On Nourishing: Anxiety and Finding What Works for Me

*I want to start this off with a disclaimer that this is what I have found to work for me. Everyone’s mental health needs are different and require unique, nuanced treatments and coping mechanisms. I am not a doctor and this is not intended to be taken as medical advice, this is based on my own personal experience.*

 

Let’s start at the beginning

When I was in elementary school I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), at the time they were separate disorders. At the time the best course of action looked like medication and as a 4th grader, I was put on a daily dose of Concerta to help me pay attention in class. After a little under a year my mom stopped the medication, she said that it made me less like myself and that she didn’t like how it changed me. I can honestly say that for that time in my life I have very few memories, almost like I was there, but not there. I found my written evaluation when I was in my early teens and was instantly embarrassed and self-conscious about what the observing psychologist had written about me.

Finding those notes was the first time I had that feeling of being different, being watched, and being evaluated in social situations. I believe that if you can track a mental disorder back to one moment finding those notes is what spurred on my social anxiety. It changed how I interacted with people every day. I was always a little extra chatty, but I was never embarrassed by acting a way that felt natural to me, and never felt that I had to overcompensate for an innate difference between me and the person next to me.

After finding those notes I became hyper-aware and fearful of how other people were perceiving me. Social anxiety can turn you into a different person. Personally, I am very introverted, which for someone who knows me may be a surprise. I truly am happiest when I am in the background, quieter in the conversation, and taking it all in instead of being the center of attention. My anxiety makes me feel that, in a social situation, I am constantly being judged and therefore constantly have to prove myself. Being “on” like that can be extremely taxing on and draining for me.

 

Then

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was enrolling in a small college. I had always wanted to go to a large school, being completely anonymous was extremely attractive to me (I grew up in a small town, in a family of seven, and more often than not was referred to as “one of the Shephards”. I absolutely hated how people would know me without knowing me at all.) Another attractive quality to a large school was the class size.

Lectures of 100+ students initially seem like the exact opposite someone with ADD/ADHD would need, however as a young adult I was much better at handling my attention issues and was able to learn quite well in those “fly-on-the-wall” situations. Of course, I would always have a tape recorder (thanks, Dad!) in case I spaced out in class and needed to listen to the lesson a second time, but in a lot of ways lecture-based learning was how I had been taught to learn all through middle and high school. It was familiar.

In the small college I ended up going to only one of my classes was lecture-based, all the others were based on small groups and roundtable discussions. It was not a learning style that suited me. To sit and read the 30+ pages needed per class was extremely difficult, and then to be put in a social situation where, in front of your peers, you needed to demonstrate not just a retention, but a comprehension of the reading was consistently challenging. Social anxiety makes getting a question wrong feel like taking a bullet. It’s not just the moment of making a mistake, it’s the inability to move past it. While the conversation pivots and weaves its way throughout the classroom you are still locked into that moment. Reliving it over and over.

Each class felt like a punishment and I spiraled, barely doing the readings, skipping class, and doing anything to distance myself from the fact that I was not getting it. After my first semester, I had a 1.5 GPA and was on academic probation. Before that day my GPA had never been below 3.75. I’m happy that I was able to retake classes, turn things around, and graduate with a 3.87 GPA.

Looking back I am, genuinely surprised that I graduated at all, much less with honors. I have reread some of the work I produced in my collegiate level courses and feel it was worse than my high school level work. I was not in the right environment for me and my learning. I had immense anxiety about disappointing my professors, my parents, and my peers and felt that transferring college would be an admittance of the fact that I couldn’t cut it.

My anxiety held me to stay in a situation where it was crippling my ability to succeed.

 

Now

The purpose of sharing all of this is two-fold. For one it’s a self declaration that I am not the person I was in high school or college and that that person’s mistakes or short-comings don’t determine who am I or who I can be (if you are someone who lives with anxiety you know how difficult it can be to release yourself from previous mistakes). The second is to explain how I was able to make changes for myself to make my anxiety more manageable. There is no one-size-fits-all for managing a mental illness, but for me, a few foundational changes to my day to day has made all the difference.

 

Coping strategies

Checking In. There’s a meditation technique of the “swinging door”. Essentially it’s a way to cope with those moments in meditation when a thought enters the mind. Instead of getting wrapped up in the thought and panicking about your inability to focus the idea is to acknowledge the thought and then let it go like a swinging door. This is similar to what I refer to as the “check-in” that I give myself. Instead of forcing myself to relax and trying to bury or compartmentalize anxiety I acknowledge it. When I feel I’m getting anxious, I take several deep breaths, try to make my mind go blank, and then approach the problem or trigger again. Does this work every time? Not at all, but it slows me down and gives me a moment to focus on something else.

 

Caring for Myself Physically. I’ve been an athlete my entire life. Taking care of my body is just as important as taking care of my mind. When I am physically active and nourished I genuinely feel better. I’m vigilant about how much I go out and drink, how often I eat foods that lack the nutrition I need, and especially how much I eat gluten. I’ve been diagnosed with a gluten allergy, but even if I hadn’t I would still avoid it. I’ve noticed that when I lower the amount of gluten in my diet I sleep better and feel less anxiety. If I notice anxiety building over several days I’ll check in with my physical health and make sure I’m still caring for myself in the ways that I need to be.

 

Taking a “Time Out”. I’m a naturally introverted person with social anxiety who grew up in a family of seven. “Me” time wasn’t something I ever realized I needed. As an adult, I worked at a retail store and found it to be completely draining. I would work from 3 pm to 10 pm, come home and sleep until 1:30 pm the next day. I wasn’t energized, inspired, excited, it was like I was living on auto-pilot. If I have a lot of events one week / weekend I will be sure to clear my schedule for the following few days to recharge. It’s important for my mental health to be able to take a step back and spend time by myself. This is also something I openly communicate with any partners I have and they will often schedule things on nights I need my me time so that I can have the apartment to myself. If you are co-living with a significant other I highly suggest asking for the same if solo time helps you.

 

Reevaluating my Relationships. Sometimes you create relationships that take more than they feed you. Growing up in a family of seven made me very co-dependent and I know that I need to be in friendships, relationships, and groups of people I feel I can rely on to truly relax. If I feel like I am consistently stretching myself for one particular friend or group I will carefully vet how often I let them in my life. Especially if I’m having a “rundown week”. I prioritize the things and people that will feed my happiness and keep my mind clear.

 

 

For more strategies, check out this post.

 

xx

On Reflection: What a Structured Morning Has Done for My Well-being

 

One month ago I attended a wellness weekend here in NYC that was put on by Mejuri. Post-event I was so motivated I sat down and quickly penned a few promises to myself about what my new goals were and how I wanted to implement changes in my life. My overall goal was fairly simple: introduce a few new rituals into my life and use them to amplify a radical, powerful, feminine beauty in me.

I started with cold showers and quickly integrated other aspects into my day to help myself find a stronger, calmer centerline. I now have a list of nine rituals that I do each morning to wake up my body, mind, and settle myself for the day.

In the past two weeks, my body has been waking me up sometime between 5:30-5:45 each morning. No alarm, no groggy-tired eyes, I just snap awake. I wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and launch into my morning that looks a little something like this:

  • 5:40 Wake up, take my basal temperate, and do 3 minutes of cat-cow postures in bed. I do these before I get out of bed to wake up my breath, body, and circulation.
  • 5:45 30 minutes of yoga, typically Ashtanga Primary Series, but occasionally I just flow.
  • 6:15 Take a cold shower. I start with the water a little cooler than lukewarm and finish with a 2 minute, ice-water cold rinse. During this time I furiously rub my arms, legs, and body to boost circulation and practice long deep breathing techniques to keep my mind as calm as possible.
  • 6:30 Oil pulling for 10 minutes as I do my skincare routine. Then I floss & brush my teeth. I keep my skincare routine very basic in the morning, but always include Herbivore’s Lapis Facial oil, jade roller/gua sha, moisturizer & sunscreen.
  • 6:45 Meditate for 10-15 minutes (however long I feel I need that day). I have been using the Kundalini yoga 4 part breath: 4 counts in/4 counts hold/4 counts out/4 counts hold out. For me, it’s helpful to have a breathing technique to focus on to keep my mind still. I also tend to pick one of my crystals, set an intention, and hold it closely throughout the mediation.
  • 7:00 Eat a small breakfast – typically a banana – and take my vitamins & supplements.
  • 7:30 Get dressed, do my make up, and pick out a fragrance for the day.
  • 8:00 Feed the cats a little snack.
  • 8:30 Wake up the cats & start our day together.

 

 

Of course, those times are approximate as I don’t actually count the minutes of each ritual. I do it until I feel full and prepared to move into the next one. Starting the day well-rested and centered is incredibly new for me. Even in 2015 when I was starting each day with a 70-minute Ashtanga practice I still wasn’t feeling the calm that I feel each morning stepping through this routine.

My energy is up, my anxiety is down, I’ve been motivated to eat better, and I’ve been more emotionally still. I’ve always run a little hot-tempered and have a very passionate, fiery streak. In arguments I can be quick to say the most hurtful thing, regretting it immediately. This past month I have been incredibly even-tempered. Even when I get frustrated, get the blues, get thrown a curve ball, I’m able to quickly bring it back, calm myself down, and reflect on the situation. Maybe it’s just part of getting older, but as an Aries Moon & Aries Rising a lot of my ferocity is innate to who I am (regardless of age). I credit my new ability to press pause on these emotions to my morning routine.

 

The purpose of introducing these rituals was to amplify my inner and outer beauty. After one month I can confirm that I feel the effects on the inside and outside. I’ve been better able to handle the squalls of everyday life. I’ve felt more confident and strong as I walk down the street, as if my aura is growing day by day, inch by inch. I’ve had numerous people comment over Instagram and IRL that I look “different” or “really good today”. I can feel it on the inside and it radiates on the outside.

Maybe you don’t need a 2 hour morning routine, maybe you just need one thing, but what I encourage you to do is examine your morning and question if it sets you up for a successful day. Maybe five minutes of mediation will be the game changer for you. Maybe add an extra few minutes into something you already do each morning, like walking your dog, to pause, get still, and appreciate where you are.

Taking an extra few moments for you in the morning can help prevent you from feeling like you are being pulled in a million directions throughout the day.

On Why: Beauty is Your Birthright

 

I prefer my shower temperature somewhere between scalding and boiling. You know all those hot and heavy shower sex scenes? Not in my future. I’ve yet to meet another human who likes their showers nearly as toasty.

But I’m about to make a big switch. I’m going to start taking cold showers.

Pause for reaction and a little context …

This past weekend I attended Mejuri‘s Wellness Weekend which consisted of several workshops and classes all about healing and promoting inner and outer beauty. My favorite piece of the weekend was a masterclass in which Desiree Pais, the beauty editor for Herbivore Botanicals, walked us through several daily rituals we could introduce into our routines to promote our radical, feminine, beauty.

 

DAILY RITUALS

The rituals ranged from yoga postures to meditation & breathing exercises to different skincare masks, oils, and serums. There were a few that really stood out to me:

  • Starting each day with 3 minutes of cat-cow postures. I plan on completing these before I get out of bed to wake up my breath, body, and circulation.
  • Channeling a woman you admire to stave off insecurities. Choosing someone powerful and strong who has all the qualities that you admire, and focusing on that person’s energy when you are feeling low to zap yourself back into self-love. It’s not about becoming another person, it’s about feeling their vibrations and using that to spark the same energy in you.
  • The One-Minute Breath. This is a Kundalini yoga breathing technique that is much more intense than it initially sounds. Inhale for 20 seconds, Hold for 20 seconds, Exhale for 20 seconds. Let me tell you, it is incredibly focusing. I’m starting with the smaller goal of 10 in/10 hold/10 out for 5 minutes every morning. Here’s a blog post, written by Herbivore on the one-minute breath.
  • Cold Showers in the morning. Using the burst of cold water to wake up all those little blood vessels and flush out any lymph, toxins, etc and reinvigorate.

 

I was easily on board with the first three, but that cold shower? I was less convinced. However, I’m a “try everything once” kind of woman and I figured it was worth a shot. After running a few post workshop errands I came home, turned the shower on, and got ready to face it. I set myself a 4-minute timer and (filled with images of Rose saying goodbye to Jack) stepped in.

Mother.

Of.

Pearl.

The first 30 seconds, incredibly rough (and I only had my legs in).

The next 30 weren’t that great either as I doused my arm in ice, but then I remembered something Desiree had mentioned: rub your body. I began massaging my legs and arms and focusing on deep breathing and after a minute I was able to get under the water completely.

By minute 3 I felt strangely warm (?) and was genuinely enjoying putting my face under the glacial water streaming from my shower head.

I completed my 4-minute goal and am hooked. I knew I had to sit down and write this immediately, because I was so shocked at how quickly, in just one day, I had such a radical “ah-ha” moment. Not only did I have an “ah-ha” moment about taking a cold shower, but I had a larger light bulb moment about beauty and how we value and judge beauty in the U.S.

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BEAUTY IS A BIRTHRIGHT

Your beauty is a birthright. You are born beautiful. You deserve to feel beautiful. Not sometimes, not on a good day, but every day. Every second of every day. In the U.S. we value beauty, but shame the path to get there. If you want to be beautiful or share your beauty you are egotistical, vapid, shallow, and clearly compensating for a lack of confidence.

We emphasize how important inner beauty is, but don’t provide any framework for finding it, embracing it, magnifying it.

Ingrain your beauty in every moment you have with yourself. Don’t just go through the motions of self-care, embrace the moments of self-care. Speak to yourself softly and gently and love yourself.

Love yourself with a long bath after a tough day. Love yourself with a facial massage to elevate some of that forehead tension. Love yourself with a little lip filler to boost your pout. Love yourself with a spin class. Love yourself with eating the “right” foods. Love yourself with eating the “wrong” foods.

Love yourself in all the ways that make you happy. There’s no right or wrong way to love yourself. There is no hierarchy of self-love. There is no hierarchy of beauty.

 

 

 

photo courtesy of Herbivore Botanicals

On Nourishing: Small Ways to Destress

 

Without the reward of a post-week, poolside margarita, stress can really compound. Especially as September is just as important as a new year, and there’s a lot going on. Add these ten little tricks to your daily schedule to stay stress-free, year round.

 

Morning Rituals

Mornings set the tone for the day. Brew tea, set an intention or move through a quick morning workout. Getting into a daily wake-up routine primes you for the day, making it easier to combat stressful situations.

 

Start Work Right

Before you start your workday create a to-do list of everything you want to accomplish. Visualizing achievable goals helps focus and relax your mind, the perfect way to keep stress away.

 

Decaffeinate

Drinking caffeine can increase your body’s production of cortisol, a stress hormone. Top off your regular coffee with decaf, slowly increasing the ratio of decaf to regular.

 

Mid-Day Move

Dance break anyone? Put on some music and dance around, take a walk, or simply take the stairs! Moving your body pumps up your endorphins, which has serious stress-busting powers.

 

Learn To Say “No”

Work stress comes from accepting too many projects. Learn your limits and how to honestly communicate them with your peers and superiors.

 

Space Out

Daydreaming is the mind’s equivalent to a vacation in Bora Bora. Set a timer for five minutes and let yourself drift.

 

Give Yourself A Mini Hand Massage

Take a break from typing and rub your thumb in a circular motion on the opposite hand’s palm. Use a drop of lavender, a calming essential oil, to make the massage even more relaxing. You can also do this with your earlobe, a little massage seems to instantly relieve stress. It’s nice.

 

Notice When Stress Is Coming

We all experience stress differently, learn what triggers you and take a moment to relax before each situation. It’s best to catch stressful situations early, says anxiety expert and clinical psychologist Tamar Chansky. “Once stress escalates, it becomes tougher to let it go.” So tell yourself you know it’s coming and be prepared to deal with it.

 

Leave Work At Work

Before leaving for the day revisit your to-do list, cross off all your accomplishments, and make a new list for tomorrow. Feeling prepared can help keep off any stress and allow you leave work at work.

 

*This article was originally written for and published on Career Girl Daily. Visit the original post here.*