Tips to Help Make Stress a Smaller Part of Your Life
Recent life events have left me feeling strained and tense. Though I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am now, to identify my stressors, incorporate things into my routine to keep peace, and talk myself through hard times, I never really know what life is going to throw at me- even when I think everything is stable and good. That doesn’t mean I should fear that something ‘bad’ or ‘inconvenient’ will happen because I like to think when things fall through, there’s something good coming on the other side. It’s all for a reason.
I work hard towards my healing because it’s what I’m passionate about (among many other things). And it will take a while to completely build back up from the physical damages stress has done over time, as it will for me to work through mental/emotional barriers and coping habits that come up when I feel stressed. It’s important that I stay grounded when tough situations come along and work through it, but I definitely struggle to not lose it sometimes.
Stress is a physical, mental, and emotional burden. It’s an intelligent response from our body to keep us safe, but it takes energy and life force out of us- especially when it’s triggered often. Our bodies have the ability to (and do) remember trauma and stress. It can be triggered by a sight, place, smell, etc. And whether or not it’s a big or small stress- our body perceives it all the same.
Creating little or big ways to “keep the peace” (i.e. keep yourself from always being in the stress response) can make your life all the more easy and enjoyable. You can start to flow through life effortlessly and not hold onto everything so tensely anymore. I even see it in myself, that when I start making the effort to change and to help myself, I have a better experience existing here.
So how can you reduce stress and its impacts in your everyday life?
Start with the Basics:
Sleep. Good quality sleep that is. It doesn’t have to be the standard eight hours. It can be more or less depending on what your body needs and asks for, but it’s important to make sure you’re getting restful sleep. It’s also best to go to bed 2-3 hours before midnight. And you can always take naps to get the rest you need in!
Eat. Not when you’re stressed, but having grounding meals can help set you up to be grounded (so you’re not running off your own stress hormones). Spend time with your food, and cook a nice meal. Fueling yourself with a proper, full breakfast is the perfect way to start the day.
Exercise. Sweat. Work your body. Doing some sort of physical activity when you’re stressed can help disperse and burn off that energy as well.
Build a routine. This can be creating morning and/or nighttime rituals to help set you up for a peaceful day/evening. Something to give you a reason to get up in the morning and to wind you down at night.
Make a to-do list. This can help organize your thoughts and tasks and also give yourself something to do if the reason you’re anxious is because you have an abundance of time to worry. The more time there is to be swimming in thoughts, the more lost in the stress sauce you can get. This doesn’t mean run away from what’s stressing you, but picking and choosing what consumes your time. You can give yourself the space in your list of to-dos to create something you’re passionate about.
Start each day with gratitude. Something as simple as thinking positive thoughts or reliving happy memories each morning can set the tone for the day.
Do things that give you joy. Nothing brings stress relief like something that makes you happy. Make time in your day for whatever it is that brings you joy.
Identify your stressors, as well as how you respond to them. This can give you insight on what’s giving you so much stress and keeping you from your peace. Is it your job? Is it someone in your life? Is a certain overwhelming thought? How can you shift things around, deal with this, or make the predicament you’re in better? And how can you find ways to deal with this in a balanced way?
Consider how social media and electronics are affecting your mental health. Social media and technology weren’t always a part of our lives. And in recent years, it has absolutely affected the health of the general population. Take into account how this might put strain on your mental well-being. What can you do to change that?
Build Up From There With (find what works for you):
Be your own best friend. I’ve found that journaling my hardships has been my best medicine. I’ve taught myself to go to myself when I need comfort or to come down from my whirlwind of thoughts. It also helps me explain how I’m feeling, so I can find the good in it.
Find time each day to go outside. Breathing fresh air can work wonders and even be the one thing you need to ultimately reduce your stress.
Forest Bathing. Go to the woods or the ocean nearest you and fully immerse yourself. Experience the warm sunlight, the rushing water, the tall trees and leaves, breathe clean air- all the little things.
Meditation. Doing some sort of meditation at some point (or multiple points) throughout your day can help give you perspective. It brings you to a neutral and blissful place where you can find what truly matters. It also has been proven to lower stress and anxiety levels across the board. I like to put on ambient music and drift off to a place that I feel happiest (visualization meditation).
Breathwork. There are different forms of breathwork, but learning to do this as a mode of calming down at any point in your day can keep you from being locked into the stress response. It tells your brain you can relax and feels good.
Create a space that gives you peace. Wherever you spend most of your time, make a space for yourself that gives you joy and makes you feel safe. When you’re feeling uncomfortable, anxious, sad, or stressed- go there and breathe.
Work on coming from a balanced place. Train yourself to come from a neutral place when you’re faced with a stressful situation. You don’t have to hold your emotions in (feel them), but know not everything is a big deal. Life is too short to stress over every little thing.
Community. Whether it be good friends or family, a loving partner, or nice coworkers, having a support system can bring security, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of being at home. Having loving relationships with the people around you is so important for your mental and emotional well-being. And working to create community or seek one out can make you feel less alone in your feelings and give you a place to go to safely speak of them.
***BONUS: Work with Plant Friends (herbs) to help combat stress!
So many things in life cause stress. Something I learned that was really big for me was what was really worth being stressed out over. I have to ask myself this every time a situation comes up- is it worth my time, energy, and worry? I have the power to give my stressor power. And though I may relinquish my thoughts or time to pestilent moments on occasion, I am my own ruler.
I ask myself- how will I choose to see this? Some things are just completely out of my control. And as my teacher said, the only things we have control of are 1) how we react to things, and 2) our actions and what we put out into the world. I need to let go of the fact that shit happens and sometimes there’s nothing I could’ve or can do to change that. And that’s OKAY.
Why Chronic Stress Causes Great Harm to Your Health
Stress is something I’m all too familiar with. Me being just 20 years old you’d think, “What could she possibly have to stress over?”. But let me tell you, I can name many things. Whether they’re worth being stressed out over is the question you should be asking. A daily challenge of mine is sorting the things I should be worrying about from what I shouldn’t be worried about. Since stress was how I always knew how to deal with difficult situations and trauma, I learned how to live with it. And in reality, that’s the case for many people my age, as well as those younger and older than I.
When I’m chatting with friends or just people in general about their health concerns, the number one thing that comes up is either stress or anxiety. Though many struggle day-to-day, many don’t realize how deep their emotions truly go.
I see how stress manifests in my physical body, even though it’s something I experience mentally. I go through cycles of feeling really bad then really great then back to bad. And it takes so much out of me when I’m in a bad streak of it, which can last for months.
Continually experiencing stress and not knowing how to dial down, or literally having a body that doesn’t know how to shut that alert off, has left me feeling unable to focus, ungrounded, and just plain exhausted. Stress has affected my digestive function, blood pressure, and skin health, as well as my sleep. Overthinking and worry leaves more than just your mind burnt out! And it’s important to take a deeper look into why and how chronic stress can affect the rest of your body so intensely.
What happens to your body when you’re under stress?
Our bodies have two different states that branch off of our Autonomic (or involuntary) nervous system; parasympathetic (PNS) and sympathetic (SNS). Parasympathetic state is “Rest and Digest” mode. This is where healing takes place. It’s the calmer, more neutral, of the two. The sympathetic state is the “Fight or Flight” or stress response. It’s the adrenally active response, but also happens when you’re excited (for example). It’s not exactly as black and white as survival mode.
We need both. You slide the scale as needed, but don’t want to get stuck in one place. Either one when out of balance can cause disharmony in the body.
When you become stressed, your body goes into sympathetic dominance. Whether it’s just being worried about being out of control over a situation or finding yourself face-to-face with a bear, it’s all stress to the body (and different people have different versions of what might be serious to them). Your body begins to shelve certain functions in order to deliver your body what it needs to keep you alive in that moment.
The HPA Axis is activated. Your hypothalamus gland sends a hormone to the pituitary gland, which then sends a hormone to your adrenal cortex to start pushing out cortisol. Your blood pressure increases, your blood sugar increases, and blood begins to flow to your limbs. At a certain point, when cortisol reaches sufficient levels in the blood, it sends messages back to stop producing cortisol (otherwise there could be serious damage done to the body by high levels of cortisol). Then, after the stressor is dealt with, you calm down.
So why is Chronic Stress harmful to your health?
Mind and body are indefinitely connected. You may have noticed that when you become anxious, you start sweating, your palms become clammy, or your heart starts racing. These are all signs your body is saying it’s under some sort of stress, but deeper than this, long-term stress can affect even the most simple and vital functions. Your symptoms may even be so vague that you can’t tie them to a specific problem.
Nervous System/Endocrine Dysfunction. Quite obviously, the nervous system has a direct role in your stress response. Overactivation of the HPA Axis can lead to adrenal fatigue and eventually adrenal exhaustion.
When a stressful situation is over, your body returns to parasympathetic mode. However, the longer and more frequently you’re in sympathetic dominant mode, the harder it will be to come back down from a sympathetic state. More and more cortisol is being made. Eventually, your body tries to protect itself by no longer responding to signals that cortisol needs to be made due to the dangerous outcomes of having too much in your bloodstream. This can result in too low cortisol levels, which manifests as fatigue, mood changes, poor memory, difficultly sleeping, and bone and muscle loss. Constantly stressing the body contributes to depleting your overall reservoir of vitality.
Heart and Blood Issues. The cardiovascular system is one that is greatly affected by stress. Blood pressure (BP) increases as part of the stress response to help carry more oxygen and glucose to the parts of your body that need it faster. Your heart begins to beat faster and harder, and blood vessels dilate. Being in the stress response longer with elevated blood pressure can turn into hypertension. Stress can also affect the breaking down of sugar in the blood. If levels of blood sugar are too high, it may result in hyperglycemia or Type II Diabetes.
Fluid Production. The parasympathetic mode is when your body is readily secreting fluids, which means that when you’re in sympathetic mode, your body isn’t concerned with that. There’s less blood flow to areas like your skin or hair, resulting in dryness all around. Dry mouth, dandruff, and vaginal dryness can all be signs of stress.
Digestive Issues. Digestion is a background function of the body, and it happens in parasympathetic mode. This means you need to be calm and grounded to properly digest a meal. When you’re in sympathetic dominance, your body isn’t concerned with digestion, which could be the reason you’re not hungry when you’re stressed. And if you’re someone who stress eats, it could be an overload on your stomach at the moment.
It’s important to remember that when you’re stressed, your stomach isn’t producing the enzymes it needs to break down the food in your stomach (low HCL), which can be an initial problem in poor digestion. Not being able to properly digest food, or even just holding emotions in, can lead to bloating, gas, pain, or constipation.
Your gut listens. Stress directly affects your gut health and has been linked to poor absorption, intestinal permeability, and inflammation. “The heightened inflammation that frequently accompanies stress and depression triggers blooms of pathogenic bacteria that encourage dysbiosis and a leaky gut”(Madison and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2019). This can lead to bigger problems like Leaky Gut or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In fact, stress triggers IBS!
Brain Function. Being stressed can make it very difficult to stay in a balanced headspace. You may find yourself to be angrier and more irritable, almost out of control of your emotions. You’re more likely to snap over little things because you’re already on edge. Stress can also make it harder to remember things and for your brain to perform properly. Your judgment, decision-making, and memory are all thrown off.
Pain Sensitivity. Stress can make you more reactive to pain and even more sensitive. It makes you just as physically tense as you are mentally. Because your body is on guard, bracing for impact or injury, your muscles tense up. You’re likely to have tight shoulder and/or neck muscles. You may even experience chronic migraines.
Sleep Quality. It’s so important to get good sleep. It’s a time where your mind gets a rest, and your body can do necessary detoxification. Deep sleep lets your body know to stop producing stress hormones. When sleep is disrupted or of poor quality, your body is not able to properly do these things. Not getting enough sleep triggers your body to send out more stress hormones. The more stress hormones going out leads to, once again, poor sleep, waking up throughout the night, and getting less sleep. You wake up feeling tired and groggy. It’s an endless cycle.
Hormones and Reproductive Function. If the way the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are responding changes, this can affect your hormones. Stress on the endocrine system can disrupt its function, and hormones released by the hypothalamus can directly affect the female reproductive system. “Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) inhibits hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion, and glucocorticoids inhibit pituitary luteinizing hormone and ovarian estrogen and progesterone secretion”, which can result in amenorrhea (or missing periods) (Kalantaridou SN; Makrigiannakis A; Zoumakis E; Chrousos, 2004). The length of menstrual cycles can change, and it can also be harder to conceive when you’re stressed. Thyroid dysfunctions are also known to be affected by stress.
Immune Health. When we’re stressed, our body is not able to fight off toxins and intruders as effectively. Stress hormones suppress immune function making our body more susceptible to infection.
Taking care of your mind is taking care of your body. Making sure you come down from any stress you experience benefits and protects you in the long term. Even just finding time to journal or talk to someone about what you’re feeling can help.
Most of everyone nowadays is experiencing it in some form, and many are looking for a solution. Pharmaceutical companies are still making big bucks off anti-anxiety meds, and at the same time, adaptogenic herbs have become increasingly popular in mainstream culture. Headlines of magazines read, “How to Manage Your Stress”. Wellness catalogs rave about the new ways to deal with stress and anxiety. We don’t have to talk about why we’re all stressed out in the mainstream media because we all know why. And what isn’t being talked about is how we can change society and our culture to lower stress levels across the board.
So with that, I leave you with a few questions to ask yourself:
Why is being stressed out normal, and why is it something we should have to live with? Why is not being stressed out in some way, shape, or form shocking to hear now?
Stay tuned for tips on how to make stress a lesser part of your life later this week.
Cutting My Hair, Severing My Ties to Beauty Standards, and Recreating My Notion of Self-Love
I’ve always prided myself in unwavering self-confidence, a tightly woven, unbreakable love for the vessel that holds my spirit close. I’ve reveled in my ability to bounce back from the darkest depths of my life. A resilient young woman who never lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. I never thought there was anything that could take that away from me. I thought I was doing everything right.
But those were just expressions of my ego, not my soul. These were images and ideals I created for myself in order to feel accomplished and safe, to feel like I’d pushed much farther than I actually had.
Cutting my hair and being forced to embody someone that didn’t feel like me shattered the image I created for myself. Everything I claimed to be had fallen away, and there I stood, staring blankly into an empty mirror.
How do you measure the love for your own soul? How do you get comfortable in this body that is so foreign, that just barely scrapes the surface of what and who I truly am?
I’ve been dyeing my hair since (about) eighth grade. I was always experimenting and that filled me with excitement. I didn’t see it as expressing myself, perhaps I was, but what I was really trying to do was copy someone I thought was my version of pretty. I wanted to be them, and I thought that if I changed my hair, I could change myself.
It started with pink streaks (I apologize in advance for the cringiness you will soon read). Then electric blue hair like Katy Perry. Then orange hair and bangs like Bella Thorne. Then black hair with blue ends like Kylie Jenner.
Once I stopped obsessing over celebrities, I branched out to whatever I thought would look better than what I already had. Auburn. Red. Magenta. Black. Golden Blonde. Bleach Blonde. Ombre. Highlights. Balayage. Dark Brown. Black. Bobs, bangs, layers, extensions. I may have looked ridiculous, but I loved it. I loved feeling like a different person, like I was wearing a disguise. Doing my hair began to feel like therapy. My hair held my pain, and if I cut it off, it’d go away. If I changed the color, I was no longer the me that hurt.
With my many great dye jobs also came some really sucky ones too. I’ve endured blotchy bleach jobs, accidental green hair, frayed ends, uneven cuts, you name it. The more I changed my hair, the more of a compulsive perfectionist I became. The mirror was my worst enemy, fostering my obsession and hypercriticism. If my hair was, in the slightest bit, messed up, I’d fall apart.
After years of being a hair chameleon, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t tried- being myself or at least looking like her. I got tired of messing with it and let it grow.
About a year after that, my hair had fully grown in, and I began experimenting again…just with hair glazes (temporary hair color that lasts about 2-4 weeks) though. I liked the way it made my hair shinier and a touch darker. Then, after a few washes, it’d be back to normal.
Where It All Went Wrong
One day, I picked up a glaze from a local beauty store and didn’t see it had an auburn tint in it. I lobbed it on my head, then quickly realized my hair was turning orange. I scrubbed my head ferociously, but the damage was already done.
This was unacceptable. I had worked so, so hard to grow my hair out. It was so beautiful, and I wanted it back. I called around looking for a hair appointment on very short notice. Maybe they could reverse it?
They said they couldn’t. There was no way to take that red out, so the only way to go was darker. It seemed there wasn’t anything else to do, so I let them dye it. Maybe it’ll just be a little darker than my natural color.
Nope. It turned out dark brown like cherry coke. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was fine for the moment.
The more I stared at it, the more I didn’t like it. I had messed up a good thing. You can’t really come back from a really dark color either, and the thought of my hair growing into some kind of opposite ombre drove me nuts, so I scheduled another appointment at a different salon to go blonde.
They balayaged it, but it still wasn’t good enough- it was blotchy! In the same weekend, I scheduled another appointment at a different salon for a double-process (which basically means going full blonde in one shot).
It was what I asked for, but I was left with super dark roots.
A few days later, I had it glazed to smooth the harsh lines.
The glaze faded within a month’s time. I didn’t want to deal with the maintenance and unevenness. Enough money had been spent. Now, all I wanted was to be full blonde- root to tip.
The Hair Horror Story
By the end of the month, I had another appointment set. I asked the hairdresser to make it all even- to make me as blonde as I could possibly go. I had bleached my hair many times before, so I wasn’t concerned about the damage or how fast I had transitioned between all these colors. I trusted her. After all, she had gorgeous, long, platinum blonde hair. She covered my hair in bleach, then covered my head with a plastic cap and placed me under a hot steamer.
While I sat there, her assistant began pouring boiling hot water into the steamer and accidentally spilled some on my neck. It hurt, but I didn’t think it was too bad. I couldn’t see it. They gasped and asked if I was okay. “Yes, I’m fine“, I said.
I sat there for about half an hour maybe, then she rinsed me out. As I sat up in the wash chair, she told me she didn’t think we should blow it out today. “Let’s leave it in a hair mask.” Weird, but okay, she knew best.
Then she showed me the brush. My heart sank. There were clumps of white hair in it. She brought me in front of the mirror, boasting about how light we had gotten my hair. My once shoulder-length hair was now dangling just beyond my chin in strands. The thickest part was just below my ear. The back was in shambles. Whenever I tried to brush it, more clumps would come out. I was speechless.
I covered my head on my way into the house. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I ran into my room and immediately went to the mirror to check myself. I pulled away my shirt and unveiled a second-degree burn on my neck. Yellow pieces of tangled hair stuck out from my head in all different directions. Some were matted patches of gummy fur. I looked like Cynthia Pickles (Amanda’s doll from Rugrats).
I turned away and started to cry. What do I do? How do I go back? I pulled at each end, feeling the dry, stretchy hair rub against my fingertips. I examined and assessed the damage- it was ruined beyond belief. I then drowned my hair in coconut oil and laid in bed, shaking. There wasn’t a sound or cry that could express the pain I was feeling.
The next day, I sat in front of the mirror and had one of those movie moments where the main character takes a pair of scissors and just chops their hair off. I held back, but when I look back, I see that it would’ve been a great opportunity to shave it all off.
I eventually made an appointment at a new hair salon to clean up the cut and fix the color a bit. I felt super embarrassed walking in looking all silly and disheveled. I sat down and explained what happened to my hairdresser. I told him I wasn’t looking for anything crazy. I just wanted to look alright. He toned my hair and tried not to make me look too much like a middle-aged white lady.
I left with a platinum-blonde pixie cut.
It definitely wasn’t a terrible look. It was actually really cute, but at the time, I was already demoralized, so I absolutely hated it. It was shocking to me how bright and unmissable this blonde was.
Everywhere I went, I felt like people were staring at me. I could no longer blend in. I felt like a hermit crab out of her shell. Like a big neon sign in a world of gray.
Stage One: Losing Myself
I know it’s just hair, but my hair had been a greater extension of myself. Like my hands, it felt and touched and held. I was sewn into the idea that my looks were a big deal and defined me, then was unexpectedly thrown from that.
The moment my hair was cut, I felt my femininity be swept away with the tide. And there went my personality too. In a society where long hair equates to being beautiful and girly and sexy, I was now boyish. I should change to fit that persona until I can grow back into being a girl again. What should I wear? How should I act?
It was undeniable that people looked at me differently now. I got looks in passing in my small town and comments about how “interesting” it looked- like I was doing something no woman would dare to do. And on the other end, I was no longer romantically appealing. Some thought it was cool, others were horrified at the drastic change, and some thought it looked more like a Karen haircut. I was ashamed. I remember I was working one day (in a big t-shirt, shorts, and no makeup on), and I was waiting on a table of two young girls. While I was walking away, I heard one of them ask the other if I was a girl. That hurt, but I understood.
For the first month or two, I felt like I needed to warn everyone before I saw them. I’m no longer the old Lia, so don’t expect that. I actually didn’t know who I was. But I knew I wanted to avoid the shocked face they’d have. It was just another reminder, but even with a forewarning, there was still a curiosity about it in them. I explained over and over what happened. I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was an accident.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. It left me with such confusion about this body that was no longer mine. Something had been taken from me. A part had died, and I was suddenly far, far away from everything.
I’d spend hours in front of the mirror analyzing myself until I started taking photos of each of my profiles to further scan over the parts of my face that I disapproved of. It made me even more insecure about going out because if I could see it, that meant the world could too.
I stopped giving myself compliments. I began relying on boosts from others to affirm and reassure me of my beauty. And only in those moments did I feel good. I had stopped loving myself- but did I ever even love myself in the first place if it was only skin deep? Why did I suddenly feel uneasy about the person I was going to bed with now? How was she different from the person she was before?
Short hair exposes your features. I couldn’t hide myself anymore. I had to look. Not only could I no longer conceal my physical features and feel protected by my mane, but I was also exposed to what was going on inside. In a way, my hair had muffled my ability to hear- I didn’t know what was going on in my heart. And there was something that needed to be tended to. It was ugly, rotting and spreading terminally, and it was time to clean up.
Stage Two: Cleaning Up and Rebuilding
I purposefully subjected myself to loneliness. And because of this, I found myself clinging to social media. What I was looking for was similarity and closeness, but I was only to be lost in the sea of comparison, swimming in insecurity. Everywhere I looked were these perfect women, and I didn’t look like them.
That is what I chose to see- a variety of facades on the Internet. People put out what they want us to see. I realized how threatening that was to my mental health- what I had done to myself by engaging in all these different activities. Instead of helping myself through this and being my own friend, I was self-sabotaging. I could try a little harder. There was no more time to waste away. There was no changing the circumstance, only a way to move forward with it. This was an opportunity to learn about myself and to love myself again, to care- for real this time.
I started unfollowing anything that made me feel bad about the way I looked. That was a standard of beauty that didn’t need to apply to me, and I could leave it behind. I replaced these people with accounts that empowered and inspired me.
I freed myself from my self-built cage. And that’s how my self-esteem started building back up. I learned how to own it. I didn’t have to self-isolate. And if it weren’t for a really awesome, nurturing community of women in my life that made me feel so beautiful and whole- I would’ve completely lost it. I grew more comfortable with myself. And after a few months, I decided to shave the back up.
I left on various trips over the course of that summer. It helped to take me out of my head because I was engaging with the scenery and staying quiet as the observer. My typical surroundings had made me feel like that was all there was. Once I was out of that, I was shown a world that was, well, not so small after all. There were so many different people out there. Everyone looked different, and it rocked.
During one of those trips (in Europe), I had noticed that there were so many women who had short hair. And they seldom wore any makeup. Their beauty was carried in their strength and their smiles- that wholesome loveliness that not even editing can replicate. These were the things I admired in the women around me. That is what I wanted.
When I got home, I trained myself to spend less time in front of the mirror and on my phone. There was much more important work to be done- inner work. I covered the mirrors with sheets throughout my room.I swapped it for being outside and hanging out with me, getting to know myself and all the things I loved about me. These qualities weren’t new, but I hadn’t taken the time to see and appreciate them. I was finally breaking the surface. And I was never wrong about being strong. I am strong, and that’s beautiful. The pieces of me that left, returned to assemble the girl in the mirror. I wrote love notes to her.
Stage Three: Returning to Myself and Owning It
For the first time, I felt kind of…cool, more badass than ever. I had always felt kind of cowardly and at the same time, stand-offish in my zone, like I had something to prove. But I’d grown to understand my soul. And while I was, and am, still growing into my physical self, I felt us reconnect. I felt powerful in owning me.
The idea of beauty I was carrying wasn’t my own. Confidence, intelligence, and strength are sexy. When I realized these things, it’s almost like something locked back into place. I saw how the adoption of this ideal for myself was not only detrimental to my own reality, but also the present and future reality of women in general. I had not only done myself a disservice, but also the women around me- the women that I love and want to protect. I saw how society picked women apart, how we are supposed to abide by some sort of rulebook; how to dress, how to do your hair, how to act, how to speak. I saw how unfair it is and has been.
Cutting your hair doesn’t mean you’re having a breakdown (though it may result in one). It may mean you’re changing, shedding, or turning a new leaf. It could be a symbol of rebellion. But perhaps it is just what you wanted to do or ended up with- simple as that. No question about it. And maybe the reason I ended up feeling badass was because I felt like it was something against the grain according to society. It was how I ended up mastering myself in a society that gives you chips for being all the same.
When I was insecure about the way I looked, I was so focused on what people thought of me, how I’d be perceived in the eyes of others. It wouldn’t matter how accepting I was of myself because I was still subject to public opinion. But now I realize that regardless of how I put myself together, what’s most important to me as an individual is that I feel like ME. I don’t want to pretend anymore.
Your navigation through your own story is probably different. That’s the cool thing about being an individual- you pave your own way and figure it out somehow. The ultimate choice in whether you decide to let these things bother and affect you is yours. I didn’t have control of the initial situation, but I did have control over where I’d take it from there. I held that power. You hold that power. Looks are not the be-all-end-all (hair really is just hair!). They are simply the way we express ourselves. And truthfully, those whose glow is most prominent are those who have tended to what is on the inside.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned my lesson. The biggest part of that was to appreciate what I’ve been given. My hair grew and grew and grew. I praised every centimeter, and suddenly, I’m here. I’ll probably chop it off again sometime. This time on my own terms.
I used to wonder when I’d be done picking up the pieces, when renaming and reclaiming would come to a halt. But then I realized, creation takes a lifetime. It may not even be complete by the end. There are many steps. I might have to go back and redo a few. It won’t be perfect, and I definitely won’t be. But that’s okay. Abstract art isn’t supposed to be perfect. It takes different shapes, moves in twists and turns, explores in all different colors, and is perceived differently according to the individual. And after all, you can’t erase paint. You can only keep adding to your canvas.
This morning, my eyes gazed up at the blank ceiling above me. I noticed each line between the panels and the little details- the specks of paint and tiny cracks making up the bigger picture. My body laid limp on my white sheets, covered by my favorite velvet blue blanket, with one leg out to escape the heat. It was like any other day- except for once, my thoughts were quiet. That spot between my shoulders let go of its tensity. I melted into the floor beneath me.
I usually feel like I need to check my phone to catch up or answer people, but this morning I didn’t. I didn’t need to scroll through Instagram at 8am in fear that I “missed” something. There was no itch to get up, to wash my face, to get dressed. It could wait. I didn’t need to be anywhere. And laying there wasn’t wasting my time. That’s how I wake up on a good day– in a cool, calm, neutral state.
It actually just recently came to my attention that that’s how most people wake up every day. But soon after, I start to wonder about where my worry has wandered off to.
I wonder why I’m not anxious and then assume that something bad is going to happen, so it starts up again. Or I make myself nervous expecting it to return. Where have my jitters gone- the feeling that makes me go-go-go every morning? And if they’re gone now, does that mean I don’t have any sort of stimulus to get through today? I almost feel like I’m dependent on it. Serenity makes me feel like I’m numb.
I paused for a second and sat with that. For the first time, a new question popped into my brain- how efficiently can I function without anxiety? Do I need to be this way in order to get out of bed and accomplish something? Has it gotten so extensive that my moments of relief now seem uncalled for and will forever be disturbed by question?
Because I’ve lived with this for so long, it’s normal to feel anxious. I had stopped trying to pinpoint where it was coming from. I just let it do its thing. I got tired and stopped having the energy to combat my bouts of dread. I learned how to “comfortably” live with it because it took too much out of me to fight it. And in that process, I lost myself because I stopped trying to discover who I was without it. I let it rule my life. What I know is the anxious version of myself.
That isn’t okay. Letting it “do its thing” is giving up. It’s letting myself fall away at the feet of it. And I know that I act differently when I’m not anxious. I’m more outgoing. It’s easier for me to speak, to say how I feel and to communicate. I behave differently. I react differently. But it makes me want to run and hide. I’m condemned to my room because that is the only “safe” place. And even there, I am at war with my own mind.
photo above by XVNDER BLANK
A few months back, I went to an open house for a school. I’d been thinking about going for a while. And I already skipped the first one because it was snowing, and I didn’t want to trek to the city in the snow (so I couldn’t really back out this time). I was excited nevertheless. I like going to the city because it’s easier for me to exist there. Everyone’s focused on their own stuff, so there’s no pressure. I never feel like anyone is watching me, or thinking I’m weird or something. I’m comforted by being this tiny little speck in a sea of people. I didn’t have any trouble on my way there.
We all gathered in a half-circle facing the founders of the school. It was a very intimate space, perfect for an open discussion. They started off by asking us why we were interested in this particular route and what brought us here. Upon hearing that they were going to go around the room, allowing each of us to have the floor to speak, I became a bundle of nerves. There it was.
I looked to each side of the room in anticipation of which they’d start on. I counted each head until mine. Then I began rehearsing my lines over and over again until I got what I wanted to say right. I kept telling myself, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ve done this a billion times. Just chill out.You can do this- it’s fine. I shrank further as the line moved along. Four people until me. I wish I could telepathically tell them, then they could just skip over me.
As the last word slipped out of the person before me, I watched each colorless rosebud head turn to listen to the only crimson one. I heard a muffled, “go ahead“, but my own heart banging angrily against my chest and the shallow breaths escaping my mouth were the only decipherable sounds. I tried to remind myself to breathe. It was my turn to speak, and I was. But each time I blinked, the stretch between the artificial light and the endless darkness behind my eyelids became longer and longer. I couldn’t feel my breath or hear my words anymore. I was in an empty room surrounded by white noise. And all I knew was that my physical body was trying hard to get as little out as possible to convey what I meant- although there was a lot I had to say, a lot of my heart to give. I wanted them to see me. And all I could’ve hoped for was that what I did say was enough.
It’s moments like that that defeat me more than anything else.
You see, there’s this bridge between your thoughts and actual words. It’s the pause that most people don’t consider. It’s think and- boop! There’s what I said. It comes out so easily for them. But sometimes I get lost in translation. The more you focus on what you have to say, the longer the walk to your mouth becomes. The more you think about if it’s even worth saying. You start to examine everything about it, then it gets lodged in a crevice along the way. And by the time you decide you’re going to speak, it’s too late. You’ve taken too long and you have to muster up something in place of the time lost. Or whatever the topic was has fled. Or you’ve been sitting in awkward silence for the past ten minutes with the person you love and didn’t even realize it.
Anxiety amplifies all those pauses in life- no matter how tall, or complex, or short, or simple. Then uses them as space to spiral.
It’s hard to explain what a day with anxiety is like. And I get that it’s hard to understand anxiety when you don’t have it. Sometimes, it kind of feels like I’m housing another me. Except, this other me is an alien from another planet. She’s paranoid and a bit all over the place because she’s new here and doesn’t know much yet. Everything makes her nervous, and she comes to me to vent about it. She also has trouble organizing her brain like humans do. So it’s my job to either explain everything to her, so she calms down- to take everything step by step. Or to just let her run wild and share the panic and fear. It’s like having ‘first day of school’ butterflies, but every day is the first day of school.
I’m kind of an adult now and being one comes with responsibilities. There are superpowers you’re supposed to acquire, but no one teaches you how to do so. They are as follows; handling things on your own- regardless of circumstance, having the ability to confront, always staying calm, swallowing the fact that (most of the time) you won’t have the opportunity to explain yourself, and pretending everything’s alright. Anxiety makes all of those things really difficult.
Below are some examples of how anxiety affects my daily life:
My heart drops when I receive phone calls. And I refuse to make any calls unless I absolutely have to. (This means making any kind of appointment, reaching out to my grandparents, facetiming an old friend, talking to customer support, etc. require a lot of thought and pacing beforehand. And are most often accompanied by panic and dread.)
Going to job interviews is very challenging. Sometimes I don’t even show up.
I can’t really make plans in advance because if there’s too much time to think about it before it happens, I’ll go back and forth with my decision to go. Or I’ll cancel the day of- which makes me feel bad, but not as bad as my nerves on the drive there. I’d rather just turn around and go home. It’s not their fault. It’s not that I don’t want to see anyone, or that I don’t care or like them. If I’m being honest, I don’t know what makes me so nervous about simply hanging out.
I really enjoy grocery shopping, but if I have to go alone, I start feeling like everyone is staring at me, and I’m being suspicious. I’ll spend twenty minutes in an aisle trying to find something (because I have to look at everything and make sure I don’t miss anything), and if I can’t find it, I’ll just leave without it.
One time, I was trying to pick a face wash at Whole Foods, but I couldn’t find the one I normally buy. I didn’t want to ask for help. My eyes ran down the wall, double checking and triple checking. Then I noticed that I had been standing there for awhile and started to…sweat. Lol.
I don’t like going anywhere I could possibly run into someone I know. Seeing people unlocks this utter terror within me. I won’t approach anyone. I’ll look down at my feet when I’m waiting for my coffee or stare at my phone to avoid an undisclosed encounter. (I think a lot of people probably think I’m rude because I never say hi or smile, but I’m trying to be invisible, so pardon me.)
I like to know there’s a lot of time in between things, so I don’t run the risk of being late. The thought of that troubles me and it’s likely that I won’t go if I think I will be. I show up like two hours early for everything. Everyone makes fun of me for this. And it is kind of funny at this point because of how true it is, but I’m going to be ready mega early for whatever event it is, so I might as well sit in the car outside the building, instead of pacing around my room.
Anxiety appears most often when I’m minding my own business. I’ll be at a social gathering or sitting in my room, listening to music. If I’m not already anxious, it stops by to remind me that I should be. The world starts closing in. The volume on every sound in the room, as well as my thoughts, goes all the way up. And all I can do is sit through it. I become silent because I can’t ask for help. I’ll try to focus on one thing to stay on the ground, but that can be really hard for me. It’s much easier to let go- to dissociate. This way, I can leave my anxious mind and body and go to a place where those feelings don’t exist. It looks like zoning out, like I’m hollow. But dissociating means missing out. You’re there, but not really- you can’t even be present with friends or family.
Anxiety makes me feel like it’s always possible that the floor will fall out underneath me. It leaves me with constant fear and turns my thoughts into negative ones. It makes me doubt the future and feel unsure about the world. And a lot of the time, it prevents me from doing things with myself. I’m used to having to jump through hoops and trying to find pathways to help avoid the things I noted above. But there isn’t always a hack to it or a crutch for it. I have to be uncomfortable sometimes.
On my good days, I feel optimistic and excited- like I can go out and do anything. That doesn’t mean the anxiety has disappeared- it waits and plots. But it does mean that if those emotions do come up, I remember to talk myself through rough experiences. Or I’m able to control the anxiety in a different way. I just have to remember to take my time.
Hitomi Mochizuki explains dealing with anxiety really well, in her “How I Evolved Spiritually” video on Youtube (link here– that part begins around 26:30). When you struggle with anxiety and sadness, you fall down the rabbit hole of negative coping mechanisms really fast. Anxiety, in the past, made me want to hurt myself. It made me put myself down for not being able to do certain things. But she explains that these times are opportunities to show yourself more love. Something she said, that I thought was really important, was, “The mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and an internal experience, so anytime you’re having anxiety, your whole body is responding as if you’re in danger.” It makes sense that it would make you want to flee from whatever is causing the anxiety- fight or flight. And it can be difficult to calm yourself down when you’re in it because not only is your mind freaking out but your body is also.
We can train ourselves on our good days for our bad days. We can practice showing ourselves more love. And we can train ourselves in the ways that work for us. So eventually, it becomes muscle memory that we do so when we’re experiencing emotions of anxiety, panic, dread, etc..
I’m constantly navigating and learning. I don’t think enough people talk about the long term effects of stress on your body and mind. We may not even realize that some of what we experience outside of our anxiety is actually linked to it. The What’s the Juice podcast by Olivia Amitrano outlines and explains stress/the response system amazingly in episodes #1 and #7. She also provides ways you can handle your stress and take care of yourself. I highly recommend- you can find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
In high school, my global studies teacher would assign songs to his students. He’d play one of the tunes at the beginning of class and you’d have to guess if it was yours. On my day, there played a cheerful 90s jam from his computer speakers. I had a feeling it was mine, but was too embarrassed to proclaim so in fear of being wrong (even though it wasn’t that big of a deal). ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something- a little tale of two people who are in a relationship, but aren’t really getting along. They have nothing in common…except for one thing. They both like the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And that’s enough.
I complained to my teacher for a while after that about why he chose it for me. And for a while he told me to figure it out- eventually caving and conveying his reasoning as his thought of me as a starry-eyed optimist. One thing isn’t actually enough to keep two people together. At first, I took it as a compliment. Being an optimist is a good thing. And starry-eyed is a pretty word, but I am neither naive nor foolish.
I make a conscious effort to pick out the good in most because I’ve seen the bad. I don’t want to carry that around with me. Good is glorious. Love is light- much lighter than that of the weight of dark. So I choose. I set out what I want to come back. And I manifest. For myself and for the world.
To say it plainly- things are hard right now. The world’s current predicament is stressful for almost all of us (the almost being 99%). People are falling ill. Millions have lost their jobs and hang at the mercy of the way society is structured. The media is practically spoon-feeding fear. You can see it when you go to the grocery store or even for a walk around the corner- everyone is on edge. And to top it off, 2020s plans were swept away so effortlessly, like the ocean reclaiming its last grain of sand. We are unsure of what’s to come- our lives at a standstill.
It kind of came out of nowhere and threw us way off balance, although we should’ve anticipated something of this nature happening sooner or later. We’ve been put in the corner while all is sorted out. If you aren’t on the front lines, it feels like there isn’t much you can do. There’s just a lot of time to overthink and pace around our rooms, waiting for the next New York Times article with the latest updates. The negatives are poised in our faces and feel like a massive loss for humanity. There’s no kind of reassurance out there, except whatever I conjure up in my thoughts.
I’d like to think there’s a silver lining to this. Just searching for it and basking in my discoveries give me something to do and help fuel positive energy. Regardless of the situation, everything will be alright. Whether the journey to that be long or short.
Times like these, though devastating, happen for a reason. We need to take a good look at the moment. It’s necessary for healing. To show us what we need and what we don’t. For us to realize what really matters. To be grateful for all that we have, even in simplicity; food on the table, a bed to sleep in. It’s funny, things that should normally be priority have now been given immediate importance. We’ve become more aware and compassionate than ever. We have the opportunity to care about our health, to be cautious and to rest– something so valuable to our mental and physical health, but what we practice the least of.
While we’re doing so, the planet is getting a bit of a break from us. The spotlight is on the faulty in what has been built up to now. It was always there, but is now amplified and is not for us to point fingers and blame. This is collective and as a collective, it is time for us to rise together. Right now we wait, but while we do, we prepare for the work of the future. We must lift each other up- doing what we can, supporting as much as we can. And emerge from this better than we came.
The introvert in me wants to say this has been relieving. I no longer feel an obligation to anything. All my ropes have been set loose. I run free in my alone time, and I’m not on overdrive. I do things by my own will and the options are endless creatively. I revisit what gives me joy.
But I know that it can be especially difficult to spend so much time alone in quarantine. Forced isolation and limited contact is lonely- and socializing is vital to some. Stripping that away can make them feel like they’re completely left in the dark and may fall into stressors or harmful thoughts. Without the outside, it makes it easier for past trauma to seep in. We may face the things we’ve been pushing away- which is good, but can also be too much at once. Our friends and family, even just strangers in passing, are life-savers. Technology has made it possible for us to just shoot out a text or be able to talk over the phone. And a phone call can mean and do a lot. It’s important to reach out to your loved ones as a reminder you’re there. Let them know you care and just because you’re not immediately together doesn’t mean you’re not there at all.
I also know that some of us tend to get “lost in the sauce” when there’s no structure or routine set in place to follow (including me). The good stuff came after days of laying around, oversleeping, overeating, and starring at a phone screen- feeling like garbage. You fall into this endless wash and dry cycle without question and kind of let yourself go. And suddenly, you’re having an existential crisis. Bottom line: Overindulging? Not so great. We overindulge out of boredom or avoidance. And try to fill the time with excess of everything.
Creating some kind of routine for yourself helps benefit the mind and body. Consistency is good, especially for forming better habits. Even if it’s just for the morning or night, it’s something to religiously follow each day. Parent yourself; set a bedtime and an alarm to wake you in the morning. Get in the flow of rising with the sun. It helps you get every second out of the day and clears the space for more. When you establish your space, you leave the room for things that make you feel whole- that leave you present and grounded. Because being mindful allows us to stay in the here and now, rather than wander off into the negative again. When you are fully engulfed in a task, it’s hard to go elsewhere. We’re fully in control of boosting our mood and learning things within/outside ourselves.
Below are some examples of To-Dos you can implement in your every day, plus an example of a daily routine. Enjoy 🙂
Nourish your body. Make a smoothie or juice. Cook full meals in place of snacking. Follow a new recipe or reach out to relatives to learn how to cook from your roots.
Get Outside. Go for daily walks. Do yoga on the grass. Explore a new way of moving your body and get your blood flowing. Moving your body helps ensure that your blood is getting the oxygen it needs to carry to all your organs. It helps them stay strong and improves circulation.
Educate Yourself. Take an online class. Explore something you’ve had interest in. Or learn something new. Set a time for it each day. Read a book and find yourself parading through a new world.
Make a vision board. On a big, flat surface, like a poster board, collect images/positive phrases that inspire what you want for yourself. Paint the board, place them on, and add affirmations. Then put it somewhere you can see when you wake up. A reminder.
Clean. Spring Cleaning! Do the laundry you’ve been putting off. Tidy up the house or your room. Go through your belongings and prepare bags to get rid of the clutter. What do you really need?
Create. Build something in your backyard. DIY. Get crafty.
Rearrange. When I’m feeling stuck, I rearrange my room. It helps to shift the energy around and give it a new look. What best suits you?
Dance. Sing along. Feel the note in each breath. Feel each movement you’re making and let the music take over.
Go Earthing. Go walk outside on the grass barefoot. It can help ground you. Feel the Earth’s vital energy flow.
Journal. About the thoughts in your head. Have discussions with yourself. Find prompts and write a story.
Garden. Tend to what you’ve planted.
Walk your dog. Or your cat. They like being outside too.
Self-Care. Treat yourself to a face mask. Dry brush or self-massage. Give yourself a mani/pedi. But also if you’re up for it- throughout the day, when you’re feeling a certain way, try to identify where the feeling is coming from or why it’s present. (Because self-care isn’t just physical.)
Connect. Say hi to your relatives. Have a facetime date. Virtually hangout with friends.
Write Letters to Loved Ones. A little old fashioned, but let them know you care a different way. Who doesn’t like getting mail?
Support a Local Business. Order out. Money is tight at the moment, but if you can, support a small business in your area.
Play Dress Up. Put on something that makes you feel beautiful.
Origami. It requires focus and yields a beautiful result. (If you make paper cranes, you can tie a string to them and hang them from the ceiling.)
Ask Questions. Make note of your thoughts and questions that pop up, then ask your friends or GOOGLE.
GAMES. Board games. Video games. Card games. Whatever floats your boat.
Start or Finish What You’ve Been Meaning to Get to.
And whatever you do…don’t cut or dye your hair, unless you know what you’re doing. It’s not worth it.
Remember it takes the job of all of us to help slow this down. Practice Social Distancing. Go out only when you have to. Not all of us are susceptible, but when we stay home, we help those who are.
The summer between eighth grade and freshman year of high school marked a point of great change in my life. My parents had just recently gotten divorced. My self esteem was extremely low and I struggled with self image- I obsessed over having a ‘thigh gap’ and being thin. I’d count my calories and started dieting at fourteen years old. I had trouble in school, not with grades, but with my acquaintances. Then I moved to a new state and begged to be homeschooled because it gave me too much anxiety to go. But that didn’t work out exactly as planned. Although I did make friends, I had many fallouts and spent a lot of time alone. Plenty of people didn’t like me. Most of them would openly degrade me to their friends, sometimes even make jokes to my face. The more I heard them, the more I believed them about myself and repeated them when I went home.
The cloud that appeared over me that summer carried through, on and off, to my senior year of high school. As more emotional weight appeared, I began to further empty myself. I pushed everything down and detached. A cavity grew inside me. And I became numb- acting recklessly and hurting people in my wake. Which made me feel like an awful person, someone who deserves bad things to happen to her. Then when it got so deep that the numbness was too much and started scaring me, I resorted to self harm. It became not only a source of punishment, but also a mode of release.
There were people who had an idea of what was going on, but I neglected to ever openly ask for help. Instead, I entertained the idea that someone would fall in love with me and rescue me. Or that something wonderful and life changing would happen and I’d forget I was ever sad. Maybe I could just run away and it would stay behind. I waited patiently for that day. It never came.
I felt so incredibly alone and regretful of the pain I caused. Everything was too much to handle. I decided I had two choices- end it or see this through and put the effort in to keep from slipping further away.
I did get better. I worked really hard on myself, to cultivate self love and a loving environment for myself. I searched for the joys of living and found them in the little things. I suffered through many, many setbacks. But I learned to stop criticizing myself over them because humans mess up. I can’t expect myself to be perfect all the time- that’s unrealistic. Nothing about it was easy and so much of it was ugly. But four summers later, this photo was taken. Whenever I look at it, it is a reminder of the happiness I felt. It was genuine. I had stopped self harming. I stopped judging myself and instead I forgave. My reality had turned light.
But very slowly, the shadows crept back in in 2019. I’ve been a morning person my whole life. I started feeling resentment towards each day ahead and sleeping in more. I didn’t see the point to getting up, especially if there wasn’t anything planned. When people asked about my future, I’d almost get offended. But only because I didn’t know. I couldn’t think of any goals. What was the point of having them anyway? I wouldn’t make it to next year. And even when I tried looking through the veil, the only thing in sight was a black void. Time disappeared and all the memories and moments ceased to exist past where I stood.
I waited for someone to kick the dirt in. I romanticized it because there are so many awful things happening in the world- what could I possibly do to help or make a difference? It wouldn’t be so bad if I just left. I gave up my creations and let all the stars burn out.
Depression is a real bitch because most of the time, you don’t even know what’s wrong. It’s hard to fix something when you don’t know what the problem is. There are days you’ll wake up and you don’t know what’s come over you, but you are empty. You become fearful of the next day because living is a pain. Keeping your eyes open in the morning is difficult, so you keep the blinds closed. And when you do finally work up the courage to go out, you can’t stop thinking about when you’ll be able to go home, shut the world out, and go to sleep again.
The fact that you have no control over when it’s going to act up is really disheartening. You just have to let it come through. Some days I can’t find it in me to clean my room, to throw out the water bottle that’s been laying on my floor for days. Everything becomes a challenge. You fight yourself to get out of bed. Then to shower. To get dressed. To eat. You start figuring out what the bare minimum is for doing things- not because you’re lazy. It just feels so mindlessly repetitive to do the same things over and over again each day.
There are days I’ll be out attempting to accomplish things and I’ll have to turn around and go home. I just can’t find it in me to do it. On Christmas Eve, I was about to leave to my grandparents house for dinner and one thing happened and I just burst. I had a full ‘episode’ and delayed everyone an hour. Then had to pull myself together to go out.
There’s a feeling I get in my throat that feels like something trying to crawl up. It starts at the pit of my stomach, heavy as a rock. And it scratches its way up my esophagus until I burst. Sometimes I’ll start feeling it when I’m out with friends and I’ll leave without giving a ‘good enough’ explanation as to why.
And when even the littlest bad thing happens, it feels like a monumental inconvenience. It sticks with you and you begin to fear that your future will be a repeat of the past. Your current experience is eternal and whatever happens to you stops mattering. You’ll slip out for days and stop answering everyone and then have to try to explain why.
“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Go into your healing knowing depression is going to be one of the most difficult battles you will ever face because when you’re fighting, the end is unforeseeable. You’re in conflict with your own mind and thought process- the shadows that follow you around and feed off your irritability and misery. Hold onto the mindset that life doesn’t throw you anything you can’t take. You are strong- as corny as it sounds. Be incredibly patient. Because the more you fight, the more light you let in. There are going to be ups and downs. Without the bad, there wouldn’t be any good. We need to be able to see the difference.
You can’t keep waiting for things to happen because when you do that, you end up disappointed. And if you’re going to be disappointed, you might as well know you at least tried. Work on yourself with little expectation and be consistent. Time alone is good. Baby steps because even the littlest amount of progress is still PROGRESS. Take it as it comes. You might not notice any big changes until you’re far down the road, but keep moving forward. Don’t stop. Only look back to sort through your baggage and to reflect.
Start small. Set a goal for the day; i.e., fixing your bed, brushing your hair. Practice switching your thoughts from negative to positive. Create a routine and switch it up a little bit so it doesn’t get boring. If you stop seeing the point behind it, change it. Stop doing things that feed your numbness. Trust your intuition and if something makes you feel icky when you do it, that’s a clear sign to not do it again.
When your foundation is based in self love, it becomes difficult for the bad to get in. Self love is a goal, but it isn’t something that when you reach, you can stop working on. It is a conscious choice you make at every moment in the day. It’s the way you treat yourself when something happens and it’s the way you project onto others. Take care of yourself. Yes- face masks, massages, and painting your nails are self care, but it’s about maintaining your mental health. It’s about prioritizing yourself and self respecting. Master your balance and happiness regardless of circumstance. It comes from within, nothing you buy or engage in can give you that.
Nurture your inner child. When I start feeling sad, I notice that doing really simple things help get me out of it. Think back to what made you happy as a kid, then think about what you can recreate. Be playful and don’t take life so seriously all the time. Things happen to us as we grow up. We hurt. No one is excluded from pain. We experience things that linger and carry them everywhere. Take a good look and don’t hold the emotions in. Allow them to get messy, then flow out. Spend time with those emotions and understand them. Try to forgive yourself and whoever hurt you. Let go.
Let go of toxic people who feed your negative thoughts. Having people around who you can be vulnerable with and who are positive/encouraging are so important. Surround yourself with people who awaken the joy inside you and make you laugh. Friends are meant to be uplifting. We need those good memories to awaken the liveliness within us.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was not reaching out when I just needed someone to listen. To have someone to tell me things were going to get better or simply have compassion. Even if it’s only to one person, speak up. We all have hard times and there’s someone out there that can understand at least one thing you’re going through. It’s honorable to ask for help and want to fix yourself. We can’t do it on our own all the time. We recognize our pain, but another eye can help us recognize our patterns and help prevent us from falling too far in the future.
I’m not going to lie, life is unbearable sometimes…but get crafty. When you find an outlet, when you focus on it and let it bring you bliss- life goes from gray and fuzzy to full color in HD. It can be anything; drawing, writing, biking, hiking, reading, working, gardening, etc. When everything seems useless, give yourself a purpose. We can create our paradise. The human experience is not supposed to be suffering. And whoever made you think that was terribly mistaken. We are to enjoy life.
I’ve never felt like I belonged here. And that can be unmistakably lonely- feeling like I’m on another plane, being uncomfortable living. I try really hard not to focus on what’s sad or evil in the world. It makes me happy to think of all the good things and I shouldn’t be condemned to my pain. When I thought I was getting bad again, I made a promise to myself to try different ways to get out of the depression hole and stay out.
I began creating goals and giving myself things to look forward to. What do I want? What makes me happy? Then I wrote it all down on colorful post it notes and put it on a goal board. Then I made a list of the little things I could do to help me feel okay:
Putting reminders on the mirror and repeating them to yourself every morning-“My heart is good.”, “I am worthy.”, “Everything takes time.”, “Be Patient.”, “I am beautiful.”, etc.
Journaling every day and looking back every month to track progress
Talking things through- in your journal or with loved ones
Practicing turning negative thoughts into positive ones- “I’m terrible at rock climbing.” to “This is my first time trying it. I will get better. I am learning.”
Allowing time for self reflection
Creating goals for yourself- short term and long term
Going for long walks and getting fresh air
Planning activities or events to give yourself something to look forward to
Breathing- slowly, in for 5 seconds, out for 5 seconds
Naming things you are grateful for
Trusting yourself and your cycles
Setting alarms so you wake up earlier and not sleep too late in the day
Practicing being present and not thinking about anything other than engaging in the current moment
A mentor of mine I had in high school once told me that when she’s sad on the inside, she’d sit in front of the mirror and smile really hard until she felt so stupid, it made her laugh. So if else fails, give it a try.
One last thing that has always helped me combat not wanting to get up in the morning is leaving the blinds open. Let the sun in. I overheard the little girl I care for tell her older brother, “All you need is a warm sun, not a volcano.”. And she’s right. The power and healing nature of the warm sun is often underestimated. What you need isn’t something gigantic or fantastical. It is simple.
If you live near the ocean, go sit in front of the salt water. Feel it run over your hands and cleanse. Feel it hit your bones. If you live near the mountains, walk to the top of one. Look how big the world is and find the comfort in being small. Walk barefoot through the grass. Run down your block and feel the wind hit your face. Remind yourself what it’s like to be living.
I’ll say it a thousand times over- YOU MATTER. Everything you do has an effect. When you’re happy, the feeling tends to radiate outward and make other people happy too. And when we all put in the effort, the world becomes a better place. Know that everything you’re feeling is valid and I hear you. Things are going to be okay.
In September, I got into my first car accident. I wasn’t distracted when it happened, but it was my fault. I was coming out of a jughandle, looking into oncoming traffic, and smacked the bumper of the car in front of me. I tried to approach the owner of the vehicle, but it seemed she was uninterested in my apologies. So, I went back to my car and hysterically cried until the police came.
No one had died. No one was even injured. There was little damage to either car and that woman wasn’t angry or upset at me, just shaken up. She ended up hugging me before she left too. But despite the big picture, I treated it like I had taken a sledgehammer to someone’s life. I sat there going over all the possibilities, thinking my license was going to get taken away. I warped reality in my mind while I buried my head into my mother’s living room couch until I fell asleep and forgot about the whole thing. When I look back, I can see how silly I looked freaking out over something so underwhelming. I thought my world was coming down over a scratch in a bumper.
Now now, none of that was a big deal. In fact, many people have been in the same predicament. That moment doesn’t even come close to putting a dent in the things I’ve done in the past. It wasn’t the first fuck up and definitely wasn’t the last. As much as I try to prevent these things from happening, they never stop. A secret will slip out of my mouth and I’ll break someone’s trust or I’ll do something against my own morals. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just barely holding my head above water, trying to propel myself to the next destination without getting my own feelings hurt or hurting someone in my wake. Even when I feel like I’m doing well and acting right, I slip up and am back underwater again.
So you’re in a pickle. You broke a glass. You broke someone’s heart. You touched something you weren’t supposed to. You have a big mouth. You lied, everyone found out, and now you’re in trouble. And on top of that, you’re disappointed, upset, hopeless, troubled, stressed, etc. What now?
It’s hard in the moment, but the first thing you need to do is take a giant step back. Freak out a little bit. Have your moment to scream or cry. Feel it. When you’re done, take a long, deep breath. The inside of your head probably looks like a mushroom cloud of smoke. You can’t think clearly or see everything for what it is when your view is blurred. You might be angry or upset and say something you don’t mean. It’s a bad time to speak and start assembling broken pieces. You’ll hurt yourself trying. And hovering over the situation will only fuel the fire.
The first few days are always the worst. When you’re not feeling so good, especially if you’re alone, it’s hard to get out of your head. Let yourself grieve, but be gentle. Sometimes when I feel confused or powerless about a problem at hand, I tell myself that my tomorrow self, my future self, can handle it and fix it. This way I can feel what I must in the moment without worrying too much. A little distraction can help stop you from overthinking too. Do something pleasurable. Get a hobby and turn it into your safe space. When you come back, you can reflect. You’re not the only one in the world to have messed up. There is no sense in hating yourself over something that is going to be very minor in due time. Know that better days ALWAYS come.
Try talking to someone who doesn’t hold judgement. They could be an acquaintance, a best friend, a teacher, a parent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone running back to my mother for advice or because I needed someone to hear me out. Or just to have her tuck my hair behind my ear while I go through it. It’s nice to have a shoulder to cry on. The comfort is healing. A fresh pair of eyes can provide insight. And the person you turn to might end up saying something you really need to hear.
There have been many instances where I’ve messed up and I’ve had no one to turn to. Maybe because I didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on. I felt embarrassed. These ended up being the best lessons because I not only had to single-handedly conquer the situation, but also my fear of isolation and the pain of being alone. I learned to find comfort and solace in my own company. I looked for advice from myself because I had to trust I knew what was best. I tried to see things in a more positive way. These trials are difficult, but they are for the benefit of us, as well as the other party. Life has a funny way of removing what doesn’t belong and isolating you, so you can take a good look at yourself. Ask yourself how you can be a better person, where you went wrong, and how the future can be different. Maybe it’s simple and you just need to start loving yourself.
It’s time to own whatever you did. Let go of the fear of consequence and what will happen when you are honest. It will be worse if you aren’t. Forgive and make peace with yourself first. Don’t let anyone else’s perception of you get in the way. There may be an image of you existing right now, maybe it’s not your own, but every second you are changing. You are not the same person you were yesterday. And you always have the option to change, to rise, and to learn.
This may take a really long time, but when you’ve collected yourself and the matter has cooled down, it’s okay to approach or speak to whoever you hurt. Come from a loving place, but understand that no one in this life owes you anything. Try to see it from their perspective too and offer understanding, as should they. You might not be able to get back into that friendship or relationship. People are allowed to feel the way they do. They are allowed to leave you in the past. You cannot expect immediate forgiveness or sympathy, but you may find harmony in knowing you gave yourself a voice and communicated. Don’t hold onto it anymore. Let go for your own good. Move forward.
A lot of the time, when we think of fucking up, we think of it in a way where we have messed up something with someone else. But sometimes it can be in a way where we mess up with ourselves and it is solely in our own world.
A few weeks ago, I did something that hurt my own feelings. I got lost with an image of someone I had in my head. After months of not feeling like me, I realized I was living in the past. All that time, I was consumed with creating this whole other reality…somewhere else. I chose not to realize the truth because my creation was much more ideal. I let myself down because I made an old mistake, even embarrassing myself by thinking my delusion was real. I was upset because I hold my growth so highly. I was mad because I went back on my own word and broke a promise to myself. And how could I ever be an example, how could anyone take my word for advice, when I can’t take my own? I felt my heart sink until my chest was empty. Being half on Earth and half in the clouds is uncomfortable.
I kind of beat myself up over it. I felt stupid, but shortly after that realization, I had a talk with a good friend. I wasn’t looking for anything out of her, but I felt like if I said it out loud I would feel more honest with myself about it. I told her I felt like I hadn’t grown or changed at all, like I was just the same person I’d always been.
She looked at me very calmly and said, “Don’t ever say that to me again. You’ve come a long way from where you were. You have learned and that’s why you can speak of it right now and recognize it. That’s why you’re not letting yourself continue down this path. That’s why you’re stopping it in its course. And besides that, you honored what your heart was feeling. You were true to yourself and your word at every moment. You were honest with your emotions, even if you stepped out of bounds for a bit.”
We overthink. Yes, we have to look inside ourselves to change and grow, but we also need to come out of our shells to actually live. Some of us live in fear of heartbreak and of change, so we avoid being vulnerable and stay in our comfort zone. The armadillo tells us that there are different paths with different trials. There are endless opportunities to move forward.
There is no question, you will fail dozens of times. Life gets the best of us now and then. But we have to plan ahead. Be smart and know you will fuck up and get hurt. That’s out of your control. But it is in your power to choose and minimize the damage. Don’t fixate your growth on never failing because you’ll end up in the same spot where you started, trying to protect your heart, but never exercising your feet. The only way to get stronger is to face it. We cannot roll up and run away to protect ourselves all the time because if we do, we will never get ahead of the obstacles. If you stand behind the mountain, if you never summit, you won’t ever get to see the view.
Growing is a part of life. And it doesn’t only happen after serious breaking points. It’s happening every day, fast or slow. It’s sitting right beside you awaiting acknowledgement. Being in a relationship or alone doesn’t prevent it. It’s a cycle in itself and it’s happening to each of us, we’re simply each in different phases. But we cannot begin the true process until we sit down and say ‘You know what, I’m ready for this. I’m ready for whatever the universe is going to throw at me. It’s time to break out of my seed and grow.’.
Knowing this, you will not grow until you are equipped. You won’t change unless you want to. (It’s a lot like puberty. I know-weird example, BUT our minds, like our bodies, do not develop until they are ready.)
I don’t remember exactly when it happened to me. And I suppose none of us do. When did you truly begin to develop intellectually? Now I don’t mean book smarts! When did we first learn something school, or our parents, didn’t teach us? When was the first time something hurt us, and we learned? When was our first ‘aha’ moment?
There are so many little notes for growth. So we start small…
You must set your space. When you keep aloe in a small pot, she stays very small. But if you move her to a larger pot, one that allows her to breathe and stretch, she will spread her limbs long and become even more marvelous than when you first took her in.You are the aloe. Evaluate what you’re surrounded by. Most of the time, it’s hard to see what you’re in while you’re in it. So you’re allowed to take a step back and reflect on it. And if the conditions aren’t suitable, it’s time to (re)move yourself.
This brings us to isolation. While isolation has a bad connotation, on occasion, it’s a blessing. Isolation allows us to see what we’re working with, outside and inside ourselves. When you spend enough time around people, you pick up things they do. ‘Alone time’ helps you get to know yourself. It brings you back to originality. What do you actually like? You won’t know if you’re constantly dependent on someone else and using them as a crutch. Get to know your likes, your quirks, your feelings…
Within, you know, your intuition may be an aid in this, the truth of your situation. You are present to see how the people around you are treating you. You know what you deserve. Although, you may choose to believe otherwise. Therefore, it’s time for you to clear your space and remove toxicity. I know this is the most difficult part. Maybe they’re the company you’ve been keeping, maybe it’s your family, maybe “they’re all you have”. But it’s time to stop keeping things in your life that stunt your growth. (And yes I know you can’t get rid of your family and I’m not saying you should!) It’s okay to set up a wall and not listen to the negative comments they have to throw at you. Ever heard the saying, “you are who you hang with”? It’s true and you don’t have to be a product of them. I promise, from experience, that when you let one door close, another will open. There will be something better on the other side!
While you’re removing the bad juju from your life, stop doing things you don’t like. I’ve never heard of someone who was happy doing something they didn’t enjoy. You don’t have to live according to anyone else’s words, only your own. Don’t seek permission, you don’t need it. Life is too short to be listening to everything everyone else says. What do they know if they aren’t in your shoes?
Now don’t get me wrong, having supportive people in your life is vital to this process because while you need to self reflect, you also need someone to ‘show you the way’. Certain people in our life show us what we’re lacking, not in a bad way. Constructive criticism doesn’t have to be scary. And it’s 100% okay to ask for help. Reach out to people you trust and are close to. Sometimes we need a little push, so we can see what our flaws are. Notice and acknowledge them. Say ‘I know you’re there and I’m going to bring light to you’.
Don’t forget to feel what you’re going through. Growing is about sorting through our baggage, then tossing it. If you don’t feel, you won’t move past it. Cry, scream, laugh, feel every single emotion because all it means is that you’re alive! And you’re human!
You’re probably wondering why this has to be so serious. But surprise! It doesn’t. Part of growing is expressing yourself and being creative. Take your growth seriously, but at the same time make sure you’re having fun with it. It’s okay to treat yourself. And life is too short to be wasting your time being unhappy. Your soul must flourish. Participate in things you actually enjoy and when you need it, remind yourself why you’re here. Life doesn’t have to be a harsh place. Be kind to yourself, I know this isn’t easy.
We all fall and mess up, dozens of times. But we shouldn’t be judged for any of our faults because, well, we’re blooming. And we won’t fully understand something, even if it’s said right to our faces, until we discover it for ourselves.
It’s important to accept that these ‘steps’ will occur over and over again. The obstacles won’t ever stop, we just get stealthier.
Anxiety…She feels like a long lost friend now, a friend who I had distanced myself from. Our relationship wasn’t healthy and it was time to break ties. It’s almost hard to believe that just a year ago, she was making daily visits to my door, creeping her way in, attaching herself to my hip. She was my conscience. She answered to every situation in my life. I didn’t have a voice. Now, her visits are occasional. She only arrives when something big is coming up or I have to get something done. Her presence is subtle, no longer overbearing.
EVERYONE gets anxious sometimes, but there comes a point when it isn’t normal anymore. It gets paralyzing and uncontrollable. It isn’t excitement or short term. It turns into everything, a way of living, and I know that life better than most.
I recall feeling anxious as a child over small things; trying something new, before performing in a school play, a little fight between a friend and I. As I grew older, it became more familiar and frequent. In middle school, it became my best friend. And, as I moved into high school, it was a roommate, an overlapping personality. Social situations felt overwhelming and hectic. Getting ready made my heart race and my hands shake. I would hang out with friends and all of a sudden, a switch would shut off inside of me. I’d become blank-faced and would barely talk. I was happy- and then it shut me down.
As I went into my sophomore year of high school, my anxiety was unstoppable. Getting up for school was a no from my mind and body. I’d wake up and immediately have to vomit from a night of overthinking and tears. It stopped me from going to school and on days I would, I was plagued with nausea and an uneasy stomach, making it difficult to focus on anything. It felt like someone was choking me, preventing me from getting words or feelings out. I couldn’t perform my daily tasks. Eating was challenging and sleeping a solid eight hours per night was nonexistent. I would lie there for hours, frozen, thoughts hovering over me. I wondered what the next day held and how it’d affect me. I thought of myself as worthless. I was shedding tears regularly. I’d sit in the shower, for an hour at a time, multiple times a day, just to calm myself down.
Doctors visits were no help. I’d try to explain myself, but I either couldn’t get anything out or what I did get out wasn’t a good enough explanation. Countless tests proved nothing. My body was fine. “Go to a therapist. If that doesn’t work, we can supply you with a medication that will rid you of the feeling.” And at that point, that’s all I wanted. Going to a therapist gave me anxiety. Medication seemed like the easy way out. I didn’t want to feel it anymore. I missed me, but I thought taking medication would mean losing myself even more. I wanted to function normally, like everyone else, but I didn’t want to be dependent and foggy. I also knew that there had to be an alternative. Medication and therapy aren’t the only outlets. What ever happened to self-healing?
I left my last doctors visit feeling determined. I had felt every ounce of pain anxiety bestowed upon me and I was done. I hurt. I hit rock bottom, harming myself as a distraction to what felt like millions of little ants crawling through my system. I spent so many hours of wasted time worrying. I felt alone and I would no longer allow myself to feel miserable over something, at the time, I had no control over.
Being so alone in this feeling, forcing isolation onto myself and drowning, taught me something extremely valuable. I held the power to get through it. I held the power to control it. I just lost myself and that stopped me from seeing it.
I started small. I held myself. I allowed myself to cry and feel whatever I had to. I taught myself that I wasn’t disabled by this. I removed myself from people and situations that hiked my anxiety up. I created art and wrote about my experiences. I spent more time by the ocean. I looked at myself and said, “you are not your anxiety”. I began to surround myself with supportive and loving people, who tried to understand what I was going through. I began to see that there were so many other individuals around me who were plagued by the same loneliness. Then, I communicated my hurt and began to feel more open. I started to help other people with their anxiety, which in turn made mine lessen.
When you look at things through anxiety’s perspective, they look much bigger than they are. You begin to unconsciously convince yourself that the world is intimidating, when in reality, it is a beautiful, inviting place. Where did your perspective go? Try and look through it, instead. Believe it or not, spending time with yourself, alone, is a crucial part of healing. Every tool you need to relieve yourself, your own mind and body contain. Use that time to look into yourself, to remember what you enjoy, what makes you happy. Create. Express yourself through art forms. Go outside and remember that the Earth wasn’t created to hurt you. It was created to heal you.
Be gentle with yourself. You are not worthless or incapable. You are NOT your hurt.