Practical ways to kick anxiety’s ass

I’ve been wanting to come up with a list of helpful anxiety combatants for a while now. Mostly for me, so that I have something tangible to grab onto when my brain goes into lockdown. But in light of all the mental health struggles being tossed around lately, I realize sharing these personal bits could potentially be useful to someone else.

When I’m having a full blast anxiety attack, I tend to roll around like dough in bed and wait out the sickness. Every thought that enters my head is incomplete and razor sharp. Full of fear and ill intent. Not a single thought of comfort or relief. These are thoughts I do not want to leak outside my mouth so I chew on them and swallow them. And they jab at me on the inside. They pulsate in my stomach. They run up and down my spine like angry toddlers. An endless stream of them.

I don’t know what to do with myself except wait until my body caves into exhaustion. And when I come outside the noise, I always feel like I’ve just wasted another part of my life. Anxiety is such a waste of time.

I used to be terrified of being alone because this is usually where the 50-eyed monster finds me. So I looked for complete stimulation. All the time.

Being alone was too much of a risk. But over the last few years, I’ve had a lot of alone time. Which means I’ve had a lot of attacks. But this has also given me the chance to get intimate with my disorder. Study it. Recognize when it’s on its way. I’ve learned how to set up traps for it. Sometimes, how to give it a job, make it work for me. But mostly how to accept it as a frequent visitor.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder a little more than three years ago. I’m not on medication, but have considered it a few times. I don’t think people who take medication are weaker or stronger than me. Everyone’s anxiety is different. I prefer to maximize all my outlets, outlets that have been working for me for a while.

Obviously, these activities are useless if you’re in too deep, but if you have studied your anxiety enough, and can get a good whiff of it when it’s approaching, maybe one of these could be of use to you.

Move your ass

Yes, I mean exercise. Give it a good eye roll if you want. I know I did at one point. I enjoy exercise, but I’m definitely not one of those people who is on a constant live or die exercise schedule. After long work days, I often have to outsmart my brain into letting my body exercise. The hardest part of exercise is getting yourself there.

Think about yourself hitting that free-fall point during a good workout. Do you feel animalistic? Strong? Like you’re knocking the piss out of invisible demons? After a good workout, how do you look at yourself? Do you slink around in your clothes? Or better, outside them?

My favorite exercises entail a certain element of risk and freedom. Running outside 30 minutes before the sun drops. Challenges and obstacle courses that demand problem solving. Dance is one of my favorite ways to sweat. Zumba, hip-hop, anything where you can showcase your inner freak or completely embarrass yourself and no one around you will care. Or, if you prefer to dance in the comfort of your living room, then truly no one is around to care.

I have large hips, and I know how to use them, damn it.

Exercise that doesn’t feel like work is generally the exercise I’m most interested in. Machines put me to sleep, so I like to be creative about it. I think a lot of people are in this boat. They don’t like exercise because they find it to be a chore.

I’ve discovered I need exercise. I’m a completely different person when I allow myself to work out three to five times a week. I’m less likely to fall victim to my own head games.

Exercise is one of the best, most scientifically proven stress-relievers and weapons against anxiety.

Do something artsy fartsy

There’s a reason those adult coloring books are so popular. I myself like to draw and write. If it’s not obvious, this website is a form of therapy. Though, sometimes writing in particular can summon the beast, especially if I’m writing about something that’s particularly painful to me. Some people blaze up a guitar. Others knit. I have a friend who has fingers made for jewelry. Another who knows her way around a piece of felt.

Making art, whether you’re any good at it or not, has so many mental health benefits. Not only are you creating new brain cells, but you’re boosting your dopamine levels. And dopamine is delicious.

A few months ago I drew something that took me 13 straight hours. I hardly noticed the time I was so immersed in the different shapes and shading. The second I dropped the pencil, I floated down from whatever dimension I was in. Though a lot of people may argue differently, that’s 13 hours of non-wasted time. There’s a product at the end of the creating. You feel good about doing a thing.

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Also, when you’re creating, you’re less likely to hurt yourself or anyone else.

Lie around in a pool of your own filth

Some days, I don’t want anything to do with art or exercise. I want to sit in a pool of steaming water and think about nothing. These are the days my anxiety is nipping the back of my heels. I need a quick fix.

I’ve really been into those bath bombs that have little treats at the center of them. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. There’s a stick of cinnamon or a clove waiting for you at the bottom of the bomb. A little treasure.

I like these guys because they force you to focus on what’s inside. I’ll submerge my hand in the water and watch and feel the fizzle of salt. Until there’s nothing but a small object that I study and twirl between my fingers.

Baths are my way of making my life come to a screeching halt. They’re also where I get some of my best writing ideas. Because thinking about nothing sometimes leads to something.

Build your music playlists

Spotify is one of my favorite things. For two reasons really. One is the Monday feature. New music based on your preferences. New artists who will speak to your soul and talk you through your morning. At the start of every week. A lot of people dread Mondays, and I imagine people with severe anxiety especially do.

A few weeks ago I was curling my hair and listening to the new Neko Case album on Spotify. It was my first week of work. My anxiety has been pretty high because I’m learning tons of new things and meeting tons of new people. The song “Halls of Sarah” started playing, and I leaned into the words and starting bawling. It was a good release to have before the start of my day.

I also enjoy the build your own playlist feature. I’ve been adding to my RUN and Write playlists for years. My Write playlist is for when I’m editing and writing. My RUN list is filled with workout jams. Pretty self-explanatory. But then I also have a playlist titled “Yold,” which is reserved for songs that make me feel both young and old at the same time. Then there’s “Bitch Mix,” which is for when I want to connect to my feminine side. Pretty scary to say, but there was once a time in my life when I listened to very few female artists. Their voices embarrassed me. I turned them down at stoplights. This is how Bitch Mix was formed. All these ladies help me when I’m really struggling with the dark side. They are my mothers and sisters.

Music legitimately saves lives. We all know this. Sometimes I feel intravenous with my music. I need it more than most things, and I’m grateful for it.

Pet a dog

My dog is my hero. She has magical super powers that ooze out of her eyeballs whenever she looks at me. I always wanted a dog. Especially a high energy one that needs a lot of attention. Dogs force you to get up and stop moping. They need to pee. They need to eat. They need you to clean up the tinfoil like object they just barfed onto the carpet. They want to play.

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Some of my favorite days are the ones I’m listening to the rain and lying next to my dog, Maya. She sighs heavily while I write in bed. Her warmth is a reminder that I exist. That I’m loved profusely by a living creature.

Dogs (and cats, etc) are amazing mental health enhancers.

Oh, but there’s so many more

I have a lot of other go-to anxiety fighters: nature walks, orgasms, video games, anything that gets me to laugh my ass off, having a meaningful conversation with another human, and turning off my fucking phone. These aren’t secrets by any means. They’re just reminders for you and me for when we begin to slip under.

What’s your list? If you don’t have one, then that’s a clear sign that you need to clear out some time for your rad self.

Total body stretch

Alexa and I stretched today.
She laid out a blanket on the floor
in her room.

Her room is blue.

It’s covered in photographic memories,
discolored thrift finds
worn by use and age
and someone else’s hands
that handled these finds
from time to time,
in coming and going.

We grew up a little in this room

and stretched alongside a woman
on a screen.
She wore tube socks
that covered her entire calves
and grazed her thighs.

When she pulled her limbs,
we pulled ours.
When she rolled her head,
we rolled ours.

TGIF

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Fridays are holy days for Alexa and me. I’ve never written about our Fridays. My guess is that I can’t paint them just right. I’ll smudge em up too much. Or maybe there’s something untouchable about them, something that’s reserved for us only. But lately we’re all about being brave and sharing what is most important to us — and that includes each other.

This Friday we went rollerblading through Busse Woods. Though it was a fairly mild winter, we still couldn’t help but seize the first spring-ish day. Alexa didn’t have work, and I was released into the wild early. We hopped into my little red Mazada, which desperately needs a car wash. We parked and feverishly laced up our blades. Alexa wobbled on her feet, asking, “I’m stable, are you stable?”

The pathway was mostly ours. Our muscles remembered the zigzag movement, the loud breeze blasting in our ears. Busse Lake was calm and stretching out in the sun. The trees protruded their nakedness. As soon as we began sweat clung to the middles of our backs.

Alexa and I talked about our plans. She told me how she wanted to be more spontaneous with her workouts, instead of stuffing them into a strict regimen. I told her I wanted to pick up running again, since this time of year is my favorite time to run. We talked about writing. She told me about her blog’s new look and setup, that she wants to work on a new challenge. Her last challenge was not to eat out in order to save money, and she rocked it. I told her about a recent blog I wrote about Trump that wasn’t very good, just something I needed to get off my chest, and also about this book of poems I’ve been putting together that I’d like her help in organizing.

We trucked through the eight-mile trail. We barreled up hills, rounded sharp corners, forgoing the treacherous sticks and patches of tar on the pavement. There was a point where Alexa was trying “too hard to be cool” and almost fell backwards. My heart skipped a beat as she flapped her arms like a crazed bird. We laughed at the close call, and she reminded me of the time last summer we went rollerblading, and I almost ate shit. I had instinctively reached for her arm. “So you want to take me down with you, huh?” she had asked.

We spotted a few of the famous elk lazing around in the grass. It’s amazing how the enchantment of seeing them in a town we’ve lived in most of our lives hasn’t worn off yet.

At the end of the trail, we both sighed our contentment. Even though the blades were off, it felt like they were on. It’s weird how certain movements imprint themselves into your limbs, how they stay with your body for a while afterward.

Before going to Alexa’s, we stopped at the Tensuke Market and picked up some plum wine and seaweed wraps for the sushi we were to make for dinner. I was distracted by all the adorable dishware to eat sushi from. I made a mental note to explore this store on my own, as I never had before. The young man who checked us out bowed each time he received and returned our money, which took us both aback.

Alexa showed me how to assemble sushi. You lay out the wrap, slap some sticky rice on the paper, line up the vegetables, wet the end of the wrap, and roll it nice and tight. The end product awkwardly enough feels like an erect penis. How adult of us to notice this. Anyway, then you slice the log into individual rolls. I think Alexa might have cut more rolls than me because I was talking a lot. I can’t exactly remember everything I said, but I do remember talking and talking. Poor Alexa. That shit has to get exhausting. I get really close to her face when I talk, a pesky habit of mine, which I think used to make her kind of wary. Hopefully by now she’s gotten over my bubble-popping invasiveness.

Her dog Bubba was licking his beautiful, big chops, waiting for us to drop food on the floor in the kitchen. Alexa caved into his demands, giving him a meatball for rolling over. Gale was in the living room, focusing on this new sketch she’s working on of a German Shepherd. She was precise, using a ruler to measure out the face’s dimensions. She showed me the sketch of a friend’s backyard that she had been working on. It’s as inviting as the real thing. The koi fish, the grass, the knick-knacks, Stanley the cat’s tail flickering around the shed. Gale has a way of capturing real life and then some. In my room is a framed sketch that she drew of me. It’s so beautiful I was intimidated to put it up when I first received it. It was like she tapped into something that I sometimes have difficulty seeing and believing myself.

Alexa and I went into her room. We wolfed down our sushi rolls and sipped the plum wine. We scrolled through social media, and read about the Bernie rally that some of our friends had attended. And then it suddenly occurred to us: why didn’t we go?

It dawned on both of us that it would have been really something to be a part of the history we were watching before our very eyes. There was Sanders in his element and glowing, waving his conductor hands, hitting on all the big ones — healthcare, college loans, Wall Street, women’s rights, the lead-poisoned residents in Flint, and the U.S.’s dwindling infrastructure, etc. People of all colors, ages, genders, and ethnicities cheered behind and around him, armed with their “A Future to Believe in” signs. Muse’s Uprising began to play. “They will not control us… We will be victorious…”

Here is a man who has dedicated his whole life to people’s rights, who flies down escalators, who talks with his hands. At 74, he’s awakening a tired and angry America looking for more long-term change. Sanders represents all of them. And he represents Alexa and me. We could have been there, standing shoulder to shoulder with all the others.

In any case, I was happy that I was watching the rally with Alexa. When she got up to go to the kitchen for some more sushi, I gave her hug. I told her, “Man I can’t believe we’re alive right now.”

This was also the same night that Chicago protestors shut down the Trump rally. UIC, one of the most diverse campuses in a melting pot city. This had to have been planned? A publicity stunt. But in any case, the protestors had the place surrounded. They shut. it. down. I’m proud of their efforts, but I’m anxious to learn about the next city to replicate the maneuver — next time with people getting seriously hurt. The truth is I’m scared about the chaos, just like a lot of people I know. The Nazi incitements, the violent Trump rallies, the amount of blatant hatred being tossed about the streets in large hoards of people, which is nothing new, exactly.

I mean everyone seems to be calling this a revolution, and the thing about revolutions if I can remember right from the textbooks and people who are alive to talk about living through one, is that it goes beyond the breaches of electing a president. This is something that needs to be system-wide, population-wide. And I feel we still have miles to go if we want this to happen.

Here’s what I know about organized chaos, since I’ve been somewhat versed in it on a micro level — right now is a chance for great opportunity for those who want to help. During this very alarming time in our country my gut tells me that now is the time to start showing extra strength and kindness. Now is the time for the ones who care to start thinking outside the box to finally get outside the box. I don’t know what that means for me just yet, but I’m willing to be open about it and find out.

I petted the extra soft parts on Bubba’s paws, between the pads. I tried to move him so I could have more room on Alexa’s bed, but failed. He’s such a large animal. His humans keep him safe and happy. And he spends the majority of his day just loving people.

***Alexa and I challenged each other to write about this Friday together. Check out hers here! http://alexawynne.com/2016/03/14/the-politics-of-rollerblading/

 

Carrying my own weight in TRX

Every Saturday morning around 8:15 I roll out of bed like a greasy, hot sausage. My body don’t give no damn if it’s hung over. It don’t give no damn if it’s ragged from a long work week either.

My vision is still foggy while I snap on a sports bra, a pair of spandex, and a long time broken in t-shirt with pit stains or a neon orange razor back that’s eternal brightness covers up the would-be pit stains. I tend to rotate the same workout clothes, because let’s face it, they’re expensive. I lace up the sneakers that were made for me, the ones I researched for a week to find – light and designed for quick shifts and lateral movement. I brush my teeth and wipe off yesterday’s makeup so I don’t walk out of the house looking like The Grudge. Maybe I shove a handful of nuts in a bag so I can wolf down some protein on my ride to the fitness center not even 10 miles away from my home. Oh yeah, water. Can’t forget water. I do this all on tip-toe; I’m careful not to disturb my boyfriend who sleeps with his mouth wide open. When his snore cracks in his throat, this is an indication that he has been disturbed.

Saturday morning is a sacred time reserved for TRX, a weekly ritual I’ve been performing for close to two years. TRX, or Suspension Training, is a fitness tool that uses gravity and a person’s body weight to exercise. Think of a swing set with two long, dangling straps that can be adjusted according to specific exercises.

Before you continue reading, let me clarify: this is not a marketing piece on behalf of TRX. I don’t care if you purchase a TRX pass from your gym or not. In the end, it’s not the specific exercise that counts. It is whatever you like that does.

I’m writing about my exercise routine because it makes ME happy. It satisfies the parts of me that want to be pushed to their limits and explored. It’s the part of my day where I ask, hey there body, what can you do today?

This is also not a before and after picture depicting a triumphant, life-altering tale of weight loss. Actually, the last I checked I’m still carting around the holiday ham.

Let me clarify that I struggle with cultural body norms just as much as the next person. For one, I don’t have a perfect body. I’m pretty average sized, and my body does normal body things without clothes. My boobs frown when they’re out of a bra. I have ripples on the back of my thighs – the same thighs that rub each other raw in the summer after walking for 30 minutes. Stretch marks that look like bear claw tracks up and down my hips. Pretty standard things. I wish I was above noticing them.

Yes, I pay attention to numbers, and I wish I was above that, too. I’m 5’3, and I totter anywhere between 125 and 132 all year round. Some days I like what I look like, many days I scoff at my kangaroo pouch stomach in the mirror. I like food, and large portions of it. Let’s be honest, I come from an Italian, bread-eating family. And yes, like many women think, I think I could always be a little smaller. But I try to remind myself on a daily basis that I do actually enjoy exercise (because I do), and taking up the smallest amount of physical space possible as a living, breathing human being is kind of a weird goal to have in my opinion.

I’m no titanium woman by even the most modest means, but the second I hold my body up by a mere two straps, I feel so deliciously strong and in control. The beauty of TRX is that it’s entirely customizable; you choose the pressure you put on your body. Apparently, it was designed for Navy Seals, which is pretty cool to be able to say.

I know I said this isn’t a before and after photo of a fitness story, but let me provide you with some relevant background. I’ve been going to the same gym in the town I graduated high school for seven years. I got a work out pass on my 18th birthday. On that very day I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. 180 pounds at 5’3, which was 10 pounds more than my 6’1 boyfriend. It irked me, even though I was in love with someone who saw past my fleshy layers and loved me back.

Here was the problem: up until this point, I was the girl who walked. ONLY WALKED. And since P.E. wasn’t weighted into my precious grade point average, I pretty much cackled at my gym teachers whenever they told me to hustle. Finally, since I have never been on any sports teams in my entire life, the concepts of teamwork, dedication, commitment, etc were sometimes beyond my stubby reach and concern.

So, when I scored my new work out pass, I made a deal with myself. The elliptical. Just go on the elliptical four days a week, 1 hour at time. Listen to the tunes. Hell, bring a book. Yeah, a book. Now that was an idea. Since I had never read the Harry Potter series (I know what the fuck was wrong with me?), I decided to read them. And I did. Book by book, I pumped my stretch marked arms along to the tune of the boy who lived. Yes, folks, I lost 40 pounds reading Harry Potter.

It took at least two years for me to put down the books and gather the courage to pop my head into a group classroom.

Zumba was one of the first classes I tried on for size. It’s basically cardio that combines various Latino dances, hip-hop, etc. It involves a lot of hips and shoulders, which can feel uncomfortable at first. But bodies remember dance. They’re made for it. This is where I first truly learned how to harness the secrets of my body. I was like a heavy-footed Eve biting into the goddamn juicy apple of knowledge on that dance floor. I’ve been going to the same Zumba class twice a week for five years.

This is also where I met Cheryl and Kevin, the power couple who even coordinate matching clothing. Cheryl and Kevin are married big kids who have worked together alongside sweaty people for a great chunk of their lives. Needless to say, Cheryl and Kevin have become an emblem of positivity in my life. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, all I have to do is watch Cheryl’s magic feet light up in the mirrors. Cheryl has charisma, and she laughs at her own jokes a lot. I like this about her. Kevin wears t-shirts that say things along the lines of “my wife is hot and strong.” I like this about him. He also doesn’t have any cartilage in his knees, which I hear makes exercise painful sometimes, but giving up coaching people, his passion, is not an option for him. I really like this about him.

Last summer, I did the Tough Mudder with Kevin and Cheryl. It was one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. I’m thankful for them. I don’t forget what these two continue do to help me discover about my body and its abilities that I never knew I had.

Since joining Zumba I’ve attended some of Cheryl’s and Kevin’s others classes. Weight training. R.I.P.P.E.D. Kevin usually barks orders at me. “Sarah, what are you doing? I know you can handle another ten pounds.” “Sarah, make that squat deeper.”

Kevin is the one who convinced me to join TRX. His classes usually include four rounds of various movements – combination exercises and cardio bursts. He usually includes dumbbells, risers, BOSU balls, ropes – all and any devices of torture he can squeeze into an hour long class. Each exercise is generally 30 seconds to 45 seconds long. We rotate station by station, and you have to keep up. Sometimes I space out, and have to ask what’s next. Each exercise entails a combination of movement. Lunge, dumb bell press. Throw ball down, then complete burpee. Jumping jacks while lifting heavy battle ropes overhead. The bursts of cardio include the rowing machine, the skiing machine, shuffling across the floor while throwing a weighted ball against a wall, etc. Basically it’s like an obstacle course, which I’m realizing is my kind of workout.

Usually, there are four rounds in total. If you’re busting your ass, you tend to be out of breath and dripping by round two.

Something came over me one class. Maybe it was the adrenaline, I’m not sure. All I know is belched out that I was deciding to blog about TRX and asked if I could take pictures. There was no turning back. Most of the photos I took turned out blurry. This is my fault for trying complete the exercises while taking photos. Silly Sarah. Here are two better ones.

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I guess I woke up that morning and realized that this Saturday morning class is one of the highlights of my week because I’m a part of a cohesive team. I know people on a first name basis, and I don’t feel weird leaving sweaty handprints on the floor right next to their faces. This is good news.

It’s a good mix of people. Brandon and Semra, the TRX king and queen, compete with each other, and it’s quite entertaining. They trash talk each other, and everyone seems to enjoy it. Brandon really admires his own biceps, a tendency I used to scoff at, but realize, that many bros are self-aware of their own self-worship and know how to poke fun at themselves. Ashlee and Brigitte are mother and daughter duo, both runners, who look small, but move at rabbit speed. Speaking of rabbits, I learned that like myself, 3 other women who attend the same TRX class own rabbits. Maybe it was meant to be. Nancy, is also a writer like myself… another interesting similarity. Bryan, who is the oldest of our group, is definitely the youngest in spirit. He knows how to throw around a good workout pun.

There are others of course. Overall, everyone who comes back for another ass kicking, tends take on the mentality, that in TRX, we carry our own weight, and we acknowledge each other for that accomplishment.