Third Level Anxiety: The Paradox of Overthinking

Anxiety and overthinking go hand in hand. It’s a chicken and the egg scenario. Does the anxiety cause the overthinking or does the overthinking cause anxiety? Hard to tell. In the end, I’m not sure if it even matters which comes first. The result is the same, discomfort, distress, and inability to make decisions. The prefrontal cortex shuts down in that all consuming sympathetic nervous system reaction triggered by the amygdala, or the emotional center of our primitive little lizard brain.

Over the years, anxiety has a way of building. The pathways between stimulus and response get more and more defined. My anxiety used to be directly related to specific instances. I would get anxious in social situations. Soon that anxiety would begin to bubble up at just the thought of being in said situations. Now it’s transformed into more of a vague fear of the anxiety itself and trying to avoid all situations in which I may start to feel anxious. I’ve reached third level anxiety, fear of the fear of the fear. This stage is practically paralyzing. It can cause you to avoid your life completely just in an effort to avoid anxiety. It can manifest in a covert way, such as the inability to make decisions.

I have to admit it is humorous to realize I’ve always tried to “fix” my anxiety by somehow thinking myself into a sense of ease. But it’s pretty hard to use logic and reason to defuse a completely illogical physical reaction. It’s counterproductive to try to think your way out of overthinking. But what else can you do?

Learning to Cope

One of the reasons I have my doubts about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s effectiveness when it comes to my mental health specifically and anxiety disorders in general is the focus on the thinking mind. CBT’s primary method is changing the way you think in order to change your behavior. But you can’t solve the problem of too much thinking with more thinking. A lesser known therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT feels like a better fit. Rather than teach you how to reframe your thinking, this therapy helps you cope with and understand your emotions so that you can feel safe and accept yourself.

Even though in the moment anxiety feels like it’s demanding action or some solution, I’ve learned by now that there really isn’t anything I can do or think that can dispel my anxiety completely. The frantic effort to avoid it only causes more mental suffering. The only real way I can learn to handle this fear is to let myself feel it. More than any catastrophic imagined outcome, I’ve become afraid of the physical sensations themselves. I’m anxious about feeling anxious. However, that quickly dissipates when I face those feelings rather than try to run from them.

How to Face the Feelings

Coincidentally, I’ve found the advice from my previous post about how to help yourself focus and be mindful in a calm, neutral setting works just as well when you’re lying in bed on the edge of a panic attack. This time rather than being unable to focus because of the vague sense of disinterest or boredom at the everyday objects around me, it’s the exact opposite. It’s hard to focus because everything just seems so overwhelming that I don’t know where to begin. But nevertheless, imagining I have to describe what is happening in that moment as if I’m writing a story is tremendously helpful.

The next time you find yourself feeling anxious, overthinking, or distressed by indecision, take a moment to step out of the thinking mind all together. Accept that the solution you’re desperately trying to find with your mind is not in the mind at all. The solution is surrender. It’s accepting that sometimes there is no solution but to sit with the sensations. Try to describe the feelings of anxiety swirling around in your body to someone who has no idea what anxiety even is. Be as detailed and creative as possible. Get curious. What is anxiety? Where does it manifest in the body? What does it physically feel like? How long can it last? Does it ebb and flow? Does it get stuck in your chest, in your throat?

Avoid concentrating on what it is that’s making you anxious. That is irrelevant once you’ve determined that it is irrational. Let it go. Show yourself that you are capable of feeling these difficult feelings. Even if they don’t go away. That’s not the intention. It’s learning that you can handle them. When I slow down and breathe into my anxious feelings, I often realize that the feelings themselves are no where near as bad as my struggle to avoid them. I can befriend these sensations by simply allowing them to exist.

Conclusion

I know all this is easier said than done. It’s hard to do anything with intention and mindfulness when your brain and body are on red alert. However, knowing that this is an option available to you is the first step towards practicing it. You won’t be able to every single time, but the more you notice the opportunity to sit with your difficult feelings instead of trying to fight them, the easier it will become. Give yourself the time and the space and the permission to experience even unpleasant situations with patience, curiosity, and equanimity.

Motivation

Most days I feel like I’m dragging myself through life. Very rarely is there anything I feel myself wanting to do. I manage to get a lot done, but it’s more out of a sense of obligation (usually to myself/my OCD) than motivation. I’ve met so many people in life that seem to happily buzz around getting so many little projects done every day, with little to no mental effort. In fact it seems to refuel them rather than drain them. What gives? Why can’t I do that? I’m left endlessly wondering.

I have a few theories. One is that I commit myself to so many “have to’s” every day that I have hardly any energy left to feel motivated to do more. Perhaps not allowing myself any significant amount of true rest time, leaves me perpetually too burnt out to experience that sense of internal drive I so long for. But what if it’s just how my brain works? Maybe I’m just someone who is lazy and disinterested by nature. I think this last theory is really what keeps me from further investigating the first one. If I stop the momentum from years of diligent daily tasks, what if I never feel like picking them back up again? Then I’ll just end up doing nothing! That fear keeps me filling up each and every empty moment with something whether it’s ultimately in my best interest or just gives me the illusion of being productive in some way.

Part of the problem is being paralyzed with too many options. There are millions of things, big and small, that I’d like to accomplish one day. When the time comes to actually choose one to work on, I get distracted by all the others and start doubting myself. Which is most important? Which should I do first? Which matters most to me? Which would I enjoy more? Would I really enjoy any of them? What’s even the point? Then I usually default to an autopilot task just to find relief from thinking about it anymore and spiraling into an existential crisis.

I guess one of the few things I do feel motivated by is coming up with plans. I LOVE to make new schedules for myself, to-do lists, goals, ideas. All of that stuff is so much fun to think about and fills me with a seemingly endless supply of energy directed toward completing all my lists. However, when I find myself facing putting my plans into action in the moment, I lose all of that drive in an instant. It’s much more fun to plan to change your life than to actually change it. The idea of becoming a master piano player is way more exciting than practicing the scales for hours on end.

So here I am again, at this familiar impasse. My internal stand-off. I want to feel more motivated, but I’m not motivated enough to uncover and take the necessary steps to get there. Pretty ironic, isn’t it? Let me know if you have this same struggle or if you’re someone more like the people I mentioned earlier who don’t seem to have an issue getting into new projects with passion and enthusiasm. If you happen to have any tips or tricks from either perspective, I’d love to know!

What Am I Making This Mean

Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.

I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.

It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?

I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.

One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”

Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.

Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.

When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.

An Idle Mind is Anxiety’s Workshop

It has long been said that if your time is not being occupied with something productive, you will find yourself getting into trouble instead. I feel that the same applies to the mentally ill mind. According to an article by Origins, higher IQ is not only associated with “more and earlier drug use,” but also with more mental illness including anxiety and depression. My intelligence has always been something I take great pride in, but I also understand that it can be a curse at times.

It’s difficult to tease apart correlation and causation, but in my personal story I would say that high intelligence led to mental illness beginning at a young age, which then led to early drug use as an attempt to disassociate or slow my mind down for a while. I still love to self-medicate, but I believe that mentally healthy people have no interest in using drugs. If you are happy, you don’t feel the need to take any amount of risk in order to find relief, so why would you?

In recent years I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy. It seems like each and every moment is filled with a task or activity for me to direct my attention toward. I’ve begun to actually fear not having anything to do. I know I will start to worry, ruminate, and subsequently spiral if I’m left with nothing to occupy my mind for any significant amount of time. Even once my daily habits become too routine to demand much of my attention, I begin to notice negative, stress-filled thoughts clouding my thoughts.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

Proverb

The original quote is referring to keeping the physical body busy so that we don’t start making mischief. This is a lot simpler than keeping the mind busy, and that is especially true for highly intelligent minds that need a lot more stimulation. It’s a beautiful thing when my mind is set to work on a difficult problem or complicated task. I am energized, focused, and engaged. However, it isn’t always easy to find something my mind deems worthy of it’s full attention.

Depression and anxiety can make it hard to focus. And that inability to focus exacerbates the anxiety and/or depression. It is a viscous cycle that sometimes feels impossible to break. Similarly, depression and anxiety can cause us to lose interest in even things we once greatly enjoyed. This also makes it harder to find things to occupy our minds adequately. It’s quite difficult to focus on anything that you aren’t interested in or motivated by.

I think this is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading so much. When I’m reading, my brain is fully engaged in the story unfolding before me. My anxiety all but disappears while I’m losing myself in a book. It’s also a relief when we can redirect ourselves towards thinking about other people rather than our own problems. It requires a lot of attention and thoughtfulness to help others or work with them to solve their problems. Other people are always interesting and complex in their own way, which makes them excellent opportunities to get out of our own heads.

Sometimes my anxiety won’t allow me to focus on anything else. It tells me that it’s concerns and fears are urgent and pressing and must be at the forefront of my awareness. Then the difficult thing becomes not only finding something I’m more interested in to do, but to convince myself that it’s safe to redirect myself to that other task or train of thought.

If you notice yourself sinking deeper into depression or working yourself up into a frenzy whenever you have a lot of free time on your hands, consider implementing some safe guards to help prevent this pattern from occurring. When you find yourself in a good mental space, make a list of some activities that you enjoy or tasks you’ve been wanting to work on. Then when you have spare time, you’ll be able to refer to your list even if your mental illness has raised it’s ugly head and already begun to affect your ability to think clearing and redirect your attention.

In these stressful and/or depressed states, none of the items on your list are likely to sound very appealing to you. Just pick one and do it anyway. Trust that if you surrender to the task and allow your mind to be fully immersed in it, inevitably you will start to feel better. Don’t worry about the quality or outcome of whatever you decide to focus on. Remind yourself that it’s the focused attention you’re after, nothing more. Mental illness tends to fester in an unoccupied mind. A focused, busy mind is a happy, healthy mind.

The Intersection of Spirituality and Business

People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish desires and schemes that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For love of money is the root of all of evil and some having pursued its power, fall from faith and end in sorrow.

Saint Timothy
Money and Spirituality. Group Game, Russian House #1, Jenner, 20 June 2021

Affirmations are still new territory for me. I’ve been trying to incorporate them into my life for a few months now. I have a couple apps that will generate one randomly for you every day. Although I still find the ones I come up with myself to be the most beneficial, which is to be expected. Getting back to the apps though, there are all genres of affirmations to choose from. There are affirmations for love, health, positive energy, self care, inner peace, etc. These are all beautiful and exactly what I anticipate an affirmation to feel/sound like. The ones that stand apart for me are the “financial” or “monetary” affirmations. These ones leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve been seeing a lot of these types of affirmations recently. I’ve also noticed the realm of manifesting being infiltrated by similar motivations. Far be it from me to tell anyone what to do in their own spiritual or self-healing journey, but in my opinion, these money focused affirmations and manifestation efforts are ill-suited to the overall energy of any spiritual movement. Self-love, self-care, healing, personal growth, even abundance do not have anything to do with property or possessions, monetary or otherwise. The journey of the soul is not concerned with such such trivial, worldly pursuits and interests.

The idea of money and, what I perceive as, the ego’s desire for monetary wealth clash horrendously with things like affirmations, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, etc. Yet as these practices become more and more popular, I see them being co-opted by capitalism, self-interest, and greed. I’ve heard many of the otherwise positive yogis, psychologists, life coaches, and so on that I follow attempt to justify their focus on and mild obsession with business and making money. There is a hint of defensiveness as they try to explain why they have every right to charge people for their advice and services and partner with toxic corporate advertisers. They even lay the groundwork to promote others doing the same thing.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with starting your own business or wanting to live comfortably in life. However, these things are separate from spirituality. Trying to intertwine these opposing energies is damaging to the pure, selfless, loving nature of the spiritual practice. If you want money because you believe it will afford you safety and peace, why not skip the middle man and focus on the safety, peace, and ease that you are truly seeking? Maybe these things will come to you in the form of greater income, but money itself should never be the goal.

When it comes to the purely business side of things, I’m not exactly sure what position I hold. I don’t expect yoga teachers or life coaches to work for free. They have to make a living somehow. Even so, it has always felt dirty to me to charge for my classes. Especially charging as much as my studio does. My goal when I became a yoga teacher was not to make money. It was to give back to my community by sharing the transformational gift of yoga with as many people as I could. I had always planned to get my certification and teach for free, whether in person or online. My teachers even addressed this urge during our training in order to discourage such behavior. They framed it as if I would be cheapening the entire industry and making it harder for other teachers to make a living, which was not my intention. I guess with this in mind, I don’t think it’s unethical to charge a reasonable amount in order to support yourself, but I draw the line when people start getting rich. At that point I do really feel as though you’re taking advantage of people in a particularly egregious way. It reminds me of those awful “for profit” ministries.

In an ideal world, I think all of these spiritual teachings and services would be purely donation based. Then, those that were able could give more, while still allowing the less fortunate to have access to these ancient healing methods. I don’t know how we could make this work in practice, but the energy of this idea feels more right to me. Otherwise, I am just reminded of those awful “for profit” ministries taking advantage of people who are desperate to improve their lives. Spirituality, like traditional religions, should not be about accumulating personal wealth. It is completely antithetical to the ideas and practices being taught. As I said, I don’t know what the answer is, nor do I pretend to. I just had to speak my mind about this issue and how much it concerns me. Let me know your thoughts on this. Sometimes I feel like the only one who finds it unsettling while it appears to become more and more prominent every day.

Financial psychologist: Why it's important to ask yourself this money  question now

Anger, Compassion, and Not Knowing

Understanding Suicide: Risk Factors, Prevention, and How to Get Help |  Everyday Health

I struggle with anger nearly every day. The smallest things can set me off in an instant. A pattern has begun to emerge from these occurrences. The common denominator for my anger always seems to be a sense of “not knowing.” For example, I’ve been getting extremely frustrated with my dog the last few days. She goes through spells of refusing to go up and down the stairs. I try to carry her, but she won’t allow that either. She makes me chase her around in circles before finally she goes on her own. This has been happening on and off at random intervals since we’ve moved here, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s all about.

I’m obviously not mad at her. She’s just an innocent animal who is clearly scared or in pain of some kind. (I’ve wondered if it may have to do with arthritis inflammation that comes and goes.) Regardless of what the explanation is, I think what it really comes down to is the fact that I don’t know. As someone who prides themselves on their quick wit and intelligence, not knowing anything is a threat to my ego. It’s not as if I’m consciously aware of this in the moment though. I make lots of excuses for myself to explain why I am actually angry. Normally it has something to do with believing the whole situation to be utter nonsense. If I can’t understand it or find a good reason, I assume that it’s impossible to understand, that there is no reason.

I realize that this isn’t true. There are many motives and reasons that guide people that I cannot fathom or understand from the outside. It’s a bad habit of mine to assume they must not have a good reason, and they are just being difficult. I guess it feels like deep down one of us must just be stupid, and since it absolutely cannot be me (because I am so very smart *eye roll*) it must be them. This is yet another way my black and white thinking causes problems for me. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that two people can just misunderstand one another. One person doesn’t inherently have to be of lower intelligence.

I’ve been trying to practice compassion in the face of anger recently, but it hasn’t been going as well as I might have hoped. I think the missing piece is that, while I’ve been trying to foster compassion for the other person, I have not offered myself the same compassion. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not understand. It does not mean that I am any less intelligent for acknowledging that. You don’t have to know absolutely everything to be smart. No one knows everything. We all have our blind spots.

I think if I afford myself the grace to not know, I will finally be able to relax enough to get curious again. The double edged sword of intelligence is the ego’s desire to protect and prop up that intelligence. Sadly, if you never allow yourself to not know, how will you ever be open to learning something new? Learning, coming to new understandings, and finding new perspectives are some of my favorite parts of life. How boring it would be to think there is nothing left for me to discover.

By turning to anger so quickly in any situation I don’t immediately understand, I am robbing myself of the opportunity to learn something new. The next time I find myself overcome with frustration, I am going to try my best to pause and ask what is it about this situation that I am not understanding? Can I allow myself to not understand for the moment? How might holding space and staying open allow me to benefit and grow in this moment?

Maybe if I were to resist my anger, I may notice something new about the periods of time when my dog appears afraid to go down the stairs. Maybe I can help her more effectively if I give myself the space to discover her hidden reasons. And ultimately, even if I never understand, can I offer compassion anyway? Can I have the humility to accept that there are some things I may never understand? Can I acknowledge that compassion does not always come from understanding? Compassion and loving kindness are mine to give freely and are applicable and beneficial in any situation regardless of personal comprehension.

In the same vein this mindset would do me good in regard to the way I feel I’m perceived by other people. I tend to think that if I am not fully understood by someone, then they cannot truly love me. Now I am beginning to see that isn’t true. I’ve certainly loved people that I may not have understood 100%. I don’t think we can ever understand another, or even ourselves, fully. But that does not lessen or cheapen the love that we can offer. The best love is unconditional anyway. I don’t have to reserve my love and compassion for only people and situations that I understand. Perhaps it is even better given in those instances. Love and compassion transcend understanding, and that is part of what makes them so poignant, beautiful, and worthwhile.

Deceptive Mental States

Every day I wake up I choose love, I choose light, and I try.

The Submarines – You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie

What are we supposed to do when we cannot trust our own minds? This is where I believe faith comes into even an atheist’s life. At least for me, this is where I try to practice faith. You might be asking, well why wouldn’t you trust your own mind in the first place? If you are one of the lucky few who have no mental illness, then you may never encounter this dilemma. However, for someone like me, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are many times I’m left unsure of whether something is a genuine concern or if I’m spiraling into delusional, distorted perceptions and over reacting. It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, even if I determine logically that I am being a bit dramatic, it doesn’t make it any easier to calm myself down emotionally or silence my racing thoughts.

This happens to a certain degree every single night. As the day dwindles away, my brain is running low on my natural mood stabilizing hormones and dopamine/serotonin stores. I am always at my lowest and most stressed in the evening hours when I am physically and mentally tired. Even though I am consciously aware of this skewed perception at the end of the day, I never fail to fall pray to the thoughts and worries that arise. I know that no matter how serious my problems appear at night, if I just allow myself to sleep on it, I’ll have a completely different and more balanced opinion and perspective come morning when I feel energized and refreshed again.

It’s important for us to pay attention to our moods and thoughts at different intervals of the day, month, and year. Eventually we may notice a pattern. For instance, as I mentioned, I feel more vulnerable to anxiety in the evenings. I also feel much more susceptible of falling into depression during the winter months. I become more irritable and emotional about a week before my period each month. Once we notice these factors and the way they affect our thought patterns and sensitivity, we can begin to acknowledge when we may not be in a great place to make big decisions or judge a problem or situation accurately. Then we can try to adjust our actions accordingly.

Now, I said try to adjust, because even once we notice and acknowledge these patterns, it’s not as easy as you might think to convince ourselves we’re being irrational in the moment. Last night I felt like the world was falling down around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about financial concerns. I was distraught about my elderly dog’s health. I was ruminating on the way the seemingly minuscule issues of today could potentially snowball into unavoidable catastrophes decades in the future. What if my parents die? How will I afford retirement? What if I develop health issues? Should I leave the job I love for a better paying one? What if that’s a mistake? All of these basically unanswerable questions were swirling around in my head demanding to be answered and planned for accordingly right now. All of these concerns felt terribly urgent despite the fact the day before they weren’t even on my radar.

The deceptive part about anxiety is that it does serve a real, evolutionary purpose. Stress feels urgent and important because in our past as a species, it was. We weren’t made to be able to ignore these mental signals. It wasn’t an option to distract ourselves or even simply sit in our anxious discomfort when it was a life or death situation. Back then, we really did need to act immediately in order to survive. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it seems impossible to talk yourself down from these mental states. Your brain and body aren’t broken. They are simply doing what they were designed to do to protect you. It just doesn’t exactly transfer over well to our modern, often long-term, problems.

This is where faith comes in for me. I don’t exactly know what I am putting my faith in exactly. Maybe I am just having faith in myself. After all, how many millions of times have I felt like I was going to burst into flames if I didn’t solve all of my problems immediately, only to realize it wasn’t that bad the next morning? How many times have I feared I wouldn’t be able to cope with a worst case scenario, only to discover I’m much stronger than I ever believed I could be when I actually have to face one? I’ve made it this far. I have to believe in myself and trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it somehow, even if I don’t know the exact details in this moment.

It’s may be hard, but in the moments when we find ourselves most likely overreacting or stuck in a distorted perception of ourselves or the situation at hand, we must practice faith. Just try to notice how your body feels instead of trying to “fix” everything so you feel better. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders. Give yourself a massage or activate a few acupressure points. Notice when you get tangled in your thinking mind and gently draw yourself back to the physical sensations in your body. Your brain is most likely telling you: You can’t just breathe. It’s not safe to allow these feelings. We have to do something! Don’t let these worries dissipate. They are too important. Notice whatever inner dialogue that arises to try to convince you of the urgency of the moment. Say to yourself: I know these thoughts feel really big and important right now. But I also know I am not at my best mental state to judge that at the moment. I’ve felt this way many times before. I trust that, just as it was those times, everything is going to be okay. I am okay. I am safe. I have faith in my future self and his/her/their ability to handle each issue as it presents itself. I don’t need to be prepared for every eventuality before it arises.

You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Keep Calm and Take the Anxiety Test! - My Mental Health

Be On Your Own Side

As anger has been the most pressing issue on my mind for the last week or so, I have made a few insights into my own struggle with it. I went home last night to find yet another pile of vomit staining my poor white rug. I was livid. I was distraught. I was angry with my dog, and I was angry at myself for being angry at my dog. When I tried to temper my fury with the idea that this was perhaps a test that the universe was giving to me to help me grow, I even became mad at the universe, despite how ridiculous that sounds.

Eating my dinner grumpily, I realized how unfair it was for me to allow something so trivial to ruin TWO days of my life. How absurd was it that as I ate a delicious, nutritious, freshly made meal, in my warm, well lit house, all I could think about was a vomit stain ruining a $40 rug? Why was it so easy for my mind to ruminate on that irrelevant irritation than on all of the other things that make me more fortunate than the majority of the global population? As I tried to shift my heart into gratitude gear, I realized that I still was overlooking the things that I’m grateful for. Instead I was using those very things as a club to beat myself over the head and invalidate my own emotions.

One of the main things that makes me feel more overwhelmed when I encounter these rather small inconveniences is the fear that if these things can cause me so much distress, how on earth will I be able to handle a true problem, loss, or acute suffering when it inevitably finds me? This thought always compounds my anger and inner suffering. Yet, a moment later, I began to consider that I had faced much greater hardships in the past. Somehow it seems like I’m actually better at handling serious issues than inconsequential ones. And I think I finally understand why.

While losing money or being personally inconvenienced isn’t as big of a problem as losing a loved one or some similar catastrophic life event, there is one significant difference. When it’s a small thing, I make it much worse than it is by berating myself for my reaction. That initial flare of anger or sadness is multiplied and prolonged by my reaction to those emotions. “You are being such a petulant child.” “You are so ungrateful.” “You are so stupid and weak to be crying over this.” “You should be ashamed of yourself.” These are the thoughts that cycle through my head on such occasions. It creates a viscous feedback loop that leaves me reeling for hours if not days at a time.

When the man I believed was my soulmate abruptly abandoned me in 2016, I was calm and collected comparatively. I’ve always been quite proud of the way I handled that earth shattering event. So what was different? The difference was that I was there for myself. My pain was not being magnified by my own self-rejection and harsh inner critic. That’s when I realized that nothing hurts worse than turning your back on yourself. As long as we have our own support, we can get through anything.

When something major occurs, my emotions, no matter how intense, feel justified. I feel no need to try to deny them or push them aside. I allow myself to sit with them. I don’t pile on like I do in other situations. I offer myself compassion and understanding. Strangely enough, these are the moments when I am most loving toward myself. Despite the pain I feel, there is such immense comfort in that. I know that if I can only learn to give myself that same support for smaller things, they will no longer seem so overwhelming. Maybe I do behave like a “petulant child,” but that just means my inner child is suffering and needs to be heard. Learning to see that, I believe, has the potential to be transformative.

Webinar - Healing Your Wounded Inner Child - Sign Up – The Business Doctor

Food & Mood

Gut bacteria…produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.

American Psychological Association

Since learning more about all of the wonderful things that my little gut buddies do for me, I have been more inspired than ever to treat my body with respect and compassion. It added a whole new layer to my concerns around my routine eating habits. I wondered what my eating disorder had done to my delicate gut microbiome. Not only that, I wondered how continued disordered eating (i.e. eating my day’s worth of food all within the span of a few hours right before sleep) was affecting them and in turn my overall quality of life. There were days I certainly felt the physical symptoms of this casual self harm.

The correlation between what we eat and how we feel both physically and mentally is difficult to notice unless you are consciously aware of that connection long enough to reveal a pattern. Before learning about this crucial link, I never really thought about how what I ate and when I ate it changed the way I felt mentally and emotionally throughout the course of the day. But now that I know one of the two neurochemicals I’m always joking that my brain won’t give me actually comes from my gut, I knew I had to make some changes.

When we’re lost in our own heads, it is easy to get the impression that this is simply who we are, that these thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are part of our identity, an accurate reflection of our world. If taking Paxil taught me anything, it was that any change in our brain chemistry whether natural or artificial, is enough to completely reshape our inner landscape. The fluctuations in mood I experience throughout the day are no more a part of my essential character than being deathly afraid of social interaction was. Perhaps the most surprising part is that both SSRIs and our eating habits are influencing the same neurochemical, serotonin.

I’ve always loved food and eating, but it wasn’t until I started practicing mindful eating that I noticed what a huge boost in mood I experience after a meal. Now that I’ve been making an effort to eat at regular intervals throughout the day again, it’s much easier to notice the way eating is about a lot more than nutrients and the cessation of hunger pains. As someone who is used to leaning on kratom, coffee, and cannabis to get them through the day, it feels like meals were actually the lift my body was looking for all along. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about all the years I spent resenting my own body for not giving me the chemicals I needed to be happy when I was starving it of the resources it needed to do so. It’s so easy to assume your “broken” because of genetics rather than searching for solutions within your own behavior and lifestyle first.

It’s such a shame that the mental health industry doesn’t seem to acknowledge this new science at all when it comes to caring for clients. Not only would the incorporation of this information into treatment plans help people with common disorders such as depression and anxiety, but I believe it could also play a role in the treatment of eating disorders. I know there is vague talk in the mental health community about “eating healthy” for your mental health, but even I used to write that off as ableist and out of touch. It’s important that we also include the information behind why our eating habits are so crucial to our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Learning about this connection and then taking the steps to discover it within my own body has been amazing. It has completely restructured my relationship with food and my body. It is a joy to rediscover and reconnect with the signals my gut has been trying to send me. I can’t tell you how long it had been since I was able to distinguish my bodies hunger and satiety signals and respond to them. There is such a softness and compassion in the act of listening and tending to your body’s needs. Food and eating no longer seem like an enemy that I’ve got to work with in order to survive. Nor is eating some hobby to indulge in for sheer sensory pleasure. Eating is a beautiful dance that we learn from these physical forms of ours. It’s a push and pull, a give and take, that is so essential to our overall wellbeing. It’s a reminder that everything in this world is inextricably connected. There are no short cuts or cheat codes. But with patience and compassion we can begin to uncover what it really means to take care of ourselves. I promise you, the effort is more than worth it.

Mindful eating: Techniques and tips to get started - CNN

Get Excited About Being Kind to Yourself

A few days ago, I woke up feeling sluggish and sick. My stomach was tight. I felt queasy. I wanted to throw up. This is not the first time I’ve woken up in this awful condition. In fact it’s been happening more and more frequently in the last few months. It was getting to the point that I would worry as I went to bed whether or not I’d have to push through this discomfort as I got ready for work the next morning.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t know why this was happening. The discomfort I was experiencing was indigestion from stuffing my face immediately before falling asleep. I knew that this wasn’t in my own best interest for many reasons apart from the physical symptoms I would occasionally experience the following morning. I was becoming particularly worried about this unfortunate habit after learning more about my gut microbiome and the fact that the body is not intended to be digesting food while we sleep.

For some reason, on this particular occasion I finally decided enough was enough. I was going to make sure that I showed myself the respect and kindness I deserved. No more waking up sick when I was able to prevent it. It certainly wasn’t worth it. I didn’t even get much enjoyment out of my little late night mini binges. It was just a habit that formed in the aftermath of the uglier stages of my eating disorder. Perhaps a necessary stepping-stone at one time, but now I was ready to do better.

Part of me is always extremely fearful when I set an intention to alter my eating habits. The whole topic is tinged with toxic thoughts for me. Yet this time it felt slightly different. This was perhaps one of the only times that I was changing my eating habits for my own wellbeing, not as a weight loss tactic. I really tried to steer clear of thoughts about this causing me to eat less or lose weight from not eating so late at night. I reminded myself that these things were not important to me. This change was about being kind to myself, not “self improvement.”

With this loving kindness in my heart, I have been following through with my new goal for the past few days. To my surprise, it has been a lot easier than I anticipated. It has even helped me get back into mindful eating again. Food is not a reward, nor is withholding it a punishment. Eating is just a normal part of my day, something natural that helps me make my body and mind a more comfortable place to be, like going to the bathroom.

The best part of this change in my routine, apart from feeling light and energized when I wake up, is all the extra time it allows me to have in the evening. Now instead of spending the whole day looking forward to a meal, I look forward to my cozy, contented, full bellied self-care afterward. My favorite part of the last few days has been making a cup of tea, smoking a bong, and reading a book as I cuddle up with my furry babies in my extra comfy Christmas hygeekrog. I can’t imagine anything more pleasant, except perhaps sharing this space with my partner as well.

The best way to make new healthy habits is to focus on the real reason that we want to change. Even if our goal was weight loss, behind that goal is still the thought that this will make us happy. So skip the middle man and just make the goal being happy right from the start. And what is the surest way to make ourselves happy? It certainly isn’t making strict rules and beating ourselves up for not meeting our own expectations. All we need to do to make ourselves happy is to act from a place of love and compassion, to offer ourselves unconditional acceptance, love, and forgiveness. With this driving us, any new habit can become something we look forward to rather than something that causes us grief.