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Caffeine and Anxiety: Is It Worth Quitting Coffee Over?

Caffeine and Anxiety: Is It Worth Quitting Coffee Over?

We know caffeine can cause anxiety — and make existing anxiety worse — but is the connection between caffeine and anxiety worth quitting coffee over? Is it worth saying goodbye to the flavor, ritual, and pick-me-up we love so much? I would say absolutely not if […]

Melting the Ice: Guided Meditation (6 Minutes)

Melting the Ice: Guided Meditation (6 Minutes)

In this 6-minute guided meditation, you begin encircled by a wall of ice. Your body is warm, though, and there’s plenty of room to move around. Use the recording or, if you’re leading a meditation, you can read it yourself using the transcript below. Melting […]

I’m Not Doing Enough: Worry Journal Exercise

I’m Not Doing Enough: Worry Journal Exercise

Why should it feel like I’m not doing enough when I’m doing all the time? That’s not true. I’m doing when I have the energy to do. And when I’m not doing, I’m thinking about the doing I wish I could be doing, and planning when and how I’ll do it soon. And whether I’m in the process of doing or not, it’s disempowering either way, because no matter how much I do, the anxiety is there.

Situation / Trigger

Thinking about all my to-do’s

Negative Thought

I’m not doing enough.

Anxiety Level

10

Evidence For

I’m not writing enough.

When I started this website, my plan was to publish new pieces 3 to 5 times a week. It proved ridiculously difficult for me with the rest of my workload, and the amount of posting I’ve done here over these first 4 months (since the launch) shows it.

January, 15 posts. February, 9 posts. March, 5 posts. April, 3 posts.

Two posts a week is fine. One post a week, I can live with. Months like this with a measly three have got to go.

I’m not reading enough.

Most days, I mostly read headlines and social media posts. That’s with the exception of a blog post here, a news article there, and maybe a few pages from whatever novel I’m struggling to stay engaged with because I’m reading it so infrequently.

I’m not cleaning enough.

I can’t stand a dirty house. It’s not disgusting, but it’s not pristine. I want pristine.

I’m not social enough.

I go weeks without seeing or speaking to friends (text, email, and social media excluded).

When I get home, I hold my breath standing outside my front door for fear that if I don’t get it unlocked soon enough the neighbor I hear across the landing will open her door and I’ll have to talk to her. This is a nice neighbor who I barely know and to whom a simple “Hey, how ya doin?” would suffice.

Other distressing neighborly avoidances (e.g., going to and from my car, taking out the trash, stepping into the community backyard).

I’m not self-caring enough.

I beat myself up constantly for falling short (see any one of the “I’m not doing enough” references above).

I almost never take a day off.

I put work above well-being.

Evidence Against

I’m writing enough to have this blog, to have a few readers, and to have something that gives me purpose. Plus, there’s all the writing I do for other websites – 30-something posts a month.

I’m reading enough blogs and books to stay inspired and know I want to read more.

I’m cleaning enough to keep it cleanish most of the time.

I’m social enough to maintain relationships.

I’m self-caring enough to get enough sleep every night, take my supplements every morning, meditate most days, and do yoga now and then.

What’s More Likely

I expect too much of myself within the framework of my life.

Alternative Thought / Positive Affirmation

I’m doing plenty.

Anxiety Level

7

What’s Worrying You?

Keep your own worry journal and work it through. I picked up this tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. Inevitably, my anxiety level at the end of the exercise is less than it was when I started. I hope it works that way for you, too.

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24 Ways to 24/7 Anxiety Relief

24 Ways to 24/7 Anxiety Relief

I had this uncomfortable realization recently that managing my anxiety is never done. I don’t mean the way the dishes are never done or shaving my legs is never done. While they are perpetual tasks that never seem to end, there’s always a time in […]

Time Makes Me Anxious: How Einstein’s Dreams Helped

Time Makes Me Anxious: How Einstein’s Dreams Helped

Why is it that only when I’m doing nothing does it feel like I have plenty of time to do everything? When I take a day off (a full day, I mean, when I don’t have a single thing on my to-do list), I’m always newly-surprised at […]

I Don’t Need to Identify With Emily Dickinson

I Don’t Need to Identify With Emily Dickinson

At a party 4 or 5 years ago, a friend of mine told someone I’d just met that it was unusual for me to get out of the house like this because I’m always home writing. She told this person that because that’s what I’d told her.

I have a feeling my friend didn’t really believe that’s why I stayed home so much, but it made for a good introduction – the romantic tale of a dedicated writer secluding herself from the world for the good of her work.

Of course, the real reason I didn’t go out more often was because of my social anxiety.

I wasn’t home because I was writing so much; I was writing so much because I was home.

I’m reminded of this because of the research I’ve been doing on Emily Dickinson’s reclusiveness.

Practical choice or mental illness?

There are scholars who suggest the famous poet’s seclusion in her family’s Amherst, Massachusetts, home was a “practical” choice made for the good of her work. As stated in Emily Dickinson’s bio on PoetryFoundation.org:

“[Emily Dickinson] has been termed ‘recluse’ and ‘hermit.’ Both terms sensationalize a decision that has come to be seen as eminently practical.”

But after reading half a dozen texts on the subject, I find it difficult to come to such a conclusion, as her extreme behaviors seem hard to attribute to anything but a mental health issue.

This from the Emily Dickinson Museum is particularly telling:

“Among Dickinson scholars, disagreement exists concerning whether hers was a deliberate choice as an artist to isolate herself so she could focus on her work or whether such unusual behavior as her startled flight from the doorbell, an increasing inability to see or visit friends, and speaking with select visitors from behind a darkened door rather than face to face, had a medical origin, such as an anxiety condition.”

Spare me the fairy tale version

I turned to the life story of Emily Dickinson because I thought she was someone who other women with social anxiety disorder could identify with.

Instead, I’ve encountered a body of work evidently devoted to dismissing the possibility of mental illness in favor of the more romantic, fairy tale alternative of reclusiveness as a practical choice for art’s sake.

I get the appeal.

Back when I was telling people I stayed home so much because I was writing it made me feel better about something that, honestly, I felt really bad about – hiding away from the world.

As much as I love being at home, I start to feel bad about it after a while, knowing I’m not making the healthiest of choices – basically, beating myself up for giving in to my disorder.

That’s not to say I never get out. I do, several times a week, but I always feel like I’m living less than I should.

I wonder how Emily Dickinson felt about that.

Did she want more?

Whether she chose her seclusion or not, how did she feel about what she was missing?

We know how important friendships were to Emily, calling her friends her “estate.” She relied on correspondence for the cultivation of these relationships, writing thousands of letters to friends over the years.

But did Emily Dickinson want more?

I know I do.

There’s only so much of a relationship I can cultivate with people via my least anxiety-inducing communication options — text and email. But often I just can’t bring myself to pick up the phone to call someone, much less make plans to see them.

Up until 3 months ago, nobody knew this about me. I mean, I revealed things in the broadest of strokes, as in “I have social anxiety.” But it’s only in writing for this website that I’ve revealed details of what my social anxiety looks and feels like for me.

At first this kind of sharing was gut-wrenching, but so far it’s accomplishing what I’d hoped – making less shameful this secret I’ve been trying to hide most of my life.

I hate to think Emily Dickinson felt shame about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors stemming from an anxiety disorder (if that’s what it was) and felt unfulfilled in her reclusiveness.

But what’s more disturbing to me is if the people asserting that her reclusiveness was a practical choice are doing so because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

Just to be clear here, there is a distinction between anxiety and anxiety disorders.

An anxiety disorder is a mental illness that is more intense than normal anxiety, lasts longer, and interferes with your daily life.

These disorders include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, specific phobias (e.g, agoraphobia), and substance-induced anxiety disorder.

Beliefs don’t make them true

Would it be wonderful if one of the world’s most important poets was wise enough to manufacture the life of seclusion necessary to achieve such greatness?

I don’t think so.

The more inspiring story – and what I believe to be the true one – is that Emily Dickinson wrote some of the world’s most important poetry while living with mental illness.

But it doesn’t matter what I believe or what anyone else believes about Emily Dickinson’s mental state. These beliefs don’t make them true.

No matter the poems, correspondence, or stories we have to go by, it’s impossible for us to accurately diagnose Emily Dickinson with anything more than a century after her death (including any of the other mental illnesses she’s been posthumously “diagnosed” with, depression and bipolar disorder among them).

Hell, it’s hard enough getting accurate diagnoses for people who are alive.

Where does this leave me?

The only thing I’m more certain about after this exploration is how much I want to find women who I can identify with – women who have lived this struggle with anxiety too.

So what if Emily Dickinson isn’t one of them? She’s still inspiring, as a woman, an artist, a friend.

Plus, millions of women have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders (at twice the rate of men, by the way). And millions of other women with normal anxiety struggle with that too.

I have all of you.

What do you know about women and anxiety? Get the facts.

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Walk Their Way: Guided Meditation (5 Minutes)

Walk Their Way: Guided Meditation (5 Minutes)

In this 5-minute guided meditation, you begin in a meadow of tall grasses and wildflowers, a narrow path winding before you. Use the recording or, if you’re leading a meditation, you can read it yourself using the transcript below. Walk Their Way Close your eyes. […]

Nothing I Do Is Good Enough: Worry Journal Exercise

Nothing I Do Is Good Enough: Worry Journal Exercise

It’s a real killer admitting it — that nothing I do is good enough — not because I’m embarrassed by it, but because I try so damn hard. What’s worse is, the harder I try, the more harshly I judge myself when I fall short. It’s […]

How I Came to Love the Hammering Next Door

How I Came to Love the Hammering Next Door

One of our neighbors is having work done on their house.

It’s loudest in the mornings, often right around the time we start meditating.

If I try to ignore it, the construction noise drives me crazy because it’s all I hear. But if I actually make it the focus of my meditation, it doesn’t sound like noise at all. In fact, I find myself enjoying it. The electric saw is soothing, really. The drill has personality. The strike of the hammer comforting in its predictability.

That’s the kind of focus that got me past the anxiety that wouldn’t let me write this piece.

It’s turned into the only thing I can think about

It was on my mind for days, writing this, I mean, but with no foothold for getting started other than the theme and topic: trust and love.

What I find interesting about that is how fitting my struggle is relative to the subject.

The reason I haven’t been able to write is because I haven’t trusted myself to do it and, consequently, I’ve been hating myself for it.

It’s turned into the only thing I can think about – how I don’t have the focus, the energy, the creativity, the purpose, the passion, the right, the insight – to write something that’s worth my time and yours.

But with this line I’m typing now I’ve managed to write 200 words, all by focusing on what I’ve been trying to ignore.

They may not be the words I wish they were but at least they’re the right kind – true.

I wish I’d taken a similar approach to Smart Because You Say I Am? Not once in that piece about doubting my intelligence did I mention how much that very doubt was affecting my ability to write it. Granted, it’s not an effective admission for a writer in most formats, but within the context of what I’m doing here, it may be imperative.

Take a walk, take a nap, or get to the yoga mat

I don’t want to make this just about writing.

Hate and distrust go hand-in-hand in many aspects of my life.

Like all the times I hate the way I feel crumpled up at my computer. Why don’t I trust what my body is telling me? That I need to take a walk, take a nap, or get to the yoga mat.

Or all the times I hate the way I feel rushing through a shower because I’m having ideas in there I’m afraid I won’t remember by the time I get out. Why don’t I trust the creative process? What’s meant to be remembered will be remembered. A relaxing, restorative shower probably means more.

Or all the times I hate the way I feel going along with activities just because I know other people want to do them. Why don’t I trust the people who care about me to be interested in doing things I want to do? Or, maybe more to the point, why don’t I trust that these people will still love me – and I’ll still love them – if they don’t want to do what I want to do, or vice versa? We still have to at least put it out there, otherwise we’d never do anything.

Now if only I could embrace these types of conflicts the same way I do the hammering next door.

Trust those instincts above all else

If there’s something I don’t want to hear, how about I try giving it my full attention?

Granted, there’s a lot of crap I don’t want to hear for a very good reason. Negative self-talk, for example, which I know to acknowledge and let go. But when they’re positive things I’m trying to ignore – like taking a break or expressing myself – I’d like to trust those instincts above all else and follow them.

When are you conflicted about which part of yourself to listen to? How do you handle it, how does it feel, and what would you like to be different?

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Women’s History Month: Timeline of the Movement, Who to Follow, Stories to Share

Women’s History Month: Timeline of the Movement, Who to Follow, Stories to Share

With so many important stories to share during Women’s History Month, where in the world do we begin? The story of the movement itself comes to mind. The location: New York City. The year: 1908. Women’s History Month: A timeline of the movement This Time article […]

How a Buddhist Monk Says We Should Do the Dishes

How a Buddhist Monk Says We Should Do the Dishes

For a couple of weeks now, my fiancé, Andy, and I have been reading aloud to one another excerpts from inspiring books before our morning meditation. A couple of days ago, I started reading from The Miracle of Mindfulness by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Yesterday, when […]