How Better Breathing is Improving my Anxiety

One of the biggest pieces of advice you’ll get for anxiety is: breathe.

It’s one of those annoyingly simple and seemingly dismissive rehearsed mantras that you’ll have heard a million times if you suffer anxiety, but the thing is, it can truly make a difference.

When I finished grad school in the heat of this past Summer, I felt an immediate sense of panic and hurry. I wanted to move on and get to the next phase of my life immediately.

In the rush, I forgot to slow down and breathe fully.

My shallow breathing was making me weak, tired, and more anxious. I found myself suffering new physical symptoms of anxiety like an ever-present tightness in my chest and difficulty swallowing.

I kept forcing myself to be positive about what was next.

I  thought that being positive would make the anxiety go away. I thought that if I wasn’t, the Universe, or God, or whatever wouldn’t bless me.

Then, I started accepting my worries. I changed the track in my mind from “it’s going to work out great” to “I’m worried, but that’s okay.”

As I stopped forcing myself to think only positive, forward-thinking thoughts, I reconnected with my natural breath – slow, steady breaths through the nose.

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– Thich Nhat Hanh

Slowing down my breath to my natural rhythm has, in turn, helped me to be more patient.

My body doesn’t feel so rushed, and now, neither does my mind.

Of course, I am not saying that breathing better has cleared my head of all worries. It hasn’t. The increased oxygen supply to my body from deep, nasal breaths has, however, given me more clarity and focus.

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No matter how often I learn of my body’s connection to my mind, I am still blown away by it every time. When I take care of my body, my mental health improves. When I take care of my mental health, I am motivated to take care of my body. And to think, this cycle of self-care can all begin with a deep breath.

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Disagreeing with Motivational Quotes

About a year ago, my dad starting sending daily motivational quotes in a group message to our family. I understand that the intention is one of kindness and love for us, but when you receive these platitudes daily, they really start to lose their meaning.

None of the following quotes I’m about to disagree with are ones my dad sent, I just got inspired to disagree with some of the more commonly seen quotes as an exercise in critical thinking because I have certainly been guilty of liking or reposting motivational quotes without thinking too much about them.

1.“There’s no such thing as being too busy. If you really want something, you’ll make time for it.” – Unknown

I can agree with this to some degree, and I definitely feel irritated with people who go on and on about how busy they are, but you know what, some people really are that busy.  For some, being busy is a choice, and that’s when I get annoyed by the complaining, but some people are that busy just to survive and squeezing an extra second out of a day would be difficult. This particular piece of “motivation” really only applies to people privileged with extra time.

 2.”People don’t care how much we know until they first know how much we care.” – Zig Ziglar

I wish! How many times have you been in a social setting and seen people nod their heads in amazement at that one person who can’t shut up about everything they “know,” meanwhile, the person who has shown how much they care by providing a listening ear to everyone who has talked to them at the party, is shut down every time they speak up about what they know or care about.

If you’re loud and good at bullshitting, you don’t have to care about anything.

3.”It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity you will never be one.” – Zig Ziglar

I don’t think I even have to say why I disagree with this one.

4.“Fear is stupid. So are regrets.” – Marilyn Monroe

Fear isn’t stupid, and if we think that it is, then we’re denying a piece of our humanity. We need to challenge our fears, sure, but fear itself isn’t stupid. Sometimes, fear is a great motivator and it’s there for a reason, as are regrets. Sometimes, it takes a big regret to make a better decision for the future.

5.“Fear less”

I think we all ought to keep being afraid from time to time because if we never have fear, then we can never challenge it, and then the whole concept of courage becomes irrelevant.

6.“Your past is just a story. And once you realize this, it has no power over you.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Your past is a part of you. It’s important to accept it as truth and recognize how far you’ve come, and then you can relinquish the power it has over you.

7.“Work while they sleep. Learn while they party. Save while they spend. Live like they dream.” – Unknown

I can agree with “save while they spend,” but I cannot stand this mentality that we just need to work harder, faster, better, more. And as someone who never partied as a teenager and overachieved in my academic work in college, I can say that I wish I would have partied a little. I think I missed out on a lot of opportunities to learn about who I am as a person, what I value, and what I’m willing to stand up for because I never went to parties. There are a lot of ways to learn, and socializing is one of them. Plus, if you want to “live like they dream” shouldn’t you be doing a little partying? I don’t think any of us are dreaming about working and learning all day.

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8.“You attract what you are, not what you want. If you want great, then be great.” – Unknown

Plenty of people are GREAT and still not getting greatness in return. Life just isn’t fair.

9.“You can’t get rich thinking poor.” – Grant Cardone

This is not only insensitive, it’s incredibly irresponsible.

There are plenty of motivational quotes that have a strong emotional resonance, and certainly there have been times when my dad has sent a quote that really stuck with me and gave me a desire to do better on that particular day, but there are just so many of these empty words on every corner of the Internet, and haunting the hallways of schools and offices that it’s hard to parse meaning from them all the time. It’s important to remain critical of the information we’re getting from these quotes because it could be easy to internalize the idea that we’re lazy if we’re constantly seeing quotes that say we just aren’t making enough time, or we’re not working hard enough.

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What’s a motivational quote you disagree with?

I Went to a Concert Alone

I don’t like to admit to this, because it’s a little embarrassing for me, but I have anxiety about going places alone.

I know that it’s common to have anxiety about being alone in public, but it’s the last piece of my anxiety that I feel is really holding me back.

I don’t do as many things as I would like to do because I don’t have friends nearby that I can call whenever I feel like going out for brunch, taking a hike, or hitting up that concert.

Over the weekend, there was a big free music festival and one of my favorite musicians, Katie Herzig, was playing an evening set. It was a little last minute to invite a friend and my husband was out of town, so I decided to go by myself.

Well, I tentatively decided to go by myself and then spent the whole day making up excuses about why I wasn’t going to go.

My excuses were pretty pathetic:

  1. I don’t want to drive forty minutes to get there

  2. It’s going to be difficult to find parking because everyone will be downtown

  3. I don’t want to leave the dog alone

  4. I’m going to be leaving around dinnertime and I don’t want to spend money to eat at the concert

  5. My student loan payments are coming to maturity soon and I shouldn’t be doing anything fun at all because I’m a big fool who spent an obnoxious amount of money on school and I don’t deserve to do anything but be miserable until this debt is paid off

That last excuse almost kept me from going, but in the end I recognized it for what it was. A bullshit excuse.

I decided to treat these plans I had made with myself as though they were plans I’d made with a friend. I needed to take them seriously. I needed to get there on time. I needed to be there for myself.

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And you know what?

  1. I listened to an audiobook on the drive over, the traffic was light, and I was there in no time.

  2. I only drove around for about 10 minutes looking for parking and it wasn’t that far from the stage.

  3. The concert was only an hour, so the dog was alive and perfectly fine when I got home.

  4. I had a quick snack before I left so I wasn’t hungry at the concert.

  5. My student loans don’t have to keep me from enjoying my life. I can’t go back in time and take out less money or skip school altogether. I can’t escape paying back the loans. I was privileged with a good education, I enjoyed the experience, and there’s no point in being miserable while I pay off this debt.

Most importantly, though, it was freeing to be at the concert alone. I felt so proud of myself for going that it erased all the anxiety I’d been feeling earlier that day. I was able to relax and have an even better time alone because I didn’t have to worry if my company was having a good time, and I didn’t have to make any compromises for anyone. I simply enjoyed the experience just for myself.

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Sometimes it feels like I’ve been on this journey to overcoming my anxiety forever, but going to the concert by myself put things into perspective for me. I used to struggle being in crowds even when I was with my family or friends. I would clam up in fear that I would lose sight of familiar people. I would practically tether myself to whoever I was with so I didn’t get lost. But, I navigated through the big crowd at this music festival, all by myself. I stood in the middle of a crowd surrounding the stage, all by myself. I feel a little bit like a five-year-old being proud for doing something “all by myself,” but whatever, I’ve earned my pride.

I’ve come a long way and I deserve to feel accomplished.

While I know that the next time I go somewhere alone I’ll still have a little bit of anxiety, I will be far less wrecked by it.

Plus, the more things I do alone, the easier it will get until I’m hardly even fazed.

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What’s something that’s holding you back? What can you do to begin the journey to overcoming it?

8 Positive Benefits of Life Changes

Change has always been an anxiety inducing experience for me. I remember being terrified about the nitty gritty details in changing from Elementary to Junior High School. I was most worried about who I would sit with at lunch, for example.

Change brings with it uncertainty, and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’ve been writing a lot about how I don’t like change and how much fear and anxiety it causes me, so I decided to work on re-framing my thoughts. That way I can start taking action to combat the anxiety, instead of complaining about it and dreading it.

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1.Opportunity to Grow

I have long attributed my first step toward overcoming my paralyzing social anxiety to my first job working with kids, as a skills trainer. The job presented many challenges, but I overcame them. Besides having to interact more with my co-workers, kids, and their families, I also had the most autonomy I’d ever had in a job. It was a scary change, but I wouldn’t have grown in to the person I am today if I hadn’t made the leap to take the job and harness the opportunities it gave me to grow and become a better person.

2.Progress

I can’t achieve any of my goals without progress. Change forces me to make progress. Whether it be on myself, our financial situation, or a creative endeavor I’ve been working on, change makes me aware of what needs tended to and invites me to do something about it.

3.New Experiences

I’ve always been a big scaredy cat with a hidden sense of adventure. I want to be the person who can say she’s been sky diving or got lost in a foreign country, but I’m too scared to do it. Recently, I challenged my scaredy cat heart and went zip lining. I may not be any closer to signing up for a sky diving session, but change happens through a continuous progression of new experiences and events.

4.Shake up a Stale Routine

It doesn’t take much time for me to get comfortable in a routine, even if that routine isn’t particularly fulfilling. Life change forces me out of my practiced habits and daily drudgery and invites me to try new things.

5.New Choices for Happiness and Fulfillment

When change occurs, I’m presented with new opportunities to seek personal fulfillment. Sometimes, the fulfillment might come in a form I never expected. Back when I worked as a skills trainer, I never expected it to be so rewarding – I just wanted a job that wasn’t in a stuffy basement office – but the job ended up being so much more than new scenery and a better paycheck.

6.Learn Something New about Myself

To continue the running theme here, when I first started working with kids I had no idea that I would like it as much as I did. At first, I was so scared. I thought I’d be terrible at it because I’m quiet and I didn’t feel like a leader, but I quickly learned that I can reach a level of being myself when I’m working with kids that I never reach when I’m interacting with adults. I learned that I can be silly, playful, and way more compassionate than I’d ever known I could be.

7.Discover New Places

Change has always forced me out of my familiar haunts (mainly my house). I see new parts of town through work or meeting new friends. Recently, I was driving a friend home and we were on a road that I always take to get to the grocery store, but I never knew it was a through street because I’ve never had to take it that far. My friend busted up laughing and said, “I feel like I’m blowing your mind here.”

8.Arouse New, Fresh Motivation

Whenever I have a big life change I go through the following phases:

1. Excitement

2. Dread

3. Some sadness, sometimes depression

4. Everything becomes routine again

During the excitement phase, I become incredibly inspired by things I’d long forgotten could inspire me. Music, nature, movies, books, antique stores, food, crafts, fashion and almost any form of creative expression I encounter. It’s a wonderful phase that is quickly dulled when the overall effect of the change on my life becomes more apparent.

Now that I’m aware of the way I cycle through periods of change, maybe I can hold more tightly onto those excited inspiration strings. I can pull the kite through the tunnel of dread, reel it in for comfort when the peaks of sadness hit, and cast it back out into the wind for inspiration when the routine settles in.

The overall sentiment that I’m taking away from this re-framing challenge is that change is scary, but so is the alternative.

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What are some positive benefits of change that you can search for when it all starts to feel chaotic or overwhelming?

If I Loved Myself as Much as I Love my Dog

I love my dog Scott so much. I feel so much joy and pride from taking care of him well. I want him to be happy and healthy. When I get frustrated with him, it’s as fleeting as the shapes of clouds.

I wonder what it’d be like if I loved myself as much as I love my dog?

  1. I’d forgive myself in 2 seconds flat.

  2. I’d believe myself worthy of unconditional love.

  3. I’d make sure I get enough physical exercise every day.

  4. I’d get more than enough sleep.

  5. I’d feed myself the best food and treat myself just for being me.treat-yourself

  6. I wouldn’t judge myself for laying around and relaxing.

  7. I’d give myself an endless supply of chances to do better.

  8. I’d think I was CUTE all the time.

While my husband and I shower Scott with unconditional love, we still have our boundaries. Like, he’s not allowed to bark at passerby on the balcony or guests in the house, but just because we discipline him doesn’t mean we don’t have the same level of love for him when he needs to sit or go be alone in a room for a few minutes.

Maintaining a set of personal standards and discipline doesn’t have to be the opposite of loving myself unconditionally. I can have both.

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In what ways could you be more loving with yourself? How can you balance unconditional self-love with keeping up your own personal standards?