Saturday, February 11, 2017

This Is How My Brain Works: Anxiety, Decisions, and Getting Things Done

I think I'm going to be starting a series. Mostly I've been writing a lot lately and I've fallen back into liking it again so I think I'm going to just run with it. 'This Is How My Brain Works' is going to be my unfiltered thought process. I'll pick a topic, or just start writing and see where it takes me. It could end up being a Magical Mystery Tour into my psyche, boring AF, or somewhere in between. 

Lately I have been dealing with a lot of anxiety. I am going to be starting school this Monday, and I'm very nervous. I haven't even started yet and I'm worrying about falling behind, or dropping out. I was never a really great student when I was in school, and going into something new in general makes me nervous. Well mostly everything makes me nervous.

I don't ever really talk about it, but I worry about everything all the time! Even silly things.
  • I smiled way too much at that barista. Now he'll think I'm hitting on him.
  • I haven't washed my hair in a week, people probably think I'm an ogre.
  • That joke was mildly insensitive if you don't get the reference to this show or that movie. They think I'm horrible!
  • Is 'crap' a curse word when you are talking to the parents of preschoolers? Should I have said 'Shoot' in front of them or does that sound too much like Sh*t?
  • Does the other receptionist know that I wore these pants twice this week?
  • Should I really be wearing jeans to work this many times anyway?
And those are just the day to day worries! The stupid little ticks in the back of my mind that go off as often as they see fit, as I go about my life. Then there's the Big Picture Worries! The ones about my life and future, the ones that make me nauseated every time they squeeze their way into my mind.
  • Do I eat too much? Too fast? Too frequently? Not often enough?
  • I know I've known my best friend since 4th Grade, but does she really find me funny or am I irritating? Am I an obligation?
  • What's going to happen when I get a real job?
  • I know I'm excited for this or that opportunity, but am I really the kind of person they want watching their kids? Leading their teenagers? Being an example?
  • Is it too late to start college?
  • Is it really worth going when I know it's going to be a challenge?
  • Can I make it as a teacher?
  • Should I just give up now?
  • Should I pursue new friendships when I know it's going to be hard to hang out because I still don't have my license?
  • If I haven't had a boyfriend by the time I turn 22, will I ever meet someone?
  • What will I do if I ever have a baby with MAS as well?
  • Am I good enough?
I tend to be a person who either shares way too much or not enough, and then I end up going over that awkward thing I said again and again in my mind until I'm not really sure what I said, but I know it was probably something dumb and I should just go hide under the bed for a year.

You know that dream when you go to school and everyone laughs at you because you're in your underwear? Well I never really had that. But I have had that fear of being called out as different, of being told, "You don't belong here." That dream where even the people you are closest to turn their backs on you because they're finally done with your stupidity, your immaturity, that weird laugh you have, or how you're always biting your lip when there's a lull in the conversation and you can't think of what to say next.

This last summer was basically that feeling for six out of ten weeks straight. I got a job with a travelling summer camp and I knew nobody. I have a really hard time introducing myself in the first place, and because of that I tend to come off as snobby or even doltish. I feel like I don't make enough of an effort, but I don't really know how to. Which is weird because everyone else in my family seems to make friends wherever they go! I just get tongue tied, I forget people's names, or I say something stupid and then leave abruptly (True story!). I am awkward AF! I don't volunteer myself, nor do I start new things without worrying about it for weeks on end.

But for some reason at the beginning of the year I got up one day and said, "I am going to start school." And the only thing that could possibly have any influence on that decision was a book. No thought, no preparation, I just decided based on some pretty words someone I don't know said!

Not that that's completely out of character! I tend to be the type of person who either over thinks and then doesn't follow through or makes snap decisions and jumps blindly into an abyss. That's how I ended up working for NDC this summer, that's how I ended up joining 4-H in high school, that's just how I make my decisions! When I think about an option for any length of time I usually just end it with, "I could never do that." or "What if this ends up happening?" and I chicken out. I think of every little thing that has gone wrong in my life, and I say, "That is why we can't have nice things! This is why friendships end! There is the reason you are a hopeless person!"

I try not to talk about my anxiety. I feel like it's a word that's thrown around so often that it's lost all meaning now. That people who use it are just lazy, or they're making excuses instead of facing the world. But the fact of the matter is we all have it, some much more than others, but all of us nonetheless. The issue is that instead of teaching ourselves and our kids to treat those anxieties, to work through and overcome them, we give it a free pass. We turn it into an excuse instead of a problem in need of solutions.

Now before I get called out I will say this disclaimer: No I am not a doctor. I am basing this all on my own personal research and experiences. There are all kinds of manifestations of anxiety. Depression is a real medical condition where your brain releases the wrong gasses in the wrong amounts, causing many problems, not all of which can be cured by just, "Getting some sunshine and hugging a puppy".

Depression is defined as:
"condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal;sadness greater and more  prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason."

(It is also worthy to note the definition of Clinical Depression).

Whereas Anxiety is defines as:
"Distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune."

I have known people with depression and it is a constant battle that they are actively working through every day.  Anxiety, for the most part, is fear. It's can be overcome with a diligent routine to make the right choices to prevent our emotions from taking over. Depression is something that takes constant work and never fully goes away.

Now that I've cleared that up I'd like to say that even though we know this, it can still be hard to help ourselves when we're hit with anxiety. I tend to be the type of person who denies I even have it, and so when I have peaks I bottle it up, I say, "That's not you, you're being a paranoid and you just need to get over yourself." But that is probably the worst thing you can do with anxiety because, at least in my case, I tend to shut down and just avoid facing my fears, which furthers the problem in the long run.
Part of fixing something is admitting that it's hurt, right? So here are some of the things I try to do when I'm overwhelmed and anxious, and a few others I found online that I will definitely use in the future:

Stop whatever it is that's making you anxious for about 5-10 minutes. Put it down, you will get to it later.

Take some deep breaths. I am a visual person so I like to think of anxiety as a dark cloud in my lungs. I really focus on filling my lungs to their fullest, and slowly expelling it from my chest. Maybe try closing your eyes if it helps.

Think of AT LEAST three positive things about yourself. Say them aloud if it helps, "I like to decorate cake. I have a huge family who loves me and wants me to succeed. My entire left hand is an inch longer than my right hand. I am awesome at math." Reassuring yourself always helps with stress.

Take Care
Get a drink of water. Sometimes hydration is the best cure. Do you need: To get a snack? To open the window? To go to the bathroom? Then do so. Ignoring basic needs when under a lot of stress only adds to the problem.

Doodle a bit to calm yourself and boost creativity. Hum a song that calms you. Have one thing that helps you relax quickly at your side for when you can't get up (like when you're in a test or about to make a speech): Are you a fidgeter? Then maybe have a ball of Play Doh to squeeze and roll in your hand, or try one of these. They're small and so they won't be noticeable in your hand, and they're way less distracting than a clicking pen or a tapping toe. (I actually just bought one and I'll do a review of it here in the near future.)
Don't do all of these though! That's going to be really distracting. Find one that works for you and still allows you to focus on the task at hand. Then stick with it!

And always remember to breathe! Try taking deep breaths before going into interviews or doing a presentation, or anything else that causes anxiety for you. Use the silly cloud method I talked about to cam yourself or take some power breaths to amp yourself up if you're feeling a bit down or frightened.

Think of the first thing that needs to happen. Make a physical to do list or just a mental one.
Sometimes to do lists don't work for people. You get overwhelmed by all the things you need to do that you end up staring at the list instead of completing it. So instead say, "What do I need to do now?" For example when studying: Right now you need to read a chapter of "X" Book or write "X" amount of words for an essay. Focus on just that and nothing more. Once you're done move on to the next step or...

Find a reward system that works for you.
Reward yourself with an Oreo for every chapter you read. Or a chapter of a book you're reading for fun for every hour you spend on your power point for work. But set limits or you'll end up abusing your reward and your work will fall by the way side. Found something that just distracts, or makes your more anxious? Cut it out of the routine!

Watching your time is really important! Making sure you're not powering through to the point of exhaustion is always good if you're that type of person who just wants to get projects completed. Make sure you are taking those breaks at least to just eat something, or relax your eye if you're working at the computer or reading. But you also need to watch your time during breaks if you tend to get distracted by other things when you need to focus. Ask yourself questions periodically, "How am I doing? Do I need gum? Do I need to remember to breath? would I be more comfortable without shoes on? Would anyone notice if I slipped them off for a moment? Assess quickly and take care of it now to avoid them irritating you later on.

Proof that I'm still working on these? I just had to pull myself away from a jar of raspberry sorbet and a long scroll through Facebook after taking a break on this post. A break that was almost twenty minutes! This proves that social media and desert are distractions for me and not good ideas for breaks. Try out different things, and figure out what's not allowed to be a break for you. If you too can't help but sitting on social media, than make sure that is not your reward. If you are the type of person who's always saying "one more chapter" or "just after this episode" then make sure that reading and Netflix are not your rewards. If you know you won't be able to stop don't even start.

And that's what I've got! I am not going to say that these work for me 100% of the time. I still really struggle with distractions and anxiety. And usually the latter is caused by the former. But it's all about finding your balance. If you have a friend who also struggles with anxiety or distractions ask them what they do to combat it. Maybe there's something you haven't tried before. And likewise if you have some tips, advise or critiques on some of my suggestions by all means let me know!