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Overcoming Anxiety by Kicking the Habit of Avoidance

Being trapped between the desire to get out and embrace the world and the overwhelming need to hide from it can be an exasperating experience. For me, it the word impotence is the one that best fits the situation. Knowing I have the strength, knowledge, intelligence and bravado to face any situation, but feeling anxious to the point of vomiting at the idea of simply opening a door if I don’t know what is on the other side of it fosters a feeling of impotence and despair.

The natural inclination for most of us can be to avoid situations that trigger anxiety. We find ways to complete tasks without putting ourselves in a situation that makes us feel unnecessarily fearful or make excuses as to why we cannot do them at all. For me it is taking a step back to let someone else open a door rather than going through it first, creating excuses as to why I am unable to attend that party I sounded so excited to go to three weeks ago or suddenly discovering ways to be helpful in a social situation rather than actually talking to people. Oh look, the drinks are low and I need to go and refill the chip bowls…

When we treat our anxiety by completely avoiding the situations that trigger panic symptoms, are we really helping ourselves or are we self-sabotaging?

The problem with avoidance is that it not only does it not solve anything, but it fuels the problem by creating an image of the issue that is much more alarming and insurmountable than it started out as. The more we avoid a situation, the harder it is to face next time it occurs.

Vicious cycle, really.
Many, many years ago, my beautiful friend Eileen told me about her friend, Sybil. Both Eileen and Sybil worked on the buses in England in a time where men considered themselves to be paying a compliment by slapping a woman on the arse and lewd comments were banter, not verbal harassment. Sybil was incredibly shy, and to work on the buses you needed a strong personality to stand up to the drunks and bums, as well as all manner of testosterone and ignorance fuelled misogyny.

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Five Quick and Easy Sensory Awareness Mindfulness Techniques to Use at Work

Mindful Monday, Mindfulness Techniques
I’ll be the first to admit that mindfulness has not been a large part of my life of late. All the lessons I learned doing my 7 Week Mindfulness Challenge have gone out the window. That being said, I don’t naturally replay conversations over and over in my head any more. I notice when I am doing that and deliberately stop myself. So maybe not *all* my hard work has been undone.

I brought my yoga mat to work today to start getting back in to a mindful mindset and I am trying to eat healthier as well as drink more water. My eating really took a nosedive over the Christmas break.

I’m not one for formal meditation on a regular basis, I prefer having practical techniques to use throughout the day to keep my mind clear and focussed on living and loving every moment of my life. One of the things that helps me quiet the chatter in my head is being aware of the sensations around me. We get so caught up in juggling every task we need to complete that we eat lunch at our desk, make calls while commuting and make mental lists of more things to do while running errands.

While it is important that we perform our jobs to the best of our ability, it is also important to nurture ourselves so we have the energy and desire to keep going. Living a mindful life does not mean we need to check out of our current lives and move to Byron Bay. Though, if that’s your dream then more power to you. It doesn’t mean you have to embrace hummus and hemp (I say while eating green beans dipped in hummus) but again, if that’s your thing, then off you go and live and love that life.

For those of us who simply want to live our existing lives in a more mindful manner before we finally end up shouting “what the fuck is wrong with all of you idiots?” out loud rather than in our heads in the middle of another pointless team meeting, sensory awareness can help you avoid an awkward HR meeting.

Quick and Easy Sensory Awareness Techniques for Mindfulness

Five for Five

  1. Five Mindful Breaths
    Remember how I said I do not like formal meditation? That is not because I do not see the value in it, it is more that it doesn’t fit into my lifestyle particularly well. I do love sitting at the beach or near a waterfall and meditating on the sounds and sensations around me, but that doesn’t happen on a regular basis. If I have half an hour free, I prefer to spend it in the company of my loved ones or indulging in a spot of escapism into my favourite fictional worlds.However, focusing in on my breathing has been a very helpful technique for me in overcoming many of the symptoms of my anxiety.  If you feel yourself becoming stressed throughout the day, take five mindful breaths. Close your eyes if you have that luxury. As you breathe in, be aware of the sensation of the air flowing in through your nostrils, filling your lungs and exiting from between your lips. Feel your shoulders, stomach and ribcage move as you breathe.
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Mindfulness Challenge – Week 7

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Or ‘in which things came and went.  And in the case of my pay cheque – mostly went.’

Hello, greetings and welcome to the last week of my mindfulness challenge.

In case you have just arrived here, I’ll fill you in on what I’m doing one last time.  Over the course of seven weeks (with a few off in the middle for unexpected and potentially fatal female contracted man-flu) I have been implementing principles from Dr. Elisha Goldstein’s article Seven things Mindful People do Differently – and How to Get Started into my life one by one.  I am hoping that in living more mindfully I will be able to help limit the debilitating effects of my anxiety disorder in my life.  I would like to work my way back to the naturally energetic and outgoing person I am inside.  So far it has been rather fantastic in that each of the small changes I implemented has had a large impact on my life.

This week is about the beauty of the ebb and flow of our ever-changing lives.

Accept – and appreciate – that things come and go

Things come and go.  It is an immutable law of life, albeit one that is not always easy to accept.  I accept that I run the risk of a coconut to the head on a tropical island because of the laws of gravity.   I accept that I will fall down the stairs when I am in a hurry because of the laws of Murphy.  I accept that I will lose loved ones because of the laws of nature.  But I certainly don’t appreciate any of those things.

However, if I reframe the situation, I can appreciate things while I have them even knowing they will leave me eventually.  I think this is more the point really.  There is nothing to appreciate in knowing the next time I see my favourite uncle it will more than likely be the last.  But I can appreciate the hell out of all the time we have had together.

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Mindfulness Challenge – Week 6

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Or In Which I Learned That I was Ahead of the Game All Along

Ahoy hoy!

I cannot tell you how good it feels to be back on board with my weekly mindfulness challenge.  And I cannot tell you how much all the skills I have learned in the first five weeks of my challenge have helped me get through the last month.

But not telling you things somewhat defeats the purpose of having a blog, so let’s crack on with the things I can tell you.

Embrace vulnerability by trusting others- and yourself

If you’ve been following me on this journey, you’ll know this was another one of Dr Goldstein’s observations about mindful people that I thought I would fail dismally at.  In her article at mindful.org Dr Goldstein explains that it is our brain’s default state to guard us against vulnerability.  And from experience I can tell you that when you’ve been given reasons not give your trust freely by people who are supposed to care about you, it is hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable to anyone.  Even to someone as close to you as your own husband. Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying I don’t trust my husband. Of all the people in the world I know will never hurt me, he is at the top of the list.  I trust him implicitly.  But trust and allowing yourself to be vulnerable don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

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Gratitude in all situations

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It feels like forever since I last wrote to you, My Brunch Loving Vagabonds,

I know I have been curiously absent from my keyboard of late, I simply have not had the energy to write.  Which is a new phenomenon for me.  I love to write more than anything.  Even more than I love chocolate and that is an awful lot.  Sometimes life has a way of taking over and rushing you forward through time like a raging river.  Other times it can meander along gently like a stream, letting you take in the sights of the journey.

The last couple of months I have been white water rafting through river caves.  I contracted a two and a half month long virus that made me so tired I could barely stand outside work hours. Gradually I was able to get further through each day without needing to sleep or lock myself in a dark room to ride out a migraine until I was back to my usual effervescent self.   As soon as that had completely left me, my father-in-law ended up in hospital (he’s okay) and the last week has consisted of up to three trips to the hospital per day.  Not that I begrudge any of it, I feel very blessed to work so close to the hospital that I could spend my lunch breaks visiting with him.  It has just left very little time for anything else in life and by the end of the week I was completely and utterly exhausted.

So here I am, having not participated in my own challenge for four weeks and feeling desperate to get things back on track again. I don’t necessarily need routine, but I do need to feel in control and know I have time to hide from the world and recoup my spoons (not as weird as it sounds, I’ll explain more about the spoons theory another day). Next week you can expect me to be reporting in on how I am going with week 6 of my Mindfulness Challenge – ‘embrace vulnerability by trusting others and myself’.  This sounds like a particularly difficult one to do and it is one of those weeks I was expecting to crash and burn in when I first started out.  I’ll explain more about that next week after I’ve had a chance to flex my burgeoning mindfulness muscles again.

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Mindful Monday – Week 5

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Okay, My precious Vagabonds

Let us pause for a quick update and overview about how this whole Mindfulness Challenge is going.

I have suffered from anxiety for longer than I have known what anxiety is. I’ve been in and out of counselling since leaving an unhappy and marriage and the one thing that has helped me more than anything is mindfulness.  For me that meant being present in the moment.  When things would start to get overwhelming or I caught a panic attack before the waves of terror enveloped me completely, mindfulness would keep me grounded and out of the trap of living in the ‘what ifs’ that can cause abject terror.  However, it wasn’t enough. I needed more to help me get a handle on living with this illness in order to live and love every moment of my wonderful life.  I have a gorgeous family, a good job, wonderful friends and a new safe life.  But this irritating anxiety issue keeps getting in the way of me immersing myself in the joy that comes with that all of the time.

As I’m sure you are well aware I challenged myself to take on a new way of thinking, a new approach to my everyday life.  Each week I was to integrate a new principle from Dr Elisha Goldstein’s work in order to live a more mindful life.  And with the exception of the third principle, show gratitude for good moments – and grace for bad ones, I have done this.  Showing grace for the bad moments took a couple of weeks for me to get the hang of, I’ve not been so good with letting go or not performing well.

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Mindfulness Challenge – Week 4

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Or in which the universe provided the perfect storm.  Or at least the perfect conditions to practice my new skills.

Welcome back my beautiful Hobos

I hope you know you’re beautiful inside and out.  This week is a week for learning to be compassionate.  If you are here I’m sure you are already the type of person who is compassionate and will reach out to a friend or stranger in need.  But because you are here I’m wondering if you know how to be compassionate to yourself.

Practice compassion and nurture connections

I’ll be honest with you and tell you straight up that this has been the hardest concept for me to embrace so far.  Not necessarily the hardest to put in to practice, but the hardest one to believe for myself.  In order for me to be compassionate towards myself as well as others, I need to believe I’m as worthy of my compassion as other people are.  I know there are more than a few of my fellow hobos out there that feel the same way.  Believing you are worthy of your own love and compassion, that you can stop and be kind to yourself, is a hard idea to settle into your psyche.

My Experience

All in all it was a good week.  The confronting times I had experienced over the past couple of weeks seemed to have paid off, I was offered the training I had been asking for and I felt I was more in the loop for the media side of my job.  I was completely psyched when I was asked to consult and help write a script for an online advertising project our company is working on.  Good things were happening and the irritating little ones and the day to day stresses weren’t impacting me as much as usual now that I was consistently practicing being mindful in all situations and holding my emotions lightly.  <internet fist bumps to me>  Even the odious woman who had not wanted to have her son around me in case he caught my GAD germs was put in a position where she had agree to us taking him out to dinner for my daughter’s birthday and he was allowed back to visit at our house.

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Mindfulness Challenge – Week 3a

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Well here we are again my Darling Hobos,

For the second week running I have tried to integrate the third principle from Elisha Goldstein’s article ‘7 Things Mindful People Do Differently and How to Get Started’:

Show Gratitude for Good Moments – and Grace for Bad Ones.

As we discussed last week this is more than being grateful for the good moments and allowing yourself to have bad ones.  This principle is about holding our emotions lightly.  It is being able to experience the emotion without being controlled by it.  And by Jove I think I’ve got it (sorry, I have no idea why I just had a My Fair Lady moment.  I’ve never even seen it.)

My Experience

My week started relatively nicely making it easier to get back on the band wagon. Public holiday – sweet!  Off for brunch and a surprise catch up with good friends.

Tuesday back at work. I knew I had to move past the frustrations of last week and just decided to make my peace with the fact that no one was going to give me the knowledge I needed to do my job well.  I would just teach myself what I needed to know.  I also decided to be proud of myself for holding my own against people in positions of power over me last week.  Although I didn’t get what I needed, I hadn’t backed down.  My last workplace had pushed me to a breakdown when I disagreed with the decision makers about their lack of ethics and illegal practices, and many years ago I came out of a relationship where it was not advisable to speak my mind.  It is a big deal for me to stand up for myself.  Even though it was via email, I had done it.  So I was able to make my peace with it all and move on.

I opened Outlook.  There was an email asking me to have a phone conversation about my training issues on Thursday.  My heart sank.  My stomach knotted.  Then I remembered that I needed to feel the emotion but not be taken over by it.  I had to visualise holding the dread outside of myself to avoid the panic that was threatening to come over me.  I visualised placing it aside and breathed in calming breaths (not claming breaths as I first typed, that would be very fishy advice….) and set up the conversation.  Every time I remembered it I put the emotion aside and reminded myself that the worst that could happen was that they denied me the training I was asking for.  And that had already happened.

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Mindfulness Challenge – Week 3

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Or ‘In Which I Failed To Make a Change but Ended Up Accidentally Finding Successes’.

Well, my Lovelies,

It is Monday evening and I have not written my weekly Mindful Monday post.  I think that in itself is pretty indicative that this is a week that has not gone well for me.

Up this week was the third principle from Elisha Goldstein’s article ‘7 Things Mindful People do Differently and How to Get Started’.

Show Gratitude for Good Moments – and Grace for Bad Ones.

More than being grateful for the good ones and giving yourself a break for the bad ones, this principle teaches us to hold our emotions lightly.  In other words – don’t get so wrapped up with and carried away by emotions, hold them lightly.  They are not permanent and they will pass.

My Experience

I was planning to stop right there with today’s lesson as it was only about 9:15am on Monday morning where I hit a brick wall on this one.  At this time I let myself experience an emotion I like to call ‘what-in-God’s-name-are-you-thinking-you-idiot’, it is an emotion closely related to ‘seriously?-they-let-you-out-without-a-carer?’.  Both of these are the sister emotions to ‘how-in-the-name-of-all-that-is-good-have-you-gotten-this-far-in-life-without-a-piano-falling-on-you?’  However, as I was typing I realised that when I encounter that level of what I perceive to be stupid decision making I can often drown in the hurt and anger at being thwarted or screwed over in the work place.  My therapist had once pointed out to me that rejection of my ideas isn’t rejection of me.  Our ideas are not unique to us nor are we defined by them.  She went on to tell a story about someone who had invented something on one side of the world only to find someone on the other had done the same thing and beaten him to registering the patent on in.  The point was brought home to me when I went to register the name for this website only to find that someone had bought that domain name and started using it three weeks beforehand (curse me for not registering it four months earlier when I thought of it and checked its availability).

It was a challenging concept to me as I had always seen myself and my ideas intrinsically linked.  I feel personal rejection when my ideas are passed over professionally (mainly because they are freakin’ awesome like me).  Anyway, I digress.  But I digress with a purpose.

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Mindfulness Challenge – Week 2

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Or ‘In which Taylor Swift unexpectedly overtook Theory of a Deadman in my most played list.’

You know those days where the universe conspires to make sure you learn a lesson.  Well Monday, the first day of the second week of my challenge was like that. I needed to learn and I needed to learn fast of end up failing before I started.

Week 2 – Forgive their mistakes – big or small.

In her article ‘7 Things Mindful People Do Differently and How To Get Started’ Elisha Goldstien talks about the challenges in practicing a mindful life and the importance of recognising that we will stumble.  The hindrances of life that get in the way of living mindfully can become opportunities to learn.  In these times it is important to recognise what you need in the moment and find your fastest route to begin again.
One of the things I struggle with is being hypercritical of myself.  If I make a mistake I dwell on it, no matter the size of the mistake.  I have conversations in my head about problems that haven’t arisen or judgements that haven’t been made because of my mistake.  Like I said last week, I have issues starting things in case they aren’t good enough, I don’t give myself the chance to make mistakes.
In short – very bad with mistakes. Much issues.
I can remember being in therapy one time and mentioning that I felt like I failed at everything I tried.  I felt I would never achieve anything or succeed at anything I tried.  At the time I was in therapy because I had taken on the small community services organisation I worked for and ended up on work cover having had a break down.  Their treatment of me had been nothing short of bullying.  I ended up affecting change in their policy but couldn’t face going back in there ever again.

My therapist said to me “Tell me about the things you have failed at.”  I couldn’t think of anything.  I took the question home to think over more. “What had I actually failed at?”  Contemplating this at home made me realise that although I had not failed at anything on a large scale, every set back, every rejection and every small mistake was blown up in my mind to feel like large scale failure.

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