The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Trust

When I finished my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I had a literary agent reach out to me and request a full manuscript of my novel. The manuscript wasn’t ready at the time, so I kept working on it, rereading, rethinking, and revising, until I had a solid, workable draft to send. I sent it to her a few weeks ago, and last week, she let me know that she wouldn’t be interested in representing it.

Of course, I was disappointed. It felt like a squandered opportunity. Like maybe I should have worked harder before I sent the manuscript because she reached out to me, after all, and maybe I had disappointed her. Maybe I missed a big shot. Maybe I missed my only shot.

Logically, I knew that wasn’t true, but still, I struggled for a little while with feeling like a failure. Rejection is a part of being a writer, and I will face it 100+ more times if I take the process of getting published seriously, but that opportunity felt different, and I let myself wallow a little bit. Eventually, I realized, that it wasn’t just the rejection that hurt, but the missed opportunity to accomplish something. I told my husband, as he was trying to comfort me, that what truly felt so bad was that I wanted validation through my accomplishments.

I started a new job last month, and it’s different from any other job I’ve had in that it isn’t focused on tasks. For the most part, I am in control of my schedule and I get to decide how to spend my time. I’ve been having difficulty acclimating to this because I go in to work feeling like I have nothing to do since no one has assigned me a specific task, and I leave work feeling like I did nothing to contribute to my team since I didn’t complete a specific task. The rejection from the agent came during the height of my anxiety about this new job, and the two experiences really held a mirror up to my insecurities.

Even though I’ve worked hard on self-acceptance and personal growth this year, I still seek esteem through what I do, rather than who I am.

If I’m too busy focusing on tasks and results, then I will miss chances to be creative and innovative.

When I started to rethink my approach to my new job, I gained some confidence to be curious. I gained some trust in myself to approach my supervisor with ideas, instead of asking her for more tasks. I redefined my work day as a chance to experiment, instead of an obligation to produce something.

That newfound trust is something I’ll have to keep working on in every area of my life. I’ll have to keep trying new things.

I’ll have to keep going for it.

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That trust won’t be static. Some days, I’ll still feel anxious. Some days, I’ll still ache for validation through accomplishment, and that’s okay.

When it comes to writing, this trust is highly valuable.

If I miss opportunities to create and innovate because I’m too worried about creating a product, then I miss the whole point.

If I trust myself to write the story that’s in my heart (sorry for the cheesy cliché, but I can’t figure out any other way to say that), then I’ll write something that matters; then I’ll know when enough is enough and my manuscript is ready; then I’ll trust myself to go for it.

Some days, I’ll let rejection wash over me, and some days, it’ll get me down. Some days, I’ll sit down to write and feel great about even just a few words, and other days I’ll feel shitty for not finishing something; regardless, I can keep training myself to trust in the process.

I can teach myself, through my words and my actions, that I’m valuable with or without an accomplishment to show for the day.

I can redefine what accomplishment means.

I can trust that my definition of what’s good is good. I can let less productive days be merely blips in my existence.

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What could you gain from trusting yourself? What insights could you glean from focusing on process over product?

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The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Purpose

I did a Teal Swan meditation.

If you don’t know who Teal Swan is, then this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but I clicked on her video with a tinge of desperation in my heart, which is exactly the kind of vulnerability she consciously attracts.

Teal Swan has been called a Suicide Catalyst after her first client committed suicide under her care. She approaches mental health in a very unorthodox and dangerous manner. She’s been described as a cult leader, and after learning more about her, I have to agree.

When I clicked on her video about finding your life’s purpose, I raised my metaphorical hackles in skepticism and self-protection. I rolled my eyes at the lulling waves background behind her and her tendency to talk in circles, but I kept listening, interested to hear how she advises her followers to find their purpose. Unsurprisingly, she asks that you find the “negative imprint” of your life, or the cause of your pain. She’s known for this kind of shadow work, which can take people to very dark places.

Nevertheless, I closed my eyes as she led me through a meditation to find this pain.

At first, the word that came to my mind was loneliness.

She warned me that finding this negative imprint would not be an enjoyable process and that when she first did it her skin felt like it was burning off her bones. While I did not have that intense of a reaction (and I’m doubtful that she did herself), it was painful to meditate on loneliness, but that didn’t feel quite right.

There was something underneath that loneliness, and I ultimately ended up recognizing my negative imprint to be shame.

She then advised me to consider the opposite. She gives a rather convoluted explanation about how we can’t know anything without first knowing its opposite, and the video is edited with images of segregation and the civil rights movement as an illustration of this, which I found odd and off-putting in a video about personal purpose, but I stuck with it because for all my skepticism, this meditation did seem like it could be useful. I did some brainstorming on the opposite of shame, and the word that most resonated with me was dignity.

The video ends with a hopeful feeling that this meditation will have helped you find your purpose, but Teal doesn’t give much explanation about how you’re supposed to use this knowledge. She has a tendency to take people to very dark, vulnerable places and leave them there. I do feel like the idea behind her meditation is useful, and I’m curious to see how I can employ the idea of dignity into an exploration of my life’s purpose, but I would be weary of recommending this meditation to anyone since Teal doesn’t provide much support for using the knowledge to your benefit. (I wouldn’t recommend Teal Swan as a source of help or inspiration in general, anyway. While she might have some nuggets of good advice here and there, she purports more harm than good).

When I googled “How to Find your Life’s Purpose,” I wasn’t very impressed with any of the other videos I found on the subject. It isn’t a topic that can be easily distilled into the “10 Tips” format that is so common online.

Even though I knew Teal’s reputation, I clicked on her video after scrolling through other videos with beefy men in the thumbnails because I’ve been wondering about my life’s purpose a lot. It’s a topic that consistently comes up whenever I talk about my sorrow and insecurities with my husband. Just last night, I was telling him how I often fantasize about being a cop or being employed in a profession of authority because I feel so sensitive and out of control so much of the time, and it’s nice to visualize myself in a role that requires so much confidence. He told me that he finds his confidence in his purpose. He is passionate about helping kids and families because of the pain he endured in his childhood, which aligns with Teal’s message about finding that old pain and reaching for its opposite. I still don’t recommend her meditation, but, it does seem like the general idea has some validity.

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Shame has been the scourge of my existence for as long as I can remember.

Some of my earliest memories are heavy with this burden, and many of my current experiences in life are dictated by my desire to avoid feeling shame or embarrassment. When I think about the opposite of this, I think about self-respect and dignity. I envision myself as someone who has confidence, even when I make mistakes, and I see myself using that confidence to do good work.

I used to have a tagline on my blog which read:

Demystifying and dismantling shame through storytelling.

Recognizing the power shame has had over me is not a new revelation, and I’m not too sure yet how to build my sense of purpose around its opposite, but I’m excited to explore it.

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Is your life driven by a sense of purpose? How do you act on that purpose?

The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Acceptance

Self-acceptance is the fundamental of personal growth that I feel the least comfortable with. It is the one that I’m still trying to figure out, all the time. Every time I think I’ve finally laid down my flaws and imperfections, something will happen to remind me that no, actually, I still have a deep pit of self-loathing inside of me.

Rather than act as if I have this shit figured out, I’m going to share some ideas and suggestions that I’m either currently trying, or plan on trying. Of course, of all the fundamentals, this one is probably the most personal, so really, the only way to figure out how to accept yourself is through a deeply personal process where, once again, you spend a lot of time alone. Basically, the moral of all these fundamentals, is go be

A   L   O   N   E

like Squidward in the episode of Spongebob Squarepants when he finally gets to be by himself, away from Spongebob and Patrick.

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Some other strategies to try:

1.Don’t wait until you accept yourself to care for yourself

If you’re anything like me, you think you have to have X before you can give yourself Y. The way we feel about ourselves, though, is related to how we treat ourselves.

Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe. – David McRaney 

So, if you aren’t taking care of yourself because you don’t accept yourself and you think you don’t deserve care, well then, you’re likely always going to feel that way. If you take care of yourself, you are showing yourself that you do, in fact, deserve it. You may not cultivate self-acceptance right away, but the more you act with compassion toward yourself, the more you will start to believe that you deserve your own love, care, and acceptance.

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2.Take your interests, passions, and pursuits seriously

When you believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile, even if just for your own enjoyment or sense of accomplishment, then you will reap more benefits from it. For example, if you engage in, let’s say, oh I don’t know, writing for a hobby, but you think it’s “just a silly hobby,” and treat it as such, then you are, in effect, not accepting the validity of your own interests, and not accepting your pursuit of it.

Taking your interests and pursuits seriously doesn’t mean that they can’t still be fun, it just means that you are acknowledging the impact that these interests and pursuits have on your own life and self-esteem.

3.Take your problems seriously

In the same vein as above, if you are experiencing a hardship, but you attribute it to being just a “silly problem,” then you’re not accepting the impact that it’s having on you, and you won’t be as willing or as determined to take the steps to heal, or remedy the problem. When you can accept that you’re suffering or hurting, then you can accept the treatments or help you might need to recover.

4.Take ownership of the ideal

You have the power to define what’s ideal. The world, society, or your culture tells you that a particular way of being is ideal, but ultimately, you get to decide if that’s true for you or not.

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I really struggled with this post. I had a whole different draft ready to go on Saturday, and then I recoiled in fear because it was way too personal. I don’t feel as though I have any grounds to write with any authority on self-acceptance, as I’m still struggling, so I want to reiterate that these are suggestions that I’m still trying. Please tell me your own.

How do you approach self-acceptance? Did you grow up being taught to accept yourself, and so it comes naturally to you, or is it something that you have had to cultivate? If so, how did you do it?

The Fundamentals of Personal Growth: Forgiveness

Last week, the fundamental of personal growth was awareness. This week, it’s forgiveness. As will be a theme with all these fundamentals, there will be some overlap. Everything is connected.

Forgiveness is important to personal growth because you’re probably harboring some contempt for yourself about the fact that you’re not who you wish you were.

You might regret that you aren’t more fit, or that you don’t wake up earlier. Maybe you regret that you don’t call your mom more, or that you’re terrible at remembering birthdays. These desires to do better are normal, but if you’re on a journey of personal growth then I have a hunch that you are holding yourself in much more contempt than simply having regrets.

You won’t get very far in your personal growth journey if you continue to believe that you’re an inadequate failure because you don’t live up to arbitrary standards.

This particular fundamental of personal growth is the one I’ve had to work the hardest at, and it’s one I’m still working hard at, and the biggest thing I can’t seem to forgive myself for is not being the person I want to be, or the person I believe I can be.

Self-forgiveness is about forgiving yourself for not always being the person you want to be.

To extend yourself some grace:

1.Identify Limiting Beliefs

Often times when we make a mistake, we respond with all or nothing thinking like “I always do that” or “I can never get it right.” Listen to how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake. Identify the particular negative form of self-talk you employ. If you can notice it, you can name it, and if you can name it then you can work on replacing it with something less harsh like “I’d like to improve in this area of my life,” or “I’ll do that better next time.”

2.Take Ownership Over Your Mistakes

Research psychologist Juliana Breines writes:

Self-forgiveness can have a dark side. Research suggests that while it relieves unpleasant feelings like guilt and shame, it may also—in some cases—reduce empathy for others and motivation to make amends. In other words, self-forgiveness may at times serve as a crutch, producing a comforting sense of moral righteousness rather than a motivating sense of moral responsibility.

If you can admit that you’ve made a mistake or done something you’re not proud of, then it will be easier to explore how you can do better moving forward because you’ll know how you don’t want to behave, or what actions are out of line with the person you want to be.

Without the recognition of wrongdoing, what would there be to forgive? – Juliana Breines

You probably know that it’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, but admitting to them can feel vulnerable because most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as failures, bad people, or immoral. I challenge you to consider this alternative:

Admitting your mistakes is empowering.

Doing something bad, or behaving in a way contrary to your core being, does not make you a bad person.

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3.Identify Your Values so You can Live by Them

This approach to forgiveness overlaps with stage 2 in the awareness fundamental because there are so many elements that can begin to fall into place in your life when you know your values. If you don’t know what matters to you then you won’t have a framework for decision making, and you’ll be more likely to feel bad about choices that you’ve made without knowing why or how to improve.

4. Express Compassion

A few years ago, I had a counselor who engaged in Gestalt therapy with me. When I first met with her I was nervous because I knew Gestalt to be an aggressive from of therapy (by aggressive I just knew it was more than simply talking about your feelings), but it ended up being the most helpful therapy I’ve ever received because it encouraged me to cultivate compassion for myself.

My counselor had me imagine the part of myself that I hated, and talk to her. I moved across the room, sitting in one chair and then the other, talking to myself and saying out loud all these awful things I’d been thinking about myself. I saw this person who I hated as part of myself, and my counselor showed me that I could be compassionate to her. In my mind, I wrapped this part of myself up in a loving ribbon, and every time I started to think negatively about “Little Trisha,” as I called her, I’d wrap that ribbon around her. The process sounds a little out there, and I was resistant at first, but I’m so glad I eventually poured myself into it because learning to love Little Trisha was the biggest step in my personal growth journey.

[S]elf-forgiveness is not supposed to be easy, and without incorporating empathy it can feel empty. – Juliana Breines

The best effect from learning to love Little Trisha was that it was easier for me to love and express compassion for others. I felt less frustrated at my husband and approached our disagreements with empathy and understanding. Our marriage became so much more enjoyable because as I grew to love myself, I became more trusting. I grew closer to my family and friends because as I learned to stop judging, hating and resenting myself, I learned to stop doing the same to others.

I’m not perfect in these areas, and I still find myself holding grudges at times, but it’s now so much easier for me to let go and move on because I have started with practicing forgiveness for myself.

This practice of self-forgiveness and compassion can be tied back up into awareness.

If you can become aware, admit your mistakes and forgive, then:

[You can] begin to understand how [your] emotional and physical selves are connected and develop more self-confidence to start living a fuller life and more effectively deal with problems. (Gestalt Therapy)

Everything is connected.

 

In her Ted Talk “The Real Risk of Forgiveness and Why it’s Worth ItSarah Montana speaks about the power of forgiving others, but I think so much of what she says can be applied to self-forgiveness, as well. In particular, she says:

Forgiveness is the only real path to freedom

The thing about self-forgiveness as a practice in conjunction with self-awareness is that it cultivates a realistic view of the self. You can recognize who you are, in the present, and acknowledge the dream of who you hope to be without hating yourself for not yet being that person. You can find such cozy freedom within yourself that your body will feel like home.

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Have you learned to forgive yourself? What is your process of self-forgiveness?

Being Sick is Like Hitting the Reset Button

Last week, my husband and I both got sick. It was one of those yucky head colds that verge on feeling just bad enough to maybe be the flu, but then also we were well enough to get out of bed, but also we could hardly breath through our noses and our heads felt like balloons.

I hate being sick, not just because it sucks, but because whenever I’m sick, I always struggle with guilt and doubt.

If I have to call into work or cancel plans, I feel like I’m lying about how sick I am just to get out of my commitments. While getting to stay home and watch TV or sleep is a benefit to being sick, the novelty of doing nothing wears off fast, and then I begin to realize that the worst part about being sick isn’t so much being sick, but that my routine has to bend so that I can rest.

I struggle between the knowledge that I’ll recover quicker if I rest, and the guilt of putting things or people on hold; the fear of losing momentum toward my goals.

I recently read an excerpt from Matthew Sweet’s blog post “The tyranny of the perfect day” that mirrored these frustrations I have with my routine being disrupted quite perfectly. It’s a little long, but it says more than I can figure out how to say about this topic:

A while ago I discovered my “perfect morning”. I liked to rise before the sun, meditate for a while, read whilst drinking a few cups of coffee, then write for a few hours. After that, I’d squeeze in whatever else my relationships, commitments and ambitions demanded of me. So, I thought, why not try to make every morning like that? I tried and it was surprisingly successful. But it also made me fragile. If I didn’t get up early enough then I felt the morning was lost. If my meditation session went terribly then it threw me out of rhythm. If I couldn’t focus whilst reading I felt annoyed. If I sat at the keyboard and nothing came to me, I’d wind myself up into a hybrid state of anxiety and fear. I was seeking uniformity in my mornings and Life was giving me the middle finger, thwarting my quest in mostly consistent, but sometimes unexpected, ways.

By Wednesday of last week, I had reached maximum grumpiness and laziness from being sick, but I could not convince myself that it was okay to rest because I wanted, so desperately, to get back to that perfect routine.

I know that it’s normal to be grumpy when you’re sick, but having to deviate from my routine made me feel like I was crawling my way back to dark places of self-loathing.

I could hardly let myself off the hook for a week of being sick.

Even writing it now, a week seems like way too long a time.

Eventually, through desperate journal writing to try and get myself out of a dangerous thought spiral, I came to these questions:

Have I really learned to accept myself, or have I just built up a routine that keeps me from feeling like a loser?

Have I just structured my life in such a way that there’s no room for me to be mean to myself because I never let myself falter or fail?

I think that maybe I have.

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I feel a little confused because I had been singing the praises of routines and structure, but now I’m seriously questioning routines for their fragile inflexibility.

At the end of Matthew Sweet’s post he says this:

I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that my perfect days should be uniform and repeatable. Instead, I labour under the assumption that perfect days can only be revealed in hindsight, not planned or prepared for in advance.

I think that I have reached the limit on introspection with this subject. Nothing will change if all I do is think about it. I have to make some tangible efforts to free myself from my own routine, and show myself that I am worthy every day, not just the perfect ones.border

Do you feel like your routine is too rigid? Do you feel as though all your progress or motivation to move forward gets reset when you’re sick?

How to Escape the Burden of Time

Throughout the course of my day, I find myself frequently looking at the clock and thinking about what’s next. With the exception of the morning, when time feels limitless, I’m stuck on the numbers on the clock.

Time begins to feel like a cage.

This is a little contradictory to my post last week, where I mentioned that I like structure and routines, but I think that, like all things in life, there is a balance.

While I find freedom in routine, I also have a tendency to create harsh, arbitrary rules for myself within that routine.

I’m able to find some balance, and escape from this self-made prison, when I allow myself to live in the moment.

One way I can cue into mindfulness is by asking myself sensory questions about my surroundings:

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This particular set of questions is best for when I’m taking a break from my routine so that I might recharge and find focus again.

It takes a little bit of effort to stall the racing thoughts in my mind, and redirect my attention to the world in front of me because my thoughts have become so routine and habitual that they feel familiar, even when they aren’t comforting. The effort to focus my thoughts is well worth it, though.

When I can bring myself to the present moment, time becomes less relevant.

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In the practice of mindfulness, my heart rate slows, I appreciate each sensation for what it brings me, and I gain energy.

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I find the eternity in the moment when I’m reading a good book, finding my flow in a creative project, cuddling my husband, snuggling the dog, watching the clouds, graciously sipping coffee, marveling at nature, or spending time with the people I love. Where do you find your eternity?

I Really Like Being Alone

A friend of mine recently told me that I’m really good at being alone. If that sounds harsh, let me assure you, she meant it as a compliment, and I took it as one.

I absolutely love to be alone.

Of course, I still struggle with it in certain circumstances, but for the most part, if I’m choosing between a social event or being alone, I’d rather be alone.

When I’m alone, I can watch whatever I want on TV. Listen to whatever music I want. Watch YouTube videos that meet my daily quota for mindless entertainment. I can read without distraction. I can journal. I can write.

Solitude is precious because I can decide exactly what I want to do, and I can go at my own pace.

If introvert is defined as a person who recharges by being alone, then I definitely fall into that category. It’s exhausting to be around people. There are maybe only three people in the world who actually give me energy when I’m with them, and that’s my husband and two best friends. Everyone else tires me out.

Solitude is precious because my energy isn’t being drained by navigating social relationships.

I have learned, though, that being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spending time with others.

While socializing is draining, I still crave it. I still need it because I’m human.

I’ve come to view socializing and cultivating meaningful friendships as a part of my self-care practice. I have to make a conscious effort to do it though, otherwise I won’t. I’ll settle into my routine of being alone by telling myself that I’m happy with my family and the friends I’ve sustained over the years, which is true, but they don’t live where I do and I don’t get to see them as often as I would like – as often as I need to in order to tend to my social need.

Solitude is precious because it reminds me that I do need to see people, and more importantly, I do need meaningful relationships in my life.

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A few ways that I have found to meet this social need are:

1.Bumble BFF

This is an app that helps you find friends in your area. I connected with a friend through the app that I’ve been texting with every week since we first met up.

2.Local events

Even if I don’t talk to a single person, like the time I went to a concert alone, it can still be enough for me to simply get out and participate in a local event to see people out in the world, participating in gentle humanity – to remind myself that not everyone is an idiot on the Internet.

It’s also a great way for me to challenge the possibility of connection, like the time I went to a poetry group at my local library and thought I might never go back because the guy sitting next to me was getting on my last nerve.

I have a tendency to discount experiences when one element isn’t quite right and thinking like that is a fast way to stay isolated.

Instead of making up my mind to never return, I wrote down my contact information to be reminded of the next group and, at the end, I thanked the group leader, who gave me a hug.

3.Connect with people online

A while back, I started using social media as a place to engage with others, rather than a place to passively exist. I have been 100% happier with my experience online since I started doing this. Sometimes, I leave a comment on someone’s post or ask a question at the end of my own posts, and they get lost in the void, but sometimes, I receive meaningful replies. It doesn’t matter if I get a response or not though, the point is that I’m engaging. I’m making an effort to make connections and that’s a hell of a lot more fulfilling than never even trying.

4.Be generous in working relationships

At the start of the summer, I began the process of getting hired with VIPKids to be an online English teacher. A woman in my community hosted an event to help new teachers get started. I ended up being the only person interested, but she still agreed to meet with me and be my mentor through the process. When I was hired, I treated her to coffee. We discovered that we have a lot in common, and though the job with VIPKids hasn’t panned out exactly as I had hoped, my mentor and I are now friends!

5.Express gratitude for the relationships I already have

I have a wealth of meaningful relationships in my life. I met my best friend when I was only five-years-old and we still see each other at least every month. I think that’s something to be incredibly grateful for, and I tell her often, in our own non-sentimental way, that I’m grateful for her friendship. When I reach that point where I’ve been alone a little too much and I get that wave of loneliness, I don’t need to rush out and make new friends, all I need to do is give my husband a hug, drive up to see my parents or make plans with my sisters, go for a walk with my granny, or text one of my long-time friends who will reply, without a doubt, in no less than a day.

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How do you make socialization a part of your self-care routine? Or, does socializing come easy to you?

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.

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?