Tag Archives: anxiety

Practicing Mindfulness

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Something I’ve found very helpful to combat anxiety and negativity is a concept called mindfulness.   Mindfulness is acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and then doing something to help process the emotion, thought or feeling.

I use this in several ways.  If I’m feeling resentful towards someone, I take a minute and try to figure out why this is, and then I try to change my attitude.  I read somewhere that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  I’ve found this to be true.  Resentment is not compatible with good mental health.

I also use this when I have an anxiety attack.   My anxiety attacks always have some sort of physical aspect, so I try to accept these physical symptoms (struggle to breathe, dizziness, coughing, whatever) and then remind myself  that 99.9% of the time they will go away if I stop panicking.   After I’m calm, I then try to determine what exactly caused the anxiety.  For example, traveling triggers anxiety in me because following my daily schedule makes me feel safe.   It is also a trigger for me because I feel as if I have to be on my best behavior because I’m seeing people I only see once or twice a year.   To combat this stressful thought pattern, I create a little mantra.  For example, something like, people’s opinions don’t define me, or changes of plan aren’t dangerous.

This concept has truly changed my life.   Mindfulness keeps my anxiety from becoming debilitating and it also helps me not dwell on negative feelings.    I have a choice about which thoughts to invite in and which ones to shut out.

Accept Yourself

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I’m dyscalculic.

I learn slowly.

I need a lot of repetition to understand things.

I struggle to process the world around me.

I fight depression and anxiety.

I’m clumsy and forgetful.

I become overwhelmed easily.

 

This is who I am.

Yes, these traits are frustrating, but there is an upside to all of this as well.

 

I’m creative and passionate.

I’m curious and I want to learn.

I understand complex ideas.

I can be articulate.

I think deeply and feel intensely.

I’m empathetic.

I’m intuitive.

I try.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It can be easy to forget this, and see only the flaws. I’m trying to accept myself and be at peace with who I am.  This is a process. I find it frustrating that I learn slowly and I need so much repetition, but this is how I learn.  This is okay.  I need to give myself extra time to learn and process.

People misunderstand me. People criticize me.  Yes, it’s painful.  It’s confusing.  It’s frustrating.

 

Don’t misunderstand accepting yourself

with giving yourself excuses to wallow in weakness.

 

There is a difference. Let me show you.

I wanted to play guitar, but I struggle to memorize, have no natural sense of rhythm and I believed that I could never learn to read music.

So it seems like I shouldn’t play an instrument, right?  No, it means I’m going to have to compensate for my weaknesses.

Will it be a painfully slow process? Yes.

Will I learn?  Yes, eventually.  Maybe even learn, forget and relearn.

Because of my poor memory, I’ll always have to have my music in front of me when I play, even though it seems like it should be memorized after playing it hundreds of times.  I forget chords often, so I look at my chord chart, however many times I need.

So what?

The bottom line is I can play guitar.

I do this because playing music makes me happy.  Yes, I learn slowly, but I am learning.  My only other option is to never learn anything and I don’t like this option.

Does learning slowly mean I’m wallowing in weakness?  Are compensations for the way I process information ‘crutches’?

I don’t think so.

Here’s another example.  I write, despite the fact I can’t spell, despite the fact I’m not good at remembering grammar rules, and I struggle to organize my thoughts into writing.

You know how I do it? I’m not afraid to ask for help.  I have my friends and family proof read for me, to catch grammar and organization issues.

 

I’ve realized that don’t have to be all things for myself and this is okay.

 

I know people say, “In the real world, you won’t have help,” or in the “In the real world, that’s a crutch,” or “in the real world, you need to be independent.”

This is a lie.

In the real world, people are meant for each other.  We aren’t meant to rely only on ourselves. Let people help you.  It’s good for you and it’s good for them.

Image result for albert einstein quotes fish

So, don’t try to climb the tree because that’s not what you were made for.

Get in the water.

Be a fish.

The Never-Ending Cycle

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Image result for house cleaning clip art free

Courtesy of: Clipart Kid

 

 

There are three traps that I often fall into.

  1. I want to find a ‘cure’ to ‘fix’ how I am.
  2. Once I find this cure, no ‘maintenance’ is needed.
  3. Fast = Good

 

But in reality, none of these are true.

There isn’t a cure for how I am, because it isn’t a disease.  It’s simply how I was made.

It’s tempting to look for the one thing that will ‘fix’ all my problems, but I won’t find it.  It won’t just be one thing, because many different factors contribute to them, so obviously the help needs to be multi-faceted as well.

Compare this to owning a home. If you stopped regular maintenance (mowing the lawn, cleaning, repairs) it would become overgrown, messy and costly.  The same is true with my mind.  I need to remember that this maintenance isn’t messing up or failing.  No one expects a house to maintain itself, so why would I expect that from my mind?

I may find mental tools to manage, or new thought patterns, but there is no cure-all magic potion.

There will be ongoing ‘maintenance’ for as long

as I want to be a functional person.

 

I’ve come to notice that my life goes something like this:

Feel bad, regulate, feel better, repeat.

Yes, it’s messy. It can be discouraging.  But it’s all part of a process.

I know that messy, slow processes make people very uncomfortable.  But this is a wrong viewpoint.  Everything comes from a process.  And sometimes this process is a messy, slow one.

Going back to our home comparison, now you are going to declutter. Well, in order to declutter, you need to take everything out of the room and put in somewhere else so you can sort through it.  Temporarily, your house will be messier than before, but in the end, it’ll be cleaner and more organized.

This is how it can be while you are maintaining yourself.  The process of wrestling with anxiety or with learning disabilities, etc., can be a messy process. Wrestling with this issue is uncomfortable for you and for others watching you, but for the moment this is how it needs to be.

Let it be slow.  Let it be messy. It’ll be okay in the end.

 

Maintaining myself emotionally  is a daily choice.

 

Repeat your coping methods as many times as needed, even if it’s always, every minute of every day at times.  But don’t be discouraged, because, you know that a better time will come.  It’s all part of a cycle.

Feelings Lie. Don’t follow them.

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Image result for feelings clip art

Emotions are a part of every day.  Many different feelings can go through one’s mind: happiness, anger, fear, worry, angst, disgust, sadness, etc.  They can feel overpowering. They can cause restlessness. You may feel such worry about making a decision that you can’t even eat. Or, it takes so much energy to go through your daily tasks because of the thick sadness that you feel.  It’s easy to lose perspective.  It seems as if you always have, and always will feel the way you do at that moment. But this is not accurate, because, in reality, everything we feel is temporary, whether it’s good or bad.

 

You can’t control your feelings, but you can control your reaction to them.

 

My brain only has so much space and energy, so I have to decide which emotions deserve my attention and which ones don’t.  I’m not saying this is easy.  I’m hypersensitive and I feel everything very strongly, so this doesn’t come naturally to me at all.

Sometimes, I have these mysterious bouts where I struggle to do anything that I wish to do.  I aggravate myself.  I’ll pick up my hobbies and they make me angry instead of relaxed.  Or I’ll try to read a book and it makes no sense. I don’t know why this happens, but it does. When I feel like this, I try to take my focus away from myself, and look at others and do something kind. It restores some of my self-esteem and helps someone I care about.  It’s a win-win.

I can make choices that will affect how I feel.

When I’m feeling sad, I can choose to aggravate it by listening to depressive music or I can choose to help my little sister with something.

Now, I’m not suggesting shoving your feelings down and never dealing with them.  That is unhealthy in it’s own way.  What I’m saying is that you should be the one in control of your feelings, not the other way around.

Regulating your emotions is a life-skill.  It’s a struggle and a process that is built slowly from experience.  It takes practice to learn how to manage what you’re feeling.   Some days I struggle and can’t get my emotions under control.  Other days are dark and long.  Some days, it’s easier.  It’s all part of the process. This is life for me.  I have to roll with this without becoming angry, anxious or despairing.

 

I can choose to let the flames die…or to feed them.

The choice really is mine.

And it’s your choice too.

 

Understanding Anxiety: The Fight or Flight Response

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When I was thirteen years old, anxiety overtook my life. It was debilitating and I had numerous panic attacks every day. As I learned more about anxiety, I began to realize that  it’s been with me my whole life, just under the surface waiting to erupt like a volcano.  When I was a child, I was nervous and sensitive and I suffered from chronic health issues with no known cause.  But, the more I learn about anxiety, the more I think that my ‘sicknesses’ were anxiety-related.

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an uncontrolled reaction to a perceived threat which triggers your body’s fight or flight response. [1]

Fight or Fight Response:

Your body’s physical response to danger, releasing adrenaline so your body is prepared to defend itself if necessary. [2]

This response is normal and good if the threat is actually dangerous, like being chased or attacked.  However, this response can be misguided, where something not deadly, like, lack of routine, becomes a ‘threat’ that triggers a fight or flight response.  This is anxiety.

When you have a panic attack, your body reacts with a life or death response to a threat that is not actually deadly. Your body can’t tell the difference and will react with a physical response. The source of the anxiety can be a wide variety of things.

For example, but not limited to:

  • socializing
  • lack of routine
  • change
  • a specific phobia (fear of heights, etc.)
  • traveling
  • going outside
  • eating

Are these stressful?  Yes, sometimes.   Deadly?  No.

Whatever the trigger is, this fight or flight response causes physical symptoms:

  • pounding heart
  • asthma-like symptoms
  • acid reflux
  • sweating
  • blurry vision
  • hyperventilation
  • chronic health issues with no clear cause

Disclaimer:  If you find that your symptoms aren’t related to an anxiety trigger, go to the doctor. You could have a real health problem that should be treated.

These symptoms of anxiety are scary and send you running after a cure for a symptom rather than looking for the source. You look for a ‘real,’ cause because  it’s hard to admit that it’s all anxiety.  Your brain and body are playing tricks on you and that creates more anxiety.  You feel mental.  You can’t trust your own perceptions.

One time when I was traveling (something that makes me very, very anxious), my family stopped at a motel and I started to have asthma-like symptoms that I now believe were panic-induced.  I know this because my asthma medicine had no effect on my symptoms. My anxiety escalated and so did my symptoms, resulting in a full blown panic attack.

Perceived threat + fight or flight response = panic attack and physical symptoms

My family turned on the T.V and started flipping through the channels.  We ended up watching The Breakfast Club, and I began to become interested…and guess what?

My death-like symptoms left too.

My vision cleared up, and my breathing became regular.

I was exhausted, but my anxiety left, at least for a time.

If your symptoms can be distracted, then it’s anxiety.

Realizing this fact was a major turning point for me. Anxiety doesn’t receive the kind of sympathy that ‘real’ sicknesses receive, so admitting this is a huge accomplishment. I bucked this fact for a long time, but when I finally did accept it, my anxiety gradually became much less severe. Somehow, knowing this drains the power of the anxiety.

Anxiety creates a vicious cycle. Your brain has incredible memory, so it begins to associate ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’ situations with certain places or activities.[3]  This can happen anywhere, even your own home or your own bed.

For example, if you have bad dreams at night or can’t sleep, your bed becomes a ‘threat’.  You become afraid to go to bed at night, and procrastinate bedtime because subconsciously, your brain perceives your room as ‘dangerous’.   This is tricky because you might not even realize or see the connection at first. But slowly, stealthily, your anxiety undermines you. Because you start going to bed later, you can’t wake up on time and you’re tired at work. Though it doesn’t seem like it, this is the fight or flight response.  You are fleeing from something that your brain has decided is a ‘danger.’

Another example is this: when you eat, you get acid reflux.  Now, not only food, but mealtime (or even thinking about food) becomes a ‘threat’, and the cycle begins again.  This is no way to live.

Understanding how the fight or flight response works helps to calm myself in the event of another panic attack. I’ll start to struggle to breathe or my vision will blur and I’ll just say  to myself, ‘oh, I’m having anxiety again’ and ignore it.  This way, my symptoms wane and a panic attack is averted.

It’s like a fire.  Without oxygen and burning material, it will fizzle out.   Anxiety only has as much power as you let it have.

Anxiety is a liar. Don’t trust it.

 

[1] What are Panic Attacks? How do you stop Panic Attacks? [Video file]. (2009, November 5). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ByQonvu02A

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

The Corpus Callosum

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Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). – from Anatomography

I’ve noticed that all of the issues I struggle with have something in common: a weak corpus callosum.

 

What is the Corpus Callosum?

It’s the largest connective pathway in the brain. It’s a bundle of nerves located in the middle of the brain that is responsible for communication between the right and left hemispheres.

Why is it important?

Hundreds of daily tasks require the use of this such as: attention, transferring information from one place to another, memorization, multi-tasking, hand-eye coordination, and driving.[1]  As you can see, communication between the two sides is vital to daily living.

As I began to research more about this part of the brain, I was interested to find that all of the following problems are related to a weak corpus callosum[2]:

  • ADD/ADHD
  • Dyslexia & other learning disabilities
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Clumsiness, lack of coordination
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Psychological disorders

I realize that all of these disorders are extremely complex and I don’t want to oversimplify them, but I have come to believe that the corpus callosum is a vital piece in the mystery of mental illness. A weak crossover may make one person struggle to read or spell, and another struggle to drive, or judge distances. Because all these symptoms seem unrelated, and vary so much in severity, doctors have come up with different names for each set of symptoms.

Dyslexics struggle to read and spell.

Dyspraxics are uncoordinated and judge distances poorly.

ADHD/ADD means you have attention issues.

The distinction between each disorder is blurred and complicated.  60-70% of people on the autism spectrum also have a learning disability[3], and 25-40% of people with learning disabilities show signs of mental illness[4]. While it remains a mystery what exactly connects these disorders, it seems as if a weak corpus callosum is a factor in all of them.

How can the Corpus Callosum be strengthened?

Gradually, as I strengthen this piece of my brain, I can feel the fog lift. I am better able to express myself through writing and I started playing guitar.  Only a few years ago, I struggled to get my thoughts into a logical piece and I said I’d never play an instrument, but now I am able to do these things.  While I still struggle, I’m getting there.  It’s a process.

These are just my own observations as I try to understand myself.  But whatever you choose to call it, it is a scientific fact that a weak crossover will make you struggle in many different ways. But, I have found hope in the fact that nerves are trainable. Daily brain exercise (crossover activities) and nutrition can significantly strengthen connections in the corpus callosum.  Though I’ll never be ‘normal’ or have a brain that functions as easily as some people, as I strengthen this connection, I’m starting to see glimpses of my brain working more efficiently.

[1] Van den Honert, D. (n.d.). , Is The Corpus Callosum the Missing Link in Dyslexia? Retrieved February 1, 2016, from http://www.dyslexia.org/corpus.shtml

[2] Ibid.

[3] Learning Disability Statistics: Autism. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/help-information/Learning-Disability-Statistics-/187690/

[4] Learning Disability Statistics: Mental Health Issues. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/help-information/Learning-Disability-Statistics-/187699/

Hello Again, Again

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I’ve decided to start blogging again.   Sorry it’s been so long.

These last two years have been a time of discovery and change for me.  I got diagnosed with a learning disability which has really changed things for me.  I now know why I struggle with certain things and that I am not retarded.  I have a real problem.  I also am eligible for accommodations in college and on the SAT test, which  I’ll take this summer.  Read more about my learning disability here.

I’ve also started going to Alanon which has surprisingly given me strategies not only for dealing with alcoholism, but for for managing my anxiety as well.    I’ve continued to educate myself on my learning problems and the way my mind works.

All this research and real-life practice led me write a blog series about some of the some of the things I’ve discovered about my mind.

Here’s a sneak peek of the topics I’ll cover:

  • Corpus Callosum: why it matters and how it works
  • Understanding Anxiety: the fight or flight response
  • Feelings Lie: don’t let them rule you
  • The Never-Ending Cycle: Feel bad, manage, feel better, repeat
  • Accept Yourself: the good, the bad, the ugly