Overcoming Anxiety

Overcoming AnxietyWhen I finally got up the nerve to seek a doctor’s help with my consistent anxiety attacks I sat in the parking lot before my appointment totally terrified of going inside. Would he think I was nuts? Am I crazy? Why have I been feeling this way? What will the people in the waiting room think of me? Will anyone I know see me going in here? What kind of people go to a counselor? And then it happens again. My heart starts to race and my mind just won’t stop. What if the doctor can’t help? What if he thinks I’m making this up? What if I can’t explain to him what is happening? My palms are sweaty. My chest hurts. What if I just don’t go inside? How long is this going to take anyway? What if…..

The worst part is that it comes on out of nowhere usually. Obviously going to see a doctor can be a stress ridden experience, but that’s not when the anixiety usually presents itself. It happens at the most inopportune and random times. Like when I’m half-way through my shopping list and standing in front of the bananas in the produce section. When I realize I had a coupon for the salsa in my cart and begin to search through my purse for it… I begin to feel flustered and irritated; my mind starts to spiral out of control. Did I leave it on the counter? I know it’s in here! Why can’t I do anything right? What else did I leave at home? Did I forget to put toilet paper on the shopping list? My memory is failing me, my chest starts to constrict and I leave my cart…right there, half-full, in the midst of other shoppers and escape to my car.

When we think of anxiety we generally think of things that are going to happen in the future that might cause us stress. An upcoming move, a promotion at work, an impending deployment…. Not a simple grocery store run. Unfortunately for those suffering with anxiety disorder sometimes those anxious feelings come on when there is a perceived threat, real-or-not, that triggers the emotional reaction. Sometimes we make predictions on the outcome of event that have absolutely no basis in real life. This results in all the physical symptoms I’ve mentioned above as well as just a general lack of patience, cranky mood, and verbal outbursts that are uncharacteristic of our personalities. This can also, I’ve learned, result in behaviors that seem rash, unjust, and decisions that are not clearly thought out.

Family, friends, co-workers then suffer the brunt of these mood swings, and unfortunately they often do not understand the triggers that begin the downward spiral. Sadly, those suffering with anxiety disorder don’t often understand the triggers either. It’s often a tiny, insignificant thing that puts us over the edge.

For me, this has had some seriously negative effects on my relationships and life decisions. It has taken me several years to realize that this problem I have has a name, that its ok, and that I can take steps to control it. Unfortunately for those loved ones who got hurt along the way, I can’t take back time or the choices I have made, but moving forward I seek to understand anxiety and not let it control me.

So, here are my top ten things I have learned about living with Anxiety Disorder:

1. Do not act on any spur of the moment decisions. Before jumping in your car and say, moving across the country because you feel like your current life is over, I recommend you sleep on it. Anxiety tends to make every situation feel worse, feel more serious, feel disastrous. It is important to let your brain work through the anxiety first, and then make any serious decisions with a clear mind.

2. Learn to breathe. This was the first piece of advice given to me by that doctor. (The one who I did eventually get out of my car to go see.) When we are little kids we find ourselves hiding from monsters under the covers in our beds, we stop moving and stop breathing so that the monsters can’t find us. As adults, when we are afraid, our first instinct is to stop breathing. So, take in air. Take deep slow breahths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. And count. Counting helps.

3.  Have an emergency exit. If (and this doesn’t happen often) you can pinpoint the scenario that is giving you anxiety, make sure you think through your exit strategy. Knowing that you have a way out of a social event or obligation can take a massive amount of the anxiety away.

4. Get more sleep. As a human being we all know that we are supposed to be getting plenty of sleep. There are numerous studies out there on the health benefits of sleep. Personally, I know that when I get less than seven hours of good sleep I am much more likely to snap at my loved ones, make rash decisions, and lose patience with myself. Some of my worst decisions have been made on days when I was not functioning on enough sleep.

5. Visualize something awesome. I know this one sounds dumb. I told the doctor so when he suggested I work on meditation and visualization. I reminded him I wasn’t crazy and didn’t really believe in all that nonsense. But, when I get really worked up about something, one of the fastest ways to reset my brain and get back to a normal state is to start imagining something wonderful. Sometimes I think of my niece, a margarita on the beach, a favorite family vacation…this doesn’t always work. Sometimes I have to pull up a photo on my phone or physically look at something calming. But trust me, as crazy-pants as this one seems, it can be incredibly helpful. There’s a great explination here and some instructions on how to get started as well. http://psychcentral.com/lib/guided-visualization-a-way-to-relax-reduce-stress-and-more/000684

6. Embrace your mistakes instead of pretending you won’t, or haven’t, made any. This one was hard for me. It took some time, some convincing from my doctor and a whole lot of effort on my part to admit that the mistakes I have made actually happened. I needed to own my past. I needed to seek forgiveness from those people I’ve hurt and actually apologize, and I had a laundry list of people whom I too needed to forgive. However, once I started owning my choices and my shortcomings, I started to feel better, less anxious, and more in control of my own destiny.

7. Say “I can”, “I will”, “Why not?”…. Anxiety leads to negativity. I often found myself limiting my life by telling myself that I couldn’t, shouldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do something. By training my mind to say “I can” instead of “I can’t” I have found that the world seems far more manageable, more like an adventure and less like something I have to muddle through.

8. Plan ahead. Far ahead. Making lists and practicing productivity has forced me to think through the events that might be anxiety causing in the future. From super simple things like hanging my keys in the same place every day so I don’t spend frantic minutes searching for them in the morning, to writing out long-term goals for my life on the calendar I’ve found that planning helps me to focus my energy on positivity, rather than on the things that could or might go wrong.

9. Develop a thankful heart. By expressing gratitude for things that I do have rather than pursuing a desire for the things I cannot have, I have been able to control the anxiety attacks much more easily. Being grateful for things makes your brain focus on positive ideas. Seeing joy, and acknowledging where it comes from has been a huge key in managing my emotions.

10. Pray and seek prayer. Ask others to pray for you. Pray for yourself. Talk to God. Let go. There is nothing in this world that cannot be tackled with enough prayer. There is a huge relief that comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone and asking someone to pray for you too. Just knowing that someone else has your back, and that God is listening is a huge relief.

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? Psalm 118:6

Anxiety

Packaged Love: Freezable Meals for Grieving Families

When I answered the phone that evening, I wish I had been sitting down. Receiving the news that a dear friend of mine had just lost her husband in a fatal car accident made my heart hurt. It was sudden, unexpected and so unfair. My friend and her husband were recent empty nesters, just beginning on the journey of discovering themselves as a couple again. They were active church members and a true inspiration to me as I struggle to find my own feet in my relationships in this crazy adult world.

I have been struggling with trying to find a way to ease their burden, to help this family during this time of transition and crisis. I feel so helpless. Aside from praying, I’ve been searching for something that I could do.

It seems that food has always been a way to show love and comfort to a family who has lost a loved one.   Feeding people is a very tangible way to demonstrate our love to them at a time when we cannot really ease their emotional pain. After talking with the family I know that they have little time or ambition to cook for themselves, they have out of town guests, and they have limited energy. My friend is losing interest in eating, she’s in shock and her emotional state is obviously tumultuous.

I want to be a blessing to this family.  I know they will be overwhelmed with well-intentioned church folk dropping by, bringing food and so on. At least at first, but once the funeral is over and the extended family has gone home, I want to provide meals for my girlfriend that she can just reheat and eat, long after the chaos of this week is over. I want to be a blessing to her once the house is quiet and the loneliness settles.

So I’m researching some  recipes and ideas. It seems to me like the family may receive too many pasta-type casseroles. I want something unique, and delicious.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks-GIVING

I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words my own thoughts on the Thanksgiving/Black Friday catastrophe that has turned my favorite holiday into a giant marketing mess…. and I’ve been struggling. Elizabeth over at Lark & Bloom says exactly what I’ve been thinking. So check her out, because she is awesome.

Thanks-GIVING.

For love of country…

My favorite shot from Brittany and Kyle’s wedding. ❤

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm”.

With Veterans Day quickly approaching it seems doubly important to recognize the immeasurable debt we have, as Americans, to our service men and women. This is obviously something that hits incredibly close to home for me, but especially so this week.

Kyle and Brittany were one of my first wedding clients. I met with Brittany and her mom in just the second full year of my business; they were seeking a photographer that was still open as they had to quickly change their wedding day due to Kyle’s impending deployment. Brittany was the second child of the family to get married, also to a military man, like her sister Sam. They knew the risks and sacrifices of marrying into the military, and yet were so proud and honored to be doing so. Brittany’s family was clearly proud of their daughter for her choices, and proud of their new son-in-law for the honorable way he was serving his nation, and taking care of their daughter. Their love for each other is clearly visible in the way in which they look at each other, and the tenderness of the vows they shared. Brit and Kyle quickly became our favorite wedding clients, and when they moved out near my home I attended their housewarming party, liking the idea that we lived closer to each other. As time went on, I was invited to take pictures at Brittany’s sister’s wedding the following year, forming close bonds with the rest of Brit & Kyle’s family.

We all know what we’re getting into when we love someone in the military. The families and loved ones of those who serve are some of the strongest people I know. Any separation from someone you love is tough, especially so when you know that they are in dangerous situations. From my experiences with my brother’s deployment, with my cousin, with Dan, its best to just pray and convince yourself that it is in God’s hands, to substitute strength for fear, and to be supportive even when you feel you can’t… But one is never prepared for the worst case scenario…

Over the weekend Kyle was involved in a harsh attack in Afghanistan. The truck he, and three other brave men were in, was hit by an IED. In the aftermath of the attack, only one of them men survived, Kyle. I know that Kyle’s survival is such an incredible blessing despite the serious injuries that he incurred and the devastating emotional toll it will take on both Kyle and his family, I know that he is blessed and loved. But my heart still aches. For Kyle’s family and the hours of waiting for news and hope, for Kyle’s wife Brittany whose strength and endurance will surely be tested, and for the families and loved ones of those boys, the ones who will never come home, I find myself on the verge of tears.

I am awestruck by the bravery of a soldier. To be willing to place their lives at risk for the safety and freedom of people they don’t even know is so noble. I’m not sure that I could do the same under the best of circumstances, and certainly not when we are not enjoying a time of peace. I am humbled by their ability to handle the inhumanity of combat and the terrors of war time countries that I cannot possibly begin to understand. Sometimes, it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the purpose of this sacrifice, especially when I think about the men in my life that are currently serving our country.

It completely blows my mind to think about my close friends and family who are currently serving. When we were kids and my cousin Ryan was a whiny little runt, I would never have thought that one day he would be hundreds of miles from home, selflessly standing up for the rights and freedoms of others. The surge of pride I feel for him is overwhelming.

As tensions rise in the Middle East, in Europe, in South America and our military personnel willingly head off to diffuse potentially dangerous situations, performing the tasks they have been trained to do to keep us safe, please remember them in your prayers. Those men and women are walking away from the people who love them and toward danger, so that you can remain close to those that you love.

As they sacrifice time with their families, put other career opportunities on hold, and forgo their personal security and comfort seeking neither fortune nor fame and receiving neither, in turn can we strive to be responsible citizens ourselves? Considering election day is tomorrow, I can think of nothing of greater importance than to be informed and responsible voters. I think about my students an how self absorbed they can be, how in tune they are with their cell phones and their facebook status and how little they know about local elections, how they refuse to stand to say the pledge…I only hope that I can be a patriotic example to them and can foster a respect for those in uniform. I hope I can demonstrate to them a heart of service, inspire in them a desire to volunteer for the greater good, give them hope for the future.

It’s hard to know what to say or how to thank someone who performs such a great service to me, to my family, to my country.  So for Kyle, I pray for healing, and that he knows the deep respect and gratitude that we, as a nation, have for him and the role he has played in our lives and security.

To the families of Kyle’s companions, Staff Sgt. Dain T. Venne, Spc. Ryan P. Jayne, and Spc. Brett E. Gornewicz, nothing will ever be sufficient to thank you for all they have done, I cannot imagine your loss.

So, every day, on election day, on veterans day, I say thank you to all the men and women whose lives are dedicated to our nation’s protection. And to “my” soldiers, I am so, so proud of you.

 God bless.

 “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” -Cynthia Ozick