Anxiety Advice

Recently, I shared my own mental health story with you guys. That was a difficult post to hit publish on, but I’m glad I did. Today I thought I’d share a few of the different methods I personally use to control my anxiety in particular. Most of these have the added benefit of helping with my depression and/or fibromyalgia, which makes them all win/win/win in my book!

yoga mat, Mindfulness in Plain English

1.  Diet & Exercise: Above and beyond anything else, changing my diet has made the biggest difference in the way I feel. I didn’t make any immediate or drastic changes, but rather I started with the small things – for example, I drink one caffeinated drink in the morning before switching to water or herbal tea for the rest of the day. Cutting out the excess caffeine cuts down on the anxiety and drinking more water keeps me better hydrated. Fun side note – I’ve discovered that no matter what’s wrong with me, drinking water helps 99% of the time. Turns out dehydration can cause all sorts  of chaos I’d never known about, but luckily I’ve discovered the secret to “drowning” it out – haha.

Exercise is the next best treatment. Let me be frank here, I hate exercising for a purpose. I don’t enjoy pushing my body to its limits, particularly if it’s just to meet some arbitrary social standard. I can, however, get behind the whole deal if it makes me feel better. So, I walk – a lot. I also start most mornings with 20-30 minutes of yoga. I hike on the weekends whenever possible. All of these gradually keep my body strong but also have the added benefit of soothing me mentally. You have to find those things you enjoy, that make you happier, that aren’t an even bigger challenge to you than the worry you’re trying to combat in the first place! The most important thing is to keep moving.

2. Meditation: Of everything on this list (with the exception of talk therapy), this is the one that’s hardest for me. If you suffer from anxiety/depression/etc., spending “quiet time” in your own mind seems like an oxymoron. There are all sorts of apps out there now that assist with meditation (the free version of Headspace is awesome by the way), but none of those are necessary. Do a bit of background research – there are all sorts of different ways to meditate. You can do the version that follows a voice (aka guided meditation; your breath (aka breathing meditation); a sound (like a gong, mantra, etc.); a candle / light of some sort; or any one of many other versions. You have to find what works for you!

I’m going to share a secret with you today that really helped me. When I first tried meditation, none of these worked for me. I was just too distracted and more often than not, I ended up more frustrated at the end of the 10 minutes than when I started. Then someone told me about an exercise that can help – a warm up if you will to prepare yourself for a more traditional form of meditation.

For 10-15 minutes a day, leave your phone in the other room, turn off the tv and any other electronic distractions, put your book down, find a quiet place free of interaction with any distraction, and just sit with yourself. Let the thoughts come, but don’t argue with them – just notice what they are. There will likely be boredom and a bit of panic, but sit through it.  If you can help it, don’t daydream or allow yourself to focus too long on any one topic – let your mind run the gamut. It’s an incredibly difficult exercise that often doesn’t feel as worthwhile as it is. You see, once you’ve done this often enough, you become familiar with yourself and the thoughts you might typically encounter. So when you venture into a more typical form of meditation, you know what to expect – the thoughts, the feelings, etc. – so there are less surprises. You’re better prepared to view them dispassionately and to just let them pass on a more subconscious level. it takes the pressure off and allows for a more relaxed meditative state. And there’s nothing quite so nice as a 10-minute break from yourself… (smile)

3.  Essential Oils: This one is my favorite. You can use essential oils in a number of ways – aromatically, topically, internally, etc. I will say that they do take a fair amount of research though. First you need to find a reputable place to buy them as they are not all created equal. I can make some recommendations, but the biggest things to look is where the oil comes from (not every plant on this earth should be grown in the U.S.) and it’s Latin name. These two indicators generally give you a good idea of quality. The ranking in the descriptions isn’t regulated, so it’s hard to depend on. And quality becomes a really important factor if you decide to use the oils topically or internally.

Aromatherapy is my personal favorite. I have a couple diffusers set throughout my home. Depending on how I feel, I mix and match the oils to get the effect I want. At first I didn’t believe this would work, but even in my darkest mood, certain smells can make me happy. Some days it even makes me a bit non-plussed at how well this works, but it does work, so I can’t really complain! Find what works for you and go with it – everyone has a different preference.

Topically and internally are a bit trickier for essential oils. It’s almost never a good idea to apply an oil directly to the skin or to put it on your tongue. In both cases the oils should be mixed. For topical application, a carrier oil (coconut, argon, grapeseed, etc.) is used to dilute the essential oil. Likewise for internal use the oil should be mixed with water, juice, etc. In both cases there are some oils that are just no go. For example, wintergreen is one of my favorite smells, but can be quiet poisonous if applied to the skin or taken internally (improperly, which it almost always is outside of candy, etc.). It’s really important to do your research.

4.  Vitamins / Supplements: Other than diet and exercise, I’ve noticed the most long-lasting and consistently positive results from taking a specialized cocktail of vitamins and supplements. The vitamins involved, the brands, the dosage, all of that has been a series of trial and error, but luckily my doctor was there to help me through it all. If I miss a day of any one of these I don’t immediately notice a difference, but I try not to miss more than one a week. It seems like vitamins and supplements really need to be taken consistently to be most effective. My blend comes from both my doctor’s recommendations and my own independent research. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the holistic journey, it’s how to research. (smile)

I will say that much like essential oils, this can be a tricky treatment option. In the U.S., vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated like prescription drugs. This means that products vary wildly and there are no consistent standards across brands. Furthermore, some vitamins can have negative interactions with prescription drugs. Allergic reactions can also occur. For all of these reasons and so many more, it’s incredibly important to discuss any vitamins or supplements you may consider taking. At the very least you should ensure that your doctor and pharmacist are aware of which ones you take regularly so they can warn you of any possible interactions. I’ve found both to also be good sources for finding reliable brands and for figuring out the proper dosage. And that brings up another point – most vitamins and supplements contain way more of an item than you may need. In some cases, taking the recommended dosage from the bottle can even lead to an overdose for your system! Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions of those in the know.

5.  Therapies – Talk & Massage: Of all these options, therapy of any sort is my least favorite. I’m uncomfortable talking about the cause of all these issues, especially in being pressed on ways to change the situation. I also get really tired of hearing the same advice over and over. I’ve studied enough psychology in school to know the basic techniques and frankly not only are the conversations uncomfortable, sometimes they can also be downright boring. It’s like repeating a conversation I’ve already had in my head a thousand times out loud – it can be frustrating. I also have a bad tendency to tell the person what they want to hear in order to avoid deeper conversation. Because of this tendency, this is usually one of my first confessions to the good doctor. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when they then later fail to realize this is what I’m doing. But that’s neither here nor there – the important point is to find someone you like. In order for talk therapy to be useful, you really have to connect with the person you’re talking to. My favorite therapist was someone who would totally call me on my BS – it perturbed me at first, but then I really grew to appreciate her style. Those sessions with her have been the most productive of any of them, and I always feel better after.

Massage therapy may be a bit of a surprise, as most people enjoy massage. I, however, don’t like to be touched – particularly by strangers. The idea of stripping down and having hands all over me does not, therefore, really rock my boat. However, must like the talk therapist, you just have to find someone you connect with. I still get really tense, but I’ve found that focusing the massage only on certain areas really helps relieve and limit the tension. Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about float therapy, where you float in a pod of saline water. I haven’t tried it – yet – but it’s definitely on my radar. I’ll let you know how that goes!
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You’ll notice that these are holistic options – that’s because drug therapy is so unique to each individual. I’m not a doctor and so I have zero basis for recommending any one drug over another. And in all cases, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about any therapy you wish to integrate into your treatment, particularly if it involves a major life change.

Anxiety Advice: A Holistic Approach to Dealing with Anxiety

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Hot Yoga: 3 Essential Things To Know

yoga mat, Mindfulness in Plain EnglishWhen I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my doctor went over a long list of treatment options. After some ridiculously scary incidences in the past, I will generally try just about anything to avoid taking meds, so luckily my doctor was cool with me trying the holistic approach first. At the top of that list was hot yoga* – the idea being that the heat helps the warm up process and makes things easier on your joints, muscles, etc.

Considering I live in the desert where temps are regularly in the 110+ area, I thought this was a bit crazy at first, but I decided to tried it nonetheless. I mean I enjoy yoga, and goodness knows I’m acclimated to the heat, so I figured there couldn’t be any harm in giving it a go. Color me surprised at how well it worked! And, as it turns out, there’s an advantage to the outside heat – there’s a less drastic immediate temperature difference, which allows your body to acclimate in a much gentler manner. I still think I’m crazy every week about halfway through the class, but the overall benefits have made the insanity worth it. (smile) Those 60 minutes are both physical and mental therapy, so I see it as a double win!

*Hot yoga refers to yoga exercises performed under hot and humid conditions. One of the best known types is Bikram yoga, but there are several other forms. Thanks to Groupon I’ve been able to try a wide range of options, and I have generally found them each to be fairly comparable in terms of atmosphere and work out. The methodology is a bit different though, so find what works best for you.

yoga mat, yoga towel, water bottle, hot yoga, yoga

Hot Yoga Essentials

Other than the temperature difference, there are a few other subtle differences between yoga and hot yoga to be prepared for. A few of these I had to learn the hard way, so I thought I’d pass along the knowledge in case anyone else may be considering a hot yoga practice.

1) Equipment is Key. As you might imagine, it gets pretty hot and sweaty during hot yoga sessions. Wear light clothing, preferably moisture wicking. You’re there for you, so try to put aside any self-image issues and dress comfortably. It may take a couple of classes to get comfortable, but less definitely becomes better. (smile)

Also invest in a good mat and non-slip towel. A regular towel works fine, but I’ve found that the non-slip yoga towels really make a difference in holding certain positions. I recommend bringing a smaller towel as well just to wipe the hands and forehead once in a while. A lot of hot yoga studios provide mat cleanser, but if not I’d suggest you make your own or buy some. Use it often, trust me you’ll be glad you do!

2) Food & Water. If you know you have a hot yoga session waiting for you after work, try to pay closer attention to what and when you eat throughout the day. Lighter, healthier foods will help prevent feeling heavy and/or nauseous during class. On that same note, try not to eat anything for 1-2 hours before class.

Possibly the most important thing to focus on is to hydration. Start in the morning and keep drinking all the way through class. And by hydrate, I mean water, tea, etc., not the sugary sodas and definitely not beer (one of those hard learned lessons). Always have a water bottle nearby in class and don’t hesitate to use it.

3) Pace Yourself. Usually a yoga studio has levels. Even if you’re a pro yogi, if you’ve never tried it in a heated room consider starting in the beginner’s class. Don’t be afraid to modify your poses so that they are most comfortable to you and don’t hurt yourself. You’ll improve over time and feel much better about the experience.

If you feel yourself getting light-headed or dizzy, don’t be afraid to take a break. Go into child’s pose (balasana) or corpse pose (savasana) until you feel better. It’s generally not recommended to leave the room, as the temperature drop can make you feel worse. If you’re in the right studio, no one will judge you. It should be a safe space where everyone is too concerned about holding their own eagle pose (garudasana) to pass judgment on anyone else. (smile)

Do you practice hot yoga? Anything other tips & tricks??

Telephonophobia: A Fear of Phone Calls

Here’s a fact about me – I hate making phone calls. Despite the fact that my cell phone is rarely out of reach, I almost never use it for its original purpose. I call my family now and again, a friend once in a while, other miscellaneous calls as rarely as possible.

black and white office phone

Hi! My name’s Meredith and I’m telephonophobic. Telephonophobia is defined as a reluctance or fear of making or taking phone calls; literally “fear of telephone.” I was reading an article the other day about how common this is amongst millennials. In an age of texting and email, phone calls have become the exception instead of the norm. The funny thing is, I have always felt this way. Even as a child – before the age of text communication – I would rather starve than call to order a pizza. Sure I spent my fair share of teenage time on the phone with boyfriends and BFFs, but I always preferred speaking in person whenever possible.

After much thought and reflection, I’ve narrowed my anxiety down to three major points:

1) Lack of physical cues. I feel much more comfortable being able to read a person’s body language so that I can react appropriately. I also feel that with my sense of humor, it’s to my benefit for the other person to see my face.

2) I’m subconsciously self-conscious about my voice. I don’t ever really think about how I sound until someone mentions my accent or I hear myself on a recording. Then a part of me goes “oh yeah…” It’s silly I know, but there it is.

3) Sometimes I have issues “using my words.” I find text communication easier in part because it gives me time to work out the best phrasing. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a conversation and not being able to find the right word. Sadly, as I find it happening more lately (damn you fibrofog) this has only gotten worse. And I feel like there’s only so many times it can happen before people start questioning your position.

Slinky, desk collection

It’s slinky, It’s slinky…

Unfortunately, a lot of the work I do is done remotely – we work with other companies all over the western U.S. – which means that a there is a great deal of telephonic communication. The conference calls don’t bother me quite so much since I’m rarely in the spotlight, but the one-on-one calls have me cringing every time the phone rings. And oh those truly regrettable instances where a phone call is the only way to explain a complicated matter…sigh.

So, as a matter of survival, I’ve come up with a few tips to help me minimize the pain of phone calls:

1) Create a script. Even if it’s just an opening line and a list of questions to be answered, it keeps me focused and ensures I get all the answers I need before I rush to end the call. (Not that I do that…)

2) Small talk cheat sheet. It always seems to me that everyone – at least in a business setting – wants to make some sort of small talk. I try to equip myself with a little background on the person I’m calling, trivia about the subject we’re speaking on, and a few personal tidbits I don’t mind sharing. If I don’t have to use it that’s fine; better prepared than awkward silence!

3) Use body language. As frustrating as it is to be unable to read the other person’s body language, I find that using my own often helps convey my meaning in the intended way. I try to remember to smile when I’m speaking in hopes of conveying an upbeat and confident attitude. And, when I’m especially nervous, I try to remember my power positions and I find this really helps.

4) Use the slinky. I find that if I keep my hands busy while I’m talking, it gives the anxiety an alternative outlet while allowing my mind to focus on the conversation. I keep an odd assortment of things at hand but my favorite by far is the mini-slinky.

5) Reward yourself. I find that taking a few minutes to do something fun (including a little happy dance that it’s over) really helps work off any remaining nervous energy. It’s also good conditioning to see the phone as a positive rather than a negative and a good way to avoid dwelling on anything ridiculous I probably managed to say. (smile)

Do you enjoy talking on the phone?
Any other tips or tricks??

Traveling Through Time(zones)

Carefree Sun Dial Arizona

Primitive clock (aka Sundial)

Living in Arizona, I’m really only affected by daylight savings time in relation to how it affects the phone calls in my life – personal and professional. You see, Arizona is one of the few places on earth that doesn’t observe this ritual. When I first moved here I thought I would hate that, but now it’s hard for me to understand why everyone continues to observe the time change!

Although Daylight savings time (DST) has only been in practice for about 100 years, the idea was conceived many years before. Ancient civilizations are known to have engaged in a similar practice where they would adjust their daily schedules to the sun’s schedule. DST was officially proposed in 1895 by New Zealander George Vernon Hudson; Germany was the first to organize implementation in 1916. Early proponents of the practice aimed to prolong hours of daylight and reduce the use of artificial lighting in the evening. Given the changes in the use of electricity in modern times, the continuation of DST is the subject of great debate.

What does this all have to do with traveling? Well, it’s particularly difficult when traveling across time zones during that appointed mysterious moment when time shifts. For example, being in New Orleans for a long weekend and realizing you’ll have one hour less to spend in questionable pursuits. Then coming back two hours from a trip one hour forward. It’s all very confusing! And it also aggravates a condition we all know and love – jet lag. So here are a few tips and tricks for traveling across time zones – and hopefully avoiding some of the ill effects of jet lag!

time zone clocks

So many time zones…

Do some research ahead of time. These days most people use their phones for clocks and most phones will automatically adjust for a change in time zone. However, this is not always the case.  Use an app or do some research online and make note of the time difference between where you are and where you’re going. Then set a good old-fashioned watch accordingly. Also, make special note of where one time zone changes into another. This is particularly useful in avoiding “uh oh” moments when traveling across states or countries that are in two (or more) different time zones.

Remember DST. If you’re traveling near a time switch, it’s a good idea to check dates and take note if it happens in the course of a trip. A little research ahead of time can really save some panic when trying to catch a bus out of the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle for example (not that I would know anything about that). Also keep in mind that not all locations observe DST.

Pace your sleep. I usually set my watch for the destination time zone ahead of time and try to plan any sleep/naps accordingly. The sooner you start adjusting your schedule to the new time zone, the easier it is to trick your body into believing it should be operating on the new schedule.

Use light to your advantage. Our bodies are naturally / primitively aligned with light. Exposing yourself to sunlight – or lack thereof – immediately upon arrival can help reset your body’s internal clock.

Be kind to yourself. No matter what, mistakes happen. If you miss out on an opportunity because of a time mishap, try to remember that it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Likewise, be sure to drink plenty of water, exercise, pace yourself, etc. when changing time zones. Sometimes it just takes our bodies a little longer to catch up to our brains clocks.

Do you have any tips for traveling across time zones / avoiding jet lag??