Coping With Feelings of Overwhelm and Anxiety

No doubt these days I’m not the only one that feels overwhelmed and like my anxiety is creeping up on me. The three things that I find helpful lately in dealing with overwhelm and anxiety are using my senses, breaking things into smaller pieces and the concept of non-attachment. I’ll explain below how I’ve noticed each of these to be useful tools in coping with and helping me move through what I’ve been feeling. Notice I said, “move through,” rather than distracting myself from my feelings.

“You will always grow through – what you go through.”

— Tyrese Gibson

  1. Use your five senses: This is a very grounding thing to do to get back into your body and out of your head, especially if you are ruminating on something or just don’t feel like moving. So, on a cool, cloudy day recently, I took a walk in the woods. I immediately noticed the sights, smells, sounds and feels of the dense forest. I noticed the beautiful fall colors, the smell of decaying leaves and the sounds of the the leaves rustling in the wind and crunching beneath my feet. I almost walked by one of the biggest leaves I have ever seen, but instead chose to back track, pick it up and really look at it. It was so beautiful and so were the colors that surrounded me! So, if you find yourself lost in a negative thought pattern, try using your five senses: What do you see, taste, smell, feel and hear?
  2. Break things into smaller pieces: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even with small tasks, but it may be helpful just to get started (sometimes that’s the hardest part) and have minimal expectations. By this I mean don’t try to do it all at once. Perhaps you can break up an overwhelming task into smaller parts over the course of several days or even longer, depending on the nature of the task. I like a clean home, but don’t find any joy in cleaning. I’d really rather be outside hiking, playing pickleball and digging in the garden! I have a small house and it doesn’t take that long to clean, but the thought of it still overwhelms me. This week, I decided to set the bar low and clean a room or two at a time and then move onto something else I really enjoy. It worked! I didn’t dread cleaning as much, or put it off, because I felt cleaning a little at a time was much more manageable. I’ve done this with other tasks, as well, and sometimes, once I get started, I actually get super focused and keep going until I complete the task!
  3. Non-attachment: I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism lately and a major tenet is the concept of non-attachment and that attachment is the source of suffering. In the podcast, SECULAR BUDDHISM With Noah Rasheta, during the episode, “Understanding Non-Attachment,” he says,

“This can apply to relationships, friends, experiences. Even our moment to moment experience of living, if we’re attached to it, can be the source of a lot of suffering for ourselves and others. By excepting the true nature of things as being impermanent we ease our fears and we open our hearts. Then this understanding of impermanence will not only benefit ourselves but will benefit others as well. So don’t think of non-attachment as a form of indifference or a form of self-denial. Think of non-attachment as a way of not allowing things in your life to own you. Giving up the attachment to the permanence of things is the key understanding here.

Because we understand that all things are constantly changing, that all things are impermanent, and because all things are constantly changing, when you hold onto something, and attach to it, it’s detrimental because that thing changes. It evolves and changes over time. Like that quote “Everything breaks.” Attachment is our unwillingness to face that reality and you can apply that thinking to almost anything.” (https://secularbuddhism.com/#copy_link)

I find that I get attached to plans and routines, and to relationships. I was certainly disappointed that our cross country travel plans got derailed this Spring, but I try not to hold on too tightly to what could have been (attachment) and remain open to traveling someday soon. To think about the great plans we had and what we are missing out on just leads to sadness (suffering) and isn’t very productive.

Navigating relationships can be challenging. They are not meant to be forced or one-sided. I’ve come to understand that I just have to move on from certain relationships or redefine them, rather than hold onto what I want them to be (attachment). This only leads to feelings of rejection (suffering). All relationships aren’t destined to be a good fit. I’d much rather channel my energy into relationships that are!

If you find yourself spinning out of control, try to take some deep breaths and really investigate what’s going on. What can you do in this moment to provide comfort to yourself? How would you treat a good friend? Perhaps you can try one of my suggestions to feel more grounded, less overwhelmed and more satisfied in your relationships!

Thanks for reading and be well!

Jeanne xox

Dear Future Self

dear future self

I recently received a letter in the mail from myself, written about a year ago while I was taking a mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) class. I’d like to share it with you as a reminder that we are all imperfect works in progress, and that this is what connects us to a collective humanity.

Perhaps you need to read this today. Please pass it on if you can think of someone else that may need a friendly reminder that we are all perfectly imperfect.

xox

~Jeanne

Dear Future Self,

Mindfulness is a journey, not a destination. After my 8 week MBSR course I realize that life, relationships, my mood, etc. will never be perfect (or what I perceive to be perfection).

These things are part of who I am and humanity is not static, but a constant work in progress.

And so I’ve come to realize that, although I’m not perfect, I’m human, and that is enough.

~Your Present Self

Let it Go

I’ve been parting with a lot of stuff lately. We are downsizing, and so out of necessity and by choice, we have gotten rid of many physical things we no longer find useful. So far it’s been fairly easy to do and even quite liberating!

But I know I’m not ready to part with some things. And that’s OK.

As I was folding the laundry this morning I came across one of our towels. Instead of folding the thinning, blue- floral towel and putting it in the linen closet with the other towels like I’ve done many times before, this time was different. I held it close, folded it, draped it over a chair in my bedroom and smoothed it out.

Hair Towel.jpg

This was not just any towel, it was the “hair towel” that my mom used, the one that I used as a teenager, the one that I took into my adult life and the one that my daughter now uses all the time because, well, it’s the best “hair towel.”

It got its name from my mom because it’s thinner and smaller than other towels (the “body towels”), perfect for wrapping up wet hair on top of our heads after a shower. I never really gave it a second thought until now, but it has certainly earned some notoriety.

And so I think I’ll leave it smoothed out over my bedroom chair for a while so I can take a moment to focus on where that towel has been and decide whether I want to get it made into a pillow. 🙂

Deciding when, if and how to let go of physical things can be challenging, but letting go of old emotional patterns can be daunting. You know the ones, fear, self-doubt, grief, anxiety, sadness.

Most of the time I’m able to focus on gratitude and presence, but I do have moments, days, and even weeks of feeling less grounded than I’d like to be. Not really sure what precipitates these feelings but I’ve learned that trying to figure that out gives the negative emotions more room to set up camp and a tighter grip that keeps me from my self-care routine.

So I have to let them go.

I read a quote earlier today in Flow Magazine by German professor and author Wilhelm Schmid. He said,

“Telling yourself you have to be happy mainly results in being disappointed when you aren’t. A far better idea is to focus on what you are doing and experiencing, and to let go more.”

Reading this today really helped me since it made me realize that, rather than get pulled into a negative emotional whirlpool, sometimes it makes sense to just,

Let

It

 Go.

Bag of Tricks

There’s almost nothing that a nap, yoga and a cup of herbal tea (and a farm full of animals) can’t cure.

 

catskill animal sanctuary

The Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY

 

I haven’t written in a while about feeling anxious or depressed, since I’ve been feeling pretty balanced. Although I’m curious about why I feel the way that I do, I try not to dwell too much on what I can’t control, and move on.

The truth is, I still have moments when I feel a little low and dwell a little longer than I’d like.

I’m so grateful that I have a menu of things to choose from to help me feel better and more balanced during these times. I think of these things, collectively, as my bag of tricks because they have proven, time and time again, to be helpful.

Some of the things in my bag of tricks are gardening, walking, hiking or just being outside, playing with Ellie, my daughter’s dog, meditation, healthy eating, writing and getting together with people I love. I choose what I need depending on how I feel, the weather and who or what is available.

I felt a little low recently and not very motivated at all. It was a cool, rainy day. I took a nap, did yoga and had a cup of one of my favorite herbal teas. I felt better!

Holding a chicken is pretty awesome too!

What’s in your bag of tricks?

 

 

 

Creating S P A C E for Me

cairn

The more curious and open to learning new things I’ve become the more I’ve realized that creating space can make some positive changes.

Space in my closets

Means that I don’t have to spend time picking through outfits that don’t fit, are out of style or aren’t flattering.

I donate clothing on a continuous basis and strictly adhere to the “one in, one out” rule: I don’t buy a new item of clothing unless I get rid of one first. This keeps my closet under control as I continue to figure out my style and what works for me. I’ve gotten many tips from Courtney Carver on how to pare down my wardrobe, and hope to get up the courage for Project 333, her minimalist fashion challenge course (https://bemorewithless.com/project-333/), soon.

Space in my cabinets

Means that I use what I love and nothing goes to waste.

I’ve eliminated duplicates, use quality items and waste less food (hiding at the bottom of my freezer or in the back of my cabinets).

Space on my countertops

Means that clean ups are easier.

Less clutter makes me feel more relaxed.

Space in my social calendar

Means that I have time to do what is meaningful to me.

I’d rather give more time and attention to fewer things than rush through an overwhelming social calendar.

Space in conversations

Means that I am a better listener and that I am able to respond rather than react.

I used to let my emotions get the best of me and feel the need to react immediately. Oftentimes, after thinking about a previous conversation, I would see things in a different way and even regret some things that I’ve said. Although I’m still working at this, I feel like I am able to provide a more thoughtful response rather than an immediate reaction.  Sometimes, “sleeping on it” really does make a difference when it comes to emotions!

Space from TV and internet

Means that I am more engaged in mind and body activities (rather than things that are mind numbing).

I was raised on TV and admit that watching television is one of my favorite pastimes, but by watching less I can do more things, especially things from my self-care routine (like yoga and meditation), that have more lasting positive effects. Since it’s easier to pick up the remote after a long day, this can be challenging for me. What has worked for me lately is reducing my screen time slowly or putting my phone out of sight for a few hours or even an entire weekend.

Creating space means

More time

More quality

More calm

More meaning

More presence

More thoughtfulness

More creativity

More self-care

More gratitude

More love

More ME

What a Difference a Day Makes

Patience is not my best asset, at home, at work or in relationships. If I have something to say, I usually say it, sooner, rather than later. My words aren’t always wrapped in a nice, neat bow or palatable to those receiving them, but I’m learning to pause more often, respond rather than react, and to listen more than I speak (sometimes).

Yesterday began like any other day. As I was rushing around getting ready for work, I clumsily walked into the corner of my stairs. Ouch, that really hurt! I immediately felt the pain on the top of my foot, but didn’t give it a second thought as I walked out the door and got into my car.

I sat most of the day, grading exams, which happens only twice a year. As a high school teacher, I’m used to being on my feet for 6 hours a day. I walked in my front door at the end of the day feeling happy that the weekend was ahead of me, but I was quickly reminded of the morning mishap. My foot really ached!

I brushed it off and went on with my usual end of the day routine, checking social media, texting, talking on the phone, and figured the pain was only temporary. It must be. I hadn’t felt anything all day.  It was the end of the work week  and nothing would come between me and an enjoyable (pain-free) weekend. I was sure I would feel better in the morning.

After about an hour, I couldn’t deny it any longer. The pain and stiffness in my foot got worse, and I couldn’t put any weight on it. I needed to get it checked out by a professional as soon as possible.

I couldn’t drive, but my husband was due home in 30 minutes. He took me to a local Urgent Care facility for an x-ray. The pain had gotten so much worse that I flinched when the physician’s assistant gently manipulated my foot. I even had to be transported to the x-ray room in a wheelchair.

Oh, man, was I in a bad mood. I was in excruciating pain (a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) AND I was helpless. I just wanted to get the x-ray results, get out of there, and get back to the security and comfort of my home and my couch.

When the PA returned  with crutches and an ace bandage, he said, “Don’t worry, this isn’t as bad as it looks.” He went on to say that nothing was broken but he wanted to wrap my foot, and that I shouldn’t put any weight on it for a few days.

Great news! Now I just wanted to get on with my weekend. I got a quick lesson on how to use the crutches, which it turns out I’m not very good at (since I almost fell), and we were out the door in the time it took my husband to pull up the car and for me to hobble out the door and into the passenger seat.

crutches

We arrived home and I wasn’t going to let a few stairs keep me from getting into my front door so I crawled up them! I was feeling pretty desperate and still in a lot of pain, as I snapped at my husband for cracking a joke. Looking back, I’m sure I did look pretty funny and  knowing my husband, he was just trying to make me feel better and lighten things up a bit.

I followed the “doctor’s” orders, took some ibuprofen, applied ice to my foot and elevated it for the rest of the evening. By the time I went to bed, my foot was feeling better and I was hopeful that I was on the mend.

I kept the crutches near my bedside in case I needed them during the night, but remarkably, I didn’t need them! The pain in my foot got progressively better and I was able to walk without pain in the morning. I was so happy and relieved!

What a difference a day can make!

Sometimes, our lives can change in an instant. From normal to the unexpected or even the unimaginable. From good to bad, or as was the case with me, thankfully, from bad to good.

Be patient, with yourself and others. That old saying that I know I’ve heard many times from my mom to, “sleep on it” has a lot of merit. I’ve felt emotionally charged on many occasions and rather than hit send, open my mouth, or make that call, I’ve waited to respond (some of the time).

With the passage of time, my foot didn’t hurt as much. I felt much better, physically.  This experience made me think about how the passage of time can also heal or prevent emotional wounds and improve communication. I’ve found that when I don’t react so defensively, it can make matters better, not worse. I can communicate my feelings more effectively, and find that people are more willing to listen.

This takes some finesse and lots of patience, which definitely do not come naturally for me! I practice being patient every day and when I slip up, I learn from it and move on. I’m sorry I snapped at you, Kevin and thanks so much for making dinner, Adella.

Sleep on it! It’s never too late to follow mom’s advice. What a difference a day can make.

I Rise

I woke up a little after 4 a.m. and immediately checked my phone for the election results. I thought I was still dreaming,  at first, but quickly realized the candidate, who many believed was a joke, had won the presidential election.

I am heartbroken.

Although I know that not all that voted for him support his cruel rants against humanity, it feels as if hate and divisiveness won over love and inclusion. What a sobering reminder that there are many who do not support equal human rights for all.

Even though I’m hunched over because the wind has been knocked out of me, I must somehow move forward.  The sun still rises and sets each day and each day I have a choice.

On this Veteran’s Day I will raise my American flag with gratitude to all who fought for my freedom to choose.

irise1

 

I choose love, hope and compassion, and, in the beautiful words of Maya Angelou, “I Rise.”

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 19282014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

 

 

 

Being Present Can Change Your Life

gifts-of-presence-3

When I first started focusing on being all there, it helped me dwell less on the past and worry less about the future. As I’ve written about in previous posts, I have incorporated many new things into my daily life that have made me less anxious and depressed and more present (and happy).

Minimalism, meditation, yoga, veganism, hiking, and writing are more than just habits in my life, they have become part of who I am and have changed my life!

gifts-of-presence

I’ve noticed that my weekends and time off don’t seem like such a blur and actually feel like quality time off.

Being present can change your life in many ways:

  1. Feel less anxious and depressed-By not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
  2. Slow down time by being fully present in each moment-And don’t we all want to slow things down a bit?
  3. Get to  know (and love) yourself more-Being present forces us to take a closer look at who we are and put some time and effort into areas that may need love and attention. This is not always comfortable or easy, but remember, no mud, no lotus!
  4. Develop deeper relationships-By spending more quality time with loved ones.
  5. Let go of comparison-Being present helps us focus on what works for us.
  6. Worry less about what others might think and don’t take things personally-Follow Brene’ Brown’s advice and keep a short list of names in your wallet of whose opinions really matter. Ask people to clarify what they mean rather than add your own commentary.  Most times people act in certain ways based on what’s going on with them rather than in response to us.
  7. Ask for what you need (in a kind, loving, “I” statement way)-Being fully present can really highlight what we need in any given moment and we want to acknowledge these authentic moments rather than ignore them. People have no idea what we are thinking or feeling unless we tell them! I have had to build up the courage to do this, but, I promise that with practice, asking for what you need gets easier.

gifts-of-presence-2

This time of year mindfulness has helped me no longer grieve the passage of summer and fear the thought that winter is around the corner (perhaps I grieve and fear a little, but certainly not as much). I’m enjoying fall for what it truly has to offer, beautiful weather, warm fires, gorgeous colors and delicious fruits and veggies from our local farms!

Peace, Love and Presence,

Jeanne

 

 

We Are Who We Are, Aren’t We?

we are who we are

For as long as I can remember I have experienced a range of feelings that made me feel  like I was missing out on life. Social anxiety, self-doubt and criticism, anger, fatigue, fear of failure and, at times, self-imposed social withdrawal. I had so much to be grateful for, but I never seemed content for very long.  I felt that this was my lot in life.

After all, we are who we are, right?

I think that so many of us feel that it’s impossible to make big changes and we just hunker down and “armor up,” as Brene´ Brown would say. Rather than focus inward, which is too painful and overwhelming, and wade through the heavy fog of emotions that never really seem to lift, we distract ourselves with drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, social media, work, over scheduling, and by accumulating, organizing and maintaining more and more stuff!

There are some bright spots along the way, but the years pass and we never seem to be able to lift ourselves completely out of the fog.

After all, we are who we are.

Well, I disagree!

Change is possible! But in most cases, things just don’t get better. We have to make an effort to work through what we’re not satisfied with in our lives.  We have to get to the point of being so sick and tired of hearing ourselves complain about the same things over and over again in order to take action.  Or, as was the case with me, we get a major wake up call. A big life change (or many smaller ones) or trauma can cause a shift in our thinking, feeling, what we choose to let into our lives and what we choose to eliminate.

we are who we are.1

I’ve been on this journey for two years now and I have discovered so many things that have helped me be who I WANT to be. There are books, blogs, and e-courses that have inspired me whose authors range from everyday people, like Courtney Carver and Joshua Becker, to research psychologists like Brene´ Brown and Kristin Neff  (ALL superheroes in my opinion!). I’ve shared some of my favorite reads below.

Other things that have helped me greatly and which have become part of who I am are yoga, meditation, writing, nature and outdoor activities (especially hiking), minimalism and nutrition. These things help me focus on being present and positive and make me feel so alive! I am extremely lucky to have a supportive group of family and friends who love me unconditionally and who I can rely on for encouragement. I am so grateful for them!

It’s been a slow, DELIBERATE process of trial and error. It literally started with going outside on a daily basis and gardening- planting, repotting or even just weeding. I’ve tried many different activities and if I enjoyed them, they felt good and they fit into my lifestyle, they became part of my routine. If not, I moved onto something else. I’ve read things that have been extremely helpful and even life changing, and other things that have not really worked for me.

I realized that things weren’t going to change unless I put down the armor and started to move forward and pull MYSELF up out of the fog.

I want to encourage you not to give up! If you are not happy or satisfied and you feel it in your bones that there has to be a better way, then take action! Big changes can come from small steps you take on a consistent basis.

Try something different today. Take a walk, read a helpful book or blog, meditate for a few minutes, stretch, do yoga, go for a hike or run, paint, write or draw, eat better, or just sit in the garden and put your hands in the dirt. Start small. Baby steps. Slow and steady. If it doesn’t feel helpful, try something different. If it resonates with you and makes you feel good, keep doing it, until it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. Once it becomes habit, experiment with something else.

we are who we are.2

You might even try something called, “habit stacking.” Courtney Carver explains this as the pairing of two new habits each for brief periods of time, like a few minutes. Over time, you can extend the amount of time spent on each of these. I started with a short meditation (3-6 minutes) followed by a journal entry where I wrote 2 brief statements: a gratitude statement and an intention for the day.

Before you know it, you’ll have several things in your self-care arsenal! You can pick and choose which will be helpful to you on any given day rather than fall back on old habits that were more numbing than healing.

Reach out to positive, encouraging people who will support you. Embrace change!

I used to think that there was some secret to peace and happiness, but what I’ve discovered is that these things are well within our reach. We just have to make an effort to move in a different direction. Just like the lotus, we may have to go through some mud before we can rise above it.

My journey, with its twists and turns, achievements and setbacks is what life is all about and I’m glad to finally be in the game!

Here are some inspiring reads that have helped me along the way:

The Gifts of Imperfection-Brene´  Brown

Daring Greatly –Brene´  Brown

Rising Strong-Brene´  Brown

The Four Agreements-Don Miguel Ruiz

The More of Less-Joshua Becker

Buddhist Boot Camp-Timber Hawkeye

Faithfully Religionless-Timber Hawkeye

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself– Kristin Neff

http://bemorewithless.com/

http://www.rowdykittens.com/

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

http://www.timberhawkeye.com/

Life Imitates Nature

I really enjoy being outdoors-hiking, walking, gardening and just observing. So often I’m able to make sense of things that I’m thinking and feeling when I take a cue from nature.

I think we all strive to be the best we can be. We all have room for growth and it makes us feel good to learn new things about ourselves. When we know better, we do better, and when we do better, we feel better.

Perhaps you are working on simplifying your life, focusing more on a healthy lifestyle, improving your relationships, having more patience or compassion, sticking to a self-care routine or stepping out of your comfort zone.

Let’s face it, growth and change is work, and we all have our days, and even weeks, when we just don’t have the energy to move forward. There are some days when, rather than meditate, go for a walk, prepare a healthy meal or catch up on some reading for a great e-course on how we can be more self-aware, we may just opt to eat a bag of chips and take a long nap. Sound familiar?

magnola3

I think we all need a restorative break from time to time. Maybe we had a particularly difficult day or it has just been one of those weeks (or months)! Although we may feel as if we had a minor setback in reaching our personal goals, it doesn’t mean that we are any less committed, courageous or enlightened.

We can move on and pick up where we left off when we’re ready and continue on our path.

It’s been a rough Spring for my majestic Magnolia tree. Its sweet-smelling, pink flowers just started to open up when we had a hard frost. The buds never fully opened, they just shriveled up and turned brown.

I reflected on how I’d been feeling the past few weeks as I looked at the brown leaves. My tree wasn’t at its best and I didn’t feel I was either. I felt like I didn’t have much energy or motivation, and I wasn’t making the most healthy choices. I hadn’t meditated in weeks and just couldn’t get moving. Whatever I was experiencing had thrown off my momentum, just like the hard frost had done to the tree.

After a few weeks of observing the shriveled up brown leaves, I noticed a change in my tree! The beautiful, bright green leaves had started to sprout and open up to the warmth and sunshine!

And just like that, the journey continues. I think I’ll go for a walk.

magnolia2