something) consistently, you will be able to work through it more effectively. Let’s start with some journaling prompts:
What am I feeling right now? (see list of symptoms above or add your own)
How intense am I feeling this from 1-10?
Where do I feel it in my body? (Headache, tension, heart racing, tingling)
How long did this feeling last?
After you spend a few days asking yourself these questions and logging your answers, most people start to notice trends and patterns. Maybe it’s before work that you notice negative self talk increasing, at night you get antsy, or perhaps before seeing a particular family member you have a knot in your stomach.
Once you notice a trend you can come up with a plan.
1- Get a therapist. (Why don’t you have one already? You have a PCP, right?) You should not have to deal with this alone. Even if your anxiety is not impairing your daily function, get a therapist. I use EMDR for anxiety and it works wonders. When you are searching for a therapist, specifically ask if they are EMDR trained because you will want this! More info on EMDR is coming in another blog post soon.
2- Build your toolbox of coping skills.
3- Make tough decisions. Do I need to set new boundaries (ooh wee...that's another hot topic) that will be hard in the beginning but help me in the long run? Do I need to change jobs? Do I need to change my DIET (Yes, girl. Diet has a HUGE impact on anxiety. More on that later.)
So now that you have all of this awareness and you are waiting for your first appointment with your therapist, what to do in the meantime?
Here is a short list of my favorite grounding techniques. For those of you interested in the science behind these, in short- anxiety activates your sympathetic nervous system. That’s the adrenaline rush, increase in heart rate, ready to run feeling you have. You want to calm that down and engage the parasympathetic system so that you can decrease those responses. That’s what these techniques do.
Deep breathing- by far the easiest and most popular technique I would say. There are several simple breath counts that work but you have to find the one that is most effective for you. While you are counting breaths, try to only focus on what you are doing. Close your eyes and visualize your lungs expanding and contracting.
4 Square- think of drawing a square while you counting breaths. 4 counts in, hold at the top for 4, another 4 counts out, hold at the bottom for 4. When you are holding- don’t act like you are underwater, just gently sit with the inhale or exhale before moving to the next.
4, 7, 8- 4 counts in, 7 count hold, 8 counts out. The exhale engages the parasympathetic system, so the longer you spend exhaling vs inhaling, the more effective it will be.
Belly breathing- regardless of which counting technique you use, you want to breath not just from the lungs but all the way through your abdomen. Sit with a straight back and place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. When you inhale, feel the breath come completely through your lungs and belly- you want to feel both expand. Then exhale to empty both.
Acupressure points- if you are in a meeting and can’t close your eyes and belly breath (because that could be awkward, right?) you might want to learn about acupressure points. There are certain pressure points on your body that taking deeper breaths and massaging these spots can help to engage the parasympathetic system as well. The easiest pressure point is on your hand between your thumb and index finger. Gently massaging that soft point can be calming and the more you practice it, the more effective it will be.
I have plenty of other coping skills that I plan to share, but starting with these is a great way to begin a mindfulness practice of managing your anxiety. At the end of the day, knowing you are not in this alone is so important. You aren’t. And you deserve help. Finding a community (like this one) that supports working through these issues with no shame and judgement is vital.
I would love to connect and hear your experiences too! What helps you during anxious moments?