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They Can't See the Anxiety Behind the Disguise

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Beating…faster…faster

My heart is pounding a hundred miles an hour.

Cold, so cold,

My hands are freezing and feel like ice.

Trembling, I’m trembling.

I can’t stop this involuntary movement my body is making.

My eyes are darting back and forth,

From side to side.

I take one step after the other,

Left foot hitting pavement,

Right foot hitting pavement.

I keep my head up to disguise the discomfort I’m feeling.

People will look at me and smile and I’ll return the smile,

All the while worrying I may be seen as the fraud I am.

Strong?

Confident?

Her?

Can they see my heart beating through my shirt?

She isn’t strong.

Can they see my eyes shifting back and forth, my hands shaking violently?

She isn’t confident.

Can they see the anxiety swimming through my veins,

Like the blood I need to stay alive?

Swimming through me like the blood that is making my ever worried heart pound, harder and harder?

Can they see the worry?

Do they see my truth?

Do they see me?

They smile.

I smile.

They walk past me as I continue on with my disguise.

This post originally appeared on The Anxiety Chronicles.

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If My Friends Googled 'Anxiety,' I Hope They'd Find This

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Google is an amazing thing. The technology and algorithms that go into something like that is mind blowing. Sometimes I wonder how many things get Googled per day. But this article isn’t about that.

In a previous article, I had talked about how anxiety was such a monotonous thing to describe, and I often just tell people to “Google it.” So, to all those I’ve said that to and all I will say it to, I would hope this is the article you would find if you ever Googled anxiety.

Anxiety is scary. Let’s start with that. It’s not your everyday stress over school or work. I’m sure you’ve seen the shows with the devil sitting on your shoulder trying to tear you down? Well. That’s anxiety in a nutshell. That little devil sits on your shoulder all day, making you think things like “what if” this and “what if” that. Imagine living in constant fear. With no escape, except sleep. Imagine your mind racing at speeds of what seem like light speed. Anxiety sends your nerves into overdrive. Imagine your worst nightmare being on repeat. I know that’s a lot of “imagines,” but I’m just trying to make sure you grasp the concept of this anxiety.

If you know someone with anxiety, show them you care. Be there for them, and if they ever ask you questions you think sound silly, answer as you would any other question. Treat them like a regular person. And if they say they don’t want to do something, don’t make them. I know anxiety sounds like it makes life a lot easier, but trust me, this is not something you want, and in no way does it make any aspect of life any easier.

I hope this article has at least enlightened you on the scary, wild, mental illness that is anxiety. I hope you walk away having learned more than you came with. I know it’s complex, but you deserve a pat on the back for at least trying to understand this for your friend or whoever it may be. I wish you the best.

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5 Ways the Book '10% Happier' Changed My Life for the Better

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If you watch ABC News you know Dan Harris. He can be found anchoring World News, ABC New tonight and Nightline. You may also know him as the anchor who in 2014, ”had a panic attack live on Good Morning America in front of an audience of 5.019 million people.”

After this incident, Harris explored the world of meditation to figure out a way to tame the negative voice in his head. This “fidgety skeptic” has taken the practice of meditation to heart and found that it has changed his life and made him, as his book describes, at least 10 percent happier. A friend passed this on to me and (after I skeptically commented, “What, don’t you think I’m happy enough?”) I went on to read the book.

Reading it is changing my life. Here’s how:

1. I feel understood.

I don’t do yoga, though I have tried it. I eat meat. I’m Italian and I cannot be calm. Basically what I’m trying to say is, I’m not your stereotypical meditation/yoga/mindfulness obsessed person. However, this book made me seriously think about the way I react to and perceive events in my life. Dan Harris is no doubt a hardworking person, but he doesn’t spend every minute working or thinking about his career. He has found some balance and though he has not achieved perfection or “enlightenment,” he is able to enjoy his family, friends and continue be successful in a very high profile field. Working all the time is not a badge of honor. Reading this book made me feel like I was listening to a friend explain a change in his life he didn’t quite understand himself. I trust him. And the way he explains how his mind works against him is frighteningly familiar. Yea. I need to shut that thinking down. Yesterday.

2. I am benefitting from daily meditation.

Harris has created an app for those of us who are new to meditation. You can choose the amount of time you want to spend on this, what you want to focus on and he has leaders in the field handling the heavy lifting, so to speak. When I feel my mind spinning, when my daughter has a bad day, when I need to calm down, I spend 10 minutes listening to the app. Just in case you were wondering, it’s OK, expected and normal to not be able to quiet your mind. Being aware of what you are thinking about and pulling your mind back to the meditation is the practice. It’s interesting to realize what pops into my head while I’m trying to calm my mind (Do we have cookies? I really need to finish weeding the yard. How are we going to afford college? And on and on and on…). Meditation helps me focus, kind of like a daily to do list. If I can’t make my mind stop thinking about it, it’s time to do something about it. And if I can’t do something about it, this practice is helping me learn to let it go.

3. I can help the children in my life.

After reading Harris’ book, I went straight to his podcast and became a subscriber. This led me to some amazing one hour interviews with the Dalai Llama, Arianna Huffington and my personal favorite, Ali Smith. Smith is a certified yoga instructor and executive director of the Holistic Life Foundation, and he teaches meditation to children.

This fall, I will be practicing meditation with a group of elementary students. Our children need this practice to help them deal with their daily stressors, too. This will be a tool they can use in the future to help them continue on the path to success and stay healthy in the process. Some students inhabit “worlds of chaos,” to quote Smith. We need to address how to help children handle the chaos.

4. My friends are benefiting.

I’m sure you can relate to this. You find a great new restaurant, a great deal at your local store, watch an amazing Netflix movie and you can’t stop talking about it. I have passed this book on to many people, and I talk about the podcast and app daily. No one has it all together. We are all struggling with something, and stress is on everyone’s mind. The message I’m getting back from others is the same. The way Harris delivers this information is great for the person coming from a somewhat skeptical point of view, but who is open to doing something to change their live in a positive way.

5. This could be the solution I’ve been looking for.

When I think about the events of the last few months, years, even decade, it can truly be scary, disheartening and worrisome. Maybe if we all had a way to calm our minds, we could handle this one life we are given in a more thoughtful, kind and positive way. We are all facing struggles. Meditation might be a way to help us all relax and learn to be empathetic toward each other.  At the very least, maybe we can be 10 percent happier.

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How I Counteract the Anxiety That Makes Me Lose Sleep

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I usually sleep well, but today I have woken at 5:15 and can’t sleep.

There is fierce, raging activity in my head that consists of a series of worries and anxiety.

1. Something happened at work last week. I am worried that, although I know I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.

2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues, and I fear they won’t like me and will realize I don’t know what I am talking about.

3. When the meeting is over, I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions, but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.

4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week, but I also haven’t planned the training yet.

5. I have entered a singing competition in three weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.

6. My daughter is still unwell after flu and has stopped eating properly.

7. My husband may have to stop working, which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.

8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today. I’ve arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight, but I’m now worried I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.

I could actually continue with more, but eight is probably enough.

What to do? Give up? Ring the doctor? On paper, these things may seem trivial, over-dramatic, irrational. But they feel very real.

I can manage them. Because I have before. A useful exercise I discovered before Christmas is to write them down, name them as feelings/worries and then force myself to counteract them with what I know.

Here’s how I counteracted those worries:

1. Something happened at work last week. I am worried that, although I know I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.

I have lots of evidence of what really happened, and I need to hold to that.

2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues, and I fear they won’t like me and will realize I don’t know what I am talking about.

It is not about them liking me. I have done huge research, and I have a plan, agenda and a clear vision.

3. When the meeting is over, I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions, but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.

I will write detailed notes in the meeting.

4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week, but I also haven’t planned the training yet.

I have PowerPoints I can adapt with experience and ideas. It is not about me but about what my audience needs.

5. I have entered a singing competition in three weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.

I can record the songs and listen to them as I drive.

6. My daughter is still unwell after having the flu and has stopped eating properly.

I can’t control whether she is hungry, but I will help her get better however I can.

7. My husband may have to stop working, which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.

We only to have to get through two years and things will improve. I do need a new cleaner, though.

8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today. I’ve arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight, but I’m now worried I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.

Remember my university days. Frequent nights with four hours of sleep. Baby days — ditto. Did I die? Nope.

Our minds can be devious, and feelings and worries play tricks. But by getting them out, ordering them and challenging them, I believe we can get through them.

I try to focus on solutions. I have within me the skills and experience to solve problems and face challenges like this.

If your worries are stealing your sleep, take time to write them down and challenge them. And maybe talk them through with someone else who can help you find solutions.

A version of this post was originally published on staffrm.io.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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When Anxiety Makes You a 'Revolving Door' Friend

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“It’s not you, it’s me.”

I’ve said this line far too many times for someone who’s never even dated anyone. My anxiety makes me a revolving door friend, in your life one minute, out the next. In your eyes, you may think I’m unreliable. Before you give up on me and our friendship, there are 11 things I want you to know:

1. I haven’t given up on you.

2. I care about you. More than you know. Please, understand when I can’t be there for you, there is no one more hurt than me.

3. Sometimes I just need space. I promise when I feel OK, whether it’s two days or two years down the line, I always come back around.

4. Don’t try to fix me. Also, don’t tell me what to do. That will only push me away further. What I need to know is that you love and accept me the way I am.

5. Keep inviting me. I never cancel because I get a better deal. There are days when my anxiety is so strong, I cannot pull myself out the door. There are also days when I can. When I can, I will.

6. I’m not fine. I say I am because I don’t want to bog you down with the chaos inside my head.

7. My intention is never to hurt you. In fact, sometimes I am too scared I will like you too much. I know I’m not good with commitment. I fear getting close and disappointing you.

8. Please, be patient. Even though I may not deserve it, hold on a little longer.

9. I hope one day I can be as good of a friend as you are to me.

10. I’m here for you. Even when you think I’m not. I hope you know if you ever are in an emergency, call and I will come around.

11. I’m sorry. I’m aware it’s not fair how I treat you. I hate that my anxiety gets the best of both of us. All I can do is try again tomorrow, the next day and the next day (so long as you allow me too).

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A High School Teacher's 10 Strategies for Handling Anxiety of a New School Year

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Two weeks and one day — the countdown to the start of school. I’ve been avoiding the back-to-school aisle at Target because I cannot bear to see the physical reminders that summer is almost over. In two weeks, I go back to being Mrs. Skar. (I shed that persona a few weeks ago and really don’t feel ready to put it back on.) I think many students assume teachers are excited to go back to school. Maybe some are. I am usually not. I enjoy my summers with my children: sleeping in, reading books, playing at the park, and going to the gym. So when it’s time to head back to the routine, I tend to get a little anxious.

I teach high school English, which means nine months of my life are devoted to reading novels, poems, short stories, and student essays — and grading those essays. It’s a lot of work, and I expect a lot of myself. My high expectations can cause a lot of anxiety.

However, during my 12 years of teaching, I have found some strategies to help me cope, and sometimes even avoid, school stress. This year, I plan to share them with my students.

1. Show up. This is one of the most important life lessons you will learn from school. Show up. If you’re one of those students who’s always late or pretends to be sick, this is the one thing I want you to take away from this list. I know you because, for a time, I was you.  I was nervous about what was in store for me. I was anxious because I didn’t feel prepared for the day. I was scared to face the consequences. So I’d miss school. Guess what? All of the things I was scared of were still there the next day, but there were more added. Sometimes just showing up is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important part. Show up.

2. Prioritize. Use a planner to make a list of what needs to get done, when it needs to be done, and how long it will take. Not only will this help you plan ahead, but it will also take away the burden of remembering everything you have to do. Realize not every assignment will take hours to complete; some may take only a few minutes. I like to start with one, easy-to-complete task before I start a more difficult one.  I treat it like a warm-up for my brain so by the time I’m done, my brain is ready to work on that next difficult task. If you’re one of those “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” people, this will be life-changing for you.

3. Listen to your teachers. They kind of know what they’re talking about. Whether it’s a life lesson or a homework reminder, there’s so much you can garner from these people who have seen it all before you have (remember, they were once teenagers). For instance, if your teacher tells you not to wait until Sunday night to do the reading, I’d suggest taking her advice. There’s probably a reason.

4. Get to know your teachers. Did you know teachers were once students? Did you know teachers are actual people who go home after work? Did you know they have lives outside of school? Your teachers are not the enemy. Most of us became teachers because we enjoy working with students. (Seriously, I love working with high schoolers because they remind me what it was like to be young and they are hilarious.) Getting to know your teachers will help you feel more comfortable asking for help when you need it. Will there be some teachers you get along with better than others?  Yes, but that’s life. You still need to be respectful to the teachers you don’t like.

5. Ask for help when you need it. The critical thinking process is important,
so while it’s good to ask for help, you need to make an honest effort first.

6. Find your learning style. Your teachers are not responsible for your learning — you are.  You need to find what works best for you. Whether it’s listening, visualizing, or experiencing, figure it out and play to your strengths.

7. Don’t demand perfection of yourself. No one is perfect, so don’t try to be.

8. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is a vital part of the learning process. Learning isn’t supposed to be easy. It can even be a bit painful at times, but you often learn more from the mistakes you make. Some of my students are so afraid of failure that it freezes them. They will sit and stare at an empty computer screen for 50 minutes in fear that their first sentence won’t be perfect. It probably won’t be. My advice to them is to write whatever comes to mind and don’t worry about grammar, spelling, etc. You can always go back and make changes, but only if you write something.

9. Don’t stress about grades. Easier said than done, I know. Grades are important, but they are not the most important thing. The most important things you’ll learn in high school do not come from a textbook. You should learn how to think for yourself, how to form an opinion, and how to be a decent person. If you do not learn these things, you are wasting your time.

10. Take time to be a kid. Many of my students are involved in so many activities that they run from one thing to another, then go home, eat, do homework, and sleep. They have no time to be kids. Being in activities is great, but you need to limit yourself. It’s OK to cut one activity. Instead, make some time to read a good book, go to a movie, go on a picnic with your friends, or go for a run.

The school year will be starting soon. I’m already having some anxiety thinking about it, but going through my strategies helps. It reminds me of what’s important and why I went into teaching in the first place. Every school year is a chance to start new. Take that chance.

Image via Thinkstock.

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