portrait of a woman.

Why I'm Giving My 'Anxiety Brain' Two Days Off

Labor laws are in place to protect workers from abuse. They are meant to regulate the time a person can spend on-duty to ensure quality of life. The anxious mind however, is not aware of, nor cares about, labor laws.

The anxious brain works overtime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This leaves us, the owners of these over-enthusiastic minds, physically and emotionally spent. Every little bump in the road is equivalent of a crisis. As a result, our shoulders are slumped, our skin is sallow and the call of a warm bed in a dark room is too much to ignore. When my computer goes on the fritz, the first thing I do is to try turning it off and on. Reboot the sucker. Maybe the human brain works the same way.  

The good folks at my hospital’s therapy clinic are teaching me how to maintain control over my thoughts. Racing, catastrophizing thoughts are the byproducts of anxiety and is the direct cause of the unpleasant physical side effects of panic. So, in an effort to improve my quality of life, I’m forcing my brain to take two days off. From Friday night until Sunday night, I will not allow intrusive, catastrophizing thoughts to take over. For two days:

1. I promise to eliminate all expectations of others. It is fruitless to base my happiness on what I expect people to do or to say.

2. I promise to be thankful for the home I have instead of finding fault with its flaws.

3. I promise to not overthink every interaction I had with people this week. I will remind myself I was always kind and considerate and that is good enough. What other people think of me is none of my business.

4. I promise, for two days, to accept life is uncertain and stop mentally wringing my hands over everything out of my control.

5. I promise to busy my hands with a puzzle or a craft and busy my mind with music and books.

6. I promise to halt the negative thoughts that creep into my conscious. It may be useless to try to stop them, so I’ll just put them off until Monday.

7. I promise to remind myself I deserve this break from constant worry and anguish, because all the worrying in the world will not change the outcome of anything.

Come Monday, I’ll see how I feel. Hopefully that little almond-shaped part of the brain (called the amygdala) which, in all of us with panic disorders, is way too active, will send out warning shots only in the face of real danger. Being kind to ourselves in this way will make it infinitely easier to be kind to others.

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To My College Roommate Who 'Jumped in the Fire' of Mental Illness With Me

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

To My Beautiful Roommate,

We met last summer and texted periodically through the end of our senior year up until move-in day. I felt like we would get along well and you seemed like a really cool person. Yet, somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I felt like I was lying to you. How do you tell someone you’ve had social anxiety since you were a kid? How do you tell someone that you spent so many nights shaking, crying yourself to sleep? How do you tell someone you’ve wanted to die and have come so close to doing so by your own hand? How do you tell someone about the scars on your wrist? How in the world do you do that?

But I knew I had to tell you. It wouldn’t have been fair to you not to. I knew this meant I would potentially have to find a different roommate, but you seemed like a super accepting person and I knew honesty was key. So, one night I texted you and gave you the basic rundown. I didn’t share specifics, but I told you how depression and anxiety are things I’ve been struggling with for a long time and while I know how to manage them better now than I did five years ago, there are still bad days. I told you I understood if you didn’t want to room with me because of it and there would be no hard feelings.

You responded beautifully. You told me jokingly that I couldn’t get rid of you that easily and if I ever wanted to talk, you were there. I exhaled in relief.

Then, school started. Well, “welcome week” started. We were at an info session for something, but my anxiety began to skyrocket. I needed to leave. So, after what felt like hours of contemplating this, I quietly left the room to “go to the bathroom.” I walked outside and calmed myself down. After realizing I left my water bottle there, I texted you asking you if you could bring it back to the room. You said of course and asked if I was OK or if I needed you. I don’t remember the excuse I gave, but I remember being overwhelmed with gratitude for you.

When you came back, I thanked you and we both made a cup of coffee and began to talk. I have no idea how the subject came up, but we started talking about mental illness. You told me how you didn’t always know how to respond and when your friends in high school first experienced it, you didn’t respond in the best way. But, you learned from it. I don’t know how much I shared with you, but I told you I had left that session because of anxiety and you said you had suspected that, but didn’t want to push anything. You told me you were there for me and if I needed anything to just let you know. My heart was overflowing with the compassion you showed me. To this day, those few hours of just drinking coffee and talking is one of my favorite and most comforting memories.

My transition to college was much more difficult than I anticipated. I quickly was surrounded by self-harm urges and the depression was overbearing. I frequently left the room to go on walks in the middle of the night to clear my head. Through our first semester, you were so kind to me. You were so helpful. You did so much more for me than you will ever know. You took away sharp things I had so I wouldn’t be tempted. You talked me through my moments of weakness. You were just there. And you were great.

Over winter break, I felt like we were growing apart, anxiety plagued my mind and I thought you didn’t want to live with me anymore. I made a New Year’s resolution to be a better roommate to you. I told myself I would keep all the mental health stuff separate from you. Well, unfortunately my plan didn’t work out too well when on the first day back, I had probably the worst anxiety attack of my life and had to call a friend to come up to our room. I didn’t want you to have to see that. I didn’t want you to feel like you had to do this again. I felt awful.

Later in the semester, you heard me purge. The shower had been on and I didn’t think you heard me — you hadn’t when I had done it in the past. But, I came out and you texted me saying “hi.” I responded “hi.” And you asked how I was. I said I was fine and asked how you were. You told me you heard me make myself sick and didn’t know what to do or say, but you wanted to help.

I explained to you I didn’t mean for it to happen and I was trying to stop. I told you I was OK and I thanked you for caring. Over the next couple months, you were there when I struggled with my self-image issues. And you stood by me through it all.

Slowly over the semester, I realized there was no use trying to completely separate this from you. I was significantly better than I had been first semester and I didn’t need to rely on you as much, but when I did, I knew I could.

So to my dear, dear college roommate, thank you. Thank you for hugging me when I cried. Thank you for kicking people out of the room when my anxiety was at a high. Thank you for asking me if I’m OK every time I leave the room to go on a walk. Thank you for being there for me through it all when you have no obligation to do anything. Thank you for laughing with me over the dumbest stuff. Thank you for binging Netflix, drinking coffee and obsessing over snow. Though you had little experience with mental illness, thank you for jumping into that fire with me. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being the best.

I love you,
Your Roommate

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Why My Recovery Has Encouraged Me to Stop Looking So Hard for Love

Moments of self-doubt. Hours of being unsure about my feelings. Days of not feeling like talking. Weeks of being unable to keep calm. Months of wanting to make everything be perfect.

This is just a taste of some of the things you can expect from me. I have my phases, which come in waves most of the time. Anyone who has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression will probably tell you the same. But love is something I struggle with. It’s not that I don’t want love. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. I crave it, long for it, look for it from everyone. It’s something I need. As someone who struggles with the darkness in my brain, I often feel like I need more love than other people do.

But loving me can be hard sometimes. I’m often unpredictable. There are days when getting out of bed is easy and some when it’s barely possible. Some days, I just need to lay in bed and sleep, but some days I want to go on spontaneous adventures. There are nights when I just want to read a book and drink tea, but there are also nights when I want to go to every bar or club and dance all night. I like to keep my significant other on their toes. I’ll often bottle emotions or thoughts up, sometimes for weeks. This often hurts not only myself, but the person I’m in a relationship with. I’m getting much better at this, though.

There are good things about dating me, though. I often give all my heart to others. I’m often very forgiving, because I know at some point, my mental illness is liable to cause me to do something stupid. I like to think I’m a very caring and kind partner. I can sympathize easily with others, because I understand what it’s like to struggle with things. I love helping others. I want to help others. Having someone to walk through life with is something I need.

I guess what it all boils down to is this: I need love and I need to love people. And so do you. People need other people. Don’t forget that. Let love do its thing. I’ve stopped looking so hard for love. That’s become my goal for 2017. Let love find me. Love those around you and first, yourself. That may be the hardest part of all of this, loving yourself. But you can do it. I know you can, because I’m learning to love myself more every day.

“There is never a time or place for true love. It happens accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, throbbing moment.” ― Sarah Dessen

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Why We Need to Stop 'Shoulding' Ourselves

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I shouldn’t have eaten that.”

These are common phrases I hear from clients in my counseling practice. So many people are so hard on themselves so much of the time, believing self-criticism will help them attain their goals. After all, many of us have all been raised with a “no pain, no gain” attitude. Our culture expects so much of us and requires us to live at such an unnaturally fast pace that it has caused an epidemic of perfectionistic and stressed out people. Who could possibly keep up with the unrealistic expectations of our culture without having it take a toll on our mental or physical health?

Many of my clients think their self-berating will get them in line or keep them in line. I often ask (rhetorically of course) how it is working out for them, knowing full well if it was working, they would probably not be sitting in my office! Many people fear if they stopped beating themselves up or being really hard on themselves, they would never get anything done. Is self-hate really an effective motivator? Can’t we motivate ourselves with kindness, passion or encouragement? I work with people in all walks of life — nurses, doctors, personal trainers, teachers, etc. — and I often ask them if they ever speak to their patients, clients or students the way they speak to themselves. They wouldn’t dare. They would likely be fired if they did, not to mention they often view others which such different standards and with so much more compassion than they do themselves. Why do so many of us feel compassion and kindness toward others but then turn inward with a whip of self-criticism and perfectionism?

Many of us were raised with the belief if we were kind to ourselves and liked or even loved ourselves, we would be conceited. But is that true? Can we upgrade the program on that one and all agree self-care and kindness is not necessarily self-grandiosity and entitlement? When someone lives with the internal program of “shoulding” or self-criticism and perfectionism, what usually ends up happening is that they are either very anxious about getting things done and getting them done perfectly — a thankless, never-ending job since none of us is perfect! — or they end up burning out or rebelling and are unable to get things done at all. This often leads to feeling depressed because they can’t keep up with their self-imposed rules, regulations and expectations.

So where does all this “shoulding” leave us? For many, the answer is depressed and anxious. So many people “should” themselves regularly with high, unrealistic expectations. They are very driven, perfectionistic, achievement-oriented and outer goal-focused. I call this being a “human doing” rather than a human being. Others fall into the opposite extreme of the spectrum and find it hard to get much of anything done. They struggle with procrastination and then beat themselves up about it. They struggle with depression and feel badly because they can’t get themselves to do what they set out to do. Then there are those who bounce back and forth between “shoulding” and rebelling. They may also “should” themselves but then rebel and can’t seem to get themselves motivated.

I used to be a “bouncer.” I was either excited by some new diet or completely blowing it off. I was either totally into some new Jane Fonda workout or I couldn’t get myself off the couch. I was either swearing off alcohol or all-out partying. I was not a big fan of moderation, you might say. So, if listening to your harsh mind messages is one choice and rebelling and feeling badly about yourself is the other, you may not realize there is a door number three. Door number three is following your heart. It’s making your choices out of love and kindness and what feels the most right to you, rather than making your choices because of a self-imposed whip or rebelling from the beating and going on strike. I have heard it said that the longest 12 inches is from the head to the heart. The heart is a loving voice. It’s our intuition, the part of us that is compassionate and kind. But it’s hard to hear that voice when it is being drowned out by the megaphone of the mind. A kind voice is in there though — we all have it.

We were not born “shoulding” ourselves. We learned every internal rule we have. And fortunately, we can unlearn them. We can learn to delete the harsh messages in our mind in the same way we can delete a virus from our computers. And we can upload new, kinder messages. We can get things done from a place of moderation. We can rest in a place of peace, relaxation and self-worth. 

So see if you can take a few moments now and then and ask your heart rather than your head, What feels right for you? I promise you will still get things done. It just won’t be from an anxious place of trying to prove you are worthy or a depressed place of thinking you aren’t.

Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of “Getting Over Overeating for Teens.” She is also co-author of “The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook and “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the ‘I Feel Fat’ Spell.” Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, blogs or podcasts, please visit www.andreawachter.com

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Being Vulnerable Enough to Talk About My Anxiety

There was nothing particularly special about that Wednesday. It was a day I would drive my Grandfather’s old powder-blue Honda CR-V along curving country highways leading to a bridge. Then I’d drive over the bridge crossing a body of water. Once on the other side, I’d go to a business meeting, followed by a much anticipated dinner with a dear friend. There was nothing unusual about the minute or so I’d spend up high, suspended over water, moving fast. After all, I’d done it dozens and dozens of times before. There was nothing special about it at all, except it terrified me. The night before I was due to make the drive I couldn’t sleep. I rose early, well before the sun came up.

In retrospect, the details of how I crossed the bridge don’t seem all that important. What’s important is I had to do it, and so, I did. I did it even though my palms were sweating and my heart was racing and my legs were wobbling and felt strangely on fire. I turned up the song on the radio, focused on the exhale and the inhale of my breath, and I thought about how Mount Rainier — standing strong and snow-capped and stunning just out my driver’s side window — felt like an old friend. Before I knew it, I was over the bridge and I steered Grandpa’s car from the highway on to the crush of Interstate-5. I was relieved.

The next day on the way to meet friends for lunch, I followed different winding country highways to Olympia. This is the town where I went to high school, the town where I learned to drive, the town where I first dreamed my biggest dreams and made the plans that sent me to Los Angeles to pursue them. And this time, I felt better — almost normal in fact — because the sun was shining and the water was sparkling and I felt happy. I barely thought about a previous December night, driving those same roads and hurtling through the darkness. Dad rode next to me drifting in and out of consciousness, wind pummeling my mother’s SUV and rain spitting buckets. So much rain the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up, and I gripped the steering wheel with everything I had just to keep us on the road. I kept stealing glances at my father, wondering if he was sleeping or dying. I said a silent prayer with every mile marker we passed because every mile brought us closer to home; even though it wasn’t home anymore. Not since Mom died and since Dad got sick.

I came of age driving Washington State’s rural highways, snaking over waterways and crossing bridges and winding through forests. So how could something so familiar become the thing that frightened me? I suppose that’s the power of post-traumatic-stress, the way it can shake you and alter your consciousness, making you feel like a stranger in your own body, making you doubt everything you thought you knew. I’m not a solider. I’ve never served in the military. But I feel as if I have been to war. And I won — at least I think I have. But on some days, and in some ways, those battles still rage on.

I recently told a friend I didn’t think I’d ever feel safe again. The remark was off the cuff and meant to be a joke, but in truth, I meant it. My whole life I’ve struggled with anxiety, but I didn’t know how to name it, or how to talk about it. Instead, I tried to control it, to deny it, to tamp it down. And for a while, I was convinced I had beaten my fears into submission. But then along came a tornado of tragedy. A violent storm of death and loss that quickly and swiftly eviscerated my carefully constructed façade of being brave and strong and having it all together.

The storm taught me nothing in life is certain — a scary prospect for a control-freak like me. But it also taught me the only way out is through. If I don’t want my fears to control me, I have to surrender to them, walk into them, and thank them for being here, for reminding me of what’s important.

Once, I stayed a week at the beach. I was paddling around Case Inlet, soothed by saltwater, utterly tranquil, when not far away, a curious seal popped his head above the water. He stared at me and I stared back at him. Before logic or reason could intervene, I began to swim towards him. Sensing a threat, he dove beneath the surface of the water. I kept on swimming, and as I did, I made my voice a song and cast it out across the sea. “Hello, Mr. Seal,” I said. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” And he seemed to understand, because he popped his head above the surface again, and froze there for a minute, just looking at me.

This went on for several minutes, our water dance, the diving and re-emerging, both of us circling each other, watching, considering, keeping a safe distance but drawing ever closer. When we were quite close to each other, he dove under again. As I treaded water looking for him, I suddenly realized something: I was a long way from shore, and I was alone, and in the murky saltwater, clouded up as it was by sand and seaweed, I wouldn’t be able to see the seal coming, wouldn’t know where he’d emerge next, and if he decided to attack me, or bite me, or pull me under the water, I wouldn’t be able to escape.

And there it was, that fear again, pulsing through my veins like a jolt of ice water. I turned toward the shore and I swam as fast as I could, legs pumping, swim fins slicing though the bay. And several moments later I turned back and I saw my seal again, further away now, but still watching me. He cast one last curious glance my way – it seemed to me a sort of sad farewell – and then turned to swim off in the opposite direction. And in that moment, I believed he had not meant to hurt me, just like I had never meant to hurt him.

I’m a realist. I know I’ll never be fully free from the fears that plague my worried mind. On some days, I feel pretty good, like I could do just about anything. And on other days, like the Wednesday when I drove over that bridge, it was all I could do just to get through it. I used to think that soldiering on and suffering in silence was brave. It’s not. It only makes my fear worse. What is brave is being vulnerable enough to talk about the places that scare me, to run the risk that by telling you that sometimes, when I’m driving my car on the freeway I feel like I’m moving so fast I won’t be able to stop and I’ll fly through the windshield and hurtle into space, you’ll think I’m irrational. Maybe you will. But then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll read this and think, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one,” and you’ll realize – as I’m realizing – that none of us are truly alone in this strange and beautiful experiment we call life.

Follow this journey at Extra Dry Martini 

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A woman on her phone. Text reads: 27 Real Life Texts That Help People Get Through Anxious Moments

27 Real Life Texts That Helped People Get Through Anxious Moments

When you’re stuck in an anxious moment, with racing thoughts and feelings of panic ricocheting throughout your body, reading an “inspiring” cliché may not be quite what you need to move past it. But inspiring words coming from a friend or family member who knows you — those can be different. Although it isn’t a “quick fix,” a perfectly timed text can at least remind you you’re not alone in your feelings and that you indeed are loved.

To celebrate friends who know what to say (or at least try their best), we asked people in our mental health community to share a text or message they received from a loved one who helped them during an anxious moment.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I don’t know what to do right now to help you, and that’s OK. All I can do is be here for you and I can accept that. I know I can’t make everything go away, but I can hold you while it feels like the world is shattering around us. Your struggle is my struggle, and your fight is mine.” — submitted by Brooklynn G.

2. “Hey, you’re a beautiful, young mother. And I know shit’s always hard… Please, please, please keep being the beautiful mother that you are because even if you’re not in direct contact with the people who support you, you are an inspiration.” — submitted by Rachel M.

3. “After being diagnosed with depression/bipolar disorder/anxiety over 10 years ago, I never imagined I would find someone who could put up with me or better yet fall in love with me. I receive texts like this all the time from my fiancé, but this is the only one I could find right now. Sometimes all someone needs is a little motivation and support, to just to know their effort is not going unnoticed. He’s been my backbone, and I’m so thankful to have someone like him in my life, forever…

4. A tip for anyone with a significant other who’s battling mental illness — if there’s nothing else you can do, just be there to lean on. Mental illnesses are no joke and receiving a simple text with a little bit of encouragement could be enough to turn your partner’s mood around (even if it’s just for a bit).” — submitted by Kristy M.

5. “Progress, not perfection. Telling me and your therapist are both really hard steps to take, give yourself some credit for that. You haven’t truly lost because you’re still here and you’re still fighting. I’m proud of you for that and thankful too because having you in my life has made it better, and I know how hard the fight is, but you keep doing it.” — submitted by Theresa S.

6.  “Keep writing to me. You are never a bother to me. Stay in the present, you will get through this. You may not believe it, but I do. I have faith in you.” — submitted by Ariana M.

 7. “My fiancé sends pictures of our dogs when I tell him I’m not doing well.” — submitted by Erin W.

8. “My sister: ‘It’s OK to feel this way. I am here for you.'” — submitted by Erica F.

9. “You are not your thoughts: you are the person who you always were… and that will come back.” — submitted by Heleen K.

10. “I’m sorry… do you want to offload on me? I’m here for you whatever and whenever you need. Huge hugs xxx” — submitted by Emma L.

11. “I don’t know how to fix this, but I love you.” — submitted Steph B.

12. Submitted by Sarah P.:

13. “This one is kinda silly but from my boyfriend, ‘Think of pink giraffes.'” — Isabel M.

14. “My friend sent me, ‘I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m here for you if you need me.’ That meant everything to me.” — submitted by Matt N.

15. “My co-worker, ‘Take a deep breath. You got this!’ It was so nice to feel empowered in a moment of weakness.” — submitted by Ashley M.

16. Submitted by Katie L.:

17. “My mom randomly texted me one day while I was having a particularly bad day, and all the message said was, ‘Breathe. Love you,’ and it helped me make it to the next day.” — submitted by Rayne S.

18. “‘I love you.’ Part of my anxiety is worrying that friends and family don’t love me enough and will leave me of their own will.” — submitted by Megan E.

19. Submitted by Grace D.:

20. “Life is shitty, but you got this.” — submitted by Emily W.

21. “My best friend texted me, ‘Maybe you need some rest.’ I changed my ‘plans’ for that moment and laid on my couch and took maybe an hour nap and woke up feeling much better… it was so helpful in that moment because I don’t think I would’ve done that.” — submitted by Lisa L.

22. “I remembered that you have to go through the bridge to get to my apartment. Remember: you will get through the bridge come hell or high water, and plus, you can’t have beer or my company until you get through it, so be brave. You got this, and if you don’t have it I’ll come get you.” — submitted by Brittney L.

 23. Submitted by Brandi W.:

24. “A close friend of mine assures me my brain isn’t ‘stupid,’ it is just trying to help and is misguided. And then sends me a bunch of pics of whatever her cats are doing at the moment. I do the same for her.” — Chriss T.

25. Submitted by Sammi G.:

26. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here.” — submitted Lynsey G.

27. “We’ve got this.” — submitted by Michelle B.

Real People. Real Stories.

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