Five Ways I'm Eliminating My Anxiety
Life. Is. Stressful.
In my 7 years of adulthood so far, it feels as if my stress levels have been continuously rising. Like, literally nonstop. Every second. Which by the way, is SO BAD for the body. Stress has been scientifically proven to contribute to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, change in sex drive, chest pains, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
If you were eating something that was causing you anxiety, depression, sleep problems, change in sex drive, chest pains, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, asthma and arthritis..... you would just stop eating it, right? So why do we not react to stress this way? Because we don't notice it? Because we don't think there's anything we can do about it? Because we feel guilty NOT being stressed?
Every Saturday morning around 9:15 am, Jesse goes to temple with his dad for a few hours. At about 9:20 am, I get up out of bed, put on something comfy (e.g. giant sweater + leggings + fuzzy socks), make a cup of coffee and usually a bowl of cinnamon banana oats <3, and I curl up on the couch with my kitties. I put a Hallmark channel movie on, and pretend that it's my life. AND IT IS AMAZING.
We all need a little escape from reality sometimes, whether it's a vacation to Hawaii, an hour long massage, or an episode of our favorite guilty pleasure reality show (ahem, Teen Mom OG). While indulging in one of these ultra comforting escapes on occasion is fine and totally normal (right?), it's also really important that we find ways to make our lives less stressful. If we can lower our stress levels, we can lower the need for these escape sessions. Because let's be honest... binging for seven hours on Sister Wives is not the healthiest or most productive way to spend our time...
I've been spending the last two months trying to do exactly this. I've always been an anxious person with my stress levels to max at all times. With a high pressure job, planning a wedding, Jesse beginning his transition, chairing one of our LGBT councils at work, blogging, being a good cat mom, eating healthy, working out, studying for a new certification exam, pursuing my Zumba instructor certificate, keeping up with my 988967 TV shows, having a social life, and not ignoring all of my friends and family..... my stress and anxiety have reached an all time high. With the help of my fantastic new therapist (S/O to Dr. Z), I've been finding several techniques that have already changed the game COMPELTELY for me. I'm telling you, I have not felt this relaxed in my entire life. I can think more clearly, I can handle life's curveballs more smoothly, and I'm able to enjoy all of life’s ups and downs a bit more.
Of course everyone experiences different types and levels of stress, and they also manage and cope with these stressors very differently. So the things that I've incorporated into my daily routine may not work as well for other people as they do for me. But even if you don't think they'd be a good fit, you may still be inspired to improve your life in similar ways and hopefully, bring your stress levels down a bit!
1. Meal Prepping
Now it’s pretty obvious that meal prepping is not new – if you follow any fitness guru, soccer mom, or millennial on the go, then you have heard all about meal prepping. However, most of the time, meal prepping is marketed as a way to save time and eat healthy; you usually don’t hear about it in the context of improving your mental health. If you read my blog, you probably know that I spent several years of my life suffering from anorexia and bulimia. Because of this, food is really a continuous, lifelong stressor. Even though I don't binge, purge, restrict, etc. anymore, thoughts of food still consume my mind more often than not. Planning my meals helps this a TON.
I pick a time over the weekend where I'm feeling rested, alert, and calm to plan meals. I'm in a good head space and I'm planning these meals based on nutrition, health and my schedule of course. I use the mini Happy Planner made for food and exercise planning and I am OBSESSED. It literally does half of the work for you. It comes with each page set up as a grid with spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks, exercise AND hydration tracking. It also provides spaces for daily calorie counts, but I choose not to use them.
Every Saturday, I plan out my meals for the next week. Then on Sunday, I shop and I meal prep! Although, this past weekend I grocery shopped on Saturday night and that was amazing. I was basically the only person there…and it was fantastic. Also I think they stock their produce on Saturday night because everything was so fresh! Anyway… planning, shopping and prepping my meals for the entire week is SO helpful for me because it entirely removes the stress of a) waking up earlier to decide on and make my breakfast b) remembering to pack my lunch the night before OR the morning of c) getting hungry in the middle of the day and having to buy a snack which by the way in NYC it costs like $800 for an apple, and d) being too lazy to think of, buy ingredients for, and make dinner on a weeknight and wasting money and calories on ordering in instead. All of these stressors only trigger a domino effect of more stressors so as you can imagine, this planning and preparing really makes a huge impact on my daily life.
2. Rational Responses
This is probably the most effective habit I’ve started incorporating into my daily routine. I suffer from what I like to call “tornado of the brain.” At some point during the day, and I mean EVERY day, my anxious thoughts become so frequent and intense that I become completely overwhelmed and mentally paralyzed. My mind is racing with thoughts like “what if people think this skirt looks weird with this shirt?” and “oh my god I forgot about the cat’s vet appointment, the vet is going to be so upset that I have to reschedule” and “I am going to look like a complete idiot at my presentation tomorrow, they’re definitely going to fire me.” While you’re reading these, you may be thinking “oh my gosh I can totally relate to these thoughts.” Or you could be thinking “seriously? you really think people even care about your shirt?”
Well, if you’re the first person, listen up. This new practice I’ve adopted has entirely changed my life. I never realized how irrational some of the thoughts I have on a daily basis really are. When I panic about something, it always feels so real and so important. It never crossed my mind that maybe some of these fears or assumptions I had were really not so reasonable. During one session with my therapist a little while ago, as I was stating some of these concerns out loud, it suddenly hit me how illogical I sounded. I remember specifically saying, “I’m a horrible engineer and even if I quit engineering, I would be even worse at anything else I tried.”
Okay…. How irrational and pathetic could I possible sound. But the important thing is that as I was thinking it, it sounded absolutely real. Then the second it came out of my mouth, I was shocked. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and in disbelief that I really thought that about myself in that moment. Because talking out loud to yourself in public is not always socially acceptable, I’ve started to write my irrational thoughts down in a journal as they happen. After I record everything I’m feeling, I read it, and respond rationally. In this scenario, I may have rationally responded to myself by saying (or writing), "You are not a horrible engineer. You earned an Industrial Engineering degree from an excellent university, you interned at two different companies, you had a job offer before you even graduated, and you're currently working at a prestigous hospital in New York City. Come on, GIRL!"
This has solved so many anxiety-driven problems in my life over the past two months, I wish I could have started doing it a decade ago. If you’re someone who tends to get caught up in your own thoughts, assumptions, and worries, this may be an effective and easy coping mechanism for you to pick up.
Until I moved to New York, Mondays were never really my favorite day of the week (are they anoyone's....?). Once I joined a gym here, I decided to start trying out different classes that were offered in the evening. I have never really been super adventurous in my fitness life, but I wanted to try out some new things because I was feeling a little bit in an exercise rut. One of the classes I decided to try was Zumba. Oh. My. God.
I’ve taken one Zumba classes before (free at college obvi) and it was…. Just okay. I’ve always loved dance and anything similar, but the free class just didn’t feel challenging or like I was really getting much of a workout. The first time I took the Zumba class at my gym here in Queens, I fell in love. This was the most fun, empowering, and SWEATY class I’ve ever taken. I loved every second of it! The instructor definitely blends a ton of different types of dance and she really makes you feel great about yourself, regardless of your ability to keep up. It’s such a fun environment and it has literally been the single reason why Mondays are now my favorite days. I think Jesse gets annoyed by the number of times I say, “I can’t wait for Zumba tonight!!!” every single Monday. And every Monday at 9pm when I get home, I am definitely the most relaxed and relieved of any anxiety I may have been feeling.
After two years of taking her class, I’ve started to consider becoming certified to teach Zumba myself. After feeling so excited and motivated by a one-hour, once a week class, I realized how much I want to give that back to other people as well! Whether your thing is Zumba, Teakwondo, or CrossFit, exercise is such a powerful thing and can entirely shift your mood in just an hour. If you don’t have a form of exercise now that helps you feel this way, try out your local gym or fitness center. Most places will offer a free class or two, so take advantage of this! Discovering a form of fitness that you love can provide you with a whole new outlet for stress relief.
4. Fitbit Breathing
Ever since I gave my FitBit to my mom a little over a year ago, I’ve been wanting to replace it with something but for different reasons. I remember using my old fitbit just to count how many calories I burned. I found myself becoming more and more obsessed with that practice again and I immediately realized that I was headed back down an unhealthy path. So I decided to give it up and free myself from those thoughts.
Over the past year, I’ve been taking more of a serious interest in my overall health. With Jesse’s hospitalization and my switch to being vegan, I’ve really started to focus on mental and physical health in a way I’ve never done before. I’m paying more attention to stressors, vitamins, nutrients, water intake, body cues, and coping skills. I’m trying to make a more holistic approach to my wellbeing. For Christmas this past year, Jess got a FitBit Charge 2. He loved it right off the bat and was excited to show me all of the new features it came with. Something that I really loved about his new FitBit was the “Relax” function. So much so, that I actually purchased a FitBit Charge 2 for myself.
I often experience moments of extreme anxiety where I feel entirely overwhelmed and like I mentioned earlier… mentally paralyzed. These moments can strike at any time of the day, including meetings, appointments, on the subway, while I’m driving… they really have no restrictions. So while I like to use my rational response technique when I’m able to, there are definitely times where this is not a viable options for me; this is when I take advantage of my new FitBit’s “Relax” function. The other day I was giving a presentation at work. I was over the moon anxious and my mind was racing with every possible thing that could go wrong. I literally was so far down the rabbit hole, that I was making irrational assumptions about events a year down the road… it was rough. So I grabbed by FitBit with my other hand, clicked the side button five times until it was on the Relax screen, and held the button in to start the application.
It begins with a simple instruction, but if you’re unable to look (as I was in this moment), you can also use it by just feeling the vibrations. It instructs you to “be still, take slow, deep breaths…”. It lets you know that it is “sensing your breathing,” and then it begins to guide you through meditative breathing. It indicates, via text and vibrations, when to inhale and when to exhale. You can set it to cycle for two or five minutes. This function has saved me from a serious panic attack in public at least three times. This may not be the most practical coping skill for everyone out there considering FitBits are a tad pricey. However, the concept is very simple and transferable. You can just use the stopwatch on your phone, the clock on a wall, or even count in your head if you need to. The idea is to focus on your breaths in a timed fashion to help clam yourself down.
It's kind of funny actually - breathing is such a simple, easy, natural way that our bodies can mitigate stress, but so many of us forget to do it so often.
I’ve always been a planner. An INTENSE planner to be exact. This year alone I’ve gone through 6 different planners… but planning and setting routines have NEVER failed me. Something that most of us do as children is follow a nightly routine. It usually goes something like: eat dinner, shower, brush teeth, pick tomorrow’s clothes out, pack your backpack, say prayers, go to sleep. Simple, comforting, and a healthy way to wind down. But as we get older, we usually drop these routines naturally as our lives change. Recently, I’ve been working on identifying some of my anxiety triggers that I have control of.
Two things that I’ve realized are causing, or at least worsening, my anxiety are:
1) lack of sleep
2) forgetting things
A few weeks ago I forgot my ID for work. When I got to my office, the security guard asked for it and I explained that I left it at home. He was obviously not happy and he took my name and employee ID down. The situation ended fine and I was able to go up to my office; but if your brain works anything like me, you know that I spent the rest of the entire day thinking about how I upset the security guard, why he wrote my information down, what he’s going to do with it, and how horrible it will be if/when I forget my ID again.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to successfully mitigate both of these stressors by implementing morning and evening routines into my life. It may sound juvenile, but I started this by typing up and printing out routines to hang on the wall in my bathroom. After a few weeks, they became a habit, but I still leave them there for reinforcement. Establishing a routine for myself at night makes my evenings so much easier. After I get home from work or the gym, I am exhausted and all I want to do is eat, shower and sleep. But if I do that, and I forget all of the other important things I have to do, then I’ll be a frazzled mess in the morning. With my morning routine, it helps me to not forget anything I may need for the day; like my ID, umbrella, laptop, etc. Forgetting any of these things is just begging for anxiety.
Since I started integrating these five habits into my life, I’ve noticed a significant:
decrease in anxiety
increase of self awareness
decrease in stress
increase in presence
I’ve been able to be more present in each moment by lifting some of the preventable anxiety triggers from my day. I hope that some of these things inspire you to make a few simple changes as well, and see a little less stress in your own life!
Questions for you:
1. Are you a Monday person?
2. What causes you the most stress in your life?
3. What is your favorite form of fitness?