Friday, April 23, 2010


I've been experiencing so much anxiety lately!  It's that kind of chest crushing anxiety, where you go through the day feeling like you can't breathe.  I'll admit that I have a slightly anxious personality but this kind of anxiety is not typical of me at all.  So what's going on?

That's what I've been asking myself, honestly.  I've recently made some big changes in my life.  I started a second, part-time job and my boyfriend is moving in with me next week.  The second job isn't all that stressful and doesn't require an overwhelming amount of work.  Yet the moment I start thinking about the work I have to do my heart starts to beat faster.  I initially concluded that the second job, no matter how "not stressful" it seems, must be stressing me out.  But I don't think that's the whole story...

Because if I'm really honest with myself I have to admit that what's really stressing me out is that my routine has been altered.  In mental health, we use something called the "downward arrow" technique to identify beliefs that fuel negative emotions.  You start with an automatic thought.  Mine is, "It is bad that my routine is going to be altered."  You then ask, "What does that mean to you?" or "Why is that important?" (Or in this case, "Why is that bad?")  I might reply, "If my routine is altered I might neglect to do the things that are important to me."  Then you ask the same question again - "What does that mean to you?"  I respond, "If I neglect to do the things that are important to me then my life will be completely out of control."  And that would be bad because?  "Because I can't handle it if my life is out of control."

And  that's what anxiety is really about -- control, or the lack thereof.  My routines are meant to provide me with a sense of control, to bring order to chaos.  Without the routine, I feel completely out of control.  This makes me anxious. 

So what do I do?  In all honesty, I will probably just create another routine that works with my new schedule.  Will that solve the problem?  It will decrease my anxiety, yes, but it won't fix my belief that I need to be in control of my life.  So the next time some big change occurs that requires me to adjust my schedule I will again become anxious.  What I need to work on -- and this will take time -- is learning to accept that I don't have to be in control and that I can still be ok. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Simple pleasures

I wrote last week about feeling restless.  I've been working to combat this by trying to find simple things to take pleasure in.  I count as a success any two moments when I look at the clock and think, "Wow, I can't believe that much time has gone by."  For isn't that the meaning of living in the moment?  That is to say, aren't you really "living in the moment" when you get so caught up in it that you lose track of time?  Mindfulness means fully participating in the present moment.  You can't do that if you're constantly looking at the clock or if you're "there" but have a million other things on your mind.  You aren't really "participating" in the present moment when, for example, you are in the midst of an enjoyable experience and you think to yourself, "Aw man, I gotta go to work tomorrow."  You aren't really "present" when, for example, you are spending time with someone you love and worrying about the fact that you really don't spend enough time with that person.  How many of us live that way though?  I think most of us do, most of the time.  I simply aspire to stop living that way SOME of the time -- to be mindful as often as possible so I can be fully present in each moment.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Lately I've felt so restless.  What a feeling restlessness is!  One might think that of all the unpleasant emotions one could experience restlessness doesn't seem that bad.  I would disagree.  Restlessness is so disruptive.  It breeds discontent.  When you're restless it is impossible to enjoy whatever it is you are doing because you are so distracted by wanting it to be over.  When you're restless you cannot relax.  The word is exactly as it sounds -- you are without rest.  There is no peace when you're restless.  You are constantly yearning for something more -- something other than what is.  I think restlessness is the antithesis of mindfulness.  I imagine that the cure for restlessness is acceptance -- acceptance of whatever is in the present moment.  I have yet to find reprieve with this solution but I believe I will.  I just have to keep trying.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Interpersonal Relationships

Last week I attended a seminar on interpersonal therapy.  I'm not going to get into detail about the treatment, but I think the theory underlying the therapy is interesting.  The basic premise of the this treatment model is that an episode of depression is always triggered by some kind of interpersonal difficulty.  I think this is interesting because it speaks to the importance of our relationships with other people to our happiness.  I'd venture to say that we as humans cannot be happy without at least one - usually more - significant interpersonal relationship in our lives.  Think about it -- when asked what we value most in life the majority of us will put family or friends somewhere at the top of our list.

Unfortunately, when life gets tough our interpersonal relationships are often the first things we neglect.  For example, my job is getting stressful -- when I come home I'm irritable and want to be left alone.  My interpersonal relationships suffer.  I feel worse.  Here's another example.  I have increased responsibilities at home - a new baby perhaps, or a family member becomes ill and needs my help.  I have very little free time and I don't make it a priority to spend time with loved ones.  I become isolated and feel unsupported. 

I think it's important to remember that our relationships need to be a priority no matter what is going on in our lives.  Our relationships are what give our lives meaning.  They enrich our lives and are a primary source of positive emotions.  When we neglect our interpersonal relationships we deprive ourselves of the love and support that are vital to helping us successfully navigate through difficult times in our lives.

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