“The healthiest way to approach tough emotions is to accept them. Instead of distracting yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, guilty, or anxious, try taking a few deep breaths and naming the emotion.”
– A Healthier Happy by Ginny Graves in Real Simple’s special edition The Power of Positivity
Most of the time, I do okay with the fact that I’m not yet pregnant. I have space to manage all of the emotions that come over me in waves. There’s a touch of disappointment every time my period starts, despite being mentally prepared for it. There’s a bit of a sting every time a different friend tells me they are pregnant. And yet there’s still a bit of hope that I maintain for myself in the midst of all of it.
But today has been a hard day, rounding out a hard week. I usually have the capacity to deal with the little emotional hits to some extent, but the hits have kept coming this week. It’s like I’ve got no safety barrier left – no cushion left to soften the blow. There’s no time to recover before the next hit comes.
Last week started with a friend texting me to tell me she was pregnant. She was sensitive to my feelings, and I appreciated her sharing with me rather than hiding it. But it still hurt a bit. I was able to find space to hold all my emotions at once, feeling excited for her while simultaneously feeling grief for myself. Sometimes I feel like an emotional plate-spinner, or maybe a juggler or something.
My period started three days later. I knew it most likely would. The signs were there, I just always hope that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will be the one time I’m wrong. Please, let me be wrong.
Most of the time I manage my anxiety well, and it does not affect my quality of life or my ability to function.
But every once and a while, I have a flare up.
As weird as it sounds, in the past, sometimes I wouldn’t even be aware that I was having an excessive amount of anxiety. All I knew was I felt more tired, or everything seemed to annoy me. As I’ve learned to tune into my body more, I have gotten quite good at realizing when I’m in a downward cycle of anxiety.
My red flags for anxiety consist of things like: feeling sluggish, wanting to sleep all the time, having a hard time staying focused on tasks, feeling overwhelmed by clutter or having the desire to clean all the time, and ceasing activities that I enjoy, such as writing or reading for fun. (You may notice I haven’t posted to my blog in almost 2 weeks.)
When I get into this pattern of anxiety, it is easy to stay stuck. I was telling my husband yesterday how overwhelmed I was feeling, and that I felt a constant presence of anxiety. He asked me what I could do to take steps to counter it. My initial thoughts were torn between: A) Nothing, and B) I don’t even remember!
That’s the thing when you’re in the middle of anxiety, it’s hard to think straight and you forget all of the strategies out there that are supposed to be helpful in overcoming your anxiety. So you feel helpless, which just adds to your anxiety.
I was, however, determined not to be stuck in the pit of anxiety, and so I sat down with a post-it note and really thought through what I steps I could take to help me during this season of heightened anxiety.
1. Headspace– I only have the free version of the app, but you can still use their “Basics” course and meditate for 5 minutes every day.
2. NO social media – I confess, I frequently check Facebook and Instagram, and I have to say I do believe that sometimes, as research has said, it does make me feel worse after looking at it. I also found I was using it as a way to waste time and avoid doing other things I needed to do, so I’m taking a break for the next week.
3. Pray/Bible – I have a goal to pray and read my Bible every day. It doesn’t always happen, but when my anxiety flares, I know I need to be more purposeful to spend time with God and meditate on His truth. I also pray for help and to have that “peace that passes understanding” (Phil 4:7)
4. Grateful Exercises (daily) – many of us have heard that practicing gratitude is so beneficial for us, and it can even help change our brain and the way we think. I bought a gratitude journal a few years ago, and only was disciplined to write in it every day for about 2 weeks before I stopped. I’m picking this up again to try to focus on positive thoughts.
5. Think Up – this is a great app, IF you get the paid version (which I have for the iPhone). This is a positive meditation app, and you create your own “playlists” of positive affirmations to listen to. I’m planning to make a new “Anxiety” playlist where I will listen to affirmations like, “I choose to fill my mind with positive, nurturing, and healing thoughts” or “I am learning that it is okay for me to feel safe, calm, and at peace.”
When I am in the middle of dealing with anxiety or depression, I find that the LAST thing I want to do is all of the good things that are supposed to help me. I roll my eyes at meditation, I don’t want to call my counselor, it seems too hard to find energy to do all of the good things I need to do. Maybe some of it is pride, I don’t like admitting that I need help. As a perfectionist, I certainly don’t like admitting that I’m not functioning at my best.
My therapist and I are both big fans of the Enneagram.
It’s pretty clear that I’m an Enneagram 1, but each Enneagram type also has a dominant subtype, or instinct. My therapist asked me which subtype I thought I was (the choices being self-preservation, one-on-one, or social), and I said I thought maybe I was a dominant social type. She smiled politely while shaking her head, and said to me, “self-preservation.”
We laughed together and I immediately knew she was right.
So much of my struggle with anxiety comes from the unknown, and being worried about being unprepared. I’m a worst-case scenario thinker, I expect the worst to happen so that if it does, I will be ready. Hence, why I always carry a knife in my pocket when I go out for a jog.
This is part two of a series on trauma, explaining how an event that happened 17 years ago still affects me today. (You can read part 1 here, where I share my story of almost getting abducted while walking my dog at night.)
In this post, I’d like to focus on the aftereffects of that traumatic event, how it changed me, and how I’m trying to strike a healthy balance between being overly fearful and feeling safe.
After watching my attempted kidnapper drive away that night, I went back inside and probably went into a bit of shock. I felt numb. My parents called the police and I remember a policeman asking me to describe the man. It felt so arbitrary, I knew they weren’t going to catch him based off of my generic description of his estimated height, weight, and hair color. I was so mad at myself for not memorizing the license plate number of his car.
The next day I went to school as normal and I don’t really remember thinking much more about it, except that my mom made sure I agreed I was never again going to walk our dog alone at night.
I do remember making a rule for myself that from that day on, I would never be out alone at dark – whether it was walking a dog, going to the store, checking the mailbox, or going for a run… and I followed that rule religiously from then on.
Of course there were times when I couldn’t quite avoid it entirely. Sometimes I’d be leaving from a friend’s apartment after dinner, or from working the night shift at the library, and I’d have to walk back out a ways to my car in the parking lot at night, by myself. I would always have my car keys in hand, ready to use them as a weapon. My old car had a key where you pushed a button and they key popped out of the side, like a mini switchblade – I figured it might be good enough to do some damage if I needed to poke an attacker in the eye.
I am usually always aware of my surroundings. Is there someone walking behind me? Is it a man? Which way would I run if he started chasing me? Does it look like I could outrun him?
I began to view most men as potential threats – if I was at home alone and the doorbell rang and it was a man, I wouldn’t always answer it. I’d let my dog bark and bark and bark until the guy left. If I did answer it, I was keenly aware of where the man was standing, and if I felt like I sensed any danger from him.
If I was getting into an elevator, and realized it was going to be me and a man alone inside, I would either wait for the next one, or have a very stressful 10-second ride to my floor as I hoped I did not get attacked.
It’s hard to say whether my prepare-for-the-worst, self-preservation personality was caused by my traumatic event, or if I naturally had those tendencies in me anyway. My guess is that it’s a bit of both, but that my traumatic experience intensified those tendencies, especially when it came to my physical safety.
It’s only been very recently that I’ve been working on finding the balance between recognizing the dangers out in the world, and being able to live in the world without fear. I do think it is important to be on guard against potential threats, but I don’t think it needs to be something that causes anxiety all the time.