anxiety

Lies. Truth. Gratefulness. This Exercise Can Help You Put Anxiety in Its Place

“Mom, I got in a car wreck.”

No one ever wants to get those phone calls or text messages.

My college-aged son was in a wreck last week, and his car was totaled. Thankfully he was not injured. He was rear-ended, but the car is older, and the repairs are going to exceed the worth of the car. The other driver was insured, so he gets money to buy a replacement car, and the other driver’s insurance has supplied him with a rental car. So between work and starting school next week, he is tasked with looking for and buying a car for the first time in his life, and he lives almost 1,000 miles from us. My first instinct is to fly or drive down there to help him – I’m great at research and negotiating. But I also want him empower him to do this on his own. It is stressful, both for us as parents and for him as the one looking for a car. His anxiety is ramping up with each obstacle – the ‘perfect car’ that was already sold when he called to schedule a test drive, issues with getting the check from the insurance money, issues with the bank, and trying to search for a car that is comparable to what he had within his limited price range.

He tends to be an all or nothing type of guy – it’s the best day ever, or the worst day ever. (I have NO IDEA where he learned that. I blame his father.)

Last week I was thinking about all of the exciting changes that have happened over the past year, and of all of the wonderful opportunities ahead of me. I am trying to practice starting my day with mindfulness and focus, but there were just too many thoughts swirling in my head. As the anxiety mounted, I wondered, “What in the heck is wrong with me? Each of these things I’m thinking about are GOOD things: new beginnings, open doors, a chance to start over, amazing opportunities to grow and change. WHY are they causing me such great anxiety?

We are almost a two weeks into the New Year. Maybe you’re the kind of person who sets a list of ten New Year’s resolutions, checks your progress each month, and at the end of the year checks off all that you have accomplished. New Year, New Me, and you mean it. Each year you set goals and at the end of the year you feel a great sense of accomplishment at your success and growth.

Good for you. *Cue slow clap.

I am more along the lines of New Year, Same Me. I used to be big on resolutions, but I have downgraded to just choosing one word for the year as a theme.This year I haven’t even thought of a word.

This past year has been full of new beginnings and great change. Our three adult sons are all living on their own, and one has moved to India. We moved from the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised, to Louisville, Kentucky for my husband’s job. My husband went from being a state employee to running a nonprofit. I quit my job as a hospice nurse when we moved, and after a short stint as a night shift nurse (I quickly found out I’m no longer cut out for night shift), I am currently unemployed, by choice. And I am finding that sometimes a blank slate is disconcerting. So after about a week of this anxiety slowing building and finally causing a slight freak out and melt down, I did something I should have done from the beginning.

I spent the morning journaling and praying. Why is it that in the midst of anxiety and chaos, we often forget to start at the basics? If you’re a praying person, why do we wait before we consult with the God of the universe? It seems like a no-brainer, but we just trudge along, on our own, and wonder why we feel so disconnected. 

Until we remember to connect. 

Writing in a journal has always helped me to process, I just need to commit to sitting down and doing it. 

There is truly something magical about writing down your thoughts and seeing them in black and white, on paper. 

I was so perplexed that how all of these things that should be causing me joy and peace could actually be causing me so much anxiety. So I wrote down each thing that was distressing me: not having to work, exercising and getting healthy, setting boundaries, my friend making healthy choices in different areas of her life, opportunities to travel, change in finances with my husband’s new job, writing, our new home, my husband’s new job, etc. You get the idea.

Then I did an exercise that totally changed my perspective.

Lies. Truth. Gratefulness.

After I wrote down each situation, one by one, I wrote this:

The lie I believe is:  A lie often includes words like Always, Never, Everyone. “This always happens to me.” “I will never get this solved.” “Everyone always treats me like this.”

The truth is: The truth is the REALITY of the situation. Step outside of your situation and try to be objective.

I am grateful because: In every situation, there is SOMETHING to be grateful for.

If you are too overwhelmed and can’t discern the lies and truth of the situation, ask a friend to help. Sometimes someone else’s perspective will see thing that we can’t because we’re so close.

Here is how the exercise works, I’ll share some examples, straight from my journal, my heart to yours:

ANXIETY ABOUT NOT WORKING
LIE: My worth/value are in my job as a nurse. If I’m not contributing to income, I am worth less than my spouse.
TRUTH: My value is in who I am, not what I do as a job. I am complete in Christ. 
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful for a partner who is supportive of my not working at this time. 

GETTING HEALTHY
LIE: I can’t do it. I’ve tried and failed over and over. I will never succeed. I will always be lazy. 
TRUTH: I have been lazy but I can make different choices. Never before have I had the time and resources to focus solely on getting healthy. 
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful for a supportive and understanding spouse who does not shame me. 

SETTING BOUNDARIES
LIE: When I set boundaries, I am mean. I shouldn’t rock the boat. I should try to keep the peace, and if I have upset it, I should try to fix it even if it means not keeping the boundaries I set. 
TRUTH: It is not wrong to set healthy boundaries. I am not mean to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is a loving thing to do for myself and for others. To have healthy relationships, one must have healthy boundaries. Unhealthy people are made uncomfortable by healthy boundaries, but that is their issue. 
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful for a partner who understands and supports me, and for friends and family members who are working at being healthy in their relationships.

MY FRIEND’S HEALTHY CHOICES: 
LIE: My friend’s growth threatens our relationship. If she grows then she will judge where I am at and no longer accept me. 
TRUTH: I am happy for my friend’s growth and healing. Becoming physically, emotionally, and spiritual healthy is a good thing. My friend loves me and won’t judge me. As my friend becomes more healthy, it will also serve to make our friendship more healthy. 
GRATEFULNESS: I love my friend and am grateful to have someone with whom I can share my heart, who inspires me by her brave spirit and willingness to do the hard work of change and growth. 

Here is how this exercise might look for my son as he is stressed about having to buy a car:

BUYING A CAR
LIE: I’ll never find a car. There are no options. I can’t do this on my own. This is the most horrible thing that has happened.
TRUTH:It sucks that I don’t have access to the money right this second,  but I will have the money available Monday so I can buy a car. I can look at cars now and explain my situation. If I find a car, I can ask if they will hold it until the insurance check goes through.
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful that I have had a car to drive the past couple of years. I am thankful that I was not injured. I am grateful that the accident was not my fault and that I will have money to get a replacement. I am grateful that I am learning survival tools that will help me later in life.

I hope you found this helpful. If you decide to try this exercise, I would love to hear from you! Please send me your examples by using the form below, or email me at kkmeador@gmail.com with the subject line LIES TRUTH GRATEFULNESS

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When You’re Just Not Feeling the Joy

This morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach. It’s one of those mornings when things just feel off, and my heart is unsettled. Often I can pinpoint the cause, but sometimes it eludes me. I will try to distract myself or medicate it away with sleep, sugar, caffeine, mindless tv, or more sleep. I think this feeling is not uncommon, particularly as we get close to the holidays.

It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, but sometimes we just don’t feel like rejoicing. Is there something wrong with us?

Let’s look at the messages we are taking in. We are bombarded with commercials that tell us that we are unhappy and that our lives are less than perfect unless we buy a certain product. On social media, people are posting holiday pictures and discussing family, but for many, it is not a happy time of year, and it can be magnified when we feel like everyone else around us is happy and festive. And to be honest, the state of the world and the amount of social and political unrest is unsettling, particularly as things become more and more divisive.

We can feel uneasy or unsettled at any time, not just during the holiday season. So this morning I am going through my mental checklist, because if there is something significant and I don’t deal with it, it will show its ugly head later, so it’s best to just deal with things now, if I can. Perhaps this checklist will be helpful for you as well. Here are some things to think about when you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t know why:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? Am I looking for THIS holiday season to make up for any unpleasant or unsatisfactory experiences I had growing up or in the past? Or is it something more basic, not necessarily connected to the holidays?
  2. Is it a gnawing conscience? Sometimes when there is this uneasiness in my heart, it’s because I’ve said or done something hurtful or insensitive, and I need to make amends. Have I been hurtful, unkind, or insensitive? Do I have unfinished business with someone, and my heart isn’t letting me ignore it?
  3. Is it shame? Did I say something out of turn, or behave in a way that I wish I hadn’t? Is it legitimate shame (where I have truly done something that I shouldn’t have) or is it misplaced shame, put on by myself or others, to make me feel ‘less than’? Is this a sign that I am looking for significance in the wrong place, or letting outside forces determine my worth?
  4. Is it undiscipline? Am I putting off a duty or responsibility that I need to be working on? Am I distracting myself from some things that must be done with things that are unnecessary? Am I spending time on things that I call ‘time sucks’ – like social media, Pinterest, mindless tv, binge-watching Netflix, etc – rather than prioritizing the important things that I should be doing?
  5. Am I not setting good boundaries? Have I said  “yes” to something because I felt obligated rather than called to do something? Have I said “No” to something or made excuses when my heart knows I really should have said yes? Have I let someone have more power in my life than they should? Am I allowing another’s actions or words to affect my sense of self?
  6. Am I placing my sense of personal significance in the wrong place? Am I basing how I feel about my own worth on the opinions of others? On whether or not I have convinced them how awesome I am? On how many likes or comments or views I get? On whether or not someone agrees and supports my opinion? Am I comparing myself or my experience with others online (whose real lives are likely completely different from what they portray online)?
  7. Am I connected and in community? Do I have people with whom I can share my heart? Am I lonely and missing loved ones? Is there unresolved grief? Is there loss that might feel particularly strong at this time of year?
  8. Am I living my purpose? Am I just going through the motions, or am I living a meaningful purpose, fulfilling what only I can do in this life? Do I know what makes my life meaningful? (okay, getting a little too deep, time to move on to the basics)
  9. If you still cannot pinpoint what’s causing you to feel unsettled, look at the basics: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you eating too much sugar (studies show sugar withdrawal mimics depression)? Are you getting outside and getting some exercise? Are you spending time in the sun? (or if it’s dark where you live, are you getting enough vitamin D?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you spending time with those you love? Are you working too much? Are you practicing good self-care? Are you spending time each day having fun? When was the last time you laughed? If you’re a spiritual person, are you staying connected spiritually by praying, reading, meditating?

Often just thinking about and labeling the cause will help to put things in perspective. It also helps me to talk to a friend – sometimes just processing things out loud helps you see things in a different light. I’ve found that sometimes the answer is as simple as taking a break from social media. I don’t think people realize the amount of angst it can create until you step away for a time.

Sometimes the feeling of being unsettled can signal anxiety or depression. This can be temporary, but if the feeling doesn’t dissipate, you may need to look at outside help and get some counseling and see a medical doctor. If you need to seek help, do it. You’re worth it.

Wishing you a holiday filled with love. And joy.

 

Reining in My Wild Heart

You know that feeling – like change is coming, but you don’t know what it is?

It’s like a humid summer day, and you see the gray and green storm clouds billowing on the horizon. You know a thunderstorm is coming. You can feel the electricity in the air, you can sense the barometer change. Part of you dreads the storm, but you love the thunder and lightning. It’s beautiful and exciting. You know it will bring relief from the humidity, but you hope it doesn’t turn into a severe storm, or worse – a tornado. And my heart is the tornado – wild and unpredictable.

peter_and_harrison_ellenshaw_a_very_blustery_day__97423__19383-1312387649-1280-1280That is how I’ve been feeling this past month. What started as “Tut-tut, looks like rain” is shaping up to be a blustery day, in the words of Winnie the Pooh.

And the difficult part is that my life has been in flux for over a year. First being open to the idea of change (for us, it was moving across the country), then waiting to see if the change would happen (the interview process), then the actual move, only to find out that more change might be coming (another interview process and more waiting).

But this change on the horizon, this beautiful and terrifying storm that is coming is in my heart. Before I attended the Storyline Conference (a conference where you create a life plan so that you can live a better story), I could sense a change in the barometer, I could feel the electricity in the air. Storyline served as a weather report. A confirmation that yes, a storm is coming. A storm that will shake my core and water the seeds that have been planted.

A storm that might even stir my life and heart like a wild tornado.

Regardless of what is happening in my life – where I am living, where I am working, how I am feeling emotionally – there are things I am needing to do. Things I NEED to do, to weather the storm. To water the seeds that have been planted so that they can grow and be harvested.

This morning I was reading Shauna Niequist’s devotional “Savor“, and she talked about having a theme for each season. My theme for this season is ‘work’. Ugh, I know. That sounds so boring, and, well, like work. But hear me out.

There is work I need to do to plant and nourish the seeds that need to grow in my life and in my heart.

To be honest, I have spent much of my life avoiding the hard work of my heart.

Yes, I am great with the passion – the big, emotional, explosive, exciting types of work. But I am weak in praxis – the daily practice and structure that provides a foundation for seeds to grow, and be nourished, and produce good fruit. In some ways, I feel like

I am being called to the mundane in order to build a foundation for the extraordinary.daisy-712892_1920

I am not sure what this will look like, but it’s becoming more clear each day. I believe it is going to involved these things: As you read this, if you know me, you may think,”Oh my gosh, she has gone off the deep edge!” I tend to agree. I have gone off the deep edge, but I think it’s something that has been needed for a long time

to rein in this wild heart.

  • Creating a spiritual framework to provide structure for growth – I want to learn about the church liturgical calendar, and start keeping a daily office. For those of you from the evangelical persuasion, this basically means having a daily quiet time and learning about times of the year like Advent and Lent, and how that can shape one’s spiritual discipline.
  • Starting and ending each day with mindful breathing and meditation on God’s word, to focus myself each day, and to manage anxiety and distractions. (This also means NOT starting and ending my day on my phone or computer, which has become a habit for me.)
  • Writing each day, first thing in the morning, while my mind is clear. Putting on instrumental music with no words, finding a peaceful and comfortable place, clear of distractions, and practicing the craft of writing every single day.
  • Searching for spiritual direction and mentorship: I am looking to learn from those who are further down the road than I am. I am considering a silence retreat at a monastery close by (I know, you are thinking NOW SHE HAS REALLY LOST IT. I agree, I can’t even be quiet during yoga class.) I am also looking at working with a spiritual director. To be honest, I heard this idea and it spoke to me, but I am not even sure exactly what that means. I am still doing research on what is a spiritual director and how does one find such a person? Maybe I will build a prayer labyrinth in my back yard. Send for the white coats now. 
  • Closing in my circle – focusing on the 12 or so most meaningful and significant relationships in my life, building deep connections with those in my closest circle, those who will gather around my death-bed (I’m not anticipating that this will happen anytime soon, but those relationships take time and great care).
  • Limiting my time on social media. Yes, I know that is how we all connect during these times, and I know that it can be a good thing. But I also know myself, and the difficulty I have with balance. So I am still contemplating what that will look like.

 

I am going to spend the next few weeks praying, writing, meditating, getting wise counsel. I am anticipating a start to a new season in my life, and I had thought January 1 would be an opportune time, but then I read that the church calendar begins at Advent, which this year is November 30. So I have some contemplating to do in the next few weeks. And for the first time in a long time, I am excited to do the hard work, to build the foundation, to plant the seeds that bring change.

To embrace the mundane in order to build the foundation for extraordinary.

To rein in this wild heart, so that I can love extravagantly and purposefully.

And as much as I’d like to edit the hell out of this essay, I just need to push publish and move on.

When You’re Sick of Yourself

Day 2:For the month of October, I’ve joined over 1600 other writers in a 31 Day writing challenge. You can read more about it and see the participating blogs at write31days.com  Here is the starting page for 31 Days of My Search for Balance: Body, Mind, and Soul. From there you can find all of my October posts.  

For many people, times of growth and change arise from a difficult circumstance – trauma, loss of a loved one, a broken relationship such as a divorce, or a failure such as loss of a job. These circumstances can stop us in our tracks.

Other times, it sneaks up on us. Slowly, over time, discontent creeps in. It can look many different ways.

looking out window

Your dream job has become a chore.

Your relationship, which you were sure would bring you joy, feels empty.

You finally reached your goal, only to find it is not as fulfilling as you had hoped.

People you loved and trusted have disappointed you.

Life isn’t what you had imagined it would be.

You are not living the story you thought you would.

So where do we go from here? We can focus on outside circumstances, we can focus on other people and how they have failed us, but then what? If you’re really honest, focusing on circumstances and other people are the easy road. We have no control, it’s not our fault, and we have no responsibility. We can remain victims. We can be mere survivors. 

How do we become warriors? What would it look like if we were brave? What if we were honest? What if we looked beyond other people and beyond outside circumstances, and looked within?

When you are finally sick of yourself – that is the starting point of change.

When you are just not comfortable in your skin any longer, when your tools for dealing with life seem dull and useless . . . then YOU ARE READY TO GROW AND CHANGE. You are ready to live a better story.

Everyone, if you’re honest, comes to this point in their life – often more than once, as we grow through different stages. If we didn’t ever feel like this, we would never be motivated to mature, to expand our hearts, to develop as a full human. Think about where you were five years ago, or ten, or twenty. Are you the same person you were then? Do you have the same behaviors? The same beliefs? The same approach to life? We are not built to stay the same. To stay the same would mean we are stale, stagnant. And who wants to be stale, stagnant,and boring?

Existential crisis serves a valuable purpose – to motivate us to move beyond victims or mere survivors, and become strong warriors.

So can we stop pretending that everything is great all of the time? Can we admit that we’re all in this together, and that sometimes it is hard to just be a human on this planet? Can we stop putting on the 24 hour smile, the isn’t-my-life-perfect Facebook posts? I’m not saying that we should all walk around in black and profess our every misery. And I’m not saying that everyone needs to hear every detail of our lives the first time we meet them (unless your heart whispers, “They need to hear this”.)

What I am proposing is that we learn to be strong, brave warriors, marching side by side. We fight alongside one another, we march in the trenches when we need to, we build shelter from the storm, and when one is weary, we carry their gear for a while. It might get dirty, and it’s always going to be messy (because HUMANS) but it will be our beautiful, holy, mess.

Jacopo Bassano - The Good Samaritan - Google Art Project

Jacopo Bassano – The Good Samaritan – Google Art Project

Who’s with me? Let’s live a better story together.

Love, KM

Palms Up

One of my favorite humans on this planet is a lawyer, speaker, author, and humanitarian named Bob Goff. To me, he is Jesus with skin on, a guy who really lives the philosophy of loving others, and doesn’t just talk about it. He wrote a book that has greatly influenced my life, Love Does. In this book he describes a practice he does with his clients. When they are meeting, he asks them to sit with their hands on their knees, their palms open and facing up. His theory is that it’s impossible to be defensive with your palms up. You have nothing to hide with palms up. You are strong enough to be vulnerable. A similar principle is present in the theory behind lamaze classes. The theory is if your hands are clenched, you’re not relaxed. If you are truly relaxed and better able to deal with the pain, your hands will also be relaxed and not clenched. Along that line, symbolically, if our palms are open, we are better able to release anger and stress.

So I’ve tried this a few times. I’ve tried this at work during difficult conversations. I’ve tried this on the phone with an aggravating sales person. And I’ve tried it during my journaling, when I’m getting worked up about something that I’m writing. There really is a release in the simple act of opening your palms, and physically releasing whatever it is you may be holding in a tight grasp.

Try it yourself. You can even try it right now, while you’re reading this. Sit quietly and place your hands on top of your legs, palms up. Be still for a bit. Do you notice anything? 

Learning to live with palms up, to relax instead of being stressed, and to breathe and get centered rather than living in internal chaos does not come easy for me. Like any new skill, it takes education or knowledge, practice, and repetition. I’m often surprised at couples or parents who have decided “I’m not going to make the same mistakes in my next marriage” or say “I’m not going to do things the same way my parents did” but fail to take the necessary steps to actively learn a new way of doing things. Just because we know what we don’t want to do, does not mean that we magically acquire the skills to do things differently. Unless we’ve had a role model to show you a different way of doing things, we only have what we know. We only have the pictures and taped messages of our past, and it takes effort to replace these with new, healthy behaviors.

For me, as of today, these steps include:
•counseling – to have someone guide me as I look at why I do the things I do, and to also help me make the healthy transition from survivor to WARRIOR
•learning relaxation techniques like breathing and ‘palms up’ to help quell the inner noise so I am better able to be still before God
•learning to be healthy physically as well as spiritually, which for today means cutting out sugar, caffeine, and beer (but that’s a story for another day).

There are many other steps I need to take in my search for balance, and we’ll look at those in future posts. That’s enough vulnerability for today.

But for now – one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time, with palms up.

Me and Bob Goff at the Storyline Conference 2/14

Kristin and Bob Goff at the Storyline Conference 2/14