Stressed and Anxious? Here’s How to Stay Emotionally Healthy

“Health is not just about what you’re eating. It’s also about what you’re thinking and saying.”

A virus is spreading across the globe. Schools are shut down. People are out of work. Grocery stores are empty.

Weddings, graduations, vacations, a day in court—canceled.

This is the ultimate test in emotional resilience.

Uncertainty is one of the main reasons we stress, along with a lack of control, and right now we’ve got it in truckloads. I’ve spent the last decade building my mental and emotional resilience to stress and adversity, and yet fighting off the anxiety is still a challenge.

I’m putting all the tools in my toolbox to good use.

And they are working. So I want to share these tools with you.

1. Talk to someone, but limit the bitching.

It can be cathartic to share with others the fear, panic, and challenges we’re experiencing. It makes us feel not alone. It validates our feelings and makes us feel connected. So talk to someone about what is stressing you out right now.

But set a time limit to focus on the negative. Maybe ten or twenty minutes each to share. Then it’s time to change the conversation.

Here are some cues:

What is going right?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What are you grateful for?
What are you looking forward to?
Despite the hardships, how are you coping?
How can you encourage and praise your friend?
When we only focus on the negative, we forget what is going well and then all we can see is the bad.

I also find it incredibly helpful to notice how differently my body feels when I’m complaining, angry, and blaming than it does when I’m grateful and optimistic. One feels tight, hot, and heavy. The other feels lighter, looser, and freer.

And as I listen to my husband, mother, or friends share their pain with me, I always make it a point when they are done to change the conversation and ask them what’s going good. I can hear the tone in their voice change as they bring their thoughts to the positive.

2. Be generous.

This doesn’t need to be a gift of money!

It can be a roll of toilet paper. It can be an hour Facetiming your grandmother who is held up in her nursing home with no visitors right now. It can be offering to pick up and drop off groceries for a neighbor or making them a plate of enchiladas.

I have a three-month-old and am blessed with an ample supply of breastmilk, so donating some of my freezer stash costs me nothing, but can mean so much for a needy mother and child right now.

Generosity can even come in the form of well wishes or prayers for others dealing with difficult times.

Giving is scientifically proven to be good for your emotional health.

It activates regions of the brain “associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’”

Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.

It’s been shown to decrease stress, which not only feels better, but lowers your blood pressure and other health problems caused by stress.

What can you give right now?

3. Take a mental break.

It’s so easy to get stuck in mental go-mode all our waking hours. Especially since our brains crave being busy or entertained.

Even when we rest, we flip through Facebook, watch TV, or daydream.

These past few weeks I haven’t been making the time to take my mental breaks. I usually meditate daily, but with a baby who doesn’t yet have an eating and sleeping schedule, plus with all the extra stresses right now, I’ve not given my mind a break!

So I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started in the body. I felt the tension in my muscles. My jaw was tight. Breathing was shallow. And I was irritable!

I know it’s time for a mental break when something as simple as my husband leaving another towel on the banister makes me want to file for divorce. (Or end up on an episode of Dateline!)

So I put my husband on baby duty, ran on the treadmill trying to focus on my breath and not my to-do list, took a shower, and brought my attention to the warm water instead of worry over how I will get clients. Then I meditated for fifteen minutes zoning in on my breath every time my thoughts turned to worry over daycare and the coronavirus.

I felt like I’d washed my brain. The tension was gone, my mind was clear, and I no longer wanted to strangle my husband.

From our anxious place, we catastrophize as we spin out in our negativity bias. All we can see is the negative.

We need these mental breaks to create space from these ruminating thoughts. We need to hit the reset button.

A mental break is taking anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to consciously turn our attention inward, away from outside influence, as well as our flow of thoughts.

We can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but we can notice when they’ve taken our attention, and purposefully redirect that attention to something in the present moment like the breath, a mantra or sound, or a visualization.

Here are a few ways to take that mental break:

Breathwork
Meditation
Time in nature
Walking, exercise, or dancing
Practicing mindfulness
Listening to music
Simple mental break breathing:

Start with a re-calibrating big, big inhale, hold it, and breathe out all the way.
Now breathe in slowly to the count of four, then hold for a second.
When you hold, hear the silence between the breaths.
Then breathe out to the count of four and hold for a second at the bottom.
When you hold, feel your mind clearing as you listen for the space between inhale and exhale.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.

4. Allow all the feels.

This stress and anxiety feel terrible. And it can be hard to muster up the strength and will to try out some of the items on this list to make yourself feel better.

That’s okay.

But what tends to happen is we want to run from the discomfort, try to suppress it with distraction like TV or social media, or numb it with wine, food, or drugs.

It’s normal to want to avoid pain. We’re naturally geared to avoid it. However, when we block this pain from flowing, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they get stuck.

Emotions are energy in motion. If you stop it, it just bottles up. It doesn’t disappear.

Try this exercise to allow your emotions to flow:

Take a moment to close your eyes and sit in a quiet space or block out distraction as best you can.
Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out.
Notice the physical feelings of stress. Where are you holding it in your body? What does it feel like?
On your next exhale, release as much tension as you can.
Repeat:
“I am allowing these feelings to be present.”
“I let these feelings flow through me.”
“These feelings are causing me no harm.”
Now scan your body starting from your head, jaw and neck. Shoulders and hips. Down your legs and feet. Release any tension you find along the way.
Once you’ve allowed these feelings to exist and flow, the following tool is a fantastic next step toward emotional health.

5. Express gratitude.

We humans have a natural negativity bias. It’s a mechanism in place designed with the intention of keeping us safe.

Being on the lookout for danger, in theory, might be a better tactic to keep us alive than ignoring any signs of danger for the sake of focusing on pleasantries. Like being on alert for a mountain lion instead of enjoying a bed of flowers.

But 99 percent of the time, or more, our lives are not in imminent danger. Yet the negativity bias remains.

As it turns out, much like generosity, gratitude is also scientifically proven to be good for our emotional health.

It’s shown that people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.

In some studies, it’s also shown people immediately exhibiting a huge increase in happiness scores, as well as improved relationships.

Here are some ways to express gratitude:

Write a thank-you note or email
Thank someone mentally
Try a gratitude journal
Pray or meditate on something you are grateful for

6. Ask for help if you need it.

I am so proud of our communities coming together, staying home, helping each other out. If there is something you need, there are whole groups of people ready and willing to help a stranger out. I see it all day on my Facebook feed, people offering up formula or diapers, services to drop off food, or offering homeschooling tools and advice.

Thankfully, this pandemic has come during a time of advanced technological capabilities, allowing us all to connect digitally.

Doctors, teachers and coaches are now available online. From the comfort of your socially distant home, you can find help right at your fingertips.

Ask. It doesn’t make you look weak. You aren’t impositioning anyone. People inherently like to be helpful.

Especially if you need help dealing with the anxiety of our current situation. We don’t make good decisions coming from a place of fear. Now more than ever it is essential to have emotional resiliency to get through this tough time and come out the other end whole and ready to move forward.

We’ll get through this. Together, even though we’re physically apart. Wishing you much love, luck, and light on your journey.

Article By: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

How to Cope with the Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

In just a few weeks, the world has changed dramatically for many people. Even if COVID-19 hasn’t yet reached your area, you’ve likely heard of the new coronavirus and its widespread impact. If you follow current events, this new concern may seem overwhelming on top of the already high tensions of another contentious election season, threats to the climate, and other worries.

You’ve probably seen several handwashing reminders on social media, and your store shelves may currently lack essentials like toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and shelf-stable foods. Your school, or your children’s schools, may be closed. If you go out—carefully maintaining a distance of six feet—you might notice this new, deadly virus pops up in every conversation.

If you live with anxiety, or any other mental or physical health issue, you might feel more stressed and anxious each day. And while preventing loss of life is a key priority in the management of any disaster, the significant impact of a pandemic on mental health cannot be denied.

COVID-19 FACTS
If you have some doubts about the reality of this pandemic, you’re not alone. After all, news and information about this virus vary—even elected officials disagree. Some people don’t consider it much of a concern at all, while others might seem ready for an apocalypse scenario.

It’s often difficult to know whom to trust in turbulent times, but try to set those doubts aside. COVID-19 isn’t a hoax, and this virus isn’t going to disappear. Medical professionals around the world emphasize that its spread will likely continue. To mitigate risk and keep yourself and others safe, it’s important to make sure you’re getting accurate information about this virus and the ways it can spread.

If you live in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent choice for accurate, up-to-date information. Your local hospital’s website may also have current information.

COVID-19 causes the following main symptoms:
Fever
Cough
Shortness of breath
Fatigue and other flu-like symptoms
If you or someone you love has a confirmed or even possible case, you may feel terrified, but keep in mind that although the virus can cause serious symptoms, even death, many people have mild cases.

The current mortality rate is between 3 and 4 percent. However, this rate doesn’t provide an accurate picture of COVID-19’s actual mortality rate. The pandemic is still progressing, and experts don’t yet have full knowledge of how many people have the virus.

MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF COVID-19
There’s no denying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on emotional well-being. Dr. Fabiana Franco, GoodTherapy Topic Expert, explains: “When our daily routines are in turmoil, especially when this turmoil relates to how we interact with others, it can feel quite overwhelming. We should be mindful of the fact that these challenges, understandably, can cause anxiety and fear.”

Symptoms of anxiety and stress may show up in your mood and behavior, whether you recognize them or not. Signs you might notice include:
-Trouble sleeping
-Loss of concentration or focus
-Appetite changes
-Restlessness or jumpiness
-Anxiety-related stomach issues
-Irritability, shorter temper than usual, and other mood changes
-Ever-present feelings of nervousness or worry

ANXIETY AND COVID-19
People living with existing anxiety conditions, such as panic disorder, general anxiety, or obsessions and compulsions (OCD), may notice worsened symptoms or a sense of losing control. Symptoms of these conditions are challenging enough already without the added stress of a serious global pandemic. Increased severity of symptoms could trigger feelings of hopelessness or depression, even thoughts of suicide.

ISOLATION AND OTHER LIFE CHANGES RESULTING FROM COVID-19
If COVID-19 has reached your state, particularly if you live in one of the hardest-hit areas, your lifestyle may be changing in many ways. If you’re currently feeling more worried about how various changes will affect your life than actually getting sick, just know that these feelings are very normal.

It’s understandable to feel frustrated or stressed by this extreme change with regards to having to stay home from work or school and applying social distancing if you must go in public. If you can’t work from home, you’re probably also feeling some concern and stress around losing your job or missing more school than you can make up easily. Remind yourself again that these feelings are very normal.

Many people also feel concerned about a potential scarcity of resources. COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on the American economy, and you might worry what that means for the future—not only the far-reaching impact on the world, but the immediate impact on your life after the pandemic. A scarcity mindset can lead to panic and intense distress.

COVID-19 AND DISCRIMINATION
The population most severely affected by this new coronavirus appears to be older adults, particularly those with underlying health conditions. This fact has led some other populations to avoid older adults or actively discriminate against those most at risk. However, don’t be fooled because younger people are also at risk.

Other vulnerable populations include unsheltered and homeless communities, groups many people lack compassion and respect for even in ordinary times, and people in prisons or detention centers. While you may not be able to do much yourself to help these populations, your words and attitude can have an impact. Spread kindness instead of stigma.

While you may not be able to do much yourself to help these populations, your words and attitude can have an impact. Spread kindness instead of stigma.

You may have heard COVID-19 called “the Chinese coronavirus.” This terminology does nothing to increase awareness and compassion. Rather, it promotes discrimination and xenophobia, both of which can cause a great deal of harm in already tense times. This virus may have originated in China, but that has little to do with Chinese people living in the United States. Avoiding or fearing people of Asian descent is unhelpful. It’s also an action steeped in prejudice.

People of Asian descent living in the United States at the time of the initial outbreak are no more likely to have the virus than anyone else—including yourself.

HOW TO COPE WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF COVID-19
As mentioned above, the toll of COVID-19 isn’t entirely physical. But it’s possible to manage this emotional burden in healthy and productive ways.

These tips can help make it easier to cope with this pandemic and the rapid changes it may bring:

Prepare, don’t panic
Making preparations for quarantine or self-isolation may provide a sense of control and relief. While it’s not a bad idea to prepare for this possibility, consider that over-preparing—panic buying, if you will—may prevent other people in your area from accessing needed resources.

Most disaster recommendations encourage stocking up on two weeks’ worth of basic supplies and nonperishable food items. Avoid buying more than that, unless absolutely needed, in order to allow others to make the same preparations. This is particularly important if you live in a small town with few grocery options.

Practice mindful exposure
Keeping yourself informed on facts about the virus and new updates from federal and state governing agencies is recommended. It’s important to know what’s going on, and hearing about relief coming to your area can help relieve some of your stress.

That said, Dr. Franco cautions against “consuming every piece of media on the virus.” Constant exposure to media can increase tension and stress and quickly become overwhelming.

She recommends seeking out trusted sources, like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO). “Follow their recommended protocols to maintain hygiene and cleanliness,” she says.

Stay social
Large gatherings have been banned in many areas, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego contact entirely. You can use digital platforms like Skype, Messenger, and WhatsApp to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe. Even if you can’t spend time together face-to-face, it’s important to maintain connection with your loved ones. Physical isolation may be necessary, but total isolation is not.

Practice good self-care habits
If you enjoy regular exercise, not being able to get to the gym or your favorite yoga studio for a workout can add to your stress and anxiety. Try getting outside for some fresh air by taking a walk or run and looking into online workout/yoga classes. Exercise helps relieve mental health symptoms for many, so forced idleness can cause a lot of distress.

Feeding your body high-quality, nutritious food (as long as you have access) can also be a proactive measure to take during this time period. Whole foods and fresh produce can help promote wellness in body and mind. If you’re having trouble purchasing food for your family, look into community resources from your local schools. Many affected areas are stepping up nutrition programs to feed families during this time.

You might have trouble sleeping, but try to maintain a normal sleep schedule as much as possible. Avoiding technology, particularly news and other media, for at least an hour before bedtime, can be very helpful.

Dr. Franco also recommends meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. These practices can offer relief from stress and help you get better sleep.

Try:
-A warm bath
-Aromatherapy (scented candles, essential oils or relaxing herbs, a bubble bath, or anything else you have on hand that provides a soothing fragrance)
-A calming mantra
-Being outdoors, especially in good weather, can also offer health benefits, so get outside as much as possible, as long as you aren’t sick or potentially sick. Sunlight and fresh air from your own backyard can still boost your mood.

Do things you enjoy
If you’re staying at home, there is a bright side: You may have an abundance of free time. Take advantage of this unexpected gift to enjoy books, movies, board and video games with family, or crafts. Taking time for enjoyable activities can not only offer a distraction, it can help keep your spirits up.

Things to try:
-Learn a new language with apps like Duolingo
-Use YouTube videos to teach yourself a new skill, like knitting, baking, or household repair
-Catch up on spring cleaning or projects you haven’t had time for previously
-Pick up an old hobby, like art, music, or poetry writing

It’s normal to have some anxiety around what could happen. The current situation is unprecedented, and uncertainty can cause a lot of fear. If you’re having trouble staying positive, remember you’re not alone.

If you don’t have a therapist currently, consider reaching out to a telemental health provider who offers HIPAA-compliant support through email, video chat, or text message.

If you do have a therapist and need additional support, it’s worth reaching out to ask if they offer HIPAA-compliant online counseling at this time.

Thoughts of depression, fear, and hopelessness can be difficult to manage. If you’re having thoughts of suicide or feel in crisis, consider reaching out to a national helpline through phone (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255) or text (Crisis Text Line: HOME to 741741). Trained, compassionate counselors offer free support, 24/7.

Article By: Crystal Raypole of GoodTherapy

3 Negative Inner Voices and How To Challenge Them

“Beautify your inner dialogue. Beautify your inner world with love light and compassion. Life will be beautiful.” ~Amit Ray

There is no better way to feel good about yourself than changing your internal dialogue. Yes, you have the power to change your inner voice. You can choose to speak to yourself in a positive way or a negative way.

Stop all activity for a moment.

Be still. Notice what your inner voice is saying. Do you hear anything? If not, ask your inner voice this question: How does it feel to be still?

Listen.

Is your inner voice declaring that you are too busy to be chillin’? Or is it supporting you, happy to be playing this hanging-out-and-noticing game?

Get to know your inner voice.

Over the next few days stop and listen to your inner dialogue. Especially notice what your inner voice says as you are about to make a decision. Does it say, “I think, I can, I think I can” or does it say, “There is no way, I can’t do that, I can’t do that.”

Powerful Lessons from a Little Children’s Book

I hung out with a two-and-a-half-year-old the other day. He wanted to read a book and brought me The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper.

This book was read to me as a child, and I heard the voice in my head chant, “I think I can, I think I can” as I opened the book’s cover. The part I didn’t remember was the lessons of the trains.

As I read this little children’s book written way back in the 1930’s I felt the power of the lessons and how they apply to my own self-speak today.

The Little Engine That Could

The story is about a little train who wants to bring presents over the mountain to children who are patiently and excitedly awaiting their gifts.

However, on the way to the town, the little engine breaks down. The toys are very upset, and one of them, a funny little clown, sets off to find another train to help them.

Lessons on Self-Talk from Four Trains

1. The first train has a Shiny New Engine.

The Shiny New Engine didn’t want to help the little toy train because he was too special, too proud. He looked down on the little train and said a resounding “NO.”

I thought of my shiny arrogance that I’d polished for years. I’d told myself I was too special, too important to waste my time and attention on certain tasks and people.

Even though I’ve worked on this character defect, I know I have some of this self-speak going on inside of me. I noticed it the other night when I went out to dinner with a friend who brought along a friend of hers.

The woman appeared to be in her sixties with huge fake boobs. She dressed in a tight, sparkly sundress that emphasized her boobs and wore high heels with gold doodads pasted on. She talked about how her love life was filled with younger men who were her “F–k buddies.”

The moment she said this, I felt superior and stopped listening to what she shared. The next two hours I spent wishing I was at home watching Netflix. My inner voice said she was desperate.

What did I miss out on? She could have been a kindhearted, fascinating person, even if she dressed provocatively and made choices I wouldn’t make. Where was my compassion or at least my curiosity?

2. Next comes a Big Engine.

The Big Engine says he is too important and won’t “pull the likes of you.”

That got me thinking of my judgments. How do I judge others? Have I missed out on opportunities and connections because my over-inflated ego tells me that I’m too important to get involved with that person or situation?

My lesson on this came from an Alanon meeting. Well, actually, two separate meetings.

I rushed into my regular Alanon meeting a bit late and sat down in the only open chair. Once I arranged myself I noticed the man I was sitting next to had a scraggly beard, his clothes looked like they’d been slept in, and he smelled a bit. I scooted as far as I could from him in my chair and held my nose in the air.

When he shared in the meeting I chose not to listen. My inner voice said, “He has nothing to share that could be of value.” I knew that at the end of the meeting I’d have to hold his hand. My inner voice said, “No way.” So I slipped out right before the closing of the meeting.

A week later I arrived at my Alanon meeting on time and sat beside a good-looking man in a neat business suit. He piqued my interest. I’d never seen him at a meeting before, and I always appreciated a good-looking, well-groomed man.

When this good-looking man shared, I listened intently and nodded my head in agreement with much of what he said. My inner voice said “yes” to holding this man’s hand at the end of the meeting. As we grabbed hands, I gave his an extra firm squeeze as my way of saying, “I’m glad you are here.”

As we released our handhold, I turned to the nice-looking man and said, “My name is Michelle, welcome.” I’ll never forget how he looked at me with his deep blue eyes and asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I nodded my head “no,” thinking to myself I’d surely remember him if we’d met before.

He said, “I was here last week, a bit disheveled, as my best friend who suffered from alcoholism had killed himself. This Alanon meeting was recommended by my therapist to get help and support. I was so distraught I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or taking care of myself. I noticed you wanted nothing to do with me.”

It dawned on me as he spoke that he was the homeless-looking man from the week before. I turned bright red, mumbled an apology, and ran out of the room.

I never saw the man again, but I do think of him often and consider him an angel sent to stop me from my “I’m better than” inner voice.

3. The Rusty Old Engine comes next.

The Rusty Old Engine sighed and said he could not. He was too tired and weary.

I personally am not familiar with this inner voice. My inner voice tells me I can do anything and handle most things that come my way, to a fault. But I’ve watched others run this internal narrative. One of them is Jean.

Jean was a vibrant, gorgeous woman who owned a successful advertising company. When the advertising business began to shift away from print toward the Internet, I watched as she became defeated. She told me she was too old to make the changes she needed to make.

Her business began to fail, and as it did Jean failed as well. She stopped doing her movement practices, gained weight, and subsequently had two hip replacements. Her financial picture grew dim, and Jean was forced to sell her beautiful condo. She gave up on the life she’d so artfully created for herself over decades.

I saw Jean a couple of years ago. She was a shell of her former self and shared she felt old and tired.

4. Lastly comes the Little Blue Engine.

Chugging merrily along. The dolls and toys didn’t have to ask this train for help. She asks them, “What’s wrong?” As she hears of their plight, she tells them she isn’t very big and has never been over the mountain.

She thought of what the kids would be missing if this little train didn’t bring the gifts to the boys and girls on the other side. So she said, “I think I can, I think I can.” It was a supreme effort, but she hooked up to the train, began chugging along, and kept going all the way over the mountain by saying to herself over and over again, “I think I can.”

I know this voice.

I recently changed my business model from brick and mortar, which I knew I could do, to an online business, which required a supreme effort. I’ve gotten up every morning for over a year chanting, “I think I can.” I’ve put my head down and chugged through twelve-hour days, and you know what? I did it. I made it over that mountain. My online business is going strong.

Inner Voice Lessons from The Little Engine That Could:

Listen for your arrogant inner voice that tells you that you are better than anyone else. Tell yourself to remain curious and compassionate.
Listen for your inner judgments. Say to yourself, “I’m grateful for the people that I meet; they might teach me something.”
Listen to your inner voice of defeat that tells you that you are too tired. Change that voice to “I’m not handed anything I can’t handle.”
Take the next adventure you encounter and say to yourself, “I think I can. I think I can.”

Article by: Michelle Andrie of Tiny Buddha

What I Learned From Rejection

This is one of my favorite videos on how to overcome rejection…

It’s More Important to Be Authentic Than Impressive

“The most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves is to remain ignorant by not having the courage to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ~Pema Chödrön

All my life I’ve chased after success, as I was encouraged to do from a very young age.

When I was six, my father got me my first proper study desk as a gift for getting into a ‘good’ school. The type of desk that towered over a little six-year-old—complete with bookshelves and an in-built fluorescent light. In the middle of the shelf frame stuck a white sticky label inscribed with my father’s own handwriting in two languages. It read: “Work hard for better progress.”

Little did I know those words would set the tone for me and my work ethic for the next twenty years—until I finally began to question them.

Hard work became my ‘safe space’ whenever I felt insecure. When I struggled to make friends at a new school, felt rejected, or felt like I didn’t belong, I would put my head down and drown out my emotions out by working hard. It became my coping strategy.

My younger self didn’t yet have the emotional resources to deal with moving around, changing schools, and facing social rejection. When it became too painful, it was much easier to stay in my head than to feel vulnerable with my heart.

So, whenever I struggled to fit in at school, I just worked harder with the misguided belief that if I did well, then I would be celebrated. If I became impressive, then people would finally accept and like me.

And of course, my parents encouraged this behavior. I was rewarded for my hard work and I got good results for it too.

But outside of my home, nobody seemed to care about my results. I still wasn’t fitting in at school. I still didn’t have many friends. My strategy didn’t seem to be working.

So I worked even harder.

By the time I graduated from University, I had completely bought into society’s definition of being ‘impressive’ without even questioning it once. If it was a prize everyone wanted, I wanted it too.

My definition of being ‘impressive’ expanded to include looking good, dressing well, staying fit, and making good money in a highly-competitive field, even if I had zero passion for that profession.

By then, I’d long forgotten the reasons why I wanted to work hard to be impressive in the first place, other than “That’s just who I am.”

I was drifting further and further away from my true self, and I didn’t even know it.

For the next ten years, I spent a lot of my waking hours working as a financial analyst, studying for more degrees and certification, and chasing after the next shiny thing so I could sound even more impressive to others. Plus, I was making a decent income while doing so. Tick.

While on the surface I ticked a lot of those “impressive” boxes I had set out for myself, on the inside I felt emptier than ever. On the outside I looked successful, but on the inside, I felt like a complete failure.

What Happens When Your True Self Calls You to Come Back

Cracks started to emerge both in my work and in myself. It became challenging to fully show up for work as I increasingly asked myself: “What am I doing here?”

A soft inner voice whispered, “It’s time to get out of here, you’re not meant to be in finance. What are you doing here?” So I began questioning what I was doing with my life. I mean, if not that, what was I meant to do? I’d invested so much of my time and energy into my profession; I couldn’t just change directions. And who was this voice anyway? Where was it coming from?

My fake enthusiasm became harder and harder to keep up. This sinking feeling became more visceral by the day, and the feeling of not belonging in my workplace became increasingly obvious.

Yet I swallowed those feelings down with gritted teeth and kept pushing. Because what else was I meant to do if not keep persisting?

When I suddenly got fired it was an abrupt wakeup call. I needed to challenge everything I believed in and confront those big questions I’d put off answering for so long: “Who am I really?” and “What am I really about?”

What I Learned Through My Four-Year Journey of Self-Discovery

I spent the next couple of years immersing myself in a whole range of subjects that covered different angles on self-knowledge, in an attempt to answer the question “Who am I?”

For most of my seeking, I was still trying to find answers as if they resided outside of me. I was still trying to find where I belonged professionally.

But what started as a business journey quickly morphed into an inner-transformational journey that became deeply personal.

This deep inner work allowed me to reconnect to my internal guidance system and my true self once more.

Through this process I was able to take a good look at myself, confront my shadow side, heal my wounds of rejection, and forgive everyone involved, including myself.

As I’ve come home to my true self, I’ve realized a few things about the cost of chasing impressiveness:

When we chase after something external, we lose self-connection.

When I heard that soft, loving voice inside my head, it was a small glimpse of spiritual awakening. It was a momentary connection to my inner mentor’s light that seeped through my deep dark fog of disconnection.

We all have our own inner mentor, but we have choose to listen to it instead of trying to be who we think we’re supposed to be.

When we trust others more than we trust ourselves, we can end up giving our personal power away.

If we believe that the answers we seek lie outside of ourselves, we can forget to check in to see what’s true for us each individually. The more weight we put on other people’s opinions, the less we trust our own inner knowing.

People can only speak to what they know based on their own perspective, background, and life experiences. When we allow other people’s opinions to overpower the choices our true selves would otherwise make, we end up giving away our personal power.

I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how many well-meaning opinions we get; we need to find what resonates with us the most by checking in with our inner authority—which means going against what we learned growing up, when we were trained to ignore our inner voice and do what we were told.

The pursuit of ‘impressiveness’ is a hunger that can never be satisfied.

When we keep chasing after ‘impressiveness,’ we are in fact on a hedonic treadmill of always wanting more. As soon as we achieve one thing, we fixate on the next. We keep wanting bigger, better, and more.

As soon as we attain or do something, suddenly what we have isn’t good enough anymore, and so we must now keep up. We fall into the comparison trap. The external goalpost keeps moving. We keep looking over our shoulders to see how we’re tracking against everyone, and it becomes a tireless pursuit of keeping up with the Joneses with no real end in sight.

Every ‘win’ is temporary.

We mistakenly see ‘impressiveness’ as proof that we’re worthy of love.

When we chase after ‘impressiveness’ we’re really chasing after validation, approval, and a sense of belonging. We think, “If I can be impressive then I can be accepted.” We want others to look up to us, praise us, and ultimately, love us.

However, the pursuit gets dangerous when we buy into the false belief that we have to work hard in order to prove we are worthy of love; that we need to become ‘impressive’ through our accomplishments and produce tangible proof of our worthiness.

I’ve noticed that a lot of high achievers, like myself, have bought into this belief, possibly due to the achievement-oriented upbringing we were exposed to from a very young age.

The danger is that it can become an acquisition addiction, and an arms race to get more degrees, more cars, more houses, more shoes, more toys, and so on.

We can become addicted to buying ‘cool’ things to impress other people, or work ourselves to the bone just to get those long lists of accolades instead of recognizing that we are inherently worthy of love. Regardless of what we have or have achieved.

We risk losing our individuality.

When we chase after external validation and approval, we compromise who we really are in exchange for more respect, more likes, more kudos from our peers. We showcase a more curated, ‘acceptable’ version of ourselves to the world, and we hide other parts of ourselves that we think might be rejected by others. Even worse, we end up chasing after things we don’t even really want.

Some of us inherit strong beliefs about what ‘success’ means and some of us strive toward pre-approved categories of impressiveness as defined by society, without checking in once to see whether these pathways to ‘success’ fit in with our true selves.

In the end, we lose our individuality—the essence of who we really are.

It requires self-connection to recognize what is true for us versus what is conditioned into us. It requires even more courage to step outside of these pre-approved paths to ‘impressiveness’ and live a life that aligns with our true selves.

How to Reclaim Your Authentic Self

I’ve discovered that breaking free from the illusion of ‘impressiveness’ and reclaiming your true self is really a constant two-step dance between recognition and courage.

1. Recognition
To reclaim your authentic self you have to recognize that you have disconnected from who you really are in the first place. Your achievements, your accomplishments, all the cool stuff that you own, and even your toned physique—they’re not who you really are.

2. Courage to be your true self
We have to have courage to stand in our truth and be our authentic selves. Recognition alone is not enough. For many of us, it’s the fear of disapproval that holds us back from stepping out of those curated, pre-approved categories that we have created for ourselves, and fully owning who we are, in all our beautiful, strange glory.

My wish is that this becomes your permission slip to fully step into who you really are and own it. Being your true self requires tremendous courage, but it’s worth it. And having the courage to fully embrace your true individuality in all its quirkiness? That’s impressive.

Article By: Clarabel Sage of Tiny Buddha

The Number on The Scale Does Not Dictate Your Value

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

We try to give our bodies value with numbers. We’re obsessed with the number on the scale and the circumference of our waist.

We also think our value lies in labels. Words like “obese,” “fat,” and “overweight” are triggers for many, and we abhor them like coffee breath, because we’ve been immersed in pocrescophobia (the fear of getting fat) from before we can remember.

But we are more than a category on a pie chart. We are more than our body shape. Magazines tell us we are shaped like a fruit, but we are shaped by the experiences that have made us the people we are today.

Our bodies may not be light, but inside we are shrouded with light. We may be soft where we’ve been told we ought to be hard and toned, but it’s in our softness that others feel comforted in the midst of their problems. We may not have a thigh gap, but there’s space between our arms for those we love to seek shelter.

We are more than just a body.

Our bodies are amazing. They can do so much, for ourselves and for others. We are each beautiful in our own right.

But that’s not all there is to us. We are the imprint we leave on the planet during our short life on Earth. We are the heart that beats within us for the things we are passionate about.

We are the smile that radiates out of our eyes when we experience a moment of pure joy, and the serenity that pervades us when we are content. We are the words we exchange, the words we write down, the words we guard in our minds at all costs. We are the feelings that pass through us, exhilarate us, drive us, guide us.

We are the thoughts and memories and unique set of DNA that set us apart from everyone else. We are special. We are needed. We are designed for a purpose.

We have value that surpasses everything society and the media wants us to obsess over. We have value apart from how we look. We have value apart from our relationship status.

We have value apart from our income. We have value apart from whether we own a house or not, or have kids or not. We. Have. Value. Unchanging, unequivocal, perfect value.

I regret that I wasted this whole weekend feeling depressed about how much I weigh now compared to how much I weighed in my early twenties (I’m approaching thirty). It seems so silly when you think about it, a stone here or there. But I found myself giving in to that black hole, falling-to-the-floor kind of despair.

I should weigh less. I should look slimmer. I should try harder.

I should be something that isn’t me at this moment in time.

It seems like everyone is dissatisfied with the way they look. We will pay money and give up all our free time to try and achieve the illusion of perfection. Snapchat filters, Instagram filters, even paying for apps that will help us to create the perfect selfie, because heaven forbid we look anything less than perfect online!

This, in turn, feeds into other people’s insecurities, spreading the toxic message that our “just as I am” is not enough.

The thing is, weight is just one small way to measure health. My weight suggests I’m quite overweight for my height. But when you look at my waist-to-hip and waist-to-height measurements, I’m in the “healthy” category for both of them, with little-to-no risk of developing heart disease or obesity.

Things just don’t add up. I’m left feeling like something is wrong with me. Am I in the red, or in the green?

Do I need to lose weight, or can I breathe a sigh or relief?

The thing is, it’s these categories and labels that have got it all wrong. Health can’t always be measured by numbers. It’s how you live your life.

Being obsessive isn’t healthy. Talking negatively (even in your mind) about yourself isn’t healthy. Striving for perfection isn’t healthy.

What is healthy? Loving yourself exactly the way you are. Making good choices for your physical and mental health.

Being balanced in everything.

Some days I feel like I’ve come so far, that I truly do love and accept myself as I am, wobbly bits and all. Other days I feel lost in a sea of self-pity and a strong dislike for what I see in the mirror. I compare myself to other girls.

Why can’t I be naturally skinny? Why has nature been so unkind? Then I remember that nature has been kind.

I’m uniquely myself with my own combination of curves and body fat. Why would I want to look like anyone else?

My thoughts go round and round like this. It can be so tiring.

My parents used to tell me I had a “feminine figure.” My partner loves the way I look and never ceases to remind me, even when I’m in one of my funks and in a loop of obsessing over my supposed flaws. If I could only see myself through the eyes of those who love me, my obsessing and self-loathing would all stop in an instant.

The thing is, we have to see ourselves through the eyes of love. We have to accept. We are craving our own love and acceptance.

We need our own kindness. We need to talk about ourselves like we would talk to our best friend. We need to look in the mirror and say, “You are beautiful, just the way you are.”

See your own value. Yes, your body has value. Yes, it is beautiful, exactly as it is.

Shout it out! Proclaim it to the rooftops!

But you are more than that.

You are so much more than a body.

Article by: Nicola Casey

How Unhealed Childhood Wounds Wreak Havoc in Our Adult Lives

“The emotional wounds and negative patterns of childhood often manifest as mental conflicts, emotional drama, and unexplained pains in adulthood.” ~Unknown

I am a firm believer in making the unconscious conscious. We cannot influence what we don’t know about. We cannot fix when we don’t know what’s wrong.

I made many choices in my life that I wouldn’t have made had I recognized the unconscious motivation behind them, based on my childhood conditioning.

In the past, I beat myself up over my decisions countless times. Now I feel that I needed to make these choices and have these experiences so that the consequences would help me become aware of what I wasn’t aware of. Maybe, after all, that was the exact way it had to be.

In any case, I am now hugely aware of how we, unbeknownst to us, negatively impact our own lives.

As children, we form unconscious beliefs that motivate our choices, and come up with strategies for keeping ourselves safe. They’re usually effective for us as children; as adults, however, applying our childhood strategies can cause drama, distress, and damage. They simply no longer work. Instead, they wreak havoc in our lives.

One of my particular childhood wounds was that I felt alone. I felt too scared to talk to anyone in my family about my fears or my feelings. It didn’t seem like that was something anyone else did, and so I stayed quiet. There were times I feared I could no longer bear the crushing loneliness and would just die without anyone noticing.

Sometimes the feeling of loneliness would strangle and threaten to suffocate me. I remember trying to hide my fear and panic. I remember screaming into my pillow late at night trying not to wake anyone. It was then that I decided that I never wanted anyone else to feel like me. This pain, I decided, was too much to bear, and I did not wish it on anyone.

As an adult, I sought out, whom I perceived as, people in need. When I saw someone being excluded, I’d be by their side even if it meant that I would miss out in some way. I’d sit with them, talk to them, be with them. I knew nothing about rescuing in those days. It just felt like the right thing to do: see someone alone and be with them so they wouldn’t feel lonely or excluded.

Looking back now, I was clearly trying to heal my childhood wound through other people. I tried to give them what I wish I’d had when I was younger: someone kind, encouraging, and supportive by my side. I tried to prevent them from feeling lonely. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s kind to recognize others in pain and try to be there for them.

The problem with my strategy was that I chose people who were alone for a reason: they behaved badly and no one wanted to be around them. I chose people healthy people would not choose to be with. People who treated others poorly and did not respect themselves, or anyone else for that matter. That included me.

And so I suffered. I suffered because I chose badly for myself. And I chose badly for myself because I followed unconscious motivations. I obediently followed my conditioning. I followed the rules I came up with as a child, but playing by those rules doesn’t work out very well in adulthood.

I never understood why I suffered. I couldn’t see that I had actively welcomed people into my life who simply were not good for me. It didn’t matter where I went or what I changed; for one reason or another, I’d always end up in the same kind of cycle, the same difficult situation.

At one point I realized that I was the common denominator. It then still took me years to figure out what was going on.

Eventually, my increasing self-awareness moved me from my passive victim position into a proactive role of empowered creator. Life has never been the same since. Thankfully. But it wasn’t easy.

I had to look deep within and see truths about myself that were, at first, difficult to bear. But once I was willing to face them and feel the harshness of the reality, the truth set me free. It no longer made sense to play by rules I had long outgrown. I didn’t realize that I had become the adult I had always craved as a child. But I was not responsible for rescuing other adults—that was their job.

I have since witnessed the same issue with everyone I meet and work with. One particular person, who had endured terrible abuse growing up, was constantly giving people the protection he had craved but never received as a child. He gave what he did not receive. And yet, in his adult life it caused nothing but heartache for him.

When he saw, what he perceived as, an injustice like someone being rude to someone else or a driver driving without consideration for others, he intervened. Unfortunately, he often got it wrong and most people didn’t want his input, which left him feeling rejected and led to him becoming verbally aggressive. Eventually, his ‘helping’—his anger and boundary crossing—landed him in prison.

He was not a bad person—far from it. He was simply run by his unconscious motivation to save his younger self. He projected and displaced this onto other people who did not need saving and never asked for his help. But his conditioning won every time and in the process wrecked his life.

What ends this cycle is awareness, understanding, and compassion.

We must learn to look at the consequences of our actions or inactions and then dig deep. We must ask ourselves: What patterns do I keep repeating? What must I believe about myself, others, and life in order to act this way? Why do I want what I want and why do I do what I do? And what would I do differently if I stopped acting on my childhood conditioning?

Beliefs fuel all of our choices. When we don’t like the consequences of our actions, we must turn inward to shine a light onto the unhelpful unconscious beliefs we formed as children. Only awareness can help us find and soothe them. Only understanding can help us make sense of them. And only compassion can help us forgive ourselves for the patterns we unknowingly perpetuated.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We couldn’t have made any different choices. But once we begin to see and understand how our minds work and how our conditioning drives everything we do, we grow more powerful than we ever thought possible.

It is then that we are able to make healthier, wiser, and more life-enhancing choices for ourselves. We can then break the cycles that previously kept us stuck in unfulfilling and often harmful situations and relationships.

There is always a different choice. We just have to begin to see it.

Article by: Marlena Tillhon-Haslam of Tiny Buddha

How to Tackle Fear and Anxiety Cognitively, Behaviorally, and Spiritually

“The beautiful thing about fear is that when you run to it, it runs away.” ~Robin Sharma

During my first-grade choir concert, my classmate, Meg, fainted from the top row of the bleachers, and in a subconscious gesture of empathy, I went down right after her, breaking my glasses and flailing on the gymnasium floor.

It’s possible that this triggered some kind of coping mechanism in my brain, because I started fainting again and again.

One time I fainted at the dentist’s office—immediately after the dentist injected me with my first round of Novocain—then months later in a hospital parking lot after a small medical procedure.

I also fainted a few days after getting my ears pierced. I was showing my grandmother my new gold studs, and I happened to look toward the TV just as Nellie Olsen fainted during a Little House on the Prairie rerun, and that was enough, over I went.

What affected me the most during those early years of growing up was not the tangible act of fainting, but my anxiety anticipating when and where I would faint next. Whenever I wasn’t moving, whenever I tried to be still, my thoughts traveled to the fear of fainting. And because of that, I tried to keep my mind constantly active.

I had several tests, and the doctors found nothing medically wrong with me. I literally scared myself to the point of fainting. Though I never let fear prevent me from doing things, inner struggles and cautious dread were always present. It made living in the moment very difficult.

Going to church became a major source of stress for me. I had time to think, worry, and become anxious. These were ideal fainting conditions for me.

I’d have panic attacks during Sunday mass without anyone knowing. Moments of pulling my hair, pinching my skin, feeling my heart pounding out of my chest were common, all while trying to will myself from fainting.

This continued for years.

I seemed to outgrow my anxiety attacks after high school, and I continued through college and beyond, without thinking much about my prior angst. I got married and had three children. Then, during my late thirties, my anxiety returned with a vengeance, escalating to a fear of driving on the highway.

Things got worse in my early forties when I developed major health concerns. Again, there was nothing physically wrong with me; I was purely manifesting physical symptoms from worrying about a certain disease or medical condition. It was quite a skill—one that I was not proud of, but one that certainly awakened me to the power of my mind.

My fear ran deep and was so powerful that it physically controlled me.

The more I tried to ignore my anxiety, the more it escalated until it gradually controlled the person I was becoming. I didn’t like “me” anymore.

I was afraid of everything. I talked to my doctor, read every Louise Hay book, went to biofeedback, performed EFT, and saw a few therapists. I would do anything to remember who I was before the fear of living got in my way.

The funny thing was, no one else noticed because this overwhelming anxiety never stopped me from doing anything. It just sucked the spirit out of me. No one knew that, to me, life felt really scary.

I wanted to crawl up in a ball with my kids. I wanted to control every waking move I made and make sure we were all safe.

I remember a profound moment one fall day after finishing a run. Out of breath and standing there with my hands on my knees, I looked up at the trees and saw a leaf floating from a tree. I stood and prayed that I’d learn how to let go and release my inner struggles and be as light and free as that leaf.

That was when I decided I would not consume my every waking moment with this fear. I would be the person who chose to live life fully.

So this is what I know now.

To let go of something, you need to lean in.

This is counterintuitive. We all have a built-in “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress, which is a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of fear and is exhibited by the urge to flee, run, or freeze and do nothing.

In many ways, anxiety can protect us from harmful situations. In other ways, when the threat is not harmful, it can prevent us from functioning at our fullest capacity and experiencing all that life has to offer.

I spent many years of my life trying to push fear away and running as fast as I could from it. But what I needed to do was to allow myself to lean into fear, to work through it, to face it head on. I needed to show my anxiety and fear that I wasn’t afraid anymore.

This was a frightening act. But the alternative was to continue to run—and this was even more terrifying.

So I began to allow, to surrender, to trust. I stopped fighting and made a conscious choice to choose love over fear—again and again. Battling and rejecting a part of myself had only caused feelings of isolation and anguish.

I searched to understand the power of my subconscious and began to process fainting as my defense mechanism. I realized that if I was going to move through this fear, I’d have to love and accept myself, including the anxiety within me.

I stood firmly anchored in the ground of acceptance. Of all of me. And the result was a newer, more powerful version of myself—one that no longer was afraid to live.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and/or fear, here are eight ways to move forward. In more severe instances, you may need the help of a medical professional.

Cognitively

Acknowledge your fear.

This is a major first step. We often ignore our fears and anxiety for so long that they progress into a part of us.

Compartmentalize your fear, separating it from yourself. Then peel back the layers and find out what it is that you fear. Is it disappointing others? Rejection? Failing? Something else? Recognize that it’s holding you back from becoming your true self.

Fear is sneaky. It can be quite obvious, presenting as physiological symptoms, or it can be much more obscure. Procrastination, perfectionism, and overwhelm can all be forms of fear.

Explore if any of these are showing up for you and consider how they may be contributing to your lack of progress.  When you pinpoint the underlying fear and how it is presenting itself, you diminish the power it has over you.

Initially, I believed I was afraid of fainting. After much reflection with my coach and therapist, and as my thoughts evolved, I was able to identify my underlying fear—the fear of dying. Every time I fainted, my blood pressure would drop and I’d lose consciousness, essentially looking death in the eyes over and over again.

Once I recognized this, even though it was still scary, the awareness allowed me to use coping skills to move forward.

Lean into your fear.

When you feel like running or fleeing, it’s time to face your fear with courage. Although our automatic response is often to run away, numb our feelings, or somehow distract ourselves, escaping only temporarily relieves anxiety. Fear will return, possibly in a different form, until you choose to confront it with kindness.

Bring yourself into the present moment by noticing the sensations in your body. Where Is fear showing up as discomfort for you? In your chest? Your stomach? Your throat? Fully experience it.

Befriend your fear.

Let fear know that you’re not afraid of it. Ask it: What are you trying to tell me? What do you want me to know?

What I learned from asking these questions was that fear was trying to keep me safe from harm. A part of my past needed to be acknowledged and fear was whispering, “You can’t move on and become your most powerful self until you work through this, my friend.”

Then thank it for trying to protect you in the only way it knew how.

Behaviorally

Exercise.

For me, running has always been a huge stress reliever. Whether it’s running or yoga or something in between, movement calms you down by releasing chemicals called endorphins.

Make healthy choices.

When I feel stressed, I limit my sugar and caffeine intake, since sugar crashes can cause irritability and tension, and stimulants like caffeine can worsen anxiety and even trigger panic attacks. A well-balanced diet full of healthy, whole foods will help also alleviate anxiety. Be sure to eat breakfast to keep your blood sugar steady, and stay hydrated to help your mind and body perform at their best.

Breathe.

Since I have made yoga and meditation a part of my daily routine, I’ve noticed a difference in how I react to stressful situations. Slotting this time into my morning ensures I get it done before the day gets busy. When you’re in the middle of a panic attack, it’s harder to move into meditation and deep breathing, so it’s helpful to make this an everyday practice.

Spiritually

Trust.

Fear and anxiety can stem from self-doubt and insecurities. If you regularly work on accessing your inner wisdom, and acting on what you learn, you’ll develop more trust in your ability to do what’s best for you and handle whatever comes at you. You can begin to strengthen your relationship to your inner wisdom by journaling, meditating, and sitting in silence. This is an ongoing process that requires exploration.

One of the most effective ways to build self-trust is to take small steps forward. Know that it can (and most likely will) be scary, but once you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll see that much of what you were afraid of was in your imagination. To make this easier, I often recall a time when I trusted myself, despite my self-doubt, and things turned out positively.

Surrender

When you have done all you can, let go. Discern what is outside of your control and find the courage to release all expectations of it. You may just find a sense of relief in allowing life to unfold naturally.

I still have moments when I get anxious and overly worried. In these moments, I think about the influence my mind has over my body. Perhaps it’s not about resisting my mind’s ability to control me, but rather redirecting its incredible power to work in my favor.

And with that, I can move mountains.

Article By: Carly Hamilton-Jones of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.