Pay Attention to Yourself – Then Act Accordingly

I took a mental health day today, and it was wonderful. The day has been cloudy, with a temperature staying steady in the high 40s and low 50s… essentially a perfect day to stay home in your pajamas.

I find it hard to take mental health days; I guess I find it difficult to take a vacation or sick day if I could just as easily go into the office, but choose not to. It feels like I need a better excuse. Mental health is important though – I know that – and you know that – and yet it’s still hard to just admit that we need a day off to recharge.

My anxiety had been building up for the last week. I had one of those weeks where everything felt like it was piling up all at once. I felt like I was falling behind at work, at home… the to-do list just kept growing, as did my feeling of inner dread. I’d had an emotional week too, a bit of a roller coaster.

*Side note: have you ever played the level on the Wii’s “New Super Mario Bros.” where you ride the skeleton roller coaster over the lava? It’s insane… and fun, and stressful… all at once. That’s kind of how my week was. Watch this video to see the level in action – it’s aptly titled “The Roller Coaster From Hell”:

One of the best things I’ve learned to do over the last few years is really tune in to my body and the state of my mental/emotional health. If you’ve never done it before, it’s as simple as just stopping and taking note of how you feel physically and mentally. It’s practicing mindfulness. You do it without judgment, and just observe.

Once I assess myself, I can determine what to do from there. Sometimes it requires going a bit deeper into my feelings, and finding out why I feel the way I feel.

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Purposeful (Over)Planning for Managing Anxiety

Like most people, I have good days and bad days when it comes to managing my stress and anxiety. The COVID-19 outbreak situation definitely spiked my anxiety for a few weeks – and still does on occasion. My son and I had a three-day weekend for Spring Break that began March 13, and basically we never went back to work/daycare – from then on I found myself working remotely from home.

The way my anxiety tends to manifest itself, is that I get overwhelmed. I think about all the things I need to do, and I feel paralyzed, like I can’t start on any of them. And when I sit down to do one thing, I can’t concentrate because I am worrying about all the other things on my to-do list. I have a hard time being present in the moment.

When I started working from home, I really had a hard time balancing work time, parenting time, and my own “me” time. I felt guilty that my son was watching a lot more television, and then I’d also feel guilty that I couldn’t focus on work without getting interrupted frequently (three-year-olds can be a little needy at times…) Then at the end of the day, I’d feel frustrated that I didn’t get to do anything just for myself – I’d feel worn out from interacting with people (albeit my own family) all day and not getting some much-needed alone time.

So how did this look the first few weeks at home? Well, it looked like me feeling really frustrated about all of it and getting angry and annoyed at everything. To summarize: not good.

I began to see that I really needed quiet, alone time to myself to recharge – typical for an introvert like myself. But what I found is that if I didn’t schedule this time specifically on the calendar, it just wouldn’t happen.

This eventually led to my husband and I deciding to purposefully plan out each evening – not only was I going to schedule my alone time, but we also decided to schedule other things, like family game nights, craft nights, pizza/movie nights… Our weekly schedule is jam-packed – honestly I’ve never been so meticulously scheduled with my time as I have while sheltering-in-place. You might think that scheduling almost every hour of the day would be stressful or limiting, but I have found it to be quite the opposite – it’s freeing.

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Being Present in Painful Moments

So, how is everyone out there handling the COVID-19 stuff and social distancing? Or maybe you’re in quarantine, either by choice or due to necessary circumstances…

It’s been one week since life seemed like it got turned upside down – at least in my part of the world. I work at a university library, and one week ago we found out our university was extending Spring Break and moving to online classes for two weeks (which has now been extended through the end of Spring semester, and possibly beyond.) Every day new information would come out, and whatever we had heard the day before wasn’t accurate anymore – things kept on escalating.

Initially I was not worried about the coronavirus, or about how it would affect my life. But by about Monday or Tuesday of this week, I could tell my anxiety was starting to kick into high gear, as maybe it did for many others out there. As more and more news came out, I found myself not being able to think about anything else – I wanted to know more, but also wanted to not know at the same time.

I doubt that my reflections on this past week are novel or earth-shattering, but I’ll share them anyway:

My first thought was that it’s crazy how just two months ago life was so different – I was so busy traveling every weekend – for my birthday, for my mom’s birthday trip to DisneyWorld, for the My Hero Academia anime convention my husband and I went to in Dallas… My worries then were so different, and I took for granted that all my plans would just happen, like they always seemed to. Being forced (maybe “forced” is a bit strong, “obligated” works too) to stay home and not go out or be with friends reminded me that we just aren’t guaranteed much in life – we’re not in control of very much at all. This is difficult for anyone that has anxiety.

My second thought I wanted to share came about because I was rereading a journal entry I wrote back on January 22nd, and here’s what it said:

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