Down days keep us sane, so let us have them…

IMG_4309

This picture is the perfect example of how I felt today… LEAVE ME THE F@*K ALONE. We all have days like this, where we just can’t do human interaction. We can’t go to work, we can’t get out of our pyjamas, we can’t cook a healthy meal so we order pizza and drink coffee in bed, snuggling the fur babies and pretending we don’t have responsibilities. Of course, we could actually do all of those things if we forced ourselves – but would we be any better for it? I’m convinced there’s a reason for down days, in that they give us a chance to rest, regroup and connect with ourselves. After all, we usually emerge the next day feeling fresh and ready to tackle the world again, so what’s the harm?

I was meant to be working for my 6th day in a row today, but was absolutely exhausted last night – both mentally and physically. Battling a constant runny nose and allergies, headaches and neck tension, it got to 2am and I thought ‘I can’t do this’. There’s nothing quite like the relief of calling into work sick… you actually feel a weight lift off your chest and suddenly the world is your oyster. What am I going to do today!? The world is so much more colourful when you’re actually meant to be at work, it’s like this guilty pleasure you’re indulging in. And you know what – everyone does it because we actually need it. Humans are not designed to sit in an office all day staring at a computer screen drumming away. It’s not natural, and it’s certainly not the reason we’re here (in my opinion anyway).

On down days I also tend to avoid all social interaction with friends, which is why I simply could not answer phone calls today (sorry to the friend who called – it’s not you, it’s me). The LAST thing I feel like doing on my day off is having small chat! I want to read my book, indulge in bad food and spend most of the day horizontal with socks on. If it’s an emergency – sure, I’ll be there. But other than that, please leave me alone and let me have some me time. It’s so precious! I will be such a better person tomorrow because of my ONE DAY OFF, so be gone with the judgement and take a leaf from my book 🙂

IMG_4307

Photo credits – maison.chloeyeur & paintandhaven

When you’re in the throws of it…

IMG_4015

Anyone who has suffered from anxiety issues will tell you what a bitch it is when you’re in the full swing of a bad day, or even a bad hour. Everything feels surreal, like you’re watching your life on a stage and observing yourself going through the actions of appearing normal, calm and in control. Meanwhile in your head there’s a full theatre of chaos and panic going on, thoughts coming at you a million miles an hour with no apparent reason or excuse. All you want to do is lay in a dark, quiet room and breathe. Simply breathe.

That’s how I feel today, and though it is happening less and less through a range of coping techniques, when it does happen you inevitably feel the sadness of setback. Anger and disappointment at yourself – why aren’t I better yet? Guilt at the family or friends you’ve let down – Can I call you back tomorrow? Everything will be better tomorrow. That’s what you keep telling yourself, as you try to get through each minute without going crazy (or appearing to). It’s a delicate and difficult balancing act. They don’t tell you how hard it will be, simply taking control of the thoughts in your head before they manifest into physical symptoms – racing heart, shaky limbs, feeling dizzy and disoriented, not focusing on things… the list goes on.

I know I’m not the only person feeling like this because of how much reading I have done in the past year, trying to arm myself with all the facts. In fact millions of people all around the world suffer from anxiety and panic attacks every single day. You wouldn’t always guess who and it doesn’t discriminate. Your hairdresser, your bus driver, the woman who sells you fresh buns at the bakery. Your boss, your colleague, the cleaner at work. Odds are that at least 4 of these 6 people have suffered or are currently suffering from some kind of mental health challenge, but are carrying on with their everyday jobs – because that’s what we have to do. You cannot let it take control of your life so much that you can’t get out of bed, or start avoiding simple things like grocery shopping or coffee dates with friends. When it gets to the point that your normal routines are severely affected – seek help. Yes, it’s terrifying. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and through re-training your brain and constant practise – you can make steps towards a healthy life.

Wishing you all the best, and for myself I’m hoping that a hot shower and good nights sleep will be just the trick 🙂

IMG_4012

Photo credits – maison.chloeyeur & totalynoturbae

Embracing your inner artist.

IMG_4010

We were all born with the capacity for creativity, or at the very least with the curiosity to explore art in all its forms. Whether that was through finger painting, play dough, making necklaces from spaghetti tubes or gluing things together, we were all born artists. Over time of course, most of us lose that sense of creativity in pursuit of other interests – academia, sports, relationships, partying. I’ve always been a little envious of the people who made it last somehow – the people who actually made a living from their little hobbies, pursuing their dreams relentlessly.

Now I’m not saying I’m the next Dali just waiting to be discovered – far from it in fact. I do however enjoy dabbling in arts and crafts, for the pure enjoyment of it and opportunity to unleash my inner child. I couldn’t draw anything aesthetically pleasing to save my life, but I did once have a stall at the local market selling necklaces I had beaded together. Looking back they were pretty ugly, but I got a few sales from family friends (bless their cotton socks). Lately I have taken to collecting shells from the beach. Since I’m there a couple of times a week I figured why not? So off I go with my bright yellow fanny pack clipped on, looking like a complete dork as I fossick away along the shore. Now I actually have no idea where this shell project is taking me – am I going to string them up on wire to sway gently in the breeze? Perhaps I’m going to put them in a jar, or glue them to something pretty. I figure that when the time comes, and I have collected enough of a variety – I’ll know what to do. After all it’s about the journey, not the end destination.

I think we all need to pursue these little arts and crafts hobbies, embrace creativity and keep the mind active. After all what is life without a little (or a lot) of enjoyment? We spend so long slaving away at our jobs, why not enjoy the time outside of work bettering ourselves and feeding our curiosity?

This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

(Henry David Thoreau). 

image

Photo credits – wolfclubwolfclub & aureta

Mental health: Baby steps, not a race.

IMG_3796

As you might know I’ve written about mental health before, and my struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. I felt drawn to write this blog tonight after talking to one of my close friends today, who has also been going through their own set of challenges. In fact when I think about it, 9 out of 10 people I know – be it close friends or family, have all opened up about their struggles with mental health. From anxiety, depression, stress, avoidance tendencies, loneliness, low self-esteem and health issues, almost everyone I know has been or is going through their own mental barriers to happiness and good health. So what’s the catch? Has today’s modern society simply become too difficult for us to manage? Or are we just more open about what’s going on inside our complex, crazy minds?

I think it’s a mixture of both. Yes, the modern world is now full of new stressors that human evolution is yet to catch up with. From technology overload, family breakdowns, threats of terrorism, nuclear war, increasingly extreme weather patterns and many more modern stressors, our bodies are subject to a wide variety of anxiety-inducing events than ever before. I personally believe that our mind’s are still only equipped to deal with the basic, ingrained worries that have served us for millions of years – worries over seeking food and shelter for our families, and threats from animals and the elements. Basic, caveman worries. Today we are faced with constant, varying levels of stress in everything we do from the moment we wake up, and I’ve noticed a definite increase in my loved ones simply not being able to handle it.

BUT, on the flip side – mental health stigma’s have definitely taken a big hit in recent years, with many celebrities and public figures opening up about their own challenges. This increasingly open dialogue about the range of issues created in our minds, has paved the way for people to express how they feel and seek help where possible. Yes, it is still hard to open up because it’s scary to admit to ourselves that we might need some guidance, let alone admit it to our family and friends. The workplace culture of long hours, eating lunch at your desk and unrealistic deadlines that I came from last year was a massive contributor to my anxiety issues, and I know many people feel the same but are scared to admit it. We don’t want to look weak, or get hauled into HR to discuss our performance, or worse – get fired. But we can’t keep working ourselves into the ground either – at some point, your health has got to come first and I’m so glad I finally accepted that. As I found in my case, acceptance is one of the most important steps to managing your issues. Yes there are days where I’m angry, sad or frustrated and think WHY ME? But the days where I simply acknowledge my anxiety is there, sitting on my shoulder not hurting anyone, are the days where it is so much more manageable. Learning to love yourself for who you are, instead of beating yourself up over it is very important in the healing process.

To all of my family, friends and readers I want you to know that you are not in this alone. More people than you realise are going through their own set of mental challenges – the trouble is that their ‘issues’ are usually invisible and well masked. We all learn ways of coping, hiding and avoiding but sooner or later the wall crumbles and we’re forced to pick up the pieces. Start the healing process now I say! Talk to someone, open up to whoever you feel safe with, practice meditation, exercise, eat healthy, get out into nature, light a candle and write in a journal – DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO. I’ve tried it all, and can honestly say a good balance of all these activities and a positive attitude makes a hell of a difference. Just remember it’s not a race – there will be setbacks and days where you feel like shit, but just persevere with baby steps.

A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results. (Wade Boggs).

image

Photo credits – inkandarte & ourmoodydays

When you can (finally) see the light

img_2673

If you’ve been through some difficult times but are finally starting to see a reprieve from the storm, then congratulations. It takes a great deal of mental strength, patience, time and setbacks to see a way forward from whatever you’ve been dealing with (in my case, managing what has sometimes been overwhelming anxiety). My personal storm has lasted about a year, but was probably building and building for many years prior before unleashing with a furious intensity. I can now finally say that I’m starting to see the light at the end of this tunnel, and learning ways to manage the thoughts that can rapidly descend into full blown panic.

Everyone is dealing with their own set of issues, and more often than not issues that cannot be seen on the surface. Sometimes I think that more obvious and visual issues would be easier to deal with, but then I remember that we are all on our own journey and have our own challenges to overcome. For too long I was hiding what I was really going through, pretending I was okay but barely functioning. On the inside I was in turmoil just trying to get through a day at work without freaking out and running to the bathroom, where I could at least be alone if a panic attack came on. I don’t think my colleagues had any idea of the extent of my anxiety, and how it was making simple tasks seem like huge hurdles in my mind. I’d go to bed thinking about work, dream about it, wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air and dread the next morning where I’d have to face it all again. I knew I was rapidly spiralling out of control, but I couldn’t see a way out from this hell. It was only when I nearly fainted at my desk one day from the overwhelming panic running through my body, and dizzily made my way outside for fresh air that I knew something needed to be done. And so I quit my job, somewhere I’d been for four years after doing a degree just to get there. I quit my life as I knew it, and silently moved home without really telling anyone the truth.

I expected things to get better from Day 1 of freedom, but I was a fool. It’s now been 4 months and I’m only finally starting to feel better, after going through some really stormy days where simply getting out of bed was a challenge. I’ve recently started working again, something that in my eyes seemed like a huge hurdle to overcome. I couldn’t imagine going back into a workplace, meeting new people, learning new systems and maintaining my cool, but I’ve done it and I’m proud. Of course, some days are still really hard and sometimes anxiety descends on me with no warning or apparent reason. This is what’s so frustrating about it – not having any obvious trigger can make simple tasks like going grocery shopping or driving seem like a trap. You live in constant fear of feeling anxious, wondering when it will hit you. Will you have an easy escape? Will you be in front of people? It’s not easy changing your mindset, working on different thinking patterns and focusing on your breathing to bring you back to ground, but it IS possible.

I’ve read everything there is to read about anxiety issues and armed myself with the facts. Panic attacks can’t kill you – yes, the physical symptoms may seem life threatening (tight chest, tingling hands and feet, racing heart, dizziness), but they are just the body going into flight or fight mode when it senses danger. For people suffering from anxiety though, the body is constantly going into this flight or fight mode for no reason – and this is the crux of the issue. For anyone reading this and feeling the same, I would say try everything you can. Meditation, exercise, cutting out caffeine, talking to somebody, slow breathing practise.. the list goes on and I’ve tried them all. I think a combination of healing techniques, mindfulness and motivation has slowly led to a change in my thinking. I know there is still a long road ahead but at least I can say I’m committed and I’m going to get through this, and so will you 🙂

IMG_3376

Photo credit – rose_and_heart

Letting the leaves float away…

img_2714

Having been meddling in the practice of mindfulness for the past few months in an attempt to reduce anxiety and stressors, I’ve come across some nice little exercises that with (regular) practice actually do help. I’m particularly enjoying one I was shown this week, which uses mental visualisation to help move anxious feelings and thoughts along;

You’re standing by a stream, watching the water flow by.  On the surface of the water are many leaves, floating down the stream.  No one leaf has any particular significance–they all just float by.  The leaves represent the many random thoughts that flow through your mind in a day.  Now visualise that your intrusive thought, or worry, is one of these leaves–watch it float past and disappear.  There’s no need to focus on that one leaf–just let it float on by, out of your sight and out of your awareness….

And so it goes on – as you assign a leaf to any thought or feeling that is worrying you and simply imagine it floating down the stream, you can definitely notice the tension leaving your body. I like to do any of these meditation or mindfulness practices in a quiet, secure place where I can completely relax – laying on the cool floor under a fan is particularly tranquil. It’s about your own journey though, so you need to find the right space and energy that works for you – whether it’s sitting on the beach at sunrise or a balcony at dusk. Find your peaceful place and zone out, even if it’s for a couple of minutes every day – there’s no excuse for not making time for yourself.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ~Amit Ray

IMG_3207

Photo credits – zeebachi & templeofleaves

It’s all in your mind.

img_2980

I’m starting to truly believe that ‘happiness’ is 95% a mindset and that I can decide to have a good day from the minute I wake up. You know those mornings when the alarm goes off, you stumble around the bathroom trying to wake up, and you think ‘today is going to be crap’? Well yes, since you’ve decided that it will be – it absolutely will be. You put yourself into that mind frame from the get go, so every experience you have that day is probably going to annoy you and contribute to your bad day vibe. It’s totally a decision though, and as I venture down the road of mindfulness activities, meditation and self-love I’ve begun to realise my mental processes need a complete overhaul.

Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether you let it affect you or not. Valerie Bertinelli. 

Of course there are going to be negative things that happen to you in life – deaths, break ups, job set backs and health issues. How we react to these happenings however, is a choice we can make on a daily basis. I’m not saying we need to deny ourselves of the natural process of being upset, grieving and finding meaning in an event – these things are absolutely important. What I’m saying is we can choose to have a positive outlook and at least approach the situation with love. We can say to ourselves ‘I will get through this’, instead of being miserable and dwelling in that dark place. Don’t get too comfortable in the place you’re at – challenge yourself to see the positives in every day, and make a mental check list of all the things you have to be grateful for.

I know I’ve still got a while to go before I’m choosing happiness every day. Sometimes it’s just easier to exist in a bad mood – especially if you’re tired, bored or worried about something. But accepting this as the norm is not healthy on a recurring basis, and certainly doesn’t allow for harmony in your mind/body/spirit. With that being said, I’m going to get a good nights sleep and tomorrow will be a good day 🙂

image

Photo credits – ihavethisthingwithpink & shotzdelight