Tips to kick anxiety’s butt

After over five years of dealing with anxiety (more specifically panic disorder) I have learned some helpful tips to managing anxiety also known as kicking its ass. Comment below if you have any helpful tips that I didn’t mention! Each individual will find different things work best for them.

  1. Name it

This sounds super simple, but anxiety is a tricky villain that prefers disguises so you never see it coming. Do not assume that your symptoms and triggers will always remain the same over time. When you feel the overwhelming intrusive thoughts, the physical tension, the twitchiness, and the sense of doom stop yourself and name what’s happening. I often treat anxiety like a supervillain, but personify the feeling however you like.

2.  Breathing exercises

Inhale through your nose to the count of four and then exhale through your mouth again to the count of four. If you can inhale and exhale longer then do so. But the important thing is to keep a rhythm of breath. This action brings oxygen to the brain and starts to signal your brain to calm down.

3. Try a mantra

Repeat to yourself a positive or funny phrase over and over again to block out the intrusive thoughts. I commonly find myself saying “you are okay this will pass”. This phrase doesn’t have to be about yourself it could be something like “Bryan Dechart is a wonderful actor.”

4. Or sing a song

Maybe you’re not the mantra type of person or maybe you can’t think of anything in the moment of anxiety. Try playing one of your favorite songs and singing along to the lyrics. This like the mantra helps block out intrusive thoughts. Plus singing forces you to take deep breaths which bring more oxygen to your brain.

5. Eat a mint

Something sweet or flavorful can help ground you in the present moment. Also if you are like me anxiety can upset your stomach and make you feel nauseous. Mints or chewing a piece of gum can help both things at the same time.

6. Exercise

I know I hate it too, but exercise actually reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in your body. You don’t have to work out or go to a gym. Just going for a walk can help. I also find that when I’m feeling restless or twitch going for a walk gives my body something to do and can help re-center me.

7. Deep pressure

Now light touches can set off anxiety, but deep pressure like a really tight bear hug can help reduce anxiety levels. I often give myself a tight squeeze to help reduce the feeling of restlessness or the feeling of disconnecting from my body.

8.Talk it out

Either to a friend, family member, someone online, a counselor, or by calling a free helpline talk about what you are feeling. Let them remind you that someone cares about you and that you are a valued individual. Let them remind you of your strengths and successes.

9. If all else fails endure,

Sometimes a panic attack has already set in and you can’t stop it. Now that sucks believe me. But always remember that there is hope for a brighter dawn. There is always hope to experience wonderful new things, and love, and true friendships, and new knowledge. Anxiety is temporary. Today may not be good. And honestly tomorrow may not be good either. But always keep fighting for yourself and your dreams.

I hope these tips can be useful to someone out there.

One positive change at a time- Cat

 

Schedule It

Today society runs at warp speed. We live in a global society inter-connected, so as long as you have an internet connection you can talk to someone 24/7. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is overwhelmed with problems. Society doesn’t care if you can’t keep up on the hamster wheel running at light speed. Just chug another energy drink and get back into the grind. And we wonder why we’re all suffer burnout.

No matter what you do whether its work, school, or clubs there is always something extra you could be doing. Instead of setting the standard at 100% (which is already ridiculously high) the bar has been raised to 200. Ever been in one of those classes that acts like its the only class your taking?

The point I’m trying to make here is that the expectations are so high that we will never be able to satisfy them. And even if you’re a lazy introvert like me your schedule can automatically be filled to the brim with responsibilities and activities. Some of these are enjoyable invigorating learning experiences. Some of these are boring meetings you spend doodling in a notebook.

But no one out there is going to leave you time to take care of yourself unless you schedule it. There is always going to be something to do or someone to see. But your main priority needs to be yourself and your mental health. It is so easy to get swept into the fast pace world we live in. But if you want to remain sane you need to carve out time where you can turn off your phone and breathe.

Schedule mini breaks in your day where you can for even just a minute sit back and breathe. Schedule time for self-care and evaluate your priorities for yourself. Are you meeting the goals you set out for yourself? Are you growing as an individual or is your energy being sapped by negativity?

Remember that nothing else will get accomplished if you work yourself to the point of breaking down. A healthy brain that is allowed time to rest is more productive and happier than an overworked brain. Someone will always pressure you to fill this time with something else “more important” but you deserve and need this time to yourself. Fight and ignore that pressure. Surround yourself with people who understand the need to take care of your mental health. If someone doesn’t respect this choice then they are not a healthy positive influence in your life.

One positive change at a time- Cat

The first appointment

I’ve recently went back to therapy to sort through some persistent negative thoughts I’ve been having lately. I’m writing this post to encourage anyone who is thinking about going to counseling/therapy to go forward and try it. Below I’ll describe what typically happens during the first initial appointment to help dispel any fears or myths anyone holds about going to counseling.

Reasons to go

Therapy and counseling are not just for people who are dealing with mental illness. Therapy is for anyone who wants an unbiased perspective on their problems, coping techniques, someone to listen, a new framework, reducing negative self-talk, help with mental illness, etc.

Therapy is for EVERYONE! If you are a student either in high-school or college the great news is that counseling sessions are typically offered for free or reduced costs. If you search online you can find a variety of therapists in your area or you can find therapist who do sessions online.

Types of therapists

There are a variety of therapists and a variety of specialties. For example there are counselors who specialize in the LGBT+ community, therapists who specialize in family communication, and therapists who specialize with students to name a few. There are also many different kinds of therapists/counselors.

A therapist/counselor has undergone training in mental health and techniques for coping.

A psychologist has received training in diagnosing and treatment of mental health disorders.

A psychiatrist has received medical training and thus can prescribe medications.

Additionally each counselor prescribes to a different “school” of thought, and thus offer different types of care.

Humanist are the main type of counselors who emphasize the client and their perspective. This form of therapy is the typical sit-down and talk about problems and how to work through them.

Cognitive/cognitive-behavioral (CBT) are counselors who emphasize the thoughts of the clients. This form of therapy looks at negative/unrealistic thinking and works towards reducing these thoughts and replacing them with positive/realistic ones. Additionally this form of therapy can work on reducing negative behaviors/compulsions.

Psychoanalysis are counselors who emphasize the subconscious of the client. These counselors emphasize childhood experiences. This is the therapy most typically depicted in media and was Freud’s school of thought.

Additionally counseling can occur individually, within a couple, within a group, or within a family. Each type has their own benefits and difficulties, but it depends on the issue you are facing.

What to Expect

The first session might be called an intake session or an evaluation session or an assessment session. Essentially this appointment is to determine why you are coming to counseling, if you are experiencing any mental health issues that require diagnosis, and what counselor/treatment would best suit your needs.

The first thing you should expect is a disclaimer about confidentiality. Anything you tell a counselor/therapist is kept confidential except if they believe you are an immediate harm to yourself or others. In therapy your privacy is highly protected.

The next thing you should expect is paperwork/general mood questions. Typically you will be given a survey that will assess your general mental state. This will help determine if you are experiencing depression, anxiety, trauma, and/or financial or family problems.

Next the intake specialist (who may or may not be your later therapist) will ask you questions to well assess you. Below are some typically discussed topics.

  • Suicidal thoughts/behaviors
  • Self-harm thoughts/behaviors
  • Any body image issues
  • A history of your/your family’s mental health
  • Your reason for coming (What are you wanting to get out of therapy?)
  • What type of therapy do you want
  • If the paperwork marked you as at risk for any mental health problem you will be asked clarifying questions
  • What services are offered

General tips

Try not to be anxious about judgment from the counselor. They have literally heard everything before, so nothing you say should shock them. It is their job to be non-judgmental. And if you feel like your therapist is judging you or not listening to you then try a different one. Unfortunately not all therapists are created equally, and a few are not safe spaces. You should feel that your therapist genuinely cares about your well-being and safe to discuss your problems. If you do not feel this then find a different therapist.

Be honest. The therapist cannot help you if you are minimizing or lying about the thoughts/behaviors/problems you are facing. Even for the tough questions be honest otherwise the therapist will be unable to help you and you will have wasted your time and effort. If you are feeling anxiety when talking to them be honest, and they should understand.

Write down your symptoms and your goals. This will help you clarify your thoughts if you are overwhelmed and anxious. Be specific as possible and include information about the severity and frequency. The more information you can provide the more the counselor will be able to assess to help you.

If you have gone to counseling and therapy before talk about what worked for you and what issues you faced. This will help the counselor determine what treatment plan works best for you.

Be clear about what you want from counseling whether that is coping techniques or someone to listen to your thoughts and feelings. If you are firmly against trying medications or group therapy be honest about that. 

 

I hope that this will help you if you are considering therapy/counseling. I hope that this will reduce any apprehension you are facing. Remember that no matter what you are experiencing that you are not alone! There is help out there!

One positive change at a time- Cat

Stop comparing!

Comparing yourself to others is one of the most damaging actions you can do to your mental health. Especially if you are dealing with a mental health disorder, comparing yourself to others destroys a positive mental attitude. Putting yourself in a place of judgment makes you hate yourself. It makes you hate others.

The problem is that comparing yourself to others is so easy to do. Often it starts innocently enough- just a fleeting thought about someone else. But this can start a spiral where you are constantly comparing yourself. This spiral of negativity and hatred is easily spread across our social networks. One person starts comparing herself to another and suddenly the whole group is devoured by self-hatred. This negativity ruins friendships, it taints your world view, and it can start a downward mental health spiral.

So here are some tips to stop comparing yourself to others! And if someone in your life is constantly comparing you to others call them out on their behavior. Politely state what they are doing and that you will not listen. Walk away if the conversation continues. Even if they are stating that you are better than others, this judgment doesn’t raise you up it just pushes other down.

  1. Take notice                                                                                                                                    That’s right the first step is simply to recognize when you begin comparing yourself to others. Gently remind yourself that this is a behavior you want to change. Distract yourself by ranking your favorite music or puppies. This first step is the hardest, because often we don’t even realize how often we are comparing ourselves. But keep reminding yourself that this is the start of a new positive outlook.
  2. Remember we are all at different life stages                                                                     You may have begun comparing yourself to others, because you felt behind compared to your peers. While everyone else is living independently, working out, and getting promoted you feel isolated and like a failure. Stop that thought process. Everyone is a unique individual. Everyone works at different paces and faces different challenges. But trust me everyone feels like a failure in some point of their life and everyone wishes they could improve. Walk your own life path at your own pace for only you can walk it. 
  3. Write out your goals                                                                                                                  What is it that you want to accomplish? List out these goals both short-term goals and long-term goals. Break them out into steps that you can accomplish within a week or two. For example my main goal is to survive my first semester in grad school. So my first step is setting up a support system for my mental health. This step involves setting up an appointment with the counseling center, talking to my professors, finding a friend group, etc. These are steps I can accomplish relatively quickly which then builds up to the larger goal of surviving!
  4. Celebrate achievements                                                                                                            I don’t care if you think that your goal was ridiculously small. I don’t care if you think that anyone else in the world could accomplish this goal without difficulty. Celebrate success. If your goal was putting on some socks and you did that congratulate yourself. Have a mini dance party. Listen to Beyoncé. Eat some chocolate. Whatever you need to do celebrate when you accomplished a goal. Each goal means a step closer to taking care of your mental and physical health.
  5. Pretend you’re your best friend                                                                                             We are all our harshest critics. Chances are you beat yourself up worse than even the cruelest middle school bully. So speak to yourself mentally as if you were talking to your best friend. Recognize the limitations that you are facing. Recognize the progress that you want to make. Instead of beating yourself up, gently encourage yourself to keep moving forward like you would a friend.
  6. Find yourself a cheerleader                                                                                                     Find yourself a cheerleader who is willing to motivate you towards success. A good cheerleader will keep up your positivity and remind you of the larger goals in mind. This person can help with distractions when negative comparing thoughts come in. The biggest requirement is that you have to be honest with your cheerleader. You have to tell them when you need help, when you failed, and when you succeeded. This person can be a friend, someone online, or a therapist. The point is to find someone who won’t let you fight your negativity alone.

Stopping negative thoughts and comparing yourself to others takes effort and time. But the more you work at it, the easier the next battle becomes in the long-run. We are all worth positivity and happiness in our lives instead of negativity and self-hatred. Remember to compare yourself only to yourself and not to the unknown reality of others.

One positive change at a time- Cat

Remembering your heroes are human*

*Unless we’re talking about superheroes and fictional characters, but just ignore that fact

Disclaimer: This blog post was inspired by this video which features Jacksepticeye (Youtube gamer) and Bryan Dechart (voice actor for Connor in Detroit Become Human an amazing video game) Although you could probably understand the post without it, go watch it! 

Us fans were beyond excited when Jacksepticeye hinted at meeting Bryan Dechart. Then the meeting actually happened and we freaked out. Then the video was posted and we freaked out as only fans can. But this video holds an important message beyond all the adorableness, hilarity, and video game fun facts.

Your heroes are human.

There’s lots of moments in the video that remind me the hours of practice and work that go into video games and products and services in general. For example the discussion on the hours spent motion capturing Connor’s walk. The main moment that reminds me that our heroes are human is when Jack can’t catch the coin when trying the coin trick, which shatters the façade of a perfect image.

See I have created this enormous pedestal stretching beyond the atmosphere placing my heroes up into space among the infinite stars of the galaxy. I’ve built them up so they have become more than human, but faultless perfect beings that I admire from a far daring not to breathe the same air. My own self doubt is projected to transform others, anxiety warping the differences between us into canyons.

But its all an illusion. They are human. They have flaws. They have achieved great amazing things not through destiny or just talent, but through determination and perseverance. They put in the hours of practice and work that success requires. I too can achieve and live in happiness if I put in the necessary effort. I can’t let my anxiety and mental health hold me back by diminishing my strengths. I can’t let the fear of failure hold me back from attempting.

I will fail.

You will fail.

Our heroes fail.

But these failures lead us closer to our successes. This is what I have learned most from PMA (positive mental attitude). If I have a goal in mind I will only achieve it through working towards it optimistically without automatically assuming I’m going to fail. I’m about to start graduate school, and believe me my heart is in my throat. I’m terrified I will horribly mess up this opportunity by saying something stupid. But I refuse to let this fear keep my mouth wired shut. I will keep up the PMA and embrace the unknown.

This doesn’t mean ignoring mental health and trying to be positive 24/7. That is impossible for functioning human beings, remember we are not superheroes. Mental health breaks and self-care are healthy habits that keep creativity alive. Follow the footsteps of other creators who prioritize their and their family’s health first and take breaks when necessary (Leo the lion or Wiishu are great examples, plus I have to give my favorite blogs some love).

It is easy to allow self-doubt to transform others into confident perfect beings. But they are human with self-doubt and flaws too. Embrace humanity and continue to strive towards your goals. You will fail, you will learn, and you will succeed.

One positive change at a time- Cat

 

Everybody Lies

There is one simple truth in this world: everybody lies. We live in a world of Facebook and Instagram posts where everyone is laughing, popular, skinny, and living perfect happy lives. The world is out enjoying a great Friday night and you’re sitting on the sofa binge watching The Office for the sixth time.

But hidden beneath all the filters, retakes, and Photoshop skills is the truth. Everybody lies and the route to the truth is through internet search histories. Intrigued? I was, so I just finished reading Everybody Lies: Big data, new data, and what the internet can tell us about who we really are. 

People lie to their friends, family, acquaintances, and to surveys. The problem in research is so huge it has an official term- social desirability. Even on anonymous internet surveys people lie about their behaviors and opinions to appear more socially desirable. Thus enters this book which uses internet search histories to answer questions with the least amount of social desirability skewing results as possible.

Now this book is not technically about mental health. Technically this book is about research, technology, and random facts like violent films actually reduces crime rates (because if you’re watching a movie you’re not getting drunk and making stupid decisions.) But this book does have discoveries that can improve everyone’s mental health.

Millions of people have searched up ways to lose weight or get plastic surgery. But the surprising news is that way fewer people have searched up how to convince their partners to change. So for all of you out there with body images issues be comforted by the fact that you are definitely not alone and chances are your fears are yours alone. Your partner loves you for who you are. Or for all the single people out there don’t worry, millions of people are lying about how much sex they’re having.

And no need to feel guilty if you stop midway through that one popular best seller. Turns out the majority of people don’t read books all the way through (which then makes me question why I’m writing this…… oops).

The point is that it is easy to listen to your mental health problems that whisper “You are alone. You are the problem. Everyone else is perfect.” But that voice is lying to you just like socially desirable Facebook posts. Everyone has problems and fears, and now we can even prove it with data.

You are never alone. Just ask the internet!

One positive change at a time- Cat

A food metaphor for mental health

It is common knowledge that potatoes require some work before eating them. At the very least they need to be baked or popped in the microwave before tasting the fluffy starch. Regardless of whether you prefer your potato mashed, fried, baked, or steamed some effort is required to make the meal.

We all have people in our lives that are potatoes- the people you know require more attention and care. Sometimes it is the shyer friend you have to draw out of their shell,  or your aging parents, or your child. Checking in on them to ensure that life is running smoothly is second nature, a well formed habit.

No one really thinks about preparing apples. Most of the time this popular fruit is just bitten into as a healthy snack. We all have people in our lives that are apples- the people that require little effort and worries. Sometimes it is the dependable co-worker, or the easy going friend who always smiles. You might see them everyday and ask about their weekend. You might share minor worries and frustrations like the crowded coffee shop or rainy afternoon. But rarely do we expect a major life crisis to be revealed over lunch.

It is my theory that this is one of the reasons mental health remains an undiscussed issue. Anyone in our lives could be dealing with mental health problems- a battle with depression, or anxiety. But we rarely ask the people in our lives about their mental health. We often ask: “how are you?” or “what did you do this weekend?” or maybe even “are you okay?” But we never seem to ask “how is your mental state?” even though your mental health can affect your physical health. “How are you?” is often a quick question in obligatory small talk. The answer is expected to be brief and positive.

We all need to be talking about mental health more. We all need to be asking the people in our lives how their minds are doing. Especially when these people are like apples- the people we generally assume are fine. We assume that mental health is an obvious state- you are either smiling and happy or crying in a corner and mumbling to yourselves. But mental health is not that simple. You can be smiling and laughing and still feel like the world is falling apart inside.

I challenge you reader to check in on the apples in your life. Ask them about their mental state. Because sometimes the people that we assume are sailing on a calm ocean have dangerous undercurrents. Sometimes the people who need the most help are also the people who have the calmest mask.

P.S. If you reader wondered why I was gone the past month without notice I moved. That’s right I am not dead! I just moved cross-country. Needless to say my mental health didn’t really appreciate that, so I’ve been dormant for a while. But I am now hopefully (fingers’ crossed) back!

Managing Anxiety Philosophically

On my summer reading journey I’ve just finished Managing Anxiety: The Power of Knowing Who You Are. This was a book I acquired for free from one of my psychology professors. So I don’t actually know how easy it would be for someone else to get it, especially because the copyright is 1974. But allow me to summarize what I have learned from this surprising read!

First off this book is actually on philosophy, which I didn’t not realize until starting it. Because of the title I assumed it was all about using psychology, but this allowed me to read outside of my normal comfort zone. This book describes philosophy therapy, which essentially is all about embracing emotions and experiences and then analyzing them under a critical lens.

The theory is as follows: You as a human being are in control of your life. While you cannot control others’ emotions and thoughts, you can control your own. Essentially you could decide to run away to the Amazon if you choose to. Emotions are not inherently negative, but can be used to teach you if you analyze it from the perspective of a philosophical outsider.

I find this theory/therapy is best explained through example. So I will apply it to my own life.

Immediate Reality: I am angry at my mother.

Acceptance: My initial reaction is guilt at my anger. I have been taught to suppress my anger, and thus desperately try to avoid it. However, I have something to learn from this anger. This anger reveals that I am alive. I am a human being who experiences feelings, and this is a blessing! This anger also is created from the relationship with my mom. Relationships are constantly evolving, and thus have ups and downs. Because I am fortunate to have a relationship with my mom and enjoy the love and affection we share, I will sometimes experience negative emotions such as anger. Thus, I need to embrace this anger and accept it rather than ignore its existence.

Analysis: My anger at my mother is actually displaced. I am not angry at my mother, but I am fearful of becoming independent. I have built my identity at being the helpful obedient child, and becoming independent means releasing this role. I am fearful and building a new identity and determining my place in a new environment. I am fearful of independence, because any failures will be my own responsibility. I do not want to admit that I am less than perfect. Even though perfection is impossible I still strive towards this never unattainable goal.

New Reality: In actuality I am not angry I am covering up my anxiety. The solution is to accept my anxiety over change. This is a human emotion that everyone experiences to some degree. I need to remind myself that I will fail in the future, but I will also succeed. As long as I learn from my failures I will be improving myself.

This book reminds me that I am in control of my perception of the world. If I view opportunities as chances to fail then I will be consumed by anxiety. If I view opportunities as chances to learn and grow then I will enter the environment with composure.

It is easy to view all anxiety as bad, but anxiety like any emotion is more complex than simply bad or good. I hope readers, that we can all take steps towards creating distance between ourselves and our negative emotions to analyze the root of the problem.

One Positive Change at a Time- Cat

 

Looking forward by looking back

“Where do you see yourself in ten years?” A common question asked by job interviewers, college applications, questioning relatives, and strangers trying to start a conversation while awkwardly standing beside you.

Maybe like me your first instinctual response it to run away screaming, because I don’t know what I’m doing three days from now let alone ten years. Anxiety about the future charges my pulse to rise to sky high levels and my brain shuts down in question overload. There are too many possibilities to consider, too many variables to include, and too many future decisions to be made before I can even think about one year from now let alone ten years.

Besides most people just want a generic response about having your dream job in a dream house and two point five kids and a dog. This basic question is supposed to be expected and prepared for with a memorized response. Unless you’re a cynical college student and answer you plan to be homeless burning your student loan payment reminders to fuel a fire.

I suggest a new question. Look back in your past and look at how much you’ve grown in the past ten years. Look at how you learned from your mistakes. Look at how you took risks to achieve your goal. Look at the new skills you developed over the decade. Look at your physical, mental, and psychological growth. Rather than ruminating on the unknowable future focus on the achievements you have worked towards. Savor the progress you made growing towards newer horizons.

Maybe you initially are disappointed in the past ten years. Maybe you just recall failures and crisis putting your dreams on hold. But look even through the dark periods you have survived. You still are standing here ten years later. Even if you are drained from the past and want to give up, remember the dawn arrives just after the darkest moment. You can work to help others through and avoid the trauma you experienced. You can be someone else’s dawn.

Or maybe you look back and see missed opportunities. Maybe you cannot recall any growth, but instead see stagnation. Take these opportunities you missed and ponder how you can work them in. A desire to travel the world is immediately overwhelming at the cost and time required. But you can work towards meeting this desire by learning about other cultures, saving pennies for a future trip, and embracing smaller local adventures.

Looking back can provide insight towards the future. Looking back can remind you that your efforts in the present will accumulate to greater change in the future. Small efforts towards self-care and self-love can result in better mental health now rather than continuing the past chains.

One positive change at a time- Cat

 

Where I’ve been

It has been a while since I’ve wrote another blog post. Almost two weeks since I wrote down my thoughts to share with all of you lovely readers. Although I’m not a consistent poster and have no schedule to posting, I intended to not leave such large gaps in writing. So sorry seven consistent readers, but on the positive side I’m not dead!

In my absence I’ve been searching for an apartment to rent in preparation for my big cross-country move later in the summer. Searching for an apartment when the city is experiencing a housing shortage is difficult. Searching for an apartment over the phone due to the nine hundred miles between the two locations is difficult. Both situations at the same time while overcoming anxiety pitfalls is even worse.

But enough whining I now have secured my future residence! Yay! I battled against my fears of failure, my pride refusing to ask for help, and my hatred of calling people on the phone. There was hours I spent collapsed from the exhaustion the stress was causing. There was hours I spent calling different numbers trying to find an empty apartment. There was hours I spent re-setting the wifi, because of course technology fails the moment you need it.

Success feels wonderful readers. And looking back on the past two weeks I realize how much bigger my anxiety was making the problem. Conceptually calling apartments is not a difficult task, but my anxiety made it so. My anxiety added on extra stress that perceptually turned a rolling hill into a steep mountain requiring grappling equipment. I can now laugh at my over-the-top irrational fears I created.

This experience served as a reminder that mental health battles are battles indeed. But I ramp up the battles when I give into the irrationality and get sucked into the fray. If I had kept my mind on an eagle high view I could have seen the problem for what it was. Instead I focused on the ground view swarming with chaos. I need to be keeping a wider perspective and stepping back every time anxiety puts on the blinders and narrows in on a problem.

One positive change at a time- Cat