Learning from Meditation: The Power of Not Doing

Last week I posted my first goals check-in on Anxiety Ink. While I was writing my update I was happily surprised by how positive my first quarter turned out. I tackled the new goals well and finally paid attention to ones I’d neglected for a long time. One of those neglected goals was to learn how to meditate. For years I’ve heard about the positive health benefits of mindfulness. Even in my yoga classes, which I started in January, the meditation portion is one of my favourite parts.

Despite all the great information at my fingertips, I never took that step to learn how. Mid-March I was playing around on Pinterest and was led to a blog where the author mentioned a meditation app, Calm. I figured that was the easiest way to try it out because my phone is always on and it’s always near me.

I took their 7 day meditation challenge and I’m hooked. I want to try out a few more apps before I commit to this one –there are only a few meditations to sample without paying– but I love the concept of a meditation app. It’s just too convenient.

The biggest lesson I have taken away from my foray into meditation is the power of not doing. I know that goes against everything we learn as productive members of society, but it’s true. Our minds and bodies are not designed to be occupied 24/7. Doing so, regardless of your natural energy level, leads to burnout.

I’ve suffered burnout, and it’s awful. And I am very close on the heels on of my second bout, which is likely what spurred me to get my butt on the meditation train.

The ten minutes I take a each day to sit at my desk and simply be are the best, most refreshing moments of my day. Hands down.

If you’re like me, an anxious, overachieving, type A perfectionist, you likely suffer from some kind of guilt if you’re not doing something. There’s always something that needs to be done, and sitting on one’s butt doing nothing isn’t getting it done. But that’s the thing, no matter what you do, there will always be another thing that needs to be done. It never ends. So why not take those moments of peace for yourself?

I leave the house and go to work five days a week. Depending on the day, I have household or pet chores to tackle when I get home, a workout to accomplish, blogging that needs to be handled, and now coursework on top of all of my regular stuff. Not to mention the people who need my attention in my life.

When I step back and take in all of the things I do in a single month, from the big items to the minutiae, it’s a wonder I haven’t snapped. We live in a society that believes if we’re not stressed and doing a hundred things at once we’re not working hard enough. That’s crap. All of us deserve to take a moment and recharge every day.

For me, those ten minutes of not doing have helped with my sleep, helped me cope with my anxiety, they helped me bounce back 90% faster from an extremely emotional day, and they have helped me focus better on tasks.

I’m taking my 10 minutes and I’m not feeling guilty about them.

A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. It’s not something I talk about a lot, but those who know me, and any readers from Anxiety Ink, are well aware of the fact. It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life though I don’t take any medication for it. I’ve learned to handle it myself for the most part.

This year, 2016, has been particularly stressful. I’m noticing that I’m falling into some bad habits in an effort to comfort myself. While comforting oneself is not a bad thing, my coping mechanisms are leading to some not-so-great outcomes.

One, I’m closing myself off. That’s never good. I’ve been using my job as an excuse; it’s extremely social and while I do get peopled-out fast, I’m using that as a fall back. It’s ok to be tired, it’s ok to not want to do stuff all of the time, but lately I haven’t wanted to do anything with anyone at all. My friend wanted me to have coffee with her last week and I almost had a panic attack because it was too close.

Now that I’ve acknowledged the pattern I can take steps to fix it. This isn’t the first time and is likely not the last.

Two, and this is the one that’s bothering me the most (which says a great deal about me), is that I’ve developed a terrible reading habit. Every once in a while, when I can’t decide what I want to read next, I pick a favourite book off my shelf. The book I select is always one I’ve read before, and what I like to do is flip through and do a cursory re-read. I also do this when I’m tired and don’t want to read a single chapter of my current book-in-progress (I’m a binger).

My intention is always to simply read a favourite scene of my already-read book before I go to sleep. However, I always end up reading basically the whole thing and stay up later than I would have just picking up my current read.

Months ago I decided I had to stop doing this because it was really cutting into my reading time. My goal was to read 68 books this year –I can’t get that done if I’m not reading new books. I did better with that reason in mind, then fell off the wagon after reading two particularly sad books. I just wanted to be in a safe book that wouldn’t tug on those threads.

Lately, I haven’t been diligent about picking up my current-reads, and not because I’m not enjoying them. I finally had to stare the problem right in the face after perusing my to-read list and seeing all the awesome books I want to read.

This habit of picking up “safe books” is yet another coping mechanism I’ve developed because my life is not without stress right now.

While this coping mechanism is not nearly as worrisome as the other, it stems from and leads to the same thing. I’m putting up walls and falling back into the known because I can’t seem to control things lately. With the books, it’s about me being afraid to pick up a new read because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Picking up ones I’ve read gives me complete and utter control of the experience because I can take away exactly what I want.

Same goes for me not wanting to go out and socialize. It’s two sides of the same problem.

I wish it was as easy as realizing what the issue is and telling myself to stop. I really do. Baby steps are required, but I’ll get there. I’ve already started a new book with a set completion date and I have coffee plans for Friday. As well as a couple of other social events for the month.

The big stressors are the things I actually need to deal with. I’m working on those, though much more slowly.

I have to ask, does anyone else suffer from this bad reading habit? I don’t actually reread the entire book, which would be one thing, I read the parts that will make me happy. It’s an odd and controlling experience I hadn’t really thought of until I stopped to write this blog post.

 

*featured image: mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr.

Developing Resilience

Between work and my personal life over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress. I’ve also been taking a lot of work stress home with me because I’m extremely frustrated with certain team members. I’ve always done my best to leave work at work, but it’s been spilling over a lot lately.

Last month I had a little sit down with our district vice president, and he asked me what my happiness level is at work on a scale of 1 to 10. Sensing yet another mini-lecture if I said what I really thought (a previous answer to a different question had led to a long reply), I gave it a 9.

Later that same week in my monthly one on one with my manager, she brought up my 9 grade, and because I’m much more comfortable with her, I told her I’m really at about a 7. It’s the highest I’ve been at over the past year, since at one point I was dreading coming to work and got stomach pains thinking about aspects of it. Thankfully, that problem has been resolved.

Still, I’m not as happy as my manager and I know I could be –and the root of this problem is not going to go away. So we discussed me developing better coping mechanisms –like focusing on positives and letting things go. I do my best to practice both in my personal life so it makes sense do the same at work.

A little while after our conversation, I came across this tip sheet on my company’s newsfeed called “Build Your Personal Resilience”:

Building Resilience

This is an amazing list of ways to help people build themselves up so that they can better cope with stress. It’s all about making a positive foundation so that when stressful changes occur, one is ready to be flexible and better able to manage. It’s all extremely obvious, but when you’re floundering in an emotional lake, having those points in front of you is the best life preserver.

life preserver by gabe popa via Flicker

life preserver by gabe popa via Flicker

I don’t like change, but I would normally call myself a resilient person. Lately, not so much. I’m constantly stressed and on edge, which is making itself very obvious to me by the fact that my sleep is off, more often than not I am frustrated no matter what I’m doing, I haven’t had any desire to write, and I feel absolutely zero motivation to do anything. I’m just going through the motions of life.

Everything I’ve mentioned so far is part of a cycle. My personal stress –which has been extremely high since November due to some significant life changes– is feeding into my work stress which is in turn spiking my stress levels when I’m away from work and on and on it goes until it is completely out of hand.

The worst part is that it is robbing me of the things that make me happy and relieve/reduce my stress because I am sucked dry of all mental energy.

I hit my breaking point on March 25th. I was jogging and pulled a muscle in my leg. Again. I’m mad because I have been working so hard on upping my physical endurance and I take great pains and precautions to prevent injury.

Obviously, I was ignoring the warning signs because this injury doesn’t just happen (unless you’re an athlete); it’s the product of cumulative stress and strain.

Sound familiar?

Instead of taking it easy and letting my body heal from its minor stress, I pushed and pushed until I can’t even walk on the treadmill without pain, let alone run.

As mad as I am at myself, I’m looking for the silver lining –I’m taking this as a sign that if I don’t get a grip and practice my mental coping mechanisms instead of pushing everything back without dealing with it, my psyche is going to snap and that will require far more care and rehab than my poor leg.

While I’m taking it easy on my abused body, I’m also taking steps at showing myself positive progress. I’ve created a fitness binder full of data and useful quotes to keep me motivated while I grapple with my inability to jog for the foreseeable future. See, creating a positive foundation here!

Next I intend to sweep away all of the physical and metaphysical detritus keeping me away from writing and all of the other things that make me happy.

I’m relearning how to cope with the things I cannot change instead of letting them chip away at me because my foundation is currently not up to snuff. That is changing.