Part Three: Taking Breaks
Like I described in Part One and Two of this four-part blog series, I never realized that I had experienced anxiety in my life. Instead, I thought that I was just uniquely worried and overwhelmed by things, endured “meltdowns” from time to time, and was debilitatingly afraid of some things.
Living this way so often created a belief about life in me. I believed that life was hard and stressful and there was nothing I could do about it other than accept it and try to enjoy as much of it as I could.
I wanted to be happy. I wanted to do the things that I love and enjoy them to the fullest. Yet as I grew up, I struggled with it.
I was able to enjoy life on special occasions like holidays, birthdays, and vacations. We went to Cape Cod every year and it felt like as soon as I was halfway through the week I’d already count down the days until I could go back again the next year.
I soaked up every moment of my birthday and Christmas as I possibly could. I remember as a kid crying myself to sleep at the end of Christmas day wishing that I could wake up and relive it.
As an adult, I’d feel so sad at the end of a Sunday, desperate to reach Friday once again. It wasn’t because I hated my job – in fact I had chosen professions that I genuinely enjoyed. It was because of how much my mind raced, how much I worried about things, how much I re-hashed previous experiences and conversations.
When I was doing something fun or if everything ran smoothly, it felt like my worries, fears, and thoughts were less controlling. So I lived dreaming of the next weekend as soon as the current one was almost over. I woke up in the morning yearning for the end of the day.
Yet the trouble was that even when it was a weekend, break, or the end of the day, I’d still be worrying about the next thing. It was as if I never truly got a break from my racing mind because it wasn’t the things around me that needed to change, it was how I treated my mind.
I continued to change my career over and over again, thinking that the unrest I experienced, the anxiety that filled my center was a result of my daily activities, and if I changed those activities, I’d feel happy and be able to enjoy each day – not just each holiday.
I often felt unfulfilled, overwhelmed, stressed out. When everything got to be too much, I would experience what I call “meltdowns”, which was something my parents had to talk me down from as a kid when tired trying to finish homework that was due the next day.
As an adult I’d feel like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and it was too much to bear. I’d collapse on my bed, cry, and feel so out of control as my mind whirled and whirled.
It felt like there were no solutions that could help. If anyone ever tried to reason with me in these moments, it felt like there was a toddler inside of my head screaming no to every option.
I talked so negatively towards myself during these moments. As if my more rational self would step outside of my body and watch what was happening with such harsh judgement. I was a hard worker and prided myself on that, in these moments I felt like a failure, a childish person who couldn’t get anything done, an overly emotional person. Why did I do this?
Then meditation was introduced to me.
I switched careers again, this time to massage therapy. I decided to apply to the school when I saw the nature of the teachers there. They were calm, grounded, and centered. I had only known those feelings on special occasions and didn’t know how to access it in my daily life. I thought that if I went to school there and learned from those teachers, I would find it.
Sure enough I did, but not in the way I expected. I found it through meditation.
They had taught us a few basic meditation techniques so we could calm, ground, and center ourselves to be able to work with our clients from a clear place (no one wants a massage from an amped up, stressed out massage therapist). By the end of the program I had discovered that feeling calmer and grounded was no longer reserved for holidays, it had become a new norm for me.
I opened a massage therapy practice after I graduated and loved my new career. I was the most grounded I had ever been in my life, and yet I still found myself once again in the same shoes as before – overwhelmed, unfulfilled, drained, worried.
When everything was running smoothly, when I wasn’t taking on too much work, when I was healthy and taken care of I loved my job. But often times I’d say yes to too many things, held very little value in emotional self-care, and put caring for myself on the back burner until my body made it a priority through a cold or illness.
In the year after my father passed away, I took on much more than I was emotionally capable of handling and found myself struggling to get through an hour of the day, let alone the whole day.
I woke up each morning worrying about how I’d get through the day until I could come home again. As I drove to work I thought about everything I had to do at work. When work was over, I thought about everything I had to do when I got home. When I was at home, resting on the couch, I worried about everything I had to do the next day. And this repeated day after day.
It finally occurred to me that of course I was always yearning for a break because even when I was actually on a break I wasn’t really there. My mind was just worrying about the next thing.
So on a full day as I got out of my car about to walk the block and a half to work, I noticed that it was a beautiful day outside. I was out in nature for a few minutes, why was I busy worrying about all I had to do once I was inside? Why not get a break now?
I pulled out a meditation technique I had learned in massage therapy school. I started to really look around me as I walked. I noticed the tops of the trees. A turkey vulture was circling above. I saw an old house that had a date from the 1700s which I had never noticed before. I noticed what the ground underneath my feet felt like. There was a cobblestone sidewalk, I noticed the grooves in the stone and how they pushed into my shoes.
A warm breeze blew my hair out of my face, I tried to notice how it felt as it brushed comfortingly against my skin. Suddenly I was smiling. My walk that only lasted a few minutes that normally was filled with worry and stress, had stretched to feel like a longer, more joyful moment in my day, as if someone hit the slow motion button and zoomed into all the little details around me. I realized that during that walk, my mind wasn’t worrying.
At the end of the day, I started down the street towards my car, thinking about all I had to do when I got home, when I remembered about that morning and decided to try the same thing. I noticed a spectacular sunset that I would’ve missed.
I continued with this pattern for a while and quickly these walks to and from my car became the some of the most treasured moments of my day. I became curious about how else I could tap into this phenomenon.
When I got home at night and finally made it to the couch, I caught my mind going over the worries for the next day and instead tried out this technique. I noticed the cushions underneath my hips and back. The softness from my sweatpants on my skin. The aroma of the candle I had burning. The presence of my husband sitting next to me. I looked into his eyes and smiled at him, trying to really appreciate him in that moment. It was lovely.
This simple practice of tuning into the present moment through my senses began to give me breaks throughout my busy anxious day, but also allowed me to actually be there during the moments when I really was on a break.
Then Yoga Became a Stronger Part of My Life
I had been practicing yoga on and off since I was sixteen, however during this time I started practicing everyday after I started subscribing to a teacher on youtube. I began to crave that quiet time in the morning, the feeling of my mat underneath my hands, the sun rising outside my windows. My worry and overwhelm I’d often experience at night before bed as I thought about all I had to do the next day seemed to lessen as I just thought about my time on my mat I’d get to enjoy.
I decided to become a yoga teacher and signed up for a yoga teacher training. There I learned more meditation techniques, drastically deepened my own yoga practice, and felt a huge shift in the way I experienced life.
I started practicing a seated meditation every day and eventually took a meditation teacher training as well. Slowly being worried, overwhelmed, and stressed shifted from being my norm to just being moments in my day where I had healthy techniques to help me through.
I noticed how vital this daily self-care was for my health and wellness and saw how it improved my ability to care for others and be present in my relationships. I started seeing the value in setting boundaries, saying no when I needed to and noticing that when I did say yes I meant it and gave it my all. A new quote I heard became a daily affirmation:
The practice of yoga and meditation had created a beautiful doorway into my own internal world that I had tried to hide from since a young age. It gave me ways to connect, to change the way I spoke to myself and treated myself, healthy ways to cope with stress and worry, healthy ways to rest and take breaks.
My life continued to evolve in a beautiful way. I no longer believed that I was a worried, overly emotional person and started to get to know who I really am.
Being anxious went from a daily occurrence to a rare sign that I was slipping away from my self-care routine. Meltdowns had become a thing of the past.
Which was why going into a full blown panic attack in January of 2019, years after my meltdown days came as such a shock. Tune into next week’s blog post to read about my experience with panic, fear, another form of anxiety, and how I dealt with it.