In my young mind, I was going to be rich and famous as soon as I turned 18, so I would never need any help.
***insert gravelly, 40 year old smoker's laugh here, complete with coughing fit at the end***
Eventually, I grew up. I experienced more. I felt more. I loved more. I worked hard. I drank and smoked and yelled and held and laughed and cried. What I noticed was that my tank of energetic optimism didn't get filled back up as fast. I'm very grateful that I never (that's a dangerous word--let's go with rarely) saw other people as filling stations who were responsible for bringing me back up to an abnormally high level of child-like happiness. I understand that true happiness comes from within. Cheesy, but true... When YOU take care of YOURself, YOU experience more happiness. It sounds like a simple formula, right? So, why does it seem like more and more adults are less and less happy?
Well, kind of. That's only another view into other people's lives which I feel is one of the keys to unhappiness. They've also driven us to do everything faster and faster and forego learning something in exchange for just going FASTER.
We're not asking ourselves why we're going so much faster though. And, when you combine speed with too much interest in other people's lives, you're definitely not taking care of YOURself. So, in the hopes of a quick fix and avoiding getting a mental health professional involved (the horror!), you find a book or podcast or blog that promises to give you the fast way to be happy.
You get a few tips to take away and slap them on your psyche like duct tape on a broken pipe. Good to go until you die, now, right?!?
Then, you go to the grocery store and a random child kicks you and their parent doesn't say a word. The cashier ignores you entirely while ringing you up. Someone else's abandoned cart has crashed into your car and scratched it. The bottom of your grocery bag splits when you get home and the milk is now spattered in the driveway. Your partner asks you to change the cat litter so they can take a nap.
Nope. Wrong. No permanent zen to be found.
At this point, ice cream, vodka, and cigarettes seem to be the only solution. I've been there.
I don't have all of the answers and I'm starting to realize that although those books and podcasts and blogs may have good ideas, they don't have MY answers. And, the answers are different for everyone.
Here's what I know:
- This world is a complicated place that thrives on balance. If you understand balance, you understand that it is a constant state of motion between good and bad, happy and sad, abundance and wanting. If you seek balance, it makes the next thing a little easier.
- "Be present" is not just a nice thing to say. Being present takes you away from ruminating on the past and the anxiety of the future. And, if you feel a panic attack coming on, connecting with the present in the most literal sense can scare that attack away. (more on that below if you want a new tip! *eye roll*)
- Teddy Roosevelt said "comparison is the thief of joy." Social media and reality TV create multiple opportunities for you to compare your life and your haves to someone else's, which I think dramatically increases the chance for dissatisfaction with your own life. Do the things that make you feel good even if other people don't get it.
- Meditate or create. Both are mind-clearing activities, but in completely different ways. Meditation encourages you to clear your mind. Creation encourages you to use the junk in your mind to make something better. For me, this is writing, but specifically journaling. I just feel better when I take all that brain junk and dump it on the page. I rarely re-read entries--why look through the trash after you've already put it in the bin and taken it to the curb? I scribble until the shitty feelings are gone (or until I run out of time) and close the book on it--literally. It's cathartic.
My tips for staying in the present and out of a panic attack:
- If you can lie down on your back, do that. Rest your hands on your stomach and feel it rise and fall as you breathe. If you are seated, put both feet firmly on the floor and rest your hands on the tops of your thighs--no fists. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Count each breath.
- Look around--name 3 things that you see--out loud. Don't overthink it. Carpet, sky, or cat are all perfectly good things to notice.
- What do you hear? The air conditioner, a dog barking? You don't have to say it out loud, but it helps.
- Keep breathing! If you smell something, name that!
- Hopefully you're catching your breath at this point and feeling a little less panicky. Tell yourself out loud that it's going to be okay and use your name. It's grounding to hear your own voice and your name. "Heather, it is going to be okay. This will pass. Just breathe. You are strong and you will get through this."
- Finally, drink a big glass of cool water and give yourself 15 minutes to catch your breath and recover. Your adrenaline and blood sugar likely spiked in the last few minutes, so give your body a chance to level back out--WITHOUT a cell phone! Get some fresh air or relax in a cool, dark place.
- Call a friend or family member (try to find someone who can make you laugh!). You don't have to share what just happened to you, but connecting with another person in the moment can help keep you in the present.
Further reading--especially for worrywarts: On Needing to Find Something to Worry About
(via Tim Ferriss)