When ill-health screws with your convictions

Every person eventually has their cross to bear.

Have you ever gone through such a rough time that you couldn’t bring yourself to make dinner or make your bed?

What about not bothering or not having the energy to wash your hair or keep your appointments and social engagements?

Forgetting to eat or eating too much?

Whether because of a diagnosed condition or not, every person has times in their life when things are juuuust shiiiit.

It could be divorce, death, injury, physical or mental illness or even a rough patch during which you can’t seem to get out of your own way;  you’ve gone through it, I’ve gone through it, Jan in HR and Kevin the plumber have gone through it.

People who know what their values and convictions are, like veganism or environmentalism, often hold themselves to the highest (or even an impossible) standard.

Particularly for people with certain mental health conditions, not meeting their own standards can have very real and damaging emotional consequences, and it can take a lot of insight and self-work to synthesise that imperfection isn’t failure.

Conditions like depression, anxiety and OCD can hijack your healthy habits, beliefs and philosophies and turn them away from being something wonderful and inspiring that runs like a seam through your life, and into a demon that haunts it.

alone

Having a bad day or a garbage month might result in the consumption of convenience foods containing palm oil, or in packaging you would normally avoid like they’re on fire,  perhaps even a non-vegan ingredient even though you’re a vegan.

Being so sick you can barely function might see you push yourself to get to the chemist/pharmacy, and with the last of your energy grab the first cough syrups, lozenges and cold and flu tablets you can before going home to collapse; even if they contain honey or are made by companies whose ethics you despise.

This is ok!  Know and accept that it’s appropriate, permissible and fair enough for your daily actions to change according to your circumstances.

A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

~ Lao Tzu ~

Today is not forever.  Radically accept this is today, tomorrow, even the next month but it’s not forever – it’s not a catastrophe.

It’s unhealthy, unreasonable and illogical to force yourself to suffer for being human and having human limitations.

radical acceptance

Radical acceptance requires that you look upon yourself, others, and the world in an entirely new way. You must be willing to let go of your ideas about how you “should be” and simply accept the way that you are… in this present moment. When you radically accept something, you are completely releasing judgment of it and avoiding any attempts to fight against or change it.

~ Laura Chang, Mindful Muse ~

It’s easy to feel that any small “misstep” no matter how small, is a failure and a blight on your record as a vegan or a greenie, a zero waster or spiritual person etc, but fighting against what IS, will break you.

Whatever your values and convictions, they can’t fight for you the way you fight for them.  Put yourself first when it’s important, so you regain the energy to keep doing what you’re doing.

It’s a knee-jerk reaction to go immediately to self-flagellation and feelings like disgust, disappointment and anger at ourselves, even when we’re having a perfectly forgivable crappy time and we can’t juggle every ball in the air.

Why can we not find it within ourselves to understand our situation and be reasonable and accept that perfection is impossible when we’re well, happy, achieving, successful versions of ourselves, so of course it’s even harder when we’re run down, sick, grieving, depressed, anxious, in pain etc?

You can commit now to making your first reaction one of empathy for yourself.

You surely don’t believe that you must never drop the ball, even when your world is falling apart?

Or that you deserve to be berated because you’re so depressed that the only way you can eat something nutritious is if it comes in a Steam Fresh vegetables plastic bag?

Allow yourself some slack.  You deserve as much compassion and understanding as the animals you advocate for, the environment you work hard to save, and the recipients of the charities you donate to.

Whatever your conviction and whatever your values, you owe yourself the same amount of respect and benevolence.

If you realise life is off kilter for you, simply assess your situation and ask yourself what you can do with the energy and resources you have.

Let your focus stay on all those positive things instead of the few you might previously have hated yourself for not doing.

Let yourself know that today, you accept that this is the way it is; you’re doing the best you can, and that’s all you’d ever ask of yourself and others.

You can’t fix the whole world, you can do exactly what you can do, and no more.

If you’re doing the best you can on your good days, and the best you can on your bad days, how can you tell yourself you failed, or you’re not doing well enough?

Love yourself, even when your spoons have run out.

Accept yourself, even when you feel like ass.

Give of yourself, only what you have to give.

giving

 

what hole are you trying to fill with all that shopping?

“What hole are you trying to fill with all that shopping?” the stranger across the table with the spliff between his slender fingers asked me.

I stared back in confounded silence.  In the early afternoon I had landed by chance at the only backpackers’ hotel in Barraba, in New South Wales (population less than 1000 at the time); an old house converted by its owner into a hostel so he could make some extra dosh to buy his pot.

Internally I was having a lot of conflicting emotions and didn’t know which one to share with the owner as he watched me awkwardly sip my cheap red cask wine in an effort to stall for time, and gather my senses.

“Pardon?” I asked.  I had never ever considered my spendthrift ways were a symptom of a greater, deeper problem.  I had barely thought about my behaviour at all, although by the age of 22 I had been in terrible financial strife that was too big for any bail-out.  Now, at 28 and on a solo driving holiday to find myself, I was the only company of a dirty, skinny man in a holey short-sleeved button-down shirt at a table for 14.

He’d offered me wine and a joint, and I’d declined the joint because I wasn’t that comfortable in his old house with doors that no longer locked.  We’d been chatting about travelling, small towns and his mother’s exasperation at his lack of new clothing.  He just didn’t see the need to shop, he had everything he needed, as long as his bait and tackle was covered.

“I love shopping!” I declared with a shit-eating grin on my face.  I truly did.  Even after all my financial troubles and stress, shopping was what made me feel better or happy or excited, or as though I wasn’t separate/different from my friends who had things.

I no longer had credit cards and I did live within my means, but I had no savings because there was too much to buy, and I shrugged that off in this conversation.

I told him I’d started to experience buyer’s remorse a lot more frequently now though, and I thought that change of heart had something to do with the compulsion I had felt, that I needed to get away from my life.

So strong was that feeling that I’d bought a 4×4, put my belongings in storage and was now having this overwhelming experience with a complete stranger.  My soul had been missing something it had never had and I’d felt that travelling around Australia by myself would help me find it.

“You know you only shop because you’re trying to fill a hole right?”.  I got the impression this was more of a statement than a question.

My first reaction was confusion, followed by defense of myself, then the realisation of what he was actually saying and how profound that sounded, especially after three wines.

“So what hole are you trying to fill with all that shopping?”.

I thought about this conversations several times a day every day for the next two weeks of my trip, travelling from small town to small town, very alone with only my thoughts for company.

I did a lot of soul searching and the answers didn’t come immediately or clearly, and in fact it wasn’t until my mid-thirties during therapy that I finally truly figured out what hole I was trying to fill and why.  After that day though, I was never the same, and slowly the urge to spend dwindled and my need to question everything grew.

The road to frugality for me was a long one, which to quote The Hollies had “many a winding turn”.

This is a question that any person who “needs” to spend, or buy things, or have things, and generally consume consume consume, should ask themsleves.  Perhaps the answer will hit you like a tonne of bricks and you’ll wonder how you ever could have missed it.

Perhaps it will take months or years of contemplation and Googling and even therapy to find out what emptiness within yourself you are stuffing with things.  

The important thing is to ask the question and keep on asking it until the answers start to come.

Frugality, or at least living within your means is an attitude, a lifestyle, and unless you’re fully on board, consciously and subconsciously, it will be a chore.  I find frugality to be a joy, and a challenge I get a real kick out of accepting!

It took a lot more than three months on the road alone to find my answers, but it only took one question in a tiny drought-stricken town 550kms from my home in Brisbane Queensland, to completely change my life.

12 anxiety busting strategies that changed my life

“If one more person tells me to meditate and exercise I’m going to punch them in their throat” I said every time someone told me to meditate and exercise.  There are things we humans are willing to do to help ourselves and things we’re not willing to do, and it doesn’t matter who tells you the science, or shows you the evidence, or reads you the testimonials; if you’re not up for it you’re just not.  That’s that; anxiety from hell or no.

After decades of fatiguing my adrenals with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) I knew there had to be alternatives to pharmaceuticals, exercise and meditation (although I still love me a pharmaceutical).  Good news!  There’s so many things you can do!  In related news, I now meditate, and perhaps you will too when you’re ready.  I’m still not exercising, let’s move on.

Here’s what I did to prepare

  • Spent days scouring the web, researching concepts that interested me regarding living a quiet, organised life – not for reducing anxiety.
  • Dug around in my stationery hiding places to find a suitable notebook for my purposes.
  • Downloaded lovely home and life organisation printable, and bullet journal pages (which never got used).
  • Made a commitment to myself to give this at least two weeks, in case results were slow but awesome when they happened.
  • Settled on techniques I felt would benefit me personally, based on days of putting a magnifying glass up to my life and identifying my internal and external triggers.
  • Implemented everything immediately because I’m an all or nothing person generally, and I tweaked as needed as the days went on.
  • Was kind to myself.
  • Sat with the boredom and “antsy-ness” that sometimes came with the techniques.
  • Checked in with myself every single day, to take stock of my anxiety levels and what I felt was having the most/least impact.

 

Here’s the techniques I chose to implement

1. Reduce decisions and choices as much as possible.

Certain notable Apple and Facebook founders are known for wearing the same outfit every single day.  Fun fact; former president Barack Obama did the same thing!  Humans are said to have to make over 35,000 choices per day, and if that’s the case, then we must prioritise which are important choices to be making constantly to avoid what has been called “decision fatigue”.  Although this technique is mostly touted as being a technique ultra-successful people use to be as powerful and entrepreneurial and 24/7 as possible, it’s a perfect technique for anxiety sufferers to help reduce the clutter in their minds.

 2. Give up screen time.

“My name is Melanie and I’m a television-aholic.”  I love TV sooooooooo much!  It’s my hobby, my friend, my pastime, my escape, my distraction, my procrastination tool, my one true love.  It’s my frenemy; a massive time-suck and all-round jerk of a thing that steals my hours and productivity.  Worst of all, it exacerbates anxiety – along with all the other screens in our lives; the laptops, smart phones and tablets etc.  There’s many studies that show binge watching tv shows, and generally spending hours upon hours in front of screens with no downtime each day is toxic to our wellbeing.  I did a quick calculation of how much time I spent in front of the tv, internet and phone each day and the sum of it all is so sickening I’m absolutely not going to tell you the disgusting amount of time it came to.  Which says it all really!

3. Meditate.

I know erccchhh, but it was time for me and I was ready.  In doing all this research I couldn’t help but ask myself why I could devote hours per day to YouTube or Netflix and not 10 minutes to meditation.  I mean really, my illogicality was undeniable.

4. Happiness and gratitude journal.

Another thing I’ve often thought was naff, although I have always understood how this is helpful in keeping spirits up.  Part of my “Therapy 101” was to look for evidence of good things in my life, because I had a negative and overly sceptical way of viewing the world.  If I can find evidence that something in each of my days made me happy, and there was something to be grateful for, or even something to look forward to, then it was unjustifiable to poison my mind with false beliefs that everything is shit and always will be shit.  In hindsight, it was a shitty way to live my life and I’m glad I have the tools now to recognise if I slip back into that mindset, and I can get myself out of it by simply looking for evidence to the contrary.  I always find it, and this journal is like a shot of steroids to your happy place.  Side note here; I don’t believe having only a gratitude journal is healthy.  Each entry can become a stress in itself after a time if your goal is simply to dredge your mind and life to try and find things you’re grateful for, but haven’t already listed recently.  Adding things that made you happy, or that you liked about your day considerably expands your choices, to boost your mood and broaden your perspective on what feeling good/better is about.

5. 20 minutes daily of cleaning.

Weird one right!  Did that make you think “huh?!”  Being organised means there’s less on your plate to think about, and less to dread, like a huge Saturday (or monthly, or hardly ever) cleanup of your residence.  I set a timer for 20 minutes each day and simply get done whatever I feel like doing, or what needs doing in that time.  I exclude daily chores that one must do to keep the cockroaches at bay, like washing up which has to be done anyway; it’s tasks like putting the washing away, vacuuming, dusting, sorting that drawer I’ve been saying I’m going to sort for three years etc.  Eventually your home is so well kept you can get to those little tasks you’ve known needed doing for yonks.  A somewhat clean and organised home is an environment that does not cause you stress.  Does that pile of laundry that’s been in the corner for three weeks make you internally screech every time you see it?  Just get it done.  It won’t take the whole 20 minutes – you’d be surprised what you can achieve in such a short time.

6. Don’t go to bed without a clean kitchen and lounge room.

For all the reasons listed in number five, this changed my life.  It’s a quick five to 10 minute tidy up; put the cushions in their place on the lounge; un-scrunch the tea towel and hang it up properly; quickly sweep under the rat cage and get up those stray poops (rat parents know what I’m saying!).  When you wake up the next morning, just try and stop that grin from busting outta your face as you realise you need only make a cuppa and sit on your bum and delight in the serenity!

7. Choose and lay out clothes for the next day.

Essentially the same idea as number one; the less you need to do when you wake up each morning, the better off your nervous system is.  Your morning routine will be a lot smoother with one less decision; somehow it feels like hours have been saved by this one small task.  Hours of general anxiety you could never quite pinpoint to a trigger…it was your morning clothes-choosing stress, now ya know!

8. Sleep is king, go to bed by 10:30pm at the latest as often as possible.

We all know how important sleep is, I’m sure I don’t have to link to the science and rattle off the benefits.

9. Write a To Do list before bed each night.

Again, the less decisions you make in a day the better.  Some people like to create their list each morning and if that works better for you then go for it; I found I slept better and had less anxiety when I went to bed knowing for sure that I’d already thought about my day, prioritised my tasks, and it was all taken care of.  There was nothing I’d forgotten most likely, and if something did pop up, it could simply be slotted into my handy dandy list.  Crossing things off a list is very satisfying, and that’s all I had to do each day.

10. Include a boring job/chore, a fun or relaxing activity, and a work task into every day, and get one thing from each category done.

It’s as important to feed your soul as it is to get the floors mopped and that report in on time.  Balance is key to reducing anxiety.  Going too far in any direction won’t be good for the ‘ol jitters, so ensure that most days you can achieve something from each category, particularly prioritise the fun or relaxing activity.  This is about reducing anxiety, not becoming the most productive robot in the world (although productivity is a happy upshot of this routine).

11. Fix up the bedroom so it has soft lighting, clean bed linen, nothing to trip over on a midnight loo visit, and nothing dreadful and distracting in it like a television.

Get your room sleep and sexy time ready, it’s not for watching Law and Order or bringing work home to.  You need sleep, don’t sabotage yourself.

12. Reduce caffeine to one cup per day if possible.

Even better, cut it out altogether.  Caffeine and anxiety don’t mix.

 

Here’s what a typical low-anxiety day looks like:

  • 6:30am – wake up naturally whenever possible, no screens for one hour.
  • Move to my comfy floor cushion and meditate using a mobile app for minimum 10 minutes, depending where my vibe’s at.
  • Read a book, potter around the house, make a cup of tea, put the radio on – whatever I feel like, for that for the rest of the screen-free hour, keeping it low key.
  • Check emails and social media for no longer than half an hour before going about my day.
  • Shower and put on the clothes already selected and laid out the night before.
  • Check my To Do list and decide what I’m motivated to do/want to get out of the way first.
  • Study, complete tasks until lunch time, prepare lunch and eat watching one hour of tv maximum.
  • Continue with study errands/tasks etc.
  • From 5:30pm I switched on the television to catch the various news programs, as I was studying Communications/PR and that’s a necessity.
  • Made dinner and completed small tasks if I felt like it, choosing to listen to the tv rather than sit and watch it the whole time.
  • All screens off at 8:30pm, lights dimmed/turned off and sometimes candles lit, to create an atmosphere of winding down.
  • Did 20 minutes of cleaning if not already done, and anything else I felt like until 9:30pm.
  • Now or just before going to bed to read, do the five minute tidy up of the lounge room and kitchen.
  • Have shower (if I had a bath that would be even better!) and do relaxing things until 10:30pm like read, listen to soothing music, draw mandalas and write in my gratitude/happiness journal.
  • 10:30pm lights out.  By this time my body had wound down for two hours before bed and it took surprisingly little time to adjust to the process of it.
  • Sleeping mask on and ear plugs in (I live in a noisy area) to ensure the best quality sleep.
  • Meditate if the mood strikes, which also helped me sleep if I wasn’t feeling tired enough.

 

How might this apply to you?

Your day doesn’t have to look like my day, but the bones are there for you to work with.  I worked part time and studied full time when I got started, but I still manage to make this plan work now I contract full time; it just took a few tweaks.  It is essential to cut your screen time down as much as practicable without making you feel like your life is deprived and horrible.  If your brain has no downtime from waking to sleeping, you’re asking for anxiety to haunt you maximally.  The ritual of winding down is also important, to train your brain that things like dimmed lights, a shower, a warm cup of herbal tea – whatever floats your boat gently – are signs you’re getting ready for bed, to sleep.  I find meditation starts my day calmly, and if I’ve not had the best day and realise I feel anxious in the evening, then seeing as I’m just lying in bed anyway, it’s a good time to do a quick meditation to soothe my nerves.

I go to bed happy and relaxed, and I wake up feeling awesome because I got enough good quality sleep, woke up naturally after enough of it, and I walk out into my space each day and stretch my face into a giant clown smile because it’s neat, tidy and in order.  All I have to do is consult a list of tasks and do what I feel like doing, which includes something I enjoy!  My decisions are minimised, my day is loosely planned, I’ve started off serenely, life is good.

If you know you have an issue like watching too much tv, then research ways to give it up, or read about success stories and how people’s lives have changed dramatically by cutting it out; it’s so motivating.  If you know you need direction in life, sign up for a free email course from a blog that appeals to you, add it to your To Do list and get crackin’!  If you need to be more organised, find blogs that help you do that, sign up for more email courses or download printables and slot organisation into your day.  Whatever you know you’d like to work on, research it and implement it incrementally.  Not having your house in order, literally and figuratively, a re likely a good proportion of the things that cause you anxiety or exacerbate it.  If you can simplify your days and gain healthy control over your life in little meaningful ways, then the benefits will be as life changing for you as they were for me.

What methods have you used to reduce your anxiety that aren’t “text book”?