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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

  1. How to Change the Rules in the Game of Anxiety

    August 6, 2017 by Diane

    This week, I played the game of anxiety in the circus of my mind.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the worst possible outcome for a future event and fixate on it, running the movie loop in your mind until your body reacts with sweaty palms and skipped heartbeats and a rise in blood pressure and a plethora of digestive issues, and then visualize the worst possible explanation for what’s happening with your body.

    This is considered round one.

    You may continue playing rounds, choosing different future events to obsessively worry about. You’ve won the game when you become a nervous wreck.

    I realized there’s a better game.

    It goes like this:

    Visualize the best possible outcome of events and fixate on them, running the loop in your mind until your body reacts with a smile and a bounce to your stride and a wide-open grateful heart, and then fixate on how wonderful you feel.

    You might have noticed it’s the same game.

    It just has different playing pieces.

    Since anxiety is a game manufactured in the mind, it occurred to me: why not set the mind to visualizing happy tidings rather than worrisome thoughts?

    Oh, you can’t fool the mind?

    That’s what I thought. Until I caught on to the fact: my mind isn’t all that bright.

    I’m sorry, but my mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s nothing more than whatever squirrelly thought I’m feeding it. Don’t believe me? Here’s a test:

    Imagine eating a lemon. Can you see the juices squirting as you cut into it? Can you smell it as the two halves fall away? Now, suck on one half of the lemon.

    I’ll bet your taste buds are tingling like crazy right now.

    See? Your mind was duped into thinking you were really eating a lemon, and sent that message to your taste buds.

    Granted, it’s not my mind’s fault that it’s none too bright. After all, it’s buried under a lot of grey matter without eyes to see or ears to hear. It relies on me to give it the real McCoy.

    It’s my fault for feeding it a bunch of malarky.

    Dave had surgery this week. I volunteered to be nurse for the day.  Had someone else volunteered me for the task, I would have questioned their sanity. Sending a hypochondriac to be a Florence Nightingale is a sure sign of Squirrels in the Doohickey.

    But I love the guy, so I stepped up to the plate.

    Here’s how:

    I worried endlessly, peppering my thoughts with “what if?” scenarios. What if the surgery goes badly? What if he gets sick from the anesthesia? What if he starts bleeding? What if he gets an infection and I have to take him back to the hospital? What if the surgery goes badly, he gets sick, he gets an infection, his incisions bleed, and I keel over? That was my real concern; that I wouldn’t remain upright through the whole ordeal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever happened, and Dave would end up taking ME to the hospital.

    I worked myself into a proper anxiety attack. I fretted. I ruminated. I lost three pounds.

    I WON THE ANXIETY GAME!

    Then the moment arrived: the changing of the guard.

    Carolyn, who drove him to and from the hospital (definitely not a job for a hypochondriac), brought him home, and I showed up, ready to take over.

    I took a deep breath.

    I cautiously called his name, and stepped inside.

    Dave was peeling off his shirt. He turned toward me.

    I avoided looking at his gauze bandages. I wondered about all that rusty-colored stuff on his skin. Blood? Antiseptic? Please be antiseptic.

    “Warning!” he said.

    I braced myself. This is it.

    “I saved my gallstones,” he said. “They’re in a bottle on the kitchen floor. Wanna see?”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    I almost cried in relief.

    “Um…maybe another time. How are you?”

    “Good! I don’t feel any worse than I do on Monday mornings getting up for work.”

    I gave him a sponge bath, a shoulder massage, and some energy treatments, opened a package of Saltines for him to eat, and hung around until he got into bed. Then I watched over him from the Jesus Chair.

    I was able to do this because, well, the visualization I had conjured up was much worse than the reality.

    And before arriving, on the verge of panic, I grasped the epiphany that anxiety is a mind game. The true winner games the system.

    Since my mind does an ace job reacting to my fearful images, why not choose images that tap into feel-good chemicals, instead of all that adrenaline and cortisol? I told myself I can just as easily visualize lying on my sky blue blanket on a vast green lawn, a cool breeze wafting by, the faint sound of a bi-plane motoring overhead, someone mowing their lawn in the distance, a father, perhaps—nice, safe, comforting, neighborhood sounds.

    Then, instead of worrying about whether I would be okay, I could focus on making sure he was okay.

    Game over.

    Now, about those gallstones…

    I did take a peak. Then I left Dave with a small bag of cherry pits from my lunch, so he could show them to the guys at the office. “Look how big my stones were!

     


  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 your 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. Hope for Introverts Who Feel Like Party Poopers

    December 16, 2016 by Diane

    Holiday gatherings can be overwhelming for introverts. This post, from May 2015, offers five tips to help you survive.

    People in a concert

    A friend invited me to attend a three-day camping/music festival in the mountains, an hour drive from where I live. For an introvert, three days amongst hordes of people and loud music is nerve-wracking.

    “Sounds fun!” I said, and then immediately began fretting.

    Will there be port-a-potties? I hate port-a-potties. What will I do with my stuff: my lawn chair, backpack, snacks, meals, bottled water, book, writing tablet, sleeping bag, and whatever comfort crap I lug with me? And then there’s the hour drive up winding mountain roads. Driving is not my forte. And chitchat–I loathe chitchat! I never know what to say.

    But I told myself: it will be good for you to get out from behind the keyboard and mingle. So I bought a ticket.

    Except I nixed the camping part.

    And the three days.

    I committed to one day. For a few hours.

    Do you see how my introverted brain narrowed my experience so quickly? And still I worried! I worked myself into a nervous wreck. A weekend of fun turned into something that required me to gird my loins well in advance.

    Why?

    Because of the thoughts I was entertaining. These thoughts were unwelcome guests. But they crowded the space in my mind.

    I tried smiling. It temporarily lulled my body into thinking that all was safe. I tried meditating, focusing on my “third eye,” directing my gaze upwards. It eased my racing heart, somewhat. I tried engaging in soothing self-talk. The only difference between today and any other day is the knowledge that I’m going to a music festival, and the dysfunctional thinking that I’ve attached to that future experience. But in spite of all the self-talk and relaxation techniques I still felt like damaged goods, unable to look forward to an event that most people would find enjoyable.

    What’s the matter with me!? I agonized.

    In desperation, I turned to the book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. The author, Marti Olsen Laney, devotes a whole chapter to attending parties and other such events. What I read gave me new insight into myself, and changed my outlook. By Saturday morning, I was eager to hit the road.

    What were Laney’s tips?

    First: you are not damaged goods. You’re an introvert, and crowds will suck the energy from you. Extroverts thrive on gatherings and other people; it’s how they recharge. Introverts recharge by going within. So it’s natural to feel anxious before attending a big event.

    Here are five tips to make the experience less overwhelming:

    1. Relax the day beforehand to conserve your energy.

    I spent the afternoon in the park reading, and after a leisurely dinner, I watched a DVD before going to bed.

    2. When you arrive at the event, acclimate yourself gradually.

    Stand on the fringes and take it all in. Allow other people to approach you. When you’re feeling comfortable, proceed into the belly of the crowd.

    When I arrived, I greeted my friend, located the restrooms (yay, no port-a-potties!) and slowly made my way to the main stage. I set up my lawn chair in the back of the crowd next to three people who were also sitting in lawn chairs, reading books. My kind of people.

    3. Take breaks as needed.

    Go to the restroom to escape, or step outside and take in some air.

    I wandered off by myself to take in the breathtaking view of the redwoods and the fog drifting in from the coast, and then found a small jazz trio jamming in the mess hall.

    4. Set a time limit for how long you’ll stay.

    I decided to give myself until 6:00, so I wouldn’t have to drive down the mountain in the dark. I ended up staying until 7:00, because I was having such a great time.

    5. Schedule downtime the following day to recharge your batteries.

    It was back to the park for me, with a good book.

    I am happy to report that the experience could not have been more perfect.

    Takeaways this week:

    The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney. If you’re an introvert and want to understand why you are the way you are, or you’re an extrovert who wants to understand introverts, get this book. Includes great tips for how to find balance in an overwhelming world.

    Respect your strengths as an introvert (creativity, good listening skills, lasting relationships, persistence, concentration…to name a few), and the requirements needed to protect your energy. Constant activity and loud noise is a drain. That’s okay. Take breaks as needed, set a time limit for participation, and rest before and after engagements.

    Conversations with groups can be intimidating. It takes longer for introverts to formulate ideas when conversing (it’s how are brains are wired), but that’s okay. A good line to use: “Give me time to think about it,” or “I’ll get back to you on that.” Or just smile, maintain eye contact, and let the extroverts do all the talking. They love to!