Mental Wellbeing, Uncategorized

Feel the fear…

…and do it anyway. That’s how the saying goes, but if we apply it to fear that comes to you without purpose or application it’s difficult to know what to actually do. This post is about how I worked through my feelings when, a couple of weeks ago, for seemingly no reason at all I felt the panic rising.

It’s Thursday and I’ve left work an hour early to catch a train, and whilst ambling at a leisurely pace down towards Exeter St Davids I suddenly become aware that although I have an overwhelming urge to yawn, I just am not able to. Oh no…this is normally one of the first signs of a panic attack for me. The reason I feel like yawning is because subconsciously I’ve tightened up and haven’t been breathing properly, only to the very top part of my lungs. The feeling of being unable to take in enough air is intensely frustrating, so I try again…yawwwww…argh, it just doesn’t hit that lovely, stretchy pinacle-of-the-yawn bit. So I keep walking, feeling the tension in my shoulders build up, a thundering sting in my chest as my heart speeds up and a familiar dull ache thud under the shoulder blade on the right hand side of my back – these places are where my anxiety physically manifest themselves.

I start to rationally think through why. What was I doing or thinking before I became consciously aware that my breathing had gone funny? I’m honestly not really sure why I’m feeling stressed – I’ve had a perfectly fine day, I’ve eaten healthily, I’ve done some writing, I’ve hung out with two of my best friends at lunch and I’m on my way to Leicester to see my favourite person. It’s a perfectly good day and normal situation. I left the studio with an adequate feeling of organisation and I’m pretty sure I’ve packed everything I need. I’m not rushing. Still, I notice that my pace is quick, hurried. So I slow. Down. I remind myself I’ve got time. I stop for a couple of seconds, readjust my bags, close my eyes, breathe in deep and out, releasing the tension. I open my eyes and I walk on with steady purpose, feeling the ground under my feet. My heart is still racing but I tell myself that it’s ok…It’s only a panic attack, worse things have happened and I’m not going to feel like this forever…I’m going to calm down soon.

I get to the platform with plenty of time to go, so I sit down on a bench and liberate my shoulder from the burden of my satchel. There is still a twinging beat from within my ribcage and a relentless tension that longs to be eased with heavy sighs. The adrenaline pumping stress response is on full alert, but without any reason to fight or, despite being about to board a train, take flight. The frustration bubbles up again -WHY am I feeling so fucking stressed out? Ok, so I might be juggling four different deadlines, and perhaps leaving work early therefore wasn’t the most productive choice, but my boyfriend lives a million miles away which, yes, is a pain in the arse (or head, or chest) because we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like and it’s costing us both a small fortune each time we do, and yes, my credit card is constantly yelling at me from the depths of my repressed memories, which reminds me, I can’t afford to pay my gym membership anymore, but I’ve got shin splints and can’t run so I need to figure out how to keep fit as it would certainly help me sleep because I’m just SO TIRED OF FEELING TIRED!

The domino effect of negative associations cascades through my brain…with a mix of anxious adrenaline and hot anger I stamp my foot and rip out my earphones…and a multitude of sound flows back into my nervous system and synchs with the world around me. Its intensity surprises me, and I decide to take a moment to listen to it’s layers, suddenly remembering a kundalini yoga meditation technique I learned years ago to help me fall asleep. I decide it’s worth a shot so I take a deep breath, close my eyes and lean back – avoiding the feeling of looking a bit silly, telling myself that no-one else is interested in wether or not I have my eyes open. First, I notice sensations in my body, from the temperature in my palms, to the sensation in my toes, to the pressure of the seat underneath me. I tune into the sound of my own physiology, my breathing, the rustling of my coat as I shift position. I listen to the conversation of my fellow bench-perchers and the sound of footsteps up and down the stairs to the platform bridge; then to the noise of a train rumbling away from the station, an announcement about a delay to a Penzance train; and to the far away hum of traffic and the screech of a couple of seagulls above. I tune back to the rhythm of my breathing and notice that the flow of air in and out has eased

mindful

I then remember something I’ve just learnt in the NLP course I’ve been doing recently, about the calming, focused mindset you get into when you use your peripheral vision. So I look ahead and find a point slightly higher than eye-level, and whilst keeping my focus on this spot I also draw my awareness toward the things that are to either side of me, just inside my vision. Sometimes it can actually help if you waggle your fingers and pull them back until you can almost not see them…but I’m not about to start doing that in the middle of the station.

I try to continue this awareness whilst also taking in the details of the platform. I notice the way the iron beams in the roof are so beautifully detailed and symmetrical and the way the cold November air makes people’s breath steam up in front of their faces as they chat. I suddenly feel a sense of compassion and belonging from being surrounded by people who, like me, all have an inner dialogue and their own conflicts and their own beautiful light-bulb moments of awakened realisation.

I breathe deeply again, and try to notice where the residues of tension are located in my body. And I stop resisting the anxiety, I stop trying to change it…I just feel. And because I’m now trying to pin-point it’s exact physical positioning, like a map-maker trying to judge the placement a peak in the distance, I’m welcoming the emotion with curiosity and feel a wave of acceptance wash over me. It’s ok to feel like this. It’s only fear. I’m actually not doing too badly at all. And anything that isn’t going so well isn’t stuck and will change. I can change.

And to be honest, “well” or “badly” are just conceptualised reference points, that sometimes become warped, unrealistic and unhelpful. I am not good nor bad. I’m perfect, just the way I am right now. The fact that I am breathing, and that I’m aware that I am breathing, makes me a miracle. A stunning example of the intelligence of nature. And with that awareness comes the realisation that my experience is my own responsibility, and in my own control. And that is empowering beyond belief. A simple exercise has reminded me of my creative power to make choices in the now that propels me towards a future where my current worries aren’t worries anymore. A little bit of stillness of mind, reflection and grounding myself in the only thing that really exists – this moment, right now -has given me newfound respect and compassion for myself.

The ache in my chest has gone. I board the train with a spring in my step, marvelling at how lucky I am to live in an age where decent public transport and mini-bottles of red wine are available to me. As I sit down at an empty table seat I also remind myself that I’ve packed homemade hummus  and carrot sticks, and that I’ve got two and a half hours ahead of me just to sketch and listen to my audiobook on Integrative Nutrition. At the end of my journey I’m going to get the biggest bear hug from someone who really loves me. Life really isn’t so bad.

I’ve heard several people say they don’t believe in mindfulness. That it’s made up, new-age hippy bullshit that doesn’t have any basis in sense or application in reality. I’m here to tell you that it does. At least it does for me. And if I’m the only person in the word I’ll eat my blog.

Ps: As an addition, I would just like to say that if the panic keeps rising, and deep breathing, calming the mind through focused concentration and being kind to yourself by thinking positively (which, granted, IS HARD when you’re having an anxiety attack!), then I would advise to call a trusted friend or even a helpline like Mind (0300 123 3393). It can really help to feel like you’re not alone, to vocalise your emotions and to have someone understand, empathetically listen to you and reassure you…If you’re walking then sit down, If you’re driving then pull over, stay put in a safe place until the shaking has stopped!! You will be ok, it might just take a little while…

Hope this has helped!! All my love

foxy

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Mental Wellbeing

Being Enough

Feeling aimless and lost is something I know I’m not alone in. It’s not a small task to figure out what you were put here to do. For a very long time now I have felt confused and frustrated, searching desperately for something to ‘stick’. Over the years I seem to have developed a habit of getting super excited about one life changing idea or another – something that’s going to improve everything, change the world, even if it’s just my own, make me happy, and important, and of value….and then…I give up.

During the summer a nagging voice at the back of my mind escalated to an ear-splittting scream that despite having a great job, awesome friends, a loving family, the best boyfriend, and living in a lush house with wicked housemates, I’m not successful, important or valuable. For years prior to this, my primary technique for attempting to achieve a feeling of being ‘good enough’ has been to create an overly complicated list of ‘shoulds’, aims and goals for myself. Trying to prioritise and organise this painfully long checklist, a colourful concoction of traditional (buy a house, travel the world) and unconventional (become a yoga teacher, create a comic) benchmarks, has been hectic and exhausting, especially as I’ve been looking sideways and feeling like everybody else has a much simpler and more eloquent answer to “What does success mean to you?”. The thought that I might fail has kept me up at night and made my chest feel like it’s constantly on fire. A big part of me has felt like I don’t really have it in me to ever achieve any of that stuff, even the basic stuff like getting 8 hours of sleep a night or remembering to pick up my bag before leaving a restaurant, and so even though I have the ability to come up with creative ideas and occasionally even make them work I’m still left with the feeling of being stuck, and unable to change…

One big excuse I have been giving myself for not achieving the things I want is “not having enough money”. To be honest I think I’d say it’s near impossible for most people in our society to not have finances popping into mind when ‘success’ is mentioned. We all rely on money to survive, it’s vital ingredient in our capitalist, profit-driven culture. Even Ayurveda talks about financial health as being a component of complete healing. Money is certainly an enabler and financial freedom is not a bad thing. But GREED is. The kind of greed that sometimes comes over me when I masochistically compare myself to all the successful people around me. I start wishing and scheming up ways to earn more, so I can ‘solve my problems’ and do all the things on my list…the worst thing is that this accelerates my anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and even guilt – I mean, for goodness sake, It’s not like I’m sleeping rough or having to escape my country because of war!!

The Dalai Lama, speaking at the O2 arena in London a month ago, hit the nail on the head when he said that the problem that can arise when wanting money is that when you get it you might realise it’s not enough. You need more, and then you need more again. If you need money, the hunger is never satisfied. Well, Buddhists say that about quite a lot of things actually…desire, grasping, needing things, apparently it doesn’t lead to lasting satisfaction.
Listening to him talk with passion, clarity and wisdom (giggling knowingly, the way he does) about developing understanding, respect and love for all people and aspects of life made me realise with sudden, immutable urgency that I hadn’t been very compassionate or kind to myself recently…at all! In fact, I’d been really fucking mean to myself! And not just recently…for a very long time.

And then I realised something else: I’d been relying on external events to be the litmus test for my feeling of personal success. I’d been going about it all wrong!! The thing is, If you don’t feel completely fulfilled and happy just being you as you are right now, if you don’t love yourself in other words, then it won’t matter how much you have or gain or achieve – it won’t be enough for you to FEEL successful . So…my final answer to my therapist’s question about what ‘success’ meant to me was:

“To feel that who I am and what I have right now is ENOUGH…just to be content, happy and at peace in each moment, no matter what is going on around me.”

OK great…so that’s a nice conclusion, right? But there’s one thing…where the duck do I start?

I have decided to give meditation a go. Seems like a small step, but after dragging a very obedient Alex along to a meditation class at Wilderness Festival three months ago, and feeling really great (I did, at least…Al was fast asleep throughout) I vowed to start and then never bothered to follow it up with the usual excuse of ‘I don’t have enough time’. But now I’ve downloaded an app called Headspace, which supposedly makes it all very simple. 10 minutes is all it takes, according to the app, so tomorrow morning a pillow on the floor at the end of my bed is dutifully waiting to be occupied by my meditating bottom.

Talking IS good. I’ve already acknowledged it as one of the first steps to healing. Voclaising your hectic, random, confused inner dialogue to an empathetic and non-judgemental listener can be incredibly powerful and a wonderful catalyst for positive change. Sharing your experience with friends is a great way to create trust and break stigma about mental health. But If you can sit with yourself in complete silence, and just let things be…if you can be aware of your pain, without having to fix it, numb it or run away….well, I’ve heard that can do wonders too. Maybe 10 minutes a day is enough to give myself a break from thinking that never-ending list of goals and will help me recognise that even if I don’t achieve all of those things I’m not failing because I what I am right now is still ENOUGH.

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Mental Wellbeing

The Time Jar and The Marbles of Priority

FoxyblogDo you ever feel like there just ISN’T ENOUGH TIME?  There is too much stuff to do, and never the right amount of time to get it done. For me this can spark anxiety and an overwhelming fear of failure. Time is running out! As well as dealing with daily deadlines, I feel like I need to experience life efficiently – maximise my precious, dwindling hours on earth. Which is a ridiculous notion really, because in reality I have buckets of time…I’m in my 20’s, still a spring chicken with youth on my side.

Sometimes I’m very aware of this and I forget about the pressure of fitting everything in. I feel inspired, my mind is clear and the world is a happy place filled with opportunities. I feel empowered and enthusiastically create well thought-out plans to achieve my dreams.

Then I start gathering obstacles for myself. I see limitations. I recognise that it’s going to be hard, too hard, to fit it all in, to afford the time and energy required. And because it’s way easier than staying focused, I get distracted. I prioritise little things. I waste time by procrastinating and often forget almost entirely about the big, fantastic picture of achievement and success I created for myself. My positive future becomes clouded by a hazy doubt that festers and stings, and eventually makes me back off and admit defeat.

And all of this is entirely in my mind! I worry about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet! These FUTURE hindrances are just projections, illusions in my head. But because of the limiting beliefs I have about lack of ability, resources, talent, guts or whatever, I am making choices and prioritising things in the NOW that swallow up time and definitely DO NOT help me reach my goals!

When I told my therapist about this tendency to self-sabotage and my worry about lack of time, she presented me with a jar and some marbles of various sizes…

“O…Kay..?”…At first I thought her own marbles had gone walkies, and frankly this wouldn’t have surprised me after having spent a fair bit of time wading through my brain clutter, valiantly trying to unspool my disjointed and unorganised imaginings.

But what she showed me, using these simple props, made sense. Sort of.

So, firstly you have to imagine your time as a jar. I found this analogy to be a safe, comforting way of viewing time, especially because I don’t have the Stephen Hawking know-how or patience to understand how it works properly. Apparently my idea of events happening along a linear time line is a faulty construct of my limited, human brain while in actuality everything that has ever existed and ever will exist flows outwardly from this very moment so that all events happen all at once. WHAT?! Yeah…Rather than solve this mind-melt of a mystery I’m going to stick with the nice, simple metaphor of a jar. Here it is:

 

jar

Then you have to imagine the things you do, your choices, how you wish to spend your time etc., as little marbles. To be more concise, marbles of variable size according to how important they are to you.

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So now now you’ve got to try and fit these marbles into your jar, and you pop them in the order of priority. Say I prioritise the less important things in life, like…Reading my Facebook feed, watching Jeremy Kyle (to be fair I DO NOT watch Jeremy Kyle…I watch My Little Pony and Grand Designs, sue me) or trawling through the internet trying to find a slight variation on a cake recipe that doesn’t include eggs. I pop those in first:8

Then I place my medium-importance time-takers, like doing my laundry, tidying my room, doing my grocery shopping,  going through my emails and reading books or blogs about nutrition and mindfulness:

      10

Then I put in my most valuable BIG BALLS of importance, for example: The people I love. My work. My health. My personal projects.

12

Oh crap…they don’t fit!

But you see, it’s because I put the marbles into the jar in the wrong order! If you prioritise the big, most important ones in first, the medium ones fall into the gaps and then the little ones slot into place easily too:

7Tada! Time management! That’s nice…

But it’s not that simple, is it? I love a good metaphor as much as any girl, but the reality is that choices are way, way, WAY more complex than placing a few marbles into a jar!! There are sub categories to consider – “People I love” = boyfriend, family, friends and colleagues. “Health” = Nutrition, Exercise, yoga, therapy…So then how do you choose between those big marbles? What if work clashes with family commitments, or family commitments clash with being there for a friend. What if fitting in exercise clashes with the need to get enough sleep, or sleeping clashes with trying to fit in deadlines. Sometimes personal projects like painting or blogging go from being big marbles to medium marbles to completely taking over. Sometimes finances or general life-admin needs to come first. And I didn’t even include trying to help make the world a more peaceful, sustainable place, because that’s pretty darn important too!

I guess the main thing to keep in mind is that although the Jar of Time is a simplified metaphor, it helps to identify what the most important things are to you and realise that if you put these things first then the other stuff will naturally slot in around them.  It’s okay to procrastinate from time to time, to snuggle up with a glass of wine in front of the TV or to occasionally Facebook stalk people you used to know years ago…but remember to fit the important stuff in first, they’re the key to real, lasting happiness, achieving your dreams and…well…not loosing your marbles😉

    Foxyblog2

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