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  1. How To Recover When Life Gives You A Wake-Up Call

    January 15, 2017 by Diane

    Stop being such an adult. Go jump in some puddles.

    Stop being such an adult. Go jump in some puddles.

    Last week, my old foe, panic, paid a visit. Foolishly, I opened the door and let him in. Hell, I put out the welcome mat.

    I knew I needed to get a handle on my commitments. I had overextended myself with a plethora of free webinars that I watched while shoveling down my dinner, and e-newsletters that I read late into the night. I took on a challenge that wasn’t really a challenge because I was already doing what the challenge entailed. (Did somebody say challenge? Count me in!) I berated myself for not finishing up the rewrite on my short story. And I spent far too much time washing greens daily, because eating greens six times a day bathed in balsamic vinegar is good for the endothelial lining of the arteries, even though furiously pumping them dry in the salad spinner is probably bad for the blood pressure. (I know, crazy, right?) Add a strong dose of self-blame for errors at work that were not entirely my doing, and I had concocted the perfect environment for panic to thrive.

    It was a wake-up call.

    All of that busy work was my groovy way of avoiding the other pressing things that may have served me better.

    It was time to get my life back on track.

    To that end, I jotted down ten commandments that I thought would be wise for me to follow. Things like: a a daily prescription of meditation, unhooking from the internet; backing away from the computer; uncluttering my space, my life, and my mind; acting on what’s important and dumping the rest; trusting that I have the information I need (make that too much information, hence the overload), and so on.

    Ten commandments. Count ‘em.

    Well, you could if I’d posted them. But I decided not to.

    Why?

    Because if you’re like me, the last thing you need is a list of ten things to do that you already know you should do, or don’t give a fig about doing, or already do.

    Because whenever I hop on Twitter (another thing to back away from), the tweets fly by:

    Seven ways to…

    Five steps to…

    Six tips for…

    How to…

    How to…

    How to…

    Uncle!!!

    Enough is enough.

    I’ll let you in on a secret.

    You want to know how to recover when life gives you a wake-up call?

    STOP SEARCHING FOR WAYS TO DO IT.

    Those ways are just rabbit holes, and they don’t lead to Wonderland.

    You and I already have our answers. We don’t need to look for them on the internet, in our therapist’s head, or anywhere else, other than that vast storehouse of information pulsing between our own squeaky-clean ears, whispering behind our sternums, and swimming in our bellies.

    We know what to do. We just need to do it.

    So don’t scout around for advice here, delicate soul. I’m doing you a favor. Now, stop being such an adult, and go jump in some mud puddles.

    Okay. If you must know, my ten commandments are here. Print ‘em out. Do the Mexican Hat Dance on them. Fold them into a paper airplane. Use them to line the hamster cage. Just don’t make them into one more thing you should, must, or oughta do to get through your days.

    Unless they help you. In which case, be my guest.


  2. Feeling Powerless Over Panic? How to Navigate an Attack

    January 8, 2017 by Diane

    People in retro style pop art. Girl screams in fear.

    Panic is the body’s language for “Watch out, buster, danger ahead!”  It’s useful if you’re headed down a dark alley where Jack the Ripper is having a smoke. It’s a bit more vague when it bursts out of the blue. From my experience, an unexpected panic attack is an alert that something’s going on in your life that isn’t so hot for your well-being.

    For me, it was a case of being overwhelmed, stressed out, and overextending myself.

    Last Tuesday, it was a rainy and windy night. Wind in itself is somewhat overstimulating for us Vata types (that’s Ayurvedic Medicine-speak for people who are thin, light, cold, poor sleepers, and tend to get anxious). Add the plethora of challenges I had decided to take on…

    the 14-day creativity summit

    the seven-day plant-strong eating program

    the 500-word-a-day writing challenge

    the 130 e-newsletters and webinars cluttering up my inbox. (Did I say 130?) Yeah. This, following an all-day inventory project at work that had its share of snafus.

    …it’s not surprising I had concocted the perfect recipe for panic.

    So the universe decided to give me a wake-up jolt, which is what happens when I ignore my body’s signals to GIVE IT A REST, HOLCOMB.

    Allow me to demonstrate how an outwardly calm and rational person can, on occasion, get hijacked by her emotions.

    I whipped together dinner in a hurry, every muscle tense. I felt dizzy. My arms felt tingly. Before sitting down to shovel in my food, I decided to dig out the blood pressure monitor and take a reading. It was a tad high. Did I tell myself: That’s not surprising, you’re stressed, your blood pressure will go down when you calm down? No. I convinced myself that I was headed for a heart attack or stroke or worse: Kaiser. I convinced myself that I would have to ask my landlady to drive, and if I didn’t ask in a relaxed, oh-by-the-way manner, she would freak out and drive off without me.

    So I decided to take another reading.

    It was higher.

    I took another.

    Bad idea.

    By then, I had shot into full-blown panic, body shaking, head buzzing, ears ringing. I knew I needed to calm down, but my mind was skittering around like a hamster on steroids in a maze.

    How did I go from crazy hamster to zen water garden gal? From blood pressure that makes cartoon characters explode, back down to a mellow 110/80?

    I used the tools in my “Chill, baby,” toolbox. When the first one didn’t work, I tried the next, and the next, and the next, until I found the right tool, or combination, that did the trick.

    If you ever find yourself up the panic tree, here are eleven tips to help navigate your way down. Don’t give up. One of them is likely to work.

    Prescription drugs: I headed straight for the Ativan bottle, something I take “as needed.” I had three pills left. I must have needed a lot lately. Hel-lo! I prayed that just one pill would work, and that I would survive the next thirty minutes before it kicked in.

    Prayer: What the heck, it didn’t hurt to ask for help.

    Movement: To work off the adrenaline, I shook my arms, gave my shoulders a roll, and paced back and forth, pausing periodically to check my blood pressure. A teensy-weensy voice inside my head shouted to stop checking. It may have been my doctor’s. I chose to ignore it.

    Smile: I’d heard that smiling will convince the body all is lovely in the world. If I hadn’t been obsessively checking my blood pressure, I might have believed it.

    Meditation: Yeah, right. If I had been taking my daily “meditation medication,” this could have done the trick. Alas, all those emails, those challenges, those webinars, took time I’d allotted for meditating. As I commented to a fellow blogging-buddy-reader-of-this-blog, there’s a Buddhist saying that goes something like: If you don’t have time to meditate for five minutes, you need to meditate for an hour.

    Without that steady practice, it was hard to tap into my still, quiet place on command, especially when my heart was racing like an out-of-control roller coaster. Still, placing my hands in the position I take when meditating was somewhat calming.

    Deep breathe: In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. Ten times. That usually works, but I still felt anxious. I switched to alternate nostril breathing. Ten times. That worked slightly better.

    Distraction: It occurred to me that my mind was the culprit here. If I could distract it, my body would calm down. (Yes, even in the midst of a panic episode, there’s a rational part of me observing it all.) I counted down from ten over and over again. When I checked, my BP had gone down five points.

    Soothing self-talk: I told myself, “I control my mind, it doesn’t control me. I’ve read the scientific evidence. We can change our brains.” My BP went down another five. But still higher than normal.

    Music: I turned the radio on to a classical music station. Mozart, I remembered, is good for the brain. And by focusing on the music, I engaged my mind in something other than considering a trip to the morgue.

    Visualization: I visualized myself in my safe place, lying on my blue picnic blanket on a field of grass under a sunny sky, hearing the ocean waves in the distance. This is another trick that works better if practiced in advance. Luckily, I had. I felt an immediate release of tension, as if an exorcist had pulled something immense from my chest. While I was at it, I visualized myself as confident and relaxed. And smiling.

    HeartMath: Here’s a technique developed by Doc Childre, founder of the Institute of HeartMath®. Visualize people, or animals, you love, and focus on that love radiating from the heart. Feel a sense of gratitude while you’re at it. Here’s a link that describes the HeartMath solution, and techniques to help you manage your emotions.

    I checked my blood pressure one final time. Score! It was in the mellow zone. One less challenge on my teetering plate.

    Whew.

    Next week, I’ll share what I learned from this impressive panic episode. Until then: chill, baby.


  3. What Clock Will You Follow This Year?

    January 1, 2017 by Diane

    Fig leaf

    January 1st is a day like any other, the sun rises and sets, but we make it into something more. We make it into a day to pause and reflect and plan ahead and resolve to be better humans. We greet it as a freshly washed sheet, a brand new haircut, a blank page to color as we choose. We give it a name.

    New Year’s Day.

    As we turn over a new leaf, outside the window, the Fig tree releases its last. There is nothing, yet, to replace it. No tight bud springing forth. Just bare branches, perches for the crows, highways for the squirrels.

    The animals know. They’ve prepared for the long dark days, hiding their acorns, keeping watch for dead things to peck at. It’s instinct and hunger that drives them. If you and I were hungry, we’d pad to the refrigerator in our socks, and gaze at the selection within: the cold cuts and wilted celery and milk, the leftover chicken and cold beer, the rice and beans. Our way of filling our stomachs is to sit behind a desk typing into a computer for eight hours, then stopping at Safeway to forage.

    We’re civilized.

    Animals live by instinct. They do what’s necessary. They don’t have leisure time in the wild.  They don’t punch a clock. They hunt, they mate, they sleep, they attack, they sing their songs.

    New Year’s Day isn’t for the birds. It’s for humans, who can’t afford to live by instinct. We plan our days to the last minute.

    But even for humans, instinct kicks in. The resolutions fall away like the last leaf on the Fig tree. No longer do we drag ourselves awake at five a.m. to run on the treadmill. No longer do we put in thirty minutes at the keyboard. No longer do we divide our food into smaller portions, what’s healthy and what’s not. Instinct tells us to sleep when we’re tired, eat what we desire, mate with the blank page when the sap rises.

    But we can’t even allow ourselves to do that.

    Humankind lost the rhythm of animals when we hacked away nature to build skyscrapers, divided the days into minutes, and formed the capacity to dream. Our goals drive us now. Instinct is a cousin we rarely visit, who complains loudly.

    There’s a balance to this tightrope of life. Work and play. Sleep and activity. Eating and digesting. Bonding and being alone. In these ways, we are no different than animals.

    People elevate living to an art when we allow creativity to propel us. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, (and I’ve expanded upon): Every empty page, every blank canvas, every new day holds the universe within.

    It’s up to us to form it, shape it, bring it into focus, so all can see. But to do so, we need to let go.

    What clock will you follow this day, and the next, and the next? Will it be the one that humans invented, that doesn’t exist outside our heads? Or the rhythm of your infinite soul? Will you fill your moments with what your brain insists you do, or what your heart longs to experience? Can you sit here, now, and let your creative self worm its way upward, a bud to the sun, blossoming into something the bees can drink from?

    On this day of resolving, try to allow for pockets where time doesn’t exist—not planning these pockets—just pausing periodically to listen, to feel, to catch that spill of sunlight, to let instinct and inspiration be your guides.

    Keep on creating. We need your truths, more than ever in the coming year. 
    -Alisa Clancy, Host of KCSM’s Morning Cup of Jazz