3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 2

This is part 2 of a two-part series on anxiety. Read part 1 here.

Let’s jump right in. Here are a few things I’m finding helpful in dealing with anxiety:

Routines
The pandemic taught me that I rely on imposed routines. When all normal routines vanished, it took me a while to find my way back to some kind of order. It hasn’t been easy, but intentionally developing consistent blocks of time for consistent activities helps. I also switch up my seating: writing in my recliner in the morning or at the patio bistro table in the afternoon, for example. I can’t control a lot, but I can control how I structure my days.

Well, mostly. Let’s be honest: sometimes life happens and even my own plans go down the drain…causing anxiety. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the mess, and move on, asking What’s my next right step?

Also, adding a touch of ritual to the routine, like a favorite mug within reach during my morning writing or lighting a scented candle during my evening reading, lends whimsy or beauty to the occasion.

Outlets
We need healthy ways to get out the Big Feels. When I wasn’t sleeping, exercise felt hard but also eventually helped me sleep better. Getting outdoors is especially important when exercise has been the only regular reason to leave home. Long brisk walks, running occasional stretches, and yoga locate me firmly in my body and help me feel healthy and strong. I can’t stand “stretching,” but call it “yoga” and I’m in; whatever works! I’m using the Down Dog app and love that it’s fully customizable to what I need.

When I over-exercised and injured myself, I doubled-down on writing. Every day I type fast and furious for 20 minutes, dumping on a document no one but me will ever read. Putting words to what life looks like and how I feel about it gets it out.

I’ve always loved to read and I’m reading more than ever to keep my mind occupied with something beyond me. I’d also like to create more art or put together some photo albums, but I’m wary of pandemic productivity pressure, of comparing what I know of myself to what I see in someone else (especially since what I can see are their curated social media posts); I will get to those things when the time feels right for me.

Interestingly, a synonym for outlet is safety valve, and these regular practices combine to help me feel safer.

Be
I tend to live in my head, either in the past or the future, so it’s always a challenge to be here now. But when anxiety grips me I need to do something – noticing the feelings in my body, walking away and taking intentional deep breaths, stretching – anything that healthfully disengages the immediate cause for panic helps. I also capture a few things each day for which I’m grateful; I have a journal specifically for that purpose.

One recommended way to ground yourself is the 54321 method; this hasn’t been as helpful for me, but naming my feelings and putting them in the clouds that gently drift away has – I may have a cloudy hour or even a few cloudy days, but eventually the sun will shine again.

If you’re a reader, I recommend Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion. Let it RAIN: Recognize your feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in your body, and Nurture your inner self. She writes that RAIN “awakens mindfulness and compassion, applies them to the places where we are stuck, and untangles emotional suffering.” As a Christian, it’s a course on prayer I didn’t get at church. (Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Boundaries
I fell hard down the social media rabbit hole and my scrapes hurt. At first it made sense since a) it was a way to connect when we were all stuck at home and b) everyone had a different news source to share.

But alongside “news” I saw pictures of friends not taking things seriously and posts encouraging “you do you” individualism rather than “let’s all give a little for the common good.” I saw conspiracy theories and rants of many colors. I had to set radical limits.

And since the world is a wee bit scary right now, and everyone seems to be angry about something (I feel others’ emotions so hot they burn), when we can’t easily gather and seeing even a few people feels emotionally risky, I’m resigned to staying home as much as possible for as long as necessary.

To stay connected, I’ve started reaching out by mail; a note in the mailbox brightens someone’s day and often they respond with a text or email that brightens mine. Yes, I could call, but I like the phone less. Don’t even ask me to Facetime; I’ll Zoom only if it’s essential to you.

Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, and my triggers will be different from yours. I’m paying attention to how I feel and giving myself permission to set the boundaries I need. Sometimes I feel guilty – everyone else can [fill in the blank], so why can’t I? – and I’m working hard to let that go. I’m not everyone else; I get to make my own rules.

Love
Jesus loves me, this I know… The fact that I’m dealing with anxiety absolutely does not invalidate my faith. God still reigns in heaven, and here on earth I’m having a rough go. Yes, I pray, and yes, I can pray while engaged in self-care practices.

My family has managed to balance time together with sufficient alone time even in our small home. I’m grateful for the support and joy they add to my life. But I can’t expect them to shoulder my burdens continually. I have to do this work myself.

I’ve been reading about anxiety and self-care. I have saved so many images to my camera roll that remind me to breathe, to be gentle, to tell myself a better story. I’ve asked myself what someone who loves themselves would do, and I’ve spoken to myself the loving words I’d speak to a hurting friend.

None of this is rocket science, and honestly, none of these approaches work on their own or all the time. So far I haven’t been able to banish anxiety from my life; this has become my new normal and I expect I’ll continue learning how to be me – and how to be kind to this version of myself – for the rest of my life.

What works for you? I’d like to know. And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share. We’re in this together.

Rituals

Of course you have routines, but do you have rituals?

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, explains them this way:

While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.

My morning routine looks something like this:

Hit snooze on the alarm for eight minutes of dozing, rolling, stretching before I yank myself up.
Refresh my eyes with drops and my teeth with toothbrush.
Inhale a cup of coffee while checking email and media.
Make the bed and pull on yoga clothes.
Take the kid to school and put in some gym time. Or walk the dogs, whichever seems most urgent.
Shower and breeze in to the rest of the day, whatever it might hold.

Mundane and purposeful, but magical? Not so much.

A few years ago, in an attempt to achieve a deeper sleep on a regular basis, I developed a bedtime ritual:

Make a cup of sleepy tea.
Put on pj’s by 9:30-10 pm.
Brush teeth and wash face.
Turn the lights low and get into bed with a good book.
Read for 30-60 minutes.
Lights out, ear plugs in and sleep mask on.
Massage hands and feet with body butter.
Night night!

Some nights, I pull on my pj’s, brush my teeth and wash my face, and fall into bed. But when I add the tea, reading, and massage, routine becomes ritual and, yes, magical.

The ritual gives me time to unwind my brain from the day’s anxious thoughts and to tangibly thank my body for its service. It adds magic to the mundane. Those simple actions form a ritual that, when I practice it, actually does help me sleep better.

As the new year is still young, I am thinking about my routines, which are helpful and which need strengthening. Which don’t yet exist and should. And, as I can use a little more magic in my life, I’m going to pay special attention to how I might sprinkle small rituals into the daily mix.

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Rituals: Cation House

Cation House

Writ large on the walls of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pablo Neruda’s words strike a chord in my soul: “I spin on the circle of wave upon wave of the sea.”

My life has felt like constant spinning, waves of joy and laughter, wash of chaos and drama, waves of peaceful beauty. My parents’ lives spun on disorder and turmoil until they spun into each other and, quickly, marriage. They attempted to overcome the tidal pull of established patterns; they did their best to remain upright in swirling waters. Still, my Airline Captain father flew in and out of our lives on air currents rather than water.

While I attended college my parents purchased a Time Share blocks from a NorCal beach (we lived a short drive from SoCal beaches). Recently I asked my mom, “Why?”
“To create family memories, to have a place we could come back to year after year.”

My parents, siblings and I never spent a week there as a family. My family, however – my mom and nephew, my husband and sons – has spent a week there every summer since Teen was two years old. We call it the “Cation House.”

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Friends! The rest of today’s post appears on the blog of a dear one, Cara Meredith, aka Be.Mama.Be. I can’t wait for you to finish this story, so significant to my life, AND meet Cara – energetic, amazing, So Much Fun with the Best Laugh Ever! We laughed ourselves silly through The Great Snowpocalypse of 2010 following the National Prayer Breakfast. We prayed together and then got stranded together in the gorgeous hip-deep snow we waded through to enjoy DC monuments and distract ourselves from Where We Were Supposed To BE. Good times, y’all!CaraMac