an introduction: 5 steps to understanding discomfort.
Updated: May 24, 2021
There's an art to it. When your headspace resides in what feels like constant anxiousness, you develop a skill to remain relatively alright despite it all. There's a process that comes into play when you start your day. It's a careful methodology that's weaved into the very fabric of your existence. The way you look, move, speak, laugh, even the way you eat.
Different people overcome emotional unpleasantries differently. Some take minutes to leap across a cliff to get to the other side. Some take a couple of hours, some take days or weeks. But there are some that know leaping is out of the question. There are some who must learn to adapt to that anxiousness on a day to day basis because it can't really be run away from, for whatever reason you're yet to truly uncover.
Over the years, I've learned that I fall into the latter bucket. I'm physically, mentally, and emotionally incapable of 'overcoming' that easily. I'm an extremely introspective person - maybe a little too much - and although it makes me an excellent learner, it makes me an unforgiving overthinker.
That's exactly why it feels like I can't overcome. A landslide of 'if's and 'but's always come back around in my head. Whether it returns tomorrow, next week, or even next year - I know it'll be back and I'll be caught in the same position. Staring down at a steep drop and staring ahead at clear ground I can't bring myself to reach. Worrying about something that hasn't even happened yet.
So, if I can't overcome, what do I do?
I learn to live with it, in the most efficient and productive way. I manage myself like a project. I track, compare, and evaluate my actions and behavior with that from the day, week, or month before. I start a day with goals and end with a critical analysis of highs and lows from the last 24 hours. I wasn't kidding when I said there was a methodology to it.
In other words, I learn to live with my demons, not by moving past them but by understanding them, however long it may take. Instead of jumping over a cliff to get to the other side, I strap on a harness and make a slow and steady descend down the cliff into the unknown. I get all the way across the floor, before climbing back up top on the other side.
For some people, this journey isn't worth it (a completely reasonable evaluation, who wants to stay sad and anxious for that long?). But for me, it helps me answer bigger questions.
How do I stop this discomfort from visiting me in the future?
How do I soften the blow from emotional triggers that appear unexpectedly every day?
How do I make sure I don't live in fear of doubt and I don't lose my footing when it comes?
Over the past few months, I've developed a routine to keep myself in check. A gold standard to measure up to so I can slap myself awake when I'm caught in a slump. Here are the 5 things I do to understand my weaknesses, live with them, and learn from them.
1. It's all in the first 20 minutes of your day
I've lost count of how many mornings I've woken up feeling numb and defeated, and how many times I've ended the day the same way. Those mornings always felt like a thousand people yelling out problems into both ears. Most of the time, the yelling turns into constant little nags that carry on for the rest of the day. Starting my morning on the right foot means giving myself time to appreciate a new day and what I can do with it.
I wake up a little earlier and spend a couple of minutes just resting my head and thinking about all the things I'm grateful for. I make sure I have enough time to do what I know makes me feel good, whether that's a short meditation exercise, reading something, lighting a candle, or enjoying the smell of coffee. The less I leave my bed thinking "everything sucks," the less I go out of my way to make everything suck for myself.
Since my husband and I have moved in together, my perfect morning is spending time in bed with him to talk about the upcoming day. Then I freshen up, light a candle, have some coffee and fruit, and get my planner out. Which leads to....
2. Recognize the 3 most important things you need to accomplish
It's generally a good practice to know the goals you need to meet every day. It helps you spend your time wiser, stay organized, and most importantly, it helps you keep your own character accountable. I always try to start my day by listing down at least 2 must-do's each day for work and after work hours. When I'm fresh out of a morning panic attack, taking a pen out and jotting down what I need to do for the day is the perfect reminder of how capable I am.
When I find myself spacing out (or thinking about a forgotten problem that I decided would ruin my mood), I take a look at my planner and remind myself that these goals of mine represent my strengths. Jolting myself awake like this puts my thoughts into perspective a little better. I stop myself from spiraling, and it makes it easier to see why I got so upset in the first place.
3. Take the time to listen to your body
Before 2020's quarantine life, I went to the gym regularly regardless of how tired I was. I didn't get to spend a lot of time cooking, so I would eat less or make quick healthy-ish bites that taste good although they weren't always what I wanted. I used to work hard without much regard for my body. Whether that meant at my 9-5 or at the gym, I thrust myself into things full throttle and expected to reap the benefits of maximum productivity. I thought that would make me happier. Instead, what I got was burnouts, writers blocks, and a pulled lower back.
After quarantine, I stopped going to the gym and decided to get back into consistent Pilates and bodyweight exercises. I started doing full-on research about different recipes to explore and the best ingredients to have on hand at all times. I switched my approach from working hard to working mindfully. I treated my body with respect, understanding its limitations, and knowing my intentions for it. Am I trying to let out some stress? Do I want to tone up? What's going to make me feel the happiest and strongest? That's when I started pushing my body in the right direction
I haven't been to the gym in 8 months and my body looks and feels better than how it did when I went to the gym four times a week. I'm excited about cooking and eating food, and I don't spend hours anymore feeling guilty about the way my skin (naturally) folds above my leggings.
4. Think consciously
I think about the word 'conscious' a lot because I try to live by it.
If you've read the book "THINK STRAIGHT: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life" you might know where I'm getting at here. A reoccurring theme in the book is making conscious choices to change the way you think. Instead of letting my mind control the flow of my day, I control the flow of my thoughts by asking myself questions when I start to slip. The three things I always ask myself when I start getting anxious are:
"Is worrying about this worth throwing this day away?"
"Will I improve my quality of life or make a positive change to it if I remain stuck on this thought?"
"Are my doubts caused by real events or by my own personal hypothesis?"
Again, this isn't magic. Everything takes time to manifest. Do I still fall into random anxiety attacks despite asking myself these questions? Yes. But I've managed to cut down my recovery time by at least half. It's the realization that I spend a lot of my time worrying about things that may not even happen, it serves as a great wake up call.
5. Reflect, reflect, reflect
Unless I'm exhausted beyond physical comprehension, I never go to sleep without journaling about my day and meditating on my reflections. Nothing has helped me grow more than being upfront about my weaknesses and being honest about my aspirations, as crazy or farfetched as they may be. Sometimes my journal entries are short, sometimes they're extremely long. My rule of thumb when journaling about my day is to not bound myself to a particular literary expectation. I don't care if I don't make sense, or if my sentences are jumpy, or if they sound too cheesy. I write down everything that passes through my head - what my favorite parts of the day were, what I wish I did during the day, what made me feel uncomfortable and why, what empowered me and why, and I always end with a rant on what I'm looking forward to the most for the next day.
I use the app 'Reflectly' to journal because I really like how each reflection starts with a little scale for a mood check-in and then emojis to check-in on why you feel that way. It's simple and cute to look at a timeline of emojis to monitor my mood fluctuations across a period of time. Then, I use the app Headspace for a quick meditation after I journal because I'm fresh off all those reflections and it's easier to calm my mind down and wipe the slate clean before I fall asleep. It definitely doesn't work all the time, but that has a lot to do with me continuously stressing about little things even during my wind-down times. That's where thinking consciously comes into the picture again.
It's a work in progress! :)
I'm proud to say that I'm making big strides in being honest and less afraid of my anxiety and who I am because of that. I don't try to hide it or distract myself as much, and that makes my shoulders feel 100x lighter than it ever has been. It makes me a better communicator and keeps me focused on things that actually matter in the long run. I care less about what people think of me, and more about what I want to think of myself.
I know it's going to take years of practicing these little habits for me to be completely confident, but I'm excited to see that progress unfold.