Tag Archives: anxiety

Gratitude on repeat

Some people just seem to get it. They easily recognize the things that don’t serve them and they adjust their energy toward things that do.

I have a theory that this starts at birth. If you have to spend a lot of time crying and screeching for attention from caregivers who mostly only meet your basic physical needs, you grow up seeking that deeper connection everywhere. It’s a built-in-at-birth negative pattern. And it can take a lifetime to change.

I’ve been recognizing it more and more in my life since, oh, let’s see, I spread my wings, flew the family coop and moved out on my own some twenty odd years ago. And most days, I feel no closer to changing that negative pattern than I did on those first few lonely nights in my new apartment.

But then two very tiny things happened recently. The first: my sister told me she was no longer engaging in a seemingly small behaviour that has kept her locked in negative energy. A lightbulb went off in my head shining light on that exact behaviour in me. Now that I recognized it, it was time to let it go.

The second: I came across a new gratitude affirmation meditation one morning (not unusual for me because I’m always searching for different meditation audio tracks that help me with my daily experience) and it started with this:

Our thoughts create our world.

That’s it. That’s the second tiny thing. It seemed inconsequential. I’ve heard this before in a variety of different forms, but it never really landed with me. But this time, it was different. It was like all the writing and reading and meditating about creating a more positive life experience and trying to find a way out of a negative behaviour that had recently been highlighted in me all culminated in those five words: Our thoughts create our world.

I’ve been getting better at creating that positive energy on the cushion and for the first hour or so off the cushion each morning, but then life takes over and I forget or get bogged down and don’t do the work of raising my positive energy levels. I now know that it’s not that I forget or get too busy to do the action of the intentions I’ve set. It’s because my brain has spent most of its existence bathed in negative energy.

Anxiety is my brain’s default setting. So I’m not forgetting to practice my positive intentions, I’m just not wired for it. The deep grooves that have been carved into my brain since childhood are the trails where anxiety runs. I have to pave over them with positive thoughts and create new paths. My thoughts create my world.

But how to change the thoughts? I’m always looking for that one thing that I can do to be better and to raise little humans who start from a better place, but I’ve always taken on too much, tried too many different things at once to get better, and I’ve never settled on any one thing that works. (There a lot of things I do in combination, but what’s the anchor? What’s the one thing that glues it all together? It’s easier for a brain that’s trying to change to have one thing to focus on. If you’ve never exercised before, you don’t start the most complicated exercise regimen available. You start by putting on your running shoes and going for a walk. Same with re-wiring the brain.)

Human brains are conditioned to function in a repeated way. So, if you worry too much about bad outcomes, you are subconsciously re-wiring your brain to process negative information only. But, the brain cannot focus on positive and negative information at the same time. So, if you practice gratitude constantly, about every little thing (and there’s a lot to be grateful for, so you won’t run out of things), you will re-wire your brain to process positive information and thus raise your positive energy level.

That’s what I discovered from those two tiny things:

  1. I have a negative behaviour pattern that needs to be changed.
  2. My thoughts create my world, so my thoughts need to be positive.

What one thing can I get my brain to do that simultaneously raises positive energy and prevents me from thinking negatively? Gratitude.

But what if everything is going wrong in life and there is nothing to be grateful for? It sometimes feels like that. But I know now that it’s only because my brain is wired to look for the negative and that wiring is dug in deep. It will take major excavating to dig it out and rewire, but it starts with gratitude.

Gratitude for tiny things: I am thankful I opened my eyes this morning (this is harder to be grateful for on really bad days). I am thankful for my pillow. I am thankful for the fan on hot summer nights. I am thankful I can walk. I am thankful for the breath that fills my lungs at this moment. I am thankful for flyers in my mailbox because it gives me something to browse while I eat lunch. I am thankful for my mostly unicolour wardrobe because I don’t have to think about what to match stuff with.

You get the idea. Gratitude on repeat. Aloud or silently. Re-wiring in progress.

There’s a screaming monster in my head

I can’t run away from it. I can’t get it to be quiet. Every little thing pokes it and makes it angrier.

Today is not a good day. The monster inside my head is old but no less powerful when she’s thrashing about.

I’m reading a book about the art of loving. I’m practising loving kindness meditation. I’m writing about gratitude in my journal. I’m doing all the things that I should be doing to escape the monster.

Maybe it is not the escaping that I should be focusing on. Maybe it is the loving, the meditating, the gratitude.

These are all just items on a checklist. My daily Things To Do To Get Through.

What’s that saying? “The only way out is through.”

Or the other one: “You grow through what you go through.”

Maybe I should love the monster; offer her some loving kindness; fill her with loving presence; extend gratitude to her for sticking with me, for making me hear her.

Maybe she’s not a monster. Maybe she’s my greatest protector, my strongest voice, my biggest defender…and I’ve rarely listened to her. No wonder she’s so angry.

I’ve ignored her wisdom about us. I’ve taken on too much. I’ve told too many stories to myself and about myself that don’t match up with values that I haven’t yet solidified.

I’m in a valley right now on my journey. I’ve come down a hill and now I’m facing another climb. It feels hard. But knowing that life is all valleys and hills and rarely a flat road helps.

I will sit with my monster for a while and build up strength for the climb.

Subtract – add – adjust

Didn’t make it farther than the backyard yesterday. But the sun was shining and it was good to be outside.

Quick recap of yesterday: I baked blueberry muffins. Kids did some art. I interacted with my daughter’s school’s reading group a bit on Google Classroom. I did a ton of editing. I worked late. I had a short, at-a-distance visit with my parents in my yard and watched city workers tape off the playground next to our house. The kids resisted me on any work besides drawing and they were unwilling to help when asked, choosing instead to spend most of their time talking to friends on video chat or text.

How I felt by the end of the day: hopeless, worried, exhausted, like a failure.

What I’m doing today to combat those feelings: drinking lots of water (I think dehydration is having an effect on my brain), focusing on the now (go for a walk, listen to the birds, meditate for 15 minutes), play with my kids (board games, cards).

In being overly concerned about the effect this social isolating is having on my kids and the loss of regular school in their lives, I’ve forgotten that they still have their regular fears and worries (that are of course compounded by this distance from the worlds they would otherwise inhabit).

In a chat with my daughter last night, I realized that what we’re all suffering from without really realizing it is the loss of our own worlds and how our worlds have come crashing together.

I’ve always thought of the four of us as close. We have dinner together every night; we often cook and clean up as a family (assuming we’re all home; sometimes activities take some of us out of the house right after dinner). We have movie nights and game nights. We talk a lot and about everything together. Of course, we each have little things we keep to ourselves, but we’re mostly a very open family.

But in this new reality: all of us in the house all of the time (except my husband who is still working out in the world), it has hit me that we each had our own lives, our own worlds, entirely separate from each other. Yes we started each day together and came back together at the end of each day, but my daughter had her social circle and her routine and her teachers and schedules, and my son had his friends and his teachers and his neighbourhood hangout spots and his soccer team, and I had my friends and coworkers and my office and my work-from-home space (for the odd work-from-home day pre-COVID-19) and my errands and my routine, and my husband had his work and social circle. Now all of that is gone and our worlds have come crashing together. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a new thing to get used to.

When a tween needed her friends in the pre-COVID-19 world, she had access to them IRL. Now, she only texts and talks on the phone with them. And she is having to adjust to what that communication looks like for her group, how they will manage disagreements, hurt feelings, misinterpretations (because I imagine there’s a lot of that when communicating without the benefit of body language and tone of voice). It’s hard to navigate that as an adult with years of experience. Imagine facing that challenge just as you reach the stage in your life where communication and group dynamics carry so much weight?

And for an athletic boy now cooped up in the house or confined to a backyard with no buddies to play with? These are trying times.

And so today is Friday, the last day of the first week of learn at home/social isolation. I went to sleep last night with yet another adjustment to our schedule/routine in my head. And I woke up this morning nervous and worried about how today will play out. But writing this has been therapeutic and, as I often tell myself, take it day by day, make adjustments for what doesn’t work, add in new possibilities, subtract/add, adjust, be kind to yourself and to others, find balance and don’t think that because things went sideways yesterday that they will always be like that. Today is a new day. And it’s Friday, so relax and have a little fun.

Not so paralyzed after all

It’s probably too early to report any useful data, but the first day of Experiment #2 was successful.

I went for a walk with my kids, grabbed a coffee and some lemon cake from a local espresso bar (shout out to Black Cat Espresso Bar) and walked home in the sunshine.

Feelings before we left the house: worried, panicked, nervous.

Feelings while out walking and while chatting (at a distance) with the barista in the coffee shop: calm, happy, energized.

Feelings once we got home: like I had more energy to concentrate on work; felt more connected to my kids (I think they felt the same for just having shared that special time together); I didn’t feel as guilty when I set them up with their school work and then went back to my own work or when I was explaining how I envisioned the rest of our day (and they weren’t agreeing with my vision).

So Day 1 of that experiment went well.

Days 2 and 3 of Experiment #1: Learn at home were not total losses. Some art was done, a writing assignment was done, some online math and logic games were played. There were lost hours where the kids hunkered down with phones and texted friends or played games purely for entertainment purposes and I’m going to let that go.

I’m newly grateful for my daughter’s very social personality. She has already tired of texting her friends and has started a group call and video call (depending on the group she’s “hanging” with) where they can talk and see each other, and they are playing a game together in this group call. I hear endless laughter emanating from her bedroom and she’s happy to tell me all about their shenanigans when she emerges at dinner time. This talking and laughing with other people is doing good things for her. I’ve made a mental note to relax my screen time rules a bit so that she can keep this connection going.

My son, on the other hand, is not into communication by tech. He’s very social with people in real life, but when I mentioned that another mom is going to get his soccer team together for a video chat, he immediately said it would be boring because none of his friends talk. And I get that. We’re talking about a group of 10-year-old boys. They’re great together on the soccer pitch and they’ll fool around and carry on in person, but over video…not sure how that’ll play out. Anyway, he’s doing that today at some point. He needs social interaction with more than his mom and his sister. He needs other guys. It’s obvious when my husband gets home from work at the end of the day. Our son won’t leave him alone for a minute.

Today, I’m going outside again and the kids are going to start school work in earnest.

Let’s see what that brings, shall we?

Going outside

Something’s been niggling at the back of my mind for the last few days. And no, it’s not the pressure of doing a full-time job and teaching my kids everything they’re missing because they’re not in school. Nor is it this strange new reality we find ourselves in.

There are all sorts of feelings we’re all experiencing right now. A friend sent me a Harvard Business Review article last night about grief, and it made me realize that grief was one of the feelings that I’ve been experiencing. And there have been moments of fear and (many) moments of guilt, and of course there’s good ol’ panic and anxiety thrown in there for good measure.

But mostly I’m handling these emotions. I haven’t meditated for a while, and I really should make time for that (but life is crazy busy right now and my focus is elsewhere, even though I know a good sit would do me a world of good and would help with the crazy).

But what’s been niggling at me is having to step back into the world when this is all over. I haven’t left my house in six days. And I don’t want to.

I know I should be going for a walk (at a distance from people) every day, especially on sunny days. But I have work to do. I have kids to teach and guide. I have a house to keep clean (which is harder now that we’re all in it all the time).

And I know those are all excuses. I HAVE to go outside. But I don’t want to.

I thought this could happen. Just like I get paralyzed with writing and getting chores done, I’m paralyzed by the idea of going outside.

And I realize now that the reason I stayed so busy and kept our family in all sorts of scheduled activities before all this happened was to force myself to go outside and keep moving forward each day. Now that I don’t have to, now that it’s encouraged to socially isolate, I can’t seem to bring myself to go out.

So, today, I’m starting Experiment #2: The go outside and do something experiment. I may do that by supporting a local espresso bar that offers take-out down the street.

How are you managing your social isolation? Is it getting to you or are you grateful to be stuck inside?

Getting a grip in times of uncertainty

I’ve been writing in my head a lot lately. Staying away from the keyboard except to do paid work. And it’s wearing on me.

Stressing and worrying about the current COVID-19 situation, anxiety ridden about whether enough people are taking it seriously enough, fretting about emergency preparedness in case it gets real bad real quick…this is what’s consuming me.

My employer is taking it seriously; those of us who can have been directed to work from home indefinitely. I feel for those who can’t. More should be done for them.

In the last few days, I’ve experienced support, paranoia, kindness, anger, the whole gamut of human emotion and reaction. It has been scary, but it has re-affirmed some things for me.

  1. We can only do what we can do. If you suffer from anxiety, like I do, and you have ways of dealing with it under normal circumstances, don’t abandon your methods just because circumstances have ramped up. We can’t necessarily change what’s going on around us, but we can keep taking care of ourselves. Keep doing what you do to manage your anxiety. Here’s a list of some things I do: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/treatments-for-anxiety/anxiety-management-strategies. Also, I’m going to start doing this today: Ten Percent Happier Live and maybe this, too, if I can fit it in: The Consciousness Explorers Club Sitting with Pandemic Panic.
  2. Let creativity soothe you. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed with what’s going on in the world, I feel better if I write about it. Sometimes that’s here on the blog, sometimes that’s in my journal, sometimes it’s on a random piece of blank paper or even in my head. When I don’t write, the anxiety builds up in my head until the floodgates break and I go a bit crazy with panic. I also paint, craft, crochet, doodle, bake, cook, etc., anything that forces me to think about the task at hand instead of the scary world for a little bit.
  3. Find someone else to help. If I’m having a hard time helping myself and I can’t get out of my own way, I take a deep breath and look around for someone else who may be suffering more, then I offer to help them. This often puts things into perspective, but it also drives home the point that human connection in these times (though not really close human connection, because coronavirus) is important, and helping each other is important. And when I finish helping, I feel a little less alone and worried about bad things.

I’m using this pandemic panic feeling to exercise my creativity and get the anxiety out of my head and onto a screen because, of everything I do, that’s the thing that helps the most. I’m going to beat back the anxiety with creativity.

What are you doing?

My brain finally gave up trying to solve all my problems and passed out

With five minutes to write, how far can I get? Is there even a point to starting?

Yes. Yes, there is always a point to starting. And there should be a way to finish, a time to complete the work, do the edit, review the content. But there is never enough time.

Been stressing lately about all that is wrong with the world.

My reminders of things to do on my phone, in my notebook, on sticky notes are there and I read them, but they aren’t sticking.

I saw Bend It Like Beckham recently. Great to get out like that last minute. Didn’t buy the ticket in advance; kinda came upon it when a friend of a friend couldn’t make it to the show and the ticket became available. It was a good night out. A night downtown. I always like those. I’m grateful I got to do that. It was good to be in the city, especially at night. I feel like I burn bright at night and that light shows. Especially on cold, wet, windy nights. The streets sparkled from the lights reflecting off the decorated trees and the buildings. People were hustling and bustling even at that late time of night. The city is so alive, so electric.

Sitting in the theatre, I felt anxious about life. Scared about not having work, scared about not creating, scared about the decisions I’ve made that I can’t change, scared about having all the parenting guilt from my own kids and for me as a kid and all the ways I didn’t do right by my parents. Scared about having to figure out everyone’s emotions and intentions every time I talk to them, having to always think about where they might be coming from and how what I’m saying is being received.

I read a book on the train on the way home, not a great book so far. I find the writing confusing. Maybe I’m just tired and not concentrating well.

I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I almost didn’t come home. I almost stayed downtown, wandering around and getting lost in the lights and the shine.

My brain finally gave up trying to solve all my problems and passed out. I swear it’s like my brain treats problems like a drunk with a bottle. Taking in as much as it can and then marinating in it until it passes out. But just like looking for solutions at the bottom of a bottle has never moved anyone forward, neither will drinking in as many problems as I can and then trying to come up with a solution, trying to see the pattern in the problems. That won’t move me forward.

But writing does. I just proved it again. And I noticed something else this time. Typing works better than writing; better than pen on paper. Pen on paper is slow and deliberate and should be more helpful to process the quagmire going around in my head, but that’s precisely why it doesn’t work. It’s not fast enough. My brain moves at the speed of anxiety: fast, panting, shrieking, jittery, like a kid hopped up on Coke and candy. I need speed to plow through to a solution.

That night out was a good thing. Going out is something to be grateful for. Live in the present. Solutions will come.

Battle of the Books Anxiety

I run a book club at the local middle school. It’s called Battle of the Books. The idea is not mine. My daughter first joined this type of book club at a school she went to a few years ago.

When she changed schools and we discovered that they didn’t have a book club, I saw an opening and went for it.

I do this all the time.

And then I freeze.

My anxiety kicks in. The mean voice in my head starts telling me stories about how this will never work and how I’m not knowledgeable enough about [insert topic here] to run [name of club, event, campaign, etc.], or that because I’m not a professional whatever, no one will listen to me and every meeting/event will be a chaotic disaster.

But, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Sometimes I think I speak up and offer to be of service where I see a need just to try to drown out the mean voice in my head; just to prove it wrong—I’m not sure how well it’s working.

So, I’ve been running Battle of the Books for two years now. We’ve had some chaotic meetings with everyone talking at once and no one listening to me trying to get them to take turns. And we’ve had some great meetings where we’ve gotten deep into the stories we’re reading, with great conversations. It’s so fantastically obvious that the books we’re reading have resonated with these kids.

But I still get anxious.

It’s a week before Christmas, so we had our holiday party. I brought treats to snack on while we talked about the books and battled it out for bragging rights over who knew the most details from the stories.

Probably because there was a table laden with treats and drinks where we meet in the library and probably because we were all eating and laughing and having a jolly time, we attracted two new students who wanted to join the book club. Of course I said yes, because the more the merrier. I so love talking to middle school kids about books. They have such a different perspective. They’re gritty and free at this age, opinionated and anti-authority. They are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their families and they are figuring out who their tribes are and who they are. And all of this brings these neat conversations out when they see themselves reflected in the books we read.

So I let the new kids join, but my own middle school anxiety reared its head and froze me. I couldn’t ask them for their names. I couldn’t tell them to grab a book from the list of titles and sign it out and I was barely able to squeak out the rules of the Battle round and the Lightning round to them so that they could follow along even though they hadn’t read any books yet. And I’m the adult. They looked nervous when they asked if they could join.

What gives? I’m about 30 years older than all of the students in the club. So, authority by age and maturity? Check. They are almost all avid readers like me, so we’ve read the same books. Check. I’m not an outsider running a club I know nothing about. Check. The new students asked me if they could join. I was not recruiting them. Check. So what was I afraid of?

Well, the kids looked cool. That is, they had all the outward appearance of being in the “in” crowd. They had name brand clothes, the latest hair styles and tech, and they weren’t friends with the other kids who more than enthusiastically signed up on the first day the club was announced (which makes me think the original group is like me and maybe a little bit book nerdy).

My pre-teen self immediately took over and told me I had to play it cool, which always makes me do and say dumb things that are definitely not cool.

But of course, it all went fine. The librarian stepped in and got the kids’ names and set them up with books from our reading list. The new kids joined the conversation even though they hadn’t read the books yet. And I showed my anxiety once again that it really has no place in these situations. I don’t have anything real to be afraid of. I’m doing what I love with a great group of kids who also love that I do this for them.


The tsunami off the coast

For about three weeks now, I’ve been feeling the slight rumblings of what I think will be something terrible.

It’s like the ground is shaking ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly and very deep down.

I can feel the tilt in my world; not noticeable enough for anyone else to feel it. No one is asking if I’m OK. But I know it’s coming.

It’s far off the coast right now, roiling and boiling in its darkness. It’s deep; it’s dark; it will be all-encompassing when it comes. It will move things that I have put in place and wash away things that I need to have. It will probably flatten me and drag me around and injure me and suck me under.

It starts small. A forgotten task on a to-do list. A chore that I keep putting off. Later mornings, sleepless nights. Ignored reminders and skipped meditations. More junk food and less good food.

The bad habits creep back. The good habits start to slide. I spend more time angry and negative and less time upbeat and hopeful.

I can tell it’s coming by the books I choose to read: Atomic Habits by James Clear, Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson. I’m trying to ward off the storm. I’m trying to find my way back inland before the tidal wave hits the beach. I’m not succeeding.

I’m buried up to my knees in thick, wet sand and every step is a full-body effort. The fear that I won’t make it to high ground in time slows me down even more. It soaks through my brain like the spray from the ever more violent ocean. The tectonic plates that I can’t see, the ones that form a stable foundation for my ocean, are starting to shift and push against each other. They come alive in revolt because I’ve not been doing what I promised to do. I’ve not been building on my solid foundation. I’ve been tired and weak and whiny. I’ve been letting my foundation slip. And the slipping will cause a tsunami.

I see small breaks in the clouds as rays of sun shine on the dark ocean. They brighten those spots and I feel that if I can just get to them and bask in the sun for a bit, I can help calm the ocean before the tsunami builds way out there and crashes over me, dragging me around and tearing me away from solid ground.

The tsunami is coming.

But the tsunami can be calmed.

I will meditate every morning for at least 10 minutes right after I workout.

I will write one page every morning before I log in to my computer.

I will drink green or herbal tea instead of coffee after I have one coffee each day.

I will snack on fruits and veggies each day.

I can calm the tsunami.