boundaries

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.