It’s Amazing What Breathing Can Do

One of the things I’ve discovered in learning how to better handle my anxiety is that breathing helps.

I was kind of hoping when I started counseling I’d learn about a semi-magical secret trick to avoiding panic attacks and working through anxiety. And what did I find? Deep breathing. Turns out that it’s important to breath when you’re panicking. Who knew?

Just to be clear, I’m talking about things that help in the moment when you’re starting to feel anxious — not about long-term work on managing anxiety and re-training your mind. That’s a slightly different topic, which I’ve talked about in posts like “Exchanging Your Foundation Stones” and “Making Some New Paths In Our Minds.”

Different people who struggle with anxiety find different ways of managing it (EFT tapping, grounding techniques, deep breathing, etc). For me, grounding and breathing seem to work best, which I find interesting since I’ve been doing both for years through my yoga practice. I just needed to start using those tools more effectively in the rest of my life, not just for 15-45 minutes every morning.

It’s amazing what a difference focusing on the present moment, grounding yourself in the physical world, and forcing yourself to breath deep can make. And I’m assuming this would help whether you’re dealing with every-day anxieties or with having more long-term anxiety. The techniques seem almost too simple, but they work and if you’re starting to feel panicky the last thing you need is to try and remember some complicated method of calming down.

You don’t need to figure everything out, or get cured of anxiety, or conquer whatever mountain you’re climbing before you can start to feel better. Sometimes, all we need is to stop, breath, and tune-in to the present moment. To give ourselves permission to feel however it is we’re feeling rather than keep burying it or pressing on through.

Hopefully, taking the time to ground yourself and just breath will help cultivate a sense of peace. But if not, don’t beat yourself up over it. Treat yourself with the same kindness I’m sure you’d show someone you love who’s struggling. Self-care isn’t selfish — it’s essential (another thing I’m learning that now seems like it should have been obvious).

I’m not sure who needed this post (other than me), but I hope you’ll take some time for yourself today. Breath, tune-in, and take care of yourself. Be well my dear readers 🙂

It's Amazing What Breathing Can Do | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: johnhain via Pixabay

 

Featured image credit: Jill Wellington via Pixabay

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How Can A Shy Introvert Struggling With Social Anxiety Learn To Handle Leadership Roles?

I’ve never considered myself much of a leader. I like to stay out of the spotlight and play a supportive role. Part of it’s shyness/anxiety, part of it’s a normal trait of my INFJ personality type. Recently, though, I’ve found myself accidentally winding up in leadership roles.

For many introverts, especially if you’re shy and/or struggling with anxiety, this probably sounds like a recipe for a full-blown panic attack. But it’s actually going pretty well, and maybe you’ll find some of the things I’m learning encouraging if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

It All Started With Dancing

I joined the dance team at my Messianic church several years ago, and within a year most of the dance team moved on to other things and there was just three of us left. New people quickly joined, but I suddenly found myself one of the most experienced dancers in the group. I had to keep learning quickly if I wanted to help teach, so it ended up making me a better dancer.

Then our dance leader started leaving me in charge when she had to be gone for a weekend. She even when to Alaska for a few weeks and turned keys, music files, instruction DVDs, and choice of what to dance each week over to me. I thought I’d spend most of the time panicking, but I didn’t and things went pretty well. I discovered I actually can handle being put in charge of something where I have to work with other people. Read more

Introverts Need People Too: A Closer Look At Introversion and Social Anxiety

A lot of introvert-themed posts that you see around this time of year are things like “An Introverts Guide To Surviving the Holidays” or “How Not to Run In Terror From Your Extrovert Relatives.” That last one’s not an actual article, but it’s pretty close to some I’ve seen.

Often, writers of articles like this assume introverts don’t like people, that they’re always overwhelmed in social situations, and that they hate parties. But being on-edge in social situations, panicking when you have to interact with people, and going out of your way to avoid places where people gather aren’t actually signs of introversion. Those things are more a part of social anxiety.

Definition Conundrums

Part of the reason for this confusion is that people don’t understand what being an introvert actually means. For example, (despite numerous complaints and petitions) if you Google “introvert definition” the first thing that comes up is “a shy, reticent person.” Only if you expand the Google result to see translations, word origin, and other definitions do you finally get something a little closer to the correct result: “a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.”

Introverts Need People Too: A Closer Look At Introversion and Social Anxiety | LikeAnAnchor.com

Being an introvert doesn’t make you socially awkward. It doesn’t mean you hate people. Being an introvert means that you’re born with a trait that gives you a preference for the internal world. It also means you re-charge better in quiet, low-stimulation environments (usually alone, but not always). Introverts might avoid parties, but if so they do it because they’d rather be somewhere else (like at home reading or hanging our with a small group of friends), not because they’re inherently shy or scared of interacting with others. Read more

The Difference Between Having Anxiety and Feeling Anxious

Every human being knows what it’s like to feel anxious about something, but that’s not the same thing as having anxiety. There’s a difference between normal anxiety (which is appropriate to the situation) and dealing with an anxiety disorder (which is a mental health condition).

In day-to-day life it’s actually really hard to define the line between normal worry and too much worry (as Dr. Ramani Durvasula says in “Why It’s So Crucial to Understand Anxiety Disorders“). What pushes you into problematic anxiety can vary depending on the individual. It will also vary for an individual depending on other factors in their lives. In addition, anxiety looks different for everyone who struggles with it. That means my personal examples in this article are an accurate reflection of my anxiety, but won’t be equally relatable for everyone with anxiety.

There are plenty of situations where it’s normal to feel anxious. But when anxiety starts to define your life, or keeps you from functioning normally, or generalizes to everyday situations, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with something different than normal human nervousness. Anxiety can also be a clue that something else is going on. If you think your worry might have crossed a line into too much worry, it’s a good idea to talk with a mental health professional.

Disclaimer: I’m not a counselor or therapist and this article can’t be used to diagnose anxiety or as a treatment guide. If you’re struggling with something talk with a mental health professional. They will be much more helpful than me. I also want to say that there’s nothing shameful about seeking answers or asking for help. And if you do get a diagnosis, remember it’s a starting point for treatment, not a sentence or judgement on who you are. You wouldn’t feel ashamed about finding out you have lyme disease or a heart condition, and there shouldn’t be a stigma against mental health problems either. Read more

Anxiety Kitty: The Not-So-Surprising Way Pets Improve Mental Health

Remember that nervous cat I adopted a few months ago who spent all his time hiding under couches and beds or in closets? (click here to read “Lessons From My Nervous Cat”). My plan was to pour as much patience, love, and understanding into his life as I want people to show me when I’m scared. I wanted to show him that he had a safe home now.

Well, it’s working. Flynn is turning into quite the friendly cat, especially with me but also with the rest of the people he sees every day. And he’s even getting better around non-family members. We had several people over for dinner last night for a total of 14 humans around. Flynn hid when they were all in the house together, but after we sat down to dinner (some outside and some in the dining room) he actually wandered around out in the open and let people he didn’t know pet him.

After doing some research, I learned that clicker training is the one thing people have found that helps anxious cats settle down and feel safe. No one knows why teaching a cat to do simple tricks on command combats anxiety, but it does. My theory is that when the cat gets positive reinforcement for certain actions the additional structure helps make them feel secure. Whatever the reason, it’s adorable. It’s mostly about teaching him to do things he was already doing on command (touch my fingers, come when called, jump on and off chairs, and stand on his hind legs). The “stand” command is everyone’s favorite. He’s just so cute!

Anxiety Kitty | marissabaker.wordpress.com

As I’ve helped Flynn with his anxiety, he’s been helping me with mine. Before a lunch date a few weeks ago (the first since my breakup), he spent the whole morning following me around and checking in on me. Every few minutes while I was working at my desk he’d hop out of the window and walk over to “talk” with me and have his head rubbed. And when I walked into a different room he followed. Since then, he’s kept that pattern up most of the days my anxiety has spiked.

I’m honestly shocked how in-tune he is with my emotional state. A few days ago I was working on a guest post sharing my testimony about anxiety (I’ll share a link here when it goes live) and I hit a point in my writings where I just burst into tears sitting at my desk. I went for a walk outside and when I came back Flynn walked around my feet crying until I responded to him. He actually let me pick him up and hold him for a good 30 seconds (he hates being cuddled and usually wiggles as soon as you pick him up). Then a little while later when I was journaling and crying he spotted me, ran into the room, jumped up on the bed with me and stayed there purring until someone else came home. The only other times he sits on my bed with me is late at night, so this was really outside his normal behavior.

We’ve also discovered another shared love: old books. I collect Grosset & Dunlap series books (like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Rick Brant, and others). I found two bags full of books I needed for my collection at a book sale on Friday and they’re in really good shape. Flynn acted like the bags were full of catnip. He dove into the Hardy Boys bag head first and rolled around on the books until I pulled him out and tied the bag shut so he wouldn’t damage them. Then he climbed into the bag that I’d had Rick Brant books in earlier. He looked almost as happy with the books as I am.

Anxiety Kitty | marissabaker.wordpress.com

There’s just something comforting about sharing my home with a fluffy critter. Cats are my choice, but I’m sure other pet owners can relate whether they love dogs, rabbits, gerbils, or even non-fluffy pets. People are happier and healthier around animals. In fact, one survey found that 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says, “pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation.” That’s so true for me. Adopting Flynn and starting counseling are the two biggest things that have helped me deal with my anxiety this year, as well as my post-breakup grief. I know pet ownership isn’t for everyone, and would never tell you to get a pet if you’re not sure you could take care of it. But for those of us who can have pets, they can be a huge help when you’re going through something.

You don’t need to have a mental health issue to benefit from caring for an animal. For example, I suggested in my post on developing Sensing as an INFJ or INTJ that pets can help ground these personality types in the real world. INxJ types are normally a bit out-of-touch with the physical world and there’s nothing like knowing some other life form needs you in order to stay alive and happy to get you out of your own head for a while. Whatever your personality type, pets can be a huge blessing.

What about you? Do you have an animal friend who helps you when you’re struggling with something?

Lessons From My Nervous Cat

Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn Carsen and Flynn the Cat

My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that

  • He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
  • Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
  • My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
  • His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
  • He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs

But I’ve also learned some other things:

  • He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
  • If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
  • He doesn’t like being picked up
  • The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
  • He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
hiding under the bed

I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.

Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.

After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn’s favorite blanket

I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.

And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?

Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.

So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com