Quick Anxiety-Reducing Tips

I struggle with anxiety and I have learned what helps me during these times. Although different coping techniques work for different people, I decided I would share mine with you in hopes they might help somebody.

Drink water — I feel more clear-headed, positive, and emotionally stable when I am hydrated. On the contrary, I feel foggy-headed and am more vulnerable to negative emotions when I am dehydrated.

Get outside — I feel calmer and uplifted when I spend some time outside, especially if the weather is nice.

Take a hot shower — For me, showers are like being back in the womb. They’re cocooning and allow me both to experience a level of sensory deprivation (everything going on outside the shower stall falls away), while also experiencing some positive and calming sensory input (the roar of the shower in my ears and the pounding water on my body).

Exercise — Moving my body is an almost immediate anxiety lifter. It feels good to be active, to strengthen my body, and to engage in this type of self-care.

Deep breathe — Anxiety leads to shallow breathing, which can lead to more anxiety in what becomes a vicious cycle. Simply concentrating on my breathing and taking deep breaths calms and centers me.

Repeat a mantra — I will sometimes self-soothe by repeating a mantra such as “Everything will be okay” or “It’s not that serious”. Sometimes vocally contradicting the anxiety results in it dissipating.

Start cleaning/straightening — A clean, uncluttered environment has always made me feel more in control of myself. On the contrary, a messy, chaotic environment contributes to my bouts of anxiety.

Think grateful thoughts — Considering what I’m grateful for always calms me and helps put my worries and concerns in context. The situation is almost never as dire as I make it out to be.

Talk to somebody — Being alone can aid the anxiety in continuing. Sometimes just talking with a friendly person can cause the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions to end.

What are some ways you successfully battle anxiety?

I Missed an Exam

So I decided to go back to school and started an online bachelors in English program with a writing concentration in January, with a full course load. I’m also working full time. Yesterday I realized I missed an EXAM that was due Friday. Yes, an EXAM. One of only four that is responsible for 16% of my grade. I have no good reason for having missed it. There were multiple emails sent out about it reminding us it was coming up and even a study group that another student had started to prepare for it. My only excuse is that a quiz for a different course was also due that day and I got confused. When I realized I missed the exam deadline, I emailed my professor and asked if there’s any way I can make it up. If not, I will ask for extra credit opportunities so I can possibly make up some of the points. I feel so stupid. And inadequate. And like a fraud. It makes me think, why did I ever go back to school? Why am I paying tuition money? At my age, I probably should have saved that money for something more practical. I went back to school to earn a degree in something I love and possibly work in publishing, get away from the vortex of soul-sucking, meaningless jobs I’ve been working. I’m so mad at my stupid mistake, though. I wonder if it’s even worth staying in school while I experience such severe depression-induced fog 24/7. I wonder if I “bit off more than I can chew”. Anyway, I just felt like getting the feelings I’m experiencing out of my head and down “on paper” in an organized way. I realize this isn’t earth-shattering and will not actually affect the outcome of my life, but it feels earth-shattering right now. And I keep obsessing like, what if because of not making an A in this class I get passed up for an internship or job opportunity in the future? I was hoping to make an A in all my classes except for the math classes, where I’d feel lucky to get a B. The self-loathing is just pretty bad right now. I think, there are some people who go to school, work, and have a spouse and kids to take care of and be there for. And maybe other things going on, as well, like church or other community activities. And I do none of that. So why did I screw up? It’s 7 in the morning and I just realized last night I had missed it, and I just woke up and decided I had to write about this. Try to get it out of my system. Because I don’t want to obsess about it even more and it ruin the rest of my weekend before I go back to work. Can anyone reading this relate with mental illness making even the smallest things seem so much harder? Anyway, thanks for listening/ reading.

Another Mental Health Post

Anybody else dealing with poor mental health just think, when I work this situation out or achieve this goal or get into this routine or stop doing this, all my mental health issues will fall away? I know this way of thinking has stopped me from getting help. And I just can’t seem to shake it. I do believe my issues are largely stem from living an unbalanced lifestyle, and that if I would just tweak certain things in my life, I’d be a lot happier and less stressed. I’d prefer changing my lifestyle to telling all my issues to a stranger and being put on strong medication with potential serious side effects. But I’m experiencing a vicious cycle where I need motivation, energy, and mental clarity in order to make the changes, which I don’t have because depression and anxiety have sapped those precious resources. I’m tired of the self-help books, as well. I’ve read so many of them at this point, and they all make the same basic points. They’re all helpful but only to the extent that I apply the advice and wisdom to my life instead of keeping it all in my head. I’ve been feeling more in the mood for novels with high intrigue, emotion, and twists. Something to truly allow me to enjoy and relax, get lost in a different world rather than to constantly examine my life, find it lacking, and spend all my time navel-gazing.

Isolation and the Pandemic

Anybody else feel like this pandemic has made them antsy to start going out and doing more, to have more of a life? I’m an introvert and tend to isolate a lot anyway due to my poor mental health, but it’s like not being able to go out and do things has made me want to. At the beginning of this pandemic when everything was starting to shut down, I’ll admit it felt kind of nice not to feel like a freak anymore, not to feel like I’m in the minority of people who have absolutely no life. That we’re all in the same position now. But that initial feeling has turned stale, and I’m just as unhappy as everybody else in these circumstances. I’m glad there’s a vaccine and I hope it’s made available to everyone soon. I want to take a sewing class or something when we can and it’s safe not to wear a mask the entire time. I know I could take one online or use a YouTube tutorial, but I want to get out and be around people a bit more, while pursuing a hobby I’m interested in. I think it would be good for me.

Morning Shower Vs. Night Shower

Do you get your shower in the morning or at night? I see positives to both, and there have been some days (especially in the summer) when I’ve done both. However, that feels a little over-the-top and probably isn’t great for my skin.

I enjoy getting a shower at night because I like being squeaky clean when I climb under my sheets and because it helps get me to sleep faster. However, I like showering in the morning because it wakes me up and energizes me for the day as well as helps my bed head. I also sometimes sweat at night and am an oily person in general, so it feels nice to start the day squeaky clean. Additionally, I exercise in the morning because it motivates me for the rest of the day, and I obviously need a shower after exercising.

When do you guys shower? Are you morning-shower people or nighttime-shower people, and why?

By the way, as for baths *shudder*, I agree with Kramer on Seinfeld.

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Does anybody else long for the days when people wrote letters to each other? Before emails, instant messaging, and social media supplanted that long-standing activity? Before we were beguiled by the promises technology offers of ease, instant gratification, and lower cost? Before we let ourselves get too busy to appreciate the little things that are often actually the big things? And yes, I realize I am somewhat hypocritical, considering I am communicating this to you via the World Wide Web.

When I was a kid growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, letter-writing had not yet become passé. Those were the days before everyone had cell phones or computers in their homes, before social media, before text messaging became popular, when people who owned a cell phone used it for one thing — phone calls. Back then, I got to experience the anticipation of waiting for a letter from my grandparents or friends who lived out of state and of waiting to hear back from them. I recently found out from my aunt that my grandparents had kept all of the letters I write them as a child. Now that they are both gone, I study those letters, remembering my childlike handwriting, my beginner’s cursive, my love of stickers, and the variety of stationery I used for those letters — stationery that said something about who I was as a person (the colors I chose, the one with the horse pattern, the one my mom had personalized with my name and gave me for Christmas).

As a child, I collected stationery and stickers specifically to use for letter-writing. I enjoyed the intimate touch they gave the correspondence sent to those I loved, and I’m sure they enjoyed them, as well. I can’t imagine computer fonts and an LCD screen could compare, not to mention the smell of the ink and paper and the perfume I’d sometimes spray on it before sealing the envelope. Handwritten letters offer a heart-to-heart connection that has not been replicated by other written forms of communication, in my opinion. No matter the words used, an email simply cannot convey the kind of emotion that a letter stained with blood, sweat, or tears could.

Writing a letter took more time than an email or text message. Unlike more modern forms of written communication, you had to prepare to send a handwritten letter and wait to receive it. As the sender, you had to find paper and pencil, compose what you were going to say in your head before committing to the paper (no backspace or delete options), then find a stamp for the envelope before, finally, putting it in a mail box for delivery.

Receiving a handwritten letter seemed more special, considering the thought and effort that went into it and the time it took to arrive. Instead of skimming and deleting (or not reading at all) like we do now with emails and other modern forms of written communication, handwritten letters were cherished, read carefully and with a certain amount of respect for the sender. Letters were tangible proof that someone thought and cared about you enough to go to the trouble. Something you could keep and cherish in a more real way than an email saved in a computer folder or a text message on a cell phone.

Recently that same aunt sent me some handcrafted cards, blank on the inside, with a beautiful design on the front and my first initial on them. I love them and want to use them. I just wish I could think what to do with them. Maybe I should get a pen pal.

What I Miss About Growing Up a Religious Fundamentalist

Sometimes I find myself pining for the days when I was growing up in a family that belonged to an ultra-conservative religious sect. Yes, it was a very stifled existence. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I remember the simpler days of my childhood and adolescence.

There was always a sense of belonging. You went to school and church with those just like you (yes, we had our own schools). You shared certain customs. You knew where you fit. You didn’t have to try to make friends. They were built-in. You were joined by your beliefs, your values, and your separation from the world. It was you vs. everybody else, which only bonded you to each other. It felt comforting to have a tribe. True, the love was given conditionally, only if you “toed the line”, but it still felt protective.

There was always a sense that you were special. You and those who believed as you did were the only ones going to Heaven, the only ones who would find favor with God, the only ones who knew the Truth. The rest of humanity were on the wrong path and would burn in Hell for all eternity. Yes, of course you hoped they would join you on the “straight and narrow”, but you also pitied and judged them. The feelings of righteous superiority were a big boost to the ego. Perhaps you didn’t get to have as much fun as they did or live as complete lives, but you were destined for greatness in the next life and they were destined for damnation. You felt like you were in on a really good secret, which your best friend shared with only you.

You never had to question anything about what you believed or how you lived. In fact, you weren’t allowed to question it. Everything had already been answered for you. You had only to obey. This freed you from struggling with life’s big questions and the existential angst that accompanies them, from using critical thinking skills, from challenging yourself, from expanding your mind. This was even truer if you were female — you had your whole life already planned for you. Marriage, motherhood, taking care of your children, and obeying your husband while he worked outside the home to support it financially. You didn’t have to figure out your purpose or what you were meant to do for a living. Your choices were restricted to a few approved life paths. Although this sounds and definitely felt imprisoning, it ironically brought a certain freedom from much of the mental turmoil usually experienced by adolescents and young adults.

Did anybody else grow up similarly? Can you relate with any of these feelings?

Reading Short Stories: Pros and Cons

It seems short stories are a polarizing genre of literature. Readers and writers typically have strong opinions about them. I’ve read a lot of short stories in my day and, after considering the topic, I have come up with what I think are some of their pros and cons.

One pro is the fact you can finish them quickly, often in one session. Some people don’t have the time to follow a novel. Perhaps they’re very busy and don’t want to become emotionally wrapped-up in a story’s characters over an extended period of time. Perhaps they don’t have the time to read regularly and don’t want to risk forgetting what has happened halfway through a novel.

Another pro is that new story lines and new characters keep things fresh. Instead of reading about the same plot and the same characters for the amount of time it takes to read a novel, you get more diversity reading a series of short stories.

Another pro is that reading short fiction by a new author introduces you to their style and tone. This allows you to figure out whether you’d be interested in reading something longer by them.

The last pro I came up with is that short stories often give surprise endings. And sometimes that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for — a thrill, not a long drawn-out character study.

One con, especially if you’re reading a collection of short stories by different authors, is that it’s often a crap shoot. Some you’ll love, others you’ll dislike.

Another con is there’s really not time to build the kind of suspense you’d see in a novel. Some aren’t fleshed out well and deal with topics and situations better suited to a novel.

What do you think about short stories? Do you enjoy them? Did I do a good job outlining the pros and cons, or do you have something to add?

I’m Holding Back in My Writing

Recently I’ve realized how stunted my writing is. I’m constantly holding back. Writing, for me, has always been an essential outlet for releasing my emotions and getting thoughts out of my head and sorted into some kind of more tangible, manageable form. And yet, even privately, I’m unable to keep from censoring myself when putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. It’s like I’m scared that by committing them to paper, all of my fears, bad memories, and wildest assumptions will take on a whole new, scarier reality. That by putting them to paper, they’ll become more powerful, more actual, more determinative. No more trapped inside my mind to be conjured up and played with or dismissed at will — now unleashed, a separate entity with a will all their own.

Yet what if I’m wrong? What if the opposite is actually true and, after writing down my thoughts and emotions, they seem a lot sillier and more insignificant to me? That’s in some ways more terrifying. I might realize my positions aren’t the most reasonable. I might realize I need to take some kind of action or change my perspective — that scares and unbalances me, makes me feel as though my legs have been swept out from under me. And worst of all, I might realize I have been living a mere existence, based on self-delusion, instead of the full life I could have been living. Is it possible I have created a meaningless existence for myself? Is my life made up of small things? Am I unfit for more important concerns and undertakings? The possibility I’ve been wasting my life on pettiness is crushing to consider.

Lastly, there are things I don’t want to admit about myself that I’m hardly able to think about, let alone put down on paper. Past actions, loathsome character traits I see in myself, reprehensible thoughts. Things that are already so painful to humor for even the brief moments they flit through my mind that I can’t imagine inscribing them and experiencing them via other senses, as well. The feeling of the pen in my hand as I write them. Looking at them on the page. Even smelling the paper and ink. The words, stark and accusing: “See, we are real. All your worst fears, most jaded perspectives, embarrassing memories, and horrifying suspicions about how others view you, they’re all true. We weren’t just ethereal synapses firing at random, easily rationalized away. We represent reality, and you’re going to have to confront us in a meaningful way sooner or later or your life will only ever be pain and sadness.”

Depression and anxiety have both affected my writing negatively. In turns, I feel each emotion. Depression numbs me to the point of no feelings, paralyzing my writing. Inversely, anxiety causes so many feelings to arise I become overcome with emotions and can’t think to write. Can any of you relate?

Books I Read and Loved in 2020

I did a lot of reading in 2020. Here are my favorite books, in no specific order.

Fiction:

The Institute by Stephen King

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Night Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Secrets and Other Stories of Suspense by Carolyn Hart

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country by C.J. Box

Nonfiction:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World’s Rarest Type by Lauren Sapala

Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person by Hugh Prather

Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory Among Gullah/Geechee Women by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion By Jia Tolentino

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean

The Art & Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis

Please let me know if you’ve read any amazing books this past year, including any on this list. I’m excited about the ones still to come! Happy New Year’s, Everyone, and Happy New Year of Reading! 😀