Tag: mental health

Exercise and Weight Loss Success

Many of you know I believe in a healthy lifestyle or the Health at Every Size Movement http://www.haescommunity.org/. 

How do you determine the success of a health regiment or diet? I would wager that 90% of you would answer “weight loss”  or if you didn’t you probably would be thinking ‘weight loss’ in your head but saying something more socially acceptable.

Here’s the thing- THAT IS WRONG!!

Every day there seems to be more evidence that the link between weight, even obesity, and actual health is not as strong as we once thought.  This defies the logic of the ‘war on obesity’, Michele Obama, scores of trainers/dieticians but that doesn’t mean it is not true.

Read this book.  It will BLOW YOUR MIND

health at every sizeThink it is just one woman’s crazy enabling antics?  No.  The book has 7 pages of detailed recommendations from doctors, leaders, scientists etc.  (see articles for more back up

US News World Report 

New York Times, and New York Times

The Today Show

To start the book Dr Bacon (I know ironic last name) shares her testimonial.  Here it is directly from the book:

health at every size 2This quote might lead you to believe the book is merely anecdotal but its not.  There is real science to back up what she says about eating healthy, being happy and not worrying about weight.  She leaves no stone unturned answering questions about diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease, bone density, and even has the most brilliant defense against gastric bypass I’ve ever read. I’m telling you it will change the way anyone, not just the obese, look at eating, health and exercise. Here is my favorite (this is also quoted in Amy Farrell’s brilliant book Fat Stigma):

UC Davis.

“In this study, a group of fat women was divided into 2 groups, one receiving coaching in restrictive eating (diet) and exercise, the other being encouraged to eat a healthy diet, listen to their bodies cues, to foster ways to engage in fun exercise and take part in a fat acceptance discussion group.

Significantly group 1- the traditional diet/exercise group- initially lost weight, but by the end half had dropped out; most had regained weight; blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measures had not improved and self-esteem levels had dropped.

In contrast, group 2 hadn’t lost any weight, but most stayed with the 2 year program; their blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measures had improved dramatically; their self-esteem levels increased substantially; and they exercised regularly.  Encouraged to pay attention to their bodies, to stop restricting calories, to fight the discrimination they experienced as fat people, and to enjoy their bodies through physical movement and eating well- the non-dieters showed significant health improvements.  But, and this is the key point, they never became thin.”

Doesn’t that blow your mind?

One of Dr.  Bacon’s patients describes her battle and realization of her own worth so beautifully:

health at every size 3

I recently have become aware of the activist Jeanette DePatie, otherwise known as The Fat Chick.  She gets it.  I wish someone had explained this to me when I started exercising (instead I went into it expecting to lose 100 lbs in the first year. Sigh…)

I am happy most of the time. I love  my life most of the time.  I have times when I’m more fit than others but I’ve basically looked the same since I was 17 years old and I was always ashamed by that, like it was this big failure I could never overcome.  Now I just make sure I have clothes that fit me in lots of sizes and work out at least 3 times a week.  Would I like to be skinny?  Yes, but I’m finally not convinced I’d be any happier if I was (or healthier).  The guilt is for the most part gone.

I hope this encourages all of you.  I started my journey saying I was the Only Happy Fat Woman in America and I had friends who fought me on it.  They thought I was just being patronizing or disingenuous but it was true then and today it is still true (I really had someone argue with me saying I was basically full of crap.  Not true).  TV will make you believe you have to be miserable if you are fat (biggest loser sorry)  but its a lie! Be healthy, be happy, be human, have bad days, eat cake and then work out for an hour the next day, find stuff you love, therapies that work and live the best life you can.

Every time Tanya and I swim together people look and have a surprised expression.  I know they think ‘I’ve never seen a girl that looks like do what they are doing’ and that makes me so happy.  It may be my greatest legacy of all.

So thats what I have to say on that.  Get active.  Be happy.  Love life and Follow God.

And just keep at it.
And just keep at it.
Do something you never thought you could do.  I love MMA (kick boxing) and I'm not too bad at it!
Do something you never thought you could do. I love MMA (kick boxing) and I’m not too bad at it!
Do a fashion show when you find a cute pair of jeans.  Who cares!
Do a fashion show when you find a cute pair of jeans. Who cares!
Find something you love.  Even after all the swims I've done it still makes me smile
Find something you love. Even after all the swims I’ve done it still makes me smile
My trainer who has stood by me for 4 years. She is why I go to treehouse and she is one of my rocks.  I really love her.
My trainer who has stood by me for 4 years. She is why I go to treehouse and she is one of my rocks. I really love her.

I would also just add that my times in the water when I’m at my thinnest and best trained is about 3 minutes faster than when I’m not.  My recovery is much better but my time really isn’t.  Funny. It just goes to show what your definition of success makes such a difference in achieving it.  If I was only focused on times I’d never be successful.

Change Your Brain Change Your Life

I’ve recently found a book that I wanted to share with you.  As any reader knows I have struggled with anxiety since a panic attack in 2007 changed my life forever.  I have improved a lot but things have never quite been the same.  Even just this week I felt life overwhelming me.  I knew things would turn out fine but that didn’t seem to stop things from boiling up inside of me.  I’ve gotten better at how I respond to the boiling feeling but not making it go away just yet.   I’d tell you all the details but they really don’t matter.  As I’ve said a million times anxiety is not a logical experience so it doesn’t make any sense when you describe it.

Cognitive therapy has helped me immensely over the years especially Dr.  David Burns book Feeling Good which I’ve praised many times on this blog.  It is a cheap book go out and BUY it! Even if you don’t struggle from a diagnosable mental illness such as depression or anxiety his thoughts on distorted thinking will help anyone (For the list of distorted thought patterns read this post https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/feeling-good/).  An example is if you make a mistake your distorted thought might be ‘I’m a total screw up and never do anything right”.  Nobody is such an extreme but how many times does Satan fix that thought into our heads?  I know he does it to me far too often.

Anyway, another book that I’ve recently been introduced to and found very helpful is called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr.  Daniel G Amen.  While admittedly a little dry and scientific, I found this book to be fascinating and extremely helpful.  Dr.  Amen, a psychiatrist, has studied brain scans of mental illness patients to look for patterns depending on the illness.  What he found is certain areas of the brain are more active in patients with one condition and other areas for other conditions.  For instance, in anxiety patients the basal ganglia area of the brain is more active than in a normal functioning brain.

An example of Dr. Amen’s brain imaging

The basal ganglia ‘are a set of large structures towards the center of the brain that surround the deep limbic system.  They are involved with integrating feelings, thoughts and movement, along with helping to shift and smooth motor behavior.  The basal ganglia are involved with setting the body’s idle speed or anxiety level.  In addition they help modulate motivation and are likely involved with feelings of pleasure and ecstasy. ”

So basically this is the area of the brain that tells you when to “jump when you’re excited, tremble when you’re nervous, freeze when you are scared or tongue-tied when the boss is chewing you out.  The basal ganglia allow for a smooth integration of emotions, thoughts and physical movements and when there is too much input, they tend to lock up“.

Excuse the long quote but I found that to be the most amazing thing.   That when I feel like I’m boiling inside its because my brain is basically boiling inside! Here are physical proof of physical symptoms of what for so long was viewed as something purely mental.  What a relief! I’ve always thought the experience I had in 2007 changed something inside of me and now I think it might have really done that. I wonder what Dr.  Amen would have seen in a pre-2007 scan and post of me?

Dr. Amen chocks the book full of case studies and characteristics of increased basal ganglia activity including conflict avoidance, nervous tics and fine motor problems, but the one I found the most interesting was ‘low and high motivation’.  Tell me if this describes someone you know… ”

“They tend to work excessive hours.  In fact, weekends tend to be the hardest time for these people.  During hte week, they charge through each day, getting things done.  On the weekend, during unstructured time, they often complain of feeling restless, anxious and out of sorts.  Relaxation is foreign to them.  In fact, it is downright uncomfortable.  Workaholics may be made in the basal ganglia.  Their internal idle speed, or energy level, doesn’t allow them to rest.  Of course, there is positive correlate.  Many of the people in society who make things happen are driven by basal ganglia that keep them working for long periods of time”  (Could this possibly be said blogger who wrote a 105 page novel in 8 days…)

All of this would be interesting but not empowering if left on its own but Dr. Amen’s next chapter gives 8 prescriptions to dealing with basal ganglia activity.  I have a feeling I will be working on applying all 8 for many years to come (none of these are exactly new to me but the combination of them I found very encouraging and illuminating.)

Prescriptions for “optimizing and healing problems with the basal ganglia”:

1. Kill the Fortune Telling ANTS (automatic negative thoughts)- I was already working on this with Dr. Burns distorted thoughts and Dr. Amen gives similar advice still good reminder.  I had a great example of negative fortune telling this week.  I signed a new contract on my house and I started to feel some anxiety about the new price with upgrades and additions that had built up.  I had convinced myself it was going to be astronomical and it ended up being about 2k more than my original contract.  Bad fortune telling ANTS!

2. Use Guided Imagery- “Find a quiet spot where you can go and be alone for 20 to 30 minutes every day.  Sit in a comfortable chair and train your mind to be quiet. In your mind’s eye choose your own special haven.  Imagine your special place with all your senses.  The more vivid your imagination the more you’ll be able to let yourself go into the image.  If negative thoughts intrude, notice them but don’t dwell on them.  Refocus on your safe haven.  Enjoy your mini vacation.”  This is definitely Hawaii for me and with my insomnia specialist’s encouragement I have been doing an hour of soothing activities before I go to bed and I was skeptical but it does seem to be helping.

3. Diaphragmatic Breathing- This is the low breathing you do when you sing.  (I wonder if that’s why my voice lessons are such a soothing experience for me?)

4. Meditation and Self Hypnosis- similar to the guided imagery Dr.  Amen gives a guide for the self-hypnosis which I must admit I haven’t tried yet but want to but it is mostly about focusing on tranquility and relaxing your body.

5. Think about the 18/40/60 rule- This was brilliant.  “When you’re 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you;  When you’re 40, you don’t give a hoot about what anybody thinks about you; When you’re 60 you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all”.  How much energy is wasted on worrying about what others think about you?

I think I’ve gotten better about this as I’ve gotten older (maybe because I’m nearing the 40) but it creeps back in every now and then.  For example, the other day a person implied fairly strongly she thought I was lonely and desperate to get a man and the idea made me crazy.  I am not and and the idea I could be giving that kind of impression really upset me, but that’s not who I am so why do I care?  I wish I could explain it but all I can do is keep improving.

6. Learn How to Deal with Conflict- This is probably my worst one of the whole bunch.  Both panic attacks I’ve had were because of an intense fear of conflict (and a fear of looking like an idiot despite a valid case, so looking stupid in conflict). I’ve gone 48 hours with no sleep because I was so terrified of a conflict with a person.

Dr. Amen says ‘asserting yourself in a healthy manner’ is the key.  That the keys to effective conflict management are “1. Don’t give into anger, 2. Don’t allow the opinions of others to control how you feel about yourself.  3. Say what you mean and stick up for what you believe is right. 4. Maintain self control, 5. Be kind, if possible, but above all be firm in your stance.”

Easier said than done. I think being bullied as a child has always left me with an insecurity that I won’t be listened to in conflict. I don’t know if I’ve ever walked away from a conflict feeling like I was really understood and that it was effective, so I’ve learned to just stuff it inside which is obviously unhealthy behavior.

The 2007 incident was completely caused by a fear of conflict at a meeting and I could not get the idea of confronting a person out of my head.  What if I exploded?  What if I did something stupid?  What if she manipulated me like she had a million other times? I had no confidence and the questions didn’t stop.

This is the hardest one for sure to solve. Luckily I don’t have conflict that often as I’m not in a relationship (and no that is not why I’m not in a relationship) and have rarely if ever fought with my friends.  Still, I know it is something I need to work on…

7. Basal ganglia medications- There are 5 classes of medications that can be used to treat basal ganglia activity most Dr. Amen recommends on a  ‘short term basis’ as to avoid ‘addiction’.  I have an emergency only prescription and I’ve had 2 30 pill bottles filled since 2007, most of the second is full so clearly I use them rarely but it reduces panic and anxiety to know they are there if I need them.

8. Nutrition- This I found very interesting.  Dr Amen says “If your symptoms reflect heightened basal ganglia activity and anxiety, you’ll do better with a balanced diet that does not allow you to get too hungry during the day.  Hypoglycemic episodes make anxiety much worse.  If you have low basal ganglia activity and low motivation you will likely do better with a high protein, low carb diet to give yourself more energy during the day.  It is also helpful to eliminate caffeine, as it may worsen anxiety”

This was fascinating to me because I do get very crabby and anxious when I’m hungry, tired or sore (all which can be symptoms of hypoglycemic episodes and basal ganglia activity).  Ask anyone who knows me and they will agree I am not at my best when I am hungry.

Conclusion

So that is the list!  I don’t know if this will be interesting to anyone who isn’t struggling with anxiety but as I’ve always had a great response to my posts on the subject I hope it helps someone.  I’m still pondering Dr. Amen’s book and I am aware there is some skepticism in the psychology world of his scans but I have found much of it helpful so that’s what matters to me.

I hope that you find it helpful and would be curious for your response.

Exercise and Control

I realized today what I have learned to like about exercising.  When I’m at the gym my success or failure is entirely up to me.  I am not talking about weight loss that can be entirely out of my control.  I’m talking about during that hour of work.  I decide whether I am going to kick butt or play it safe.

I cant get that kind of control from almost anything else in my life.  I can’t control my family, my love life (or lack of), my friends, my job, what deadlines are set for me without my say.  I think this is also why I like voice lessons.  It is entirely in my control.  (I’m doing Moon River this week. Hurray!).

This week I was under so much pressure because of a deadline set for work that even my boss had no input on.  I really thought it was going to be impossible.  I finished my end of the month 6 days faster than I normally do.  That might as well be an eternity in accountant terms!  So for each day to go to the gym and have a short sense of control makes a big difference for my mental health.

This is especially true when I’m kickboxing.  It feels so empowering and exciting to get the anger and frustration out.  I wish I could explain it. I feel like I can explode (maybe even lose control) in a socially acceptable way.

The strange thing about my anxiety is I actually feel tons of adrenalin during the anxiety.  I think that is what allows me to get through it.  I do a good job despite the tears when I’m under anxiety.  In fact, often it is my best work which is perhaps why I can’t seem to remove it from my life.   I remember my old boss saying he kept giving me more work because I did such a good job on them that I was the first person who came to his mind.  Each job I’d agree to because most of the time I had no choice but then I kept doing better and better with the increasing pressure.  Problem is my head was exploding bit by bit….Gosh it’s hard to explain.

At least when I am angry, or anxious my performance in the gym or pool is like nothing else.  Perhaps I feel challenged or my body gives off some chemical when it feels anxious that boosts performance?  I’m not a doctor so I’m not sure. In February I was very upset because of a personal disappointment but I had an appointment to swim so I went and my times totally rocked.  Has anyone else experienced this?

It’s funny because I generally don’t get adrenalin from exercising.  In fact, I never do.  I get adrenalin from anxiety and stress and then it helps me in exercise but it doesn’t actually cause adrenalin.   Maybe before races I just need someone to break my heart or tick me off?  (Please, no!). 😉

Anyway, I was grateful this week when working 12 hour jammed pack days and having my anxiety episode that I have built up a pattern of exercise to help me feel in control.  I don’ t know how I could have made it any other way.  Well, I know it would have been an episode a day earlier and much more severe. I’ve said it a million times but for me anxiety is all about fear and control.  Cognitive therapy has taught me a lot about rationalizing and overcoming that fear but I think everyone needs some control over their life.  For me, exercise does that.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been forced into this mindset of control because so often in my life I’m in situations where if I didn’t do it, or lead it, it didn’t happen.  I remember even going back to Middle School and there was a craft fair for some club and I made nearly every craft.  (Still have the burn on my leg to this day).  In grad school I decided to give up control and went on a trip trusting my group for a project.  Came home and turns out they hadn’t read the assignment fully and in 3 days I had to come up with a survey of JWA employees, tabulate the results and turn in the assignment for the group.  That was the last time I took a back seat in grad school I will tell you that!

This is how it goes for me. Every job I’ve ever had has been one where I had no back up or substitute, total control. Funny because I think I’m a natural leader?  (I admit I’m a terrible follower…).  A side of me obviously likes this control or it wouldn’t land in my lap  so often (I certainly hate the reverse and being told what to do all the time) but the anxiety is an unwelcome side affect I’m getting better at dealing with.  (this is why a mission was so hard for me. You lose all control, but it was for God so I knew it was in His hands and had a great, if exhausting, experience).

This blog actually gives me control.  In the end it is my voice and I chose what to put out there.  No editors (but my own constant editing), no teachers, no collaborators to deal with.  Just me and my voice.

You see why I’m single.  This control thing will be interesting come marriage!.  Even in dating and relationships I feel I often have to take control but that can be obnoxious too.  Are you asking the right questions? Are they being real?  What should you say?  One time I went on a date and a guy made me ask every question or it was silent and then at the end I hadn’t finished my food I said ‘Sorry I’m a slow eater’.  He said ‘Well, if you didn’t talk so much’…Last time we went out!

I guess in the end it is all kind of silly because I don’t really have any control . That is in God’s hands. Believe me He made it possible for me to finish the impossible task this week.  He held my hand when I felt out of control and He helped me make the tough choices.  Some may look at my life and even express to me that I have nothing to feel anxiety about.  What a comfort to know that God understands and loves me no matter what.  He is all patience.  All love.  And He knows us and knows that in the midst of the hurricane I need an hour of control at the gym

(Thanks also to my trainers Michele and Ben for being so great during this crazy week).

I honestly feel like I did on my mission and I can’t wait for a relaxing weekend.  Wahoo!

Mixture of Thoughts

So today has been a thoroughly strange day.  On one hand I woke feeling hopeful.  Drained but hopeful.  Things in my personal life and my health are looking up and for that I am deeply grateful.  I really felt a wad of stress I’d been carrying around settle and am looking forward to the future.

Wanting to process my life and having the PTO I decided to take some time off today and was feeling great.  I noticed a facebook post from my siblings about the Dark Knight premiere they had been to and how good it was.  It seemed like nothing could burst my bubble.

Then I turned on the TV…

“Massacre in Colorado Theater”.  Horrified I then saw details of the awful shooting at the Dark Knight screening in Colorado.  Initially my bright mood turned to anger, confusion and then finally despair.  I tried to make sense of it for a while but obviously there is no making sense of such an action.

Here are some jumbled thoughts

I think it almost goes without saying that my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones.  I can’t imagine facing such a shock and loss.

When it comes down to it EVIL exists. Satan is real and he wants all men to be miserable just like himself. If we let him, He can take a seed of anger or disappointment and work on it until it unfolds in true horror.  He wants us to hurt one another.  He wants us to be angry and resentful and there is no end to the anger if left unchecked.

My next thought I’m going to try to word carefully.  When such things happen people immediately jump to conclusions about mental illness.  That someone must have been ‘insane’ or ‘crazy’.

Here’s where I think we have to be careful.  Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness that are not going to kill anyone.  Mental illness is probably involved in such a case, but a shooter is a bizarre extreme symptom of an illness.  It would be like saying everyone who has the stomach flu is going to die because one woman does pass away. Its an abnormality, a mutant like distortion of the real disease.

The stigma and fears surrounding mental illness are only inflamed when such careful distinctions are not made and then situations like this become more likely.  People who have severe conditions do not get the diagnosis or the help they need because of the stigma and the community in general is not informed enough to encourage or even enforce such treatment.

As someone who has struggled with anxiety and the occasional panic attack I will tell you it is a scary experience and I only was able to make healthy choices once I was honest and disregarded the stigma.  Not everyone can do that and not everyone has the overwhelming love and support I am lucky enough to have.

If I was king of the world I would require mental health check ups for all college students because it is such a great time of change and the time when most mental illness such as schizophrenia manifest themselves. Someone may have never dealt or thought about mental illness and then all of the sudden they are dealing with signs and symptoms and yet no treatment is sought out of shame or fear.

Mental illness is just another illness.  It’s a part of our anatomy and sometimes it gets sick just like anything else.

So there I said my peace on that.

One last thought.  My cousin Anne spoke her peace about the violent content in the Dark Knight movie after viewing it at the midnight screening.  She said quite movingly

“I am very saddened about the shooting in Colorado. The news article said they could not identify the shooter’s motivation…. How about the very movie that was showing in the theater where the shooting took place?! I know The Dark Knight Rises is the movie of the Summer, but I walked out because of how intensely violent I felt it was and the ruthless killer Bain was dark and evil. After 20 minutes I went back in because I didn’t want to feel left out… (wish i would have chosen differently now.) i know its bold to say, but we cannot keep watching this violence on screen and expect to be exempt from it in real life!”

Now did the movies cause some kind of hypnosis that made the shooter do what he did?  Of course not, but I do agree with her that as a society we have become increasingly desensitized towards violence.  I’ve felt this for some time.  I remember coming back from my mission and being shocked by the decapitated heads in the final Lord of the Rings movies.  I was horrified at first but then  I started watching 24 with friends.  Slowly I began ignoring more and more violent content until one episode Jack basically hung a terrorist on a chain to get what he wanted.  That was it for me.  My wake up call.

Violence stays in my head and never leaves.  The other day I was watching Project Runway and an ad for some terrible serial killer movie came on and before I could change the channel there it was in my brain.  Nightmares! Thanks Lifetime!

I resisted the temptation to see the 2nd Dark Knight movie for many months until it was out on DVD and finally caved because EVERYONE I knew loved it.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it completely terrified me.   I had nightmares for weeks.  I recognized that it was well made and acted but I did not feel a good spirit while watching and regretted it ever since. I really felt like the only one out of all my friends who didn’t love it.

Even a movie like Ironman that has some torture of the lead in the beginning I found quite upsetting.  As a single woman living alone I’ve found I must be very careful with what I view because it sits there in my head making mischief.  I realize not everyone is in my situation or has my sensitivity level but still I just don’t see how watching such things can be helpful or inspiring.

What really makes me crazy is we have this pretense of an MPAA giving movie ratings but they should just change it to the ‘counting swear words brigade’.  I don’t understand how The Dark Knights and Hunger Games (children killing other children) gets a PG-13 when Bully a movie that might actually help reduce violence is given an R because of 6 words.  How can anyone say that 6 words are worse than murder? It doesn’t make sense. Something has to be so over the top in sexual content and violence to merit the R rating but 6 swear words and an automatic R? Again, to me that makes absolutely no sense.

If I ran the world I would make the MPAA like http://www.screenit.com which provides incredible details of the content you are viewing so you can make an informed decision.  I think it is $25 a year or something like that and I would recommend anyone sign up kids or no kids.

As to whether there should be some type of censorship or monitoring on this type of violent content, I’m unsure.  I certainly think there should be a discussion and its effects should be taken seriously.  We have no problem acknowledging the negative effects of sexual pornography and that industry is regulated fairly strictly.  What’s wrong with applying those same standards to violence?  I’m not expert on stimulus addiction but violence seems as penetrating in the brain as sexual content and clearly can be as destructive to human life.

I don’t know the answer but the human mind has always been attracted to violent content.  That’s Satan’s job, that’s the natural man. In the past a salacious story of Western slaughter or war would excite readers but now the malcontent can be exposed to images, video, dialogue, again and again, with each time needing more intense portrayals.  How can that not have a damaging effect?  Do I have a solution to fix that in a free America?  No.

Except to say this- watch what you watch and what your children watch.  Watch how you rationalize things away and try to stop it. Stop spending your money on things that glorify violence.  Hug your loved one’s.  Resolve differences.  Forgive because you never know when things can change and you’ll miss out on the chance to make things better.

Please go to http://www.bringchange2mind.org/ to sign the pledge to end the stigma against mental illness.  Maybe if we all work together we can stop such tragedies from happening again?  That is my hope.

I started my day hopeful and I’m ending my day with hope. Hope in Christ and His great love. He heals the broken hearted and gives comfort to the weak.  I KNOW that is true.

When Goals Make You Nuts…

It’s only Tuesday…How I am going to get through this week I will never know?  As many of you know I have a bit of an anxious personality, coupled with a very strong will.  This makes for an interesting experience when setting goals.

I’ve never been a half way kind of person so I have to be very careful when setting goals.  I will become totally immersed in whatever I’m trying to do.  This caused for great disappointment as a teen because I didn’t make most of the things I set goals to do…Sigh.  (If any of you watch The Middle, I was basically Sue in real life!).   It wasn’t until I got into BYU that I finally made something I’d tried out for/applied for.  It was one of the best moments of my life partly because I expected to fail, or at best was cautiously optimistic.

I think it is these experiences that made me so anxious about goals.  I grew up feeling like I could accomplish anything but eventually being let down when I didn’t; hence the anxiety about seeing something through developed.  It’s the what if game- especially in the home stretch, when I almost have it.  (Just wait if I ever get engaged the weeks before getting married will be interesting!).

That’s what has been amazing about the last few years.  Unlike other times in my life I have actually accomplished almost everything I’ve tried to do. I think finishing my mission is a big reason for that.  I know  if I could do that, I can do anything.  It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I made it through.  Not only did I make it through but I did a good job! (You set a lot of goals on a mission and I was pretty good at achieving those goals!).

Then I moved on to graduate school and I did that and started the fitness quest and open water swims, did those.  Even my recitals for voice lessons have all gone well.  (I hope I’m not due for a spectacular crash and burn soon…Again, anxiety).

And yet, there has been so much bad news in the last year and a half that I feel primed and ready for a victory. Still, I wish it would just come already!

In the end, I know I can do it.  I know it will be an awesome day! I’ve put in the work.  As the sports psychologists say I just have to keep the positive self talk because “negative self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy…”.

I also remember a talk I heard once by Elder Featherstone where he said “Decide what you are going to do if you don’t get an answer to your prayer and then proceed as if you will receive it”.  I’m not saying I’m perfect at this but I think there is truth to it.  If you can visualize a ‘worst case scenario’ and deal with that, put it behind you than it is easier to move on.

Recently I also got some good advice to turn your anxiety into something funny.  Laugh, not in a mocking way, but in a ‘I’m not going to be that ridiculous’ kind of way.  This helps you smile and take a breath.  I’m trying it out and it seems to work quite well.

Still, I wish this was a week where I was out and about instead of a mostly inside.  More time to stew, especially after my scary swim on Monday, is not a great thing.  Thank goodness I have great friends who are THE BEST!  I think every last one of my friends believes in me more than I believe in myself.  They may grow weary of reminding me that I can do it, but I never grow tired of hearing it.

Let me also put in a little plug for Doterra Balance.  It might be a placebo thing but I swear it helps me calm down.  Makes my heart stop racing and feel at peace.  It really does.

What works for you when you are anticipating a big event, feeling a bit anxious?  What calming techniques, coping strategies do you like?

I know music helps and hot liquids. Sometimes just getting your mind off of it is the best thing you can do.  That’s why my friends and I are going out Thursday night.  Anyone want to do something (not to late) Friday night? I’m not saying I’ll be great company but better than nothing!

Another technique I use is focusing on relationships and moments more than outcomes.  If you can say I gained this relationship or I had this great moment than the outcome is less important.  It’s especially good to focus on outcomes you can control.  For instance, I can’t control the weather or the waves but I can control my training and my diet.  I can control some outcomes such as ‘regardless I’m going to have a darn good blog entry on Saturday’.   That’s an outcome within my control.  It took me YEARS to figure that one out!

Honestly, the best thing for me is prayer and knowing that my Heavenly Father loves me regardless of all my insecurities, failures and foibles.  I learned on my mission that God knew me and that He accepted my best effort.  I left that experience having no regrets.  I can honestly say I have left every experience since then with NO REGRETS!  I haven’t been perfect.  In fact, I’ve had some spectacular screw-ups but I know God has accepted my effort and that is the greatest peace a girl can have.

I love this painting. It is the most peaceful image I’ve ever seen.

My mission president told me once ‘You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone’ and I think that’s such an important reminder.  I’ve already proven myself to the Lord and my loved one’s by just pushing forward, just trying.  They aren’t Simon Cowell.  I’m not being judged in that way.  I’ve already finished the race just by entering it.  Now is the home stretch and the whole journey both mental and physical will make the final triumph all the more victorious!

I’m like a kid at Christmas- I wish it would just come already! Ok.  I will try and get some sleep once again.

Insomnia and anxiety are not a great mix… 🙂

Anxiety

Let me start off by saying this is an incredibly personal thing to share; however, I decided long ago that if I was going to embrace social media I would do it 100%.  You truly know the real me through following me on facebook, twitter or by reading this blog.

So I have good news my friends..  I have slept- from 11:30 last night to 6:30!  I was thrilled!  The truth is Monday night I was having a bit of an anxiety attack.  This is only the second time in my life I’ve experienced such a thing.  I can’t explain it but will just say the brain can become fixated on a thought and it won’t go away.  The crazy thing is that both times this has happened to me were after I thought I had dealt with the situation and had even felt some catharsis that it was over and then BAM!

It’s really hard to understand if you haven’t felt it.  Fixating on something like fibro pain, which has been bad lately, or on possible changes at work, or on other personal changes, and you try to distract yourself but then it keeps coming back again stronger and stronger.  At a certain point I even was getting anxiety about getting anxiety.  Also, the more sleep you lose the more tense you feel.

This chart brilliantly describes what happens when we feel anxiety

The truth is the reasons don’t really matter.  All that matters is that my thoughts changed my feelings into a sense of panic or loss of control.

Like I said, my other panic attack happened in 2007.  At the time I hated my job and felt I had a black cloud over my life.  No matter what I did I felt sad and worthless.  No matter how much reinforcement was given me I felt like a failure.  This was reinforced by the disdain showed me by my boss but it was also due to a feeling of ‘let down’ after being so important on my mission.

There was one particular day where I had finally had it with this boss.  I had planned out my week to the tee and already felt totally overwhelmed.  Then we got this new training on a huge new project.   That was it.  I couldn’t do another huge project. There was no way.  I started crying as the girl in Florida (thankfully over the phone) was giving the training. (And I was not a crier at work)

After the training my boss (who was supposed to be my advocate- or at least that’s how I saw it) turned to me and said ‘well, you are just going to have to get it done.   That was the tipping point.  I just left and stormed out of the office and called my superior boss.  This is a man I’d known for many years.  He calmed me down and we discussed the situation.  He said that he ‘shouldn’t have let this happen.’ (the mark of a great leader in my book).  Then he said ‘we will talk about this on Monday’.

Situation seemingly resolved, I felt calm and went home.  Then the little bug of a thought started in my head.  What could happen on Monday?  What if I lost control?  What if I yelled and screamed?  What if I looked like a fool? etc.   For 2 days I tried to remove those thoughts from my head but they kept coming and coming.  I just couldn’t figure it out.

Finally at Walmart I started to feel claustrophobic and my asthma began to flair up. I felt like I couldn’t breath.  I made my purchases and went home.  After calling my Mom, my brother and roommates came over to help me.  I remember they were all surprised because, like me, they thought everything had been resolved when I spoke with my boss.

Eventually I was able to calm down and everything was okay.  I did go to a counselor after this experience and found some great advice that I have put into practice many times in the last 5 years.

This week was kind of the same in the sense of building stresses, one on top of another, and then once I had thought I had it figured out, I became fixated on a thought.  In addition, I was in pain and when you have chronic pain it is easy to get anxiety about having more pain. I can’t explain it but I couldn’t get to sleep and then began to feel anxiety about not getting to sleep. At a certain point you have anxiety about getting anxiety!

I did everything I could to snap out of it but you know what finally helped?  Talking to a friend who had undergone a similar experience.  She was able to give the perfect advice.  I got out of the house (went to Walmart, the scene of the last crime).  I took some medicine that is for emergency only.  I used my Balance Doterra Essential Oils and I went to bed using as close to good sleep hygiene as I could.  I also ate a very healthy dinner.

All of these things helped but just talking to a friend and feeling understood was probably the most helpful.  Again, anxiety is not about events but its about how we process these events. How we feel about them. Those feelings are usually completely illogical but it doesn’t matter.  Part of cognitive therapy is recognizing those thoughts and then creating a plan for future thought maintenance.

Feeling Good by David Burns has helped me immensely (hey it gave me 5 years in between anxiety!  Pretty good!).  If you don’t have it I will buy you a copy.  Aside from the Book of Mormon (which I will also give you a copy of!) it is the most helpful book in my life.

He says “Negative events grow in importance until they dominate your entire reality- and you can’t really tell that what is happening is distorted.  It all seems very real to you. ”

He then goes on to give 3 Methods for Boosting Self-Esteem (or shutting out negative thought).  They are too complicated to explain here but very effective (like I said they worked for me for 5 years drug free).  But in conclusion Burns says on changing our thoughts:

“How can this be accomplished? You must first consider that human life is an ongoing process that involves a constantly changing physical body as well as an enormous number of rapidly changing thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  Your life therefore, is an evolving experience, a continual flow.  You are not a thing; that’s why any label is constricting, highly inaccurate and global…Your thoughts may be positive, creative, and enhancing’ the great majority are neutral.  Others may be irrational, self-defeating, and maladaptive.  These can be modified if you are willing to exert the effort, but they certainly do not and cannot mean that you are no good.  There is no such thing in the universe as a worthless human being.”

Like Burns says controlling our thoughts takes work and we will have moments where we aren’t successful.  That is okay.  When this happens have a list of resources that you can turn to.  I had mine and they came through for me in spades.  Even just strategies like getting out of the house or making a list of positives can help.

I share this experience with you because I am a smiling girl 90% of the time.  I love my life but like everyone else I have my battles.  There is such a stigma around mental illness in our culture but I believe just like I can get the flu, I can get an anxiety attack.  It happens.  Its OK.  Don’t be ashamed.  You will get through it.  People do love you immensely.   Get the help you need and if the first thing you try doesn’t work try something else.

Also don’t be surprised if healthy people have a difficulty understanding your condition.  To them, they may add up the events and think ‘what is the big deal?’  or even ‘why can’t she be more mature’.  It doesn’t really have anything to do with events.  Its about the thoughts and processing of those events which is completely within your own psyche.  The best advice I can give is to be honest with yourself (no denial, no self-criticism) and then create a plan to move forward.  Also, listing your distorted thoughts and a complimentary non-distorted thought (as Dr. Burns suggests) can be very helpful.

Now here’s to going another 5 years! (Its really kind of amazing I hadn’t had one last year with all the struggles but the previous one took over a year to build up to as well.  Another lesson learned).

There is no such thing in the universe as a worthless human being.

Go to http://bringchange2mind.org/ to sign a pledge to end the stigma against mental illness and to find more information for both helping yourself and your loved ones.