Deal with Anxiety at Work or School: Be a SCUBA Diver

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Anxiety can make work or school difficult. A strong sense of perfectionism can make starting and completing tasks daunting, sometimes leading to incomplete work and missed deadlines. Fears about presentations can make life miserable. Even worries about sitting in a quiet room where others can see or hear you or stressful situations with coworkers or classmates can cause anxiety symptoms to skyrocket. The effects of work or school anxiety can make every day miserable or even keep you at home in avoidance. One approach to deal with this is to become a SCUBA diver. 

Why SCUBA Diving Relates to School and Work Anxiety

It's true. You can improve anxiety at work or school by being like a SCUBA diver (I do mean that figuratively, of course.). This is why I chose SCUBA diving as an activity to model yourself after rather than any other activity: SCUBA diving involves immersing oneself into deep water and moving about among strange things in that water--but SCUBA divers don't have to know how to swim. Men, women, and kids who dive must know how to move about and use diving equipment, but they don't need to be strong swimmers to survive and have fun in the water. 

Like a SCUBA diver, you can dive into the work or school experience (or any other life experience, for that matter) before waiting until you know how to "swim." You can thrive before your anxiety is gone. You don't have to wait to embrace school or work until you know how to function without anxiety. 

How to Dive into School or Work Before Anxiety is Gone

Like a SCUBA diver, you need equipment, tools, to be able to move freely in your environment. Your tools are your knowledge, skills, and techniques you're learning all the time. For example, you might be building mindfulness skills to help you stay calm and focused on the present moment or learning techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy to help you change anxious thoughts. With these tools, you are learning how to swim, but you don't have to master anything before you can dive fully into your life. Keep working with what you know and adding new techniques and information to help you reduce your anxiety, but you don't have to put your life on hold while you're learning. 

Also like a diver, have a purpose and a plan. Divers do what they do for a reason, whether it's to explore in general, study something specific, or simply to relax and have fun. They also know where they're going. You, too, have a purpose for going to school or work, and you have goals to help you know where you're going. Often, though, our sense of purpose and our goals get buried and lost under the heavy weight of anxiety. The sense that you don't know how to swim can take over, and your purpose and goals can sink to the depths of the sea. Once you're aware of this, you can prevent that from happening. 

  • Spend some time exploring your motivation, your reason for going to school or work. In the words of Fredrich Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." When you feel a strong sense of purpose underlying why you attend school or go to work, it's easier to do what you need to do despite feeling anxious. Again and again, you can shift your focus away from anxiety and onto what is important to you. 
  • Develop action steps to take every day to fulfill your purpose and meet your goals. Action steps are part of your diving equipment. What little things do you need to do today to work toward your purpose? Think in terms of small steps. A diver doesn't use elaborate swimming strokes to propel themselves forward but instead moves with small but powerful motions with their flippers. 

When anxiety tries to act like a shark in the water, simply return to your purpose, goals, and action steps and move forward despite the shark. Like someone who tries to wait until they know how to swim before they enjoy SCUBA diving, if you wait for your anxiety to be gone before you dive fully into school or work, you could miss a great deal. Instead, take the plunge and embrace each day. 

6 Signs of a Healthy Relationship

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There are signs of healthy relationships just as there are red flags for unhealthy ones. Nearly everyone can relate to being in an unhealthy relationship. It's easy to see it when those we care about are in them, but sometimes it's harder to see when we are in the midst of one ourselves. Luckily, there is a lot of information from relationship experts online and in books about relationship red flags. But what about relationship green lights? What are the signs that you are in a healthy relationship? Read on to find out what I've learned about the six signs of a healthy relationship.

Healthy Relationships Have Common Traits

What signs do healthy relationships share? What do you think about when you imagine the qualities of a good relationship? How do you define a relationship? When I think of relationships, four primary categories come to mind: friends, family, romantic, and professional. There are different components that define healthy depending on the type of relationship we are discussing, but I also think there are a lot of commonalities as well.

No matter what the relationship parameters are, I know if I feel belittled, discounted, neglected, or undervalued, something isn't right. That's not to say people don't feel bad sometimes even when the relationship is healthy, but if I feel bad on a regular basis, that's a major red flag for me. Conversely, if I usually feel appreciated, heard, cared for and respected, I know I'm in a relationship that has potential.

6 Signs That Your Relationship is Healthy

  1. The person shows consistent interest in you. They don't disappear for periods of time making you wonder if you did something wrong. Healthy relationships feel safe.
  2. They follow through with their word. Honesty and dependability are paramount in a healthy relationship.
  3. Disagreements don't turn into big fights. When either of you get scared, hurt, or angry you should both be able to stay grounded and talk it through peacefully.
  4. You feel respected and important. Even when the relationship is struggling, you should always feel certain of your value to the other person.
  5. There is mutual give and take. In a healthy relationship, things aren't always equal, but you should look for relationships in which the other person asks you questions about you and is genuinely interested in your life experiences, ideas, and opinions.
  6. There is open communication. Do you feel like you can talk about anything with this person? Are they approachable, nonjudgmental, and caring towards you? If it feels like important topics are off-limits, or you can't get the other person to open up and be vulnerable with you, they may not be safe for you to be vulnerable with either.

What signs do you look for to indicate your relationships are healthy? Leave me your thoughts in the comments.

Don't Skimp on Sleep to Manage Bipolar

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Healthy sleep habits are an essential part of bipolar disorder management. They are also some of the most difficult habits to develop. Proper sleep habits are critical for physical and mental health, but the highs and lows that come with bipolar disorder can make it exceptionally difficult to wind down at the end of the day. Unhealthy sleep patterns can lead to a vicious cycle of mood instability that wrecks havoc in every facet of our lives -- work performance not least among them.

Changing My Sleep Patterns for Bipolar Management

Nighttime is when I am most susceptible to hypomania. Before my diagnosis, I would often wake as late as eleven or twelve and wouldn't fall asleep until three or four in the morning. I thought that this was just "natural" for me, as I had always been a night owl even from my early childhood. The problem was that I didn't run well on "normal" time, which made things like getting to work on time and keeping appointments difficult. My work life and relationships suffered, as did my moods.

It wasn't until after my diagnosis that I learned just how important keeping a consistent sleep-wake cycle is for proper bipolar management. It was hard to adjust in the beginning, but I eventually came up with a daily rhythm that works well for me. (I never would have guessed that I would one day become one of those mysterious morning people I'd heard so much about.)

While I still experience bipolar insomnia on occasion, it's nothing like how it was before I started paying attention to my sleep routine. I have had to make some sacrifices in the name of sleep -- under no circumstances can I work evening or overnight shifts, which puts me out of the running for certain jobs, and I miss the nights when I would stay up late with my partner or friends -- but it's worth keeping my disease under control so I can better pursue my career aspirations.

How to (Not) Skimp on Sleep and Manage Bipolar Better

If you want to improve your sleep hygiene so you can live and work better with bipolar disorder, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: do not buy into the lie that exhaustion is good. We live in a society that glorifes stress and burnout, but you should never let anyone make you feel guilty for daring to get an adequate amount of sleep.

Sleep is a biological need for all living things, and it is critical for living (and working) well with bipolar disorder. Reclaiming your sleep is one of the most important ways you can advocate for yourself in the modern workplace.

In your day-to-day life, there are several steps you can take to build healthy sleep habits.

  • As much as possible, stick to a consistent bedtime routine and sleep schedule every night (yes, even on weekends).
  • Create a hard cut-off time for stopping work, and avoid taking work into your bedroom.
  • Turn off phones and electronics at least an hour before bed, and avoid reading troubling or upsetting news near bedtime.
  • Do your best to make sure that your bedroom is a quiet, restful place to make it easier for your body and brain to fall into "sleep mode."

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may make some of these adjustments challenging, the trade-off is worth it: better sleep and improved bipolar symptoms.

We are often taught that sleep is an inconvenience that we should forego for the sake of "productivity," but this is simply untrue. You deserve adequate rest. Your work -- and your bipolar brain -- will thank you.

Have you found it important to develop healthy sleep habits to manage bipolar disorder? Share your story in the comments.

Atonement and Self-Esteem: Forgiving Yourself Builds You Up

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This Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I am focusing on my self-esteem. On this holiest day for the Jewish people, we ask for absolution from wrongs we have done against others, but it is granted only if we first ask those people for forgiveness. Only then can we be forgiven on a higher level. Today I will ask myself for forgiveness for the ways I have wronged myself by allowing poor self-esteem to color my days.

How many of the following self-esteem damaging transgressions can you admit to? Are you ready to ask for your forgiveness and move forward with a promise in your heart to try to do better as you continue to learn how to do better? Your self-esteem will thank you for your atonement.

Atoning for Poor Self-Esteem

Some of the things I'm atoning for to help my self-esteem:

I'm sorry for the times when I didn't show you love by allowing you to rest when you were tired.

I'm sorry for the times when I didn't practice self-care by making the effort to prepare healthy and nourishing meals for you.

I'm sorry for the times when I didn't treat you as my best friend and held you to a higher standard than I hold other people.

I'm sorry for the times when I doubted your word only because your truth is different than other people's truth.

I'm sorry for the times I tried to fit you into molds defined by other people's values instead of celebrating your uniqueness.

I'm sorry for the times I ignored your hopes and dreams and their ability to bring you joy because other people don't hold or appreciate those same aspirations.

I'm sorry for the times I didn't defend you by setting better boundaries between you and those who challenge your right to be you.

I'm sorry for putting other people's needs before yours and allowing your physical and mental health to take a back seat.

I'm sorry for thinking you needed to be perfect right now instead of seeing your imperfections as an exciting opportunity for learning and growth.

Forgive Yourself to Build Self-Esteem

When we are on a journey of self-improvement, like my own to build strong self-esteem, we will be more successful in the long run if we learn to forgive ourselves for the times that we tried and failed, and for the times when we didn't know that we needed and/or wanted to change or how to make that change happen.

I think of myself as being kind, empathetic and caring to the world. As a part of that world, I deserve no less than I offer to everyone else. I forgive myself for my transgressions, knowing I always do my best with the knowledge and capabilities that I have today, and I will always strive to continue learning and growing so I can do better tomorrow.

What would you like to ask yourself forgiveness for? This sign of self-love, of accepting yourself exactly as you are right now, is a great way to recommit to your own journey to healthy self-esteem.

Share you personal list of transgressions in the comments. I hope this exercise in atonement lightens your heart and gives you a renewed sense of purpose and a determination to make your self-esteem a priority.

'Mom Guilt' and Childhood ADHD: Forgiving Myself

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Raising a child with mental illness usually comes with a healthy dose of "mom guilt," and raising a child with ADHD is no exception. While a little "mom guilt" keeps me on my toes, sometimes it becomes debilitating, so I was relieved to find out that ADHD and "mom guilt" are co-occurring problems that many parents struggle with. I'm not alone, and neither are you.

What ADHD and "Mom Guilt" Look Like for Me

While a smidge of "mom guilt" makes me want to do better for my kid, too much of it makes it hard to do my job of raising a child with ADHD. I'm too busy beating myself up or feeling overwhelmed, and then I can't do what I need to do for my son. It doesn't help that I struggle with my own mental illness, too, so there are some days I feel guilty about everything--taking time for myself, losing my patience, feeling too tired to be Supermom, and a host of other actions I imagine will ruin my child for life.

One thing I feel guilty about, in particular, is a mistake I made about three months into my pregnancy. That night, I drank a glass of wine that quickly turned into three, and I've always imagined my son's tiny brain was in the middle of growing that day. Did that somehow cause his ADHD? I can never know for sure if it was genetics or certain choices I made, so there's no point in berating myself over it. All I can do is try to be the best mother I know how to be today.

How I Cope with ADHD and "Mom Guilt"

When it comes to raising a child with mental illness, I've begun to figure out what is and isn't my responsibility. It is my responsibility to learn everything I can about ADHD and try to implement what I learn. It isn't my responsibility to try to control every little thing my kid says and does and then get angry with myself when I can't. I don't have to indulge in "mom guilt" over everything, only the things that are actually my fault. 

What about the things that are my fault? For instance, sometimes I yell at my kid for being hyperactive or not listening or being loud, behaviors I know are connected to his ADHD that he can't always help doing. Afterwards, I feel terrible, as I should. What I've learned to do in this situation is to kneel down, look my small child in the eye, and say, "I'm sorry." It's a very humbling experience, and, in the end, everyone learns something.

I'm raising a child with ADHD. That means there will be hard days and mistakes made, but I don't have to blame it on anyone, not even myself. I can choose to forgive myself and each day strive to do better for my happy little boy. I have to forgive myself not only for my sake but for his, as well. 

Good luck on your own journey stop mom guilt and give yourself forgiveness, and we'll talk again soon.

How to Stop Depression From Sabotaging Your Career

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Have you noticed that depression causes self-sabotage? I've noticed it myself. Since the past few months, my sleep schedule has gone for a toss. I find myself staying up late even on days when I'm tired, and oversleeping has become the norm. The reason: increased depression owing to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Owing to this, my ability to work has been affected.

Today, I am finally ready to accept the fact that I've been sabotaging my writing career. While this year is primarily about survival, I have realized that depression brings with it a tendency to sabotage. Indeed, I am sure you too can think of times when in a depressive state, you did something you only regretted later. 

Even though work is an important part of my life, my depressed mind often makes me feel as if it isn't important enough. On the other hand, due to reasons like avoidance, depression makes me overwork too. Neither of these attitudes is helpful for people who have mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Keeping this in mind, here are some crucial things to remember regarding work, self-sabotage and depression. 

Stop Depression Self-Sabotage

Know Your Limits

In my opinion, productivity is given undue importance while burnout is largely ignored in the modern workplace. In fact, workaholism is considered a welcome trait, isn't it? While overwork may help to avoid feeling depression in its entirety, I can tell you from personal experience that it is a temporary fix which often leads to burnout. And while it's easy to burnout, recovering from it is hard.

To avoid putting yourself in such a situation, know how much work you can take on without feeling exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the day. It is only when you know your limits can you prioritize your tasks accordingly.  

Speak Up About Depression

Even as more and more workplaces are focusing on mental health, speaking up about mental health struggles, in general, has to be normalized -- and you can do your bit by sharing your issues. If you are an employee, tell your coworkers and manager(s). If you are an entrepreneur or business owner, speak with your clients and customers. As long as you keep it professional, no law says you cannot discuss mental health at work.

Who knows, your initiative may inspire others to open up about their mental health problems. When a physically unwell person doesn't hesitate to talk about their ailment, why should a mentally unwell person be shamed into keeping quiet? 

Some More Things You Can Do to Stop Depression Self-Sabotage

Take a look at the video below to know how you can do a good job at work even when you have a bad case of the blues. 

What do you to reduce depression-induced sabotage in the workplace? Please share your hacks and thoughts in the comments below. 

Coping with Mental Health Medication and Recovery

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For many people with mental illness, mental health medication and recovery go hand in hand. Unfortunately, psychiatric medication comes with a lot of stigma and stress. There are a lot of people who don't understand how psychiatric medication really works or why it's so important for many people in recovery, and their stigmatized view of medication can stick in our brains long after we've heard them say something.

Plus, even without all the stigma, starting, adding, or changing medications can be stressful all on its own. Mental health medications come with side effects and they may or may not actually work, and when you're struggling with your mental health, that added stress can be hard to cope with.

My Experience with Mental Health Medication in Recovery

I've been on mental health medication for many years now. It has been a vital part of my recovery. My medication makes it possible for me to keep up with my job, take care of my baby, and work on my recovery in therapy

Recently, I just added a new medication to my regimen and I'm very nervous. Will this medication help? How bad will the side effects be? Do I really need it?

Stigma and stress have combined to make this a much more difficult decision than it has to be. I keep reminding myself that medication is a tool. If the tool doesn't work, I can always stop taking it and try a different tool. And if anyone has anything nasty to say about my medication, I am allowed to ignore them. They don't live my life, they don't know how bad I feel without medication, so their opinion isn't an informed one and I am free to make my own choice based on what I know is best for me.

Have you struggled with incorporating mental health medication into your recovery? Has stigma played a role in your medication decisions? Let me know in the comments below, and click on the video to hear more advice on how to cope with the stresses of using medication in recovery.

How Can You Handle a Self-Harm Relapse?

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Recovering from self-injury can put a lot of pressure on us and often includes a self-harm relapse or two. We expect that self-harm recovery will be a simple process with no obstacles on the road. However, it’s a complicated journey, and there is no one perfect way to recover. You might stumble once or twice, but that’s okay. You can still continue where you left off.

I Self-Harm Relapsed, Now What?

It’s easy to think that by relapsing into self-harm, you’ve failed. But you cannot fail in recovery. It takes time to build good habits, so it’s perfectly natural to fall back into bad ones along the way. Don’t let that stop you. Treat it as a lesson, and identify the triggers that made you self-harm. Continue to develop distractions and healthy coping mechanisms. Your effort thus far still counts.

In this video, I talk about my recent relapse and how I decided to learn from it. I refuse to treat it as a failure, and you should, too. How do you deal with self-harm relapse? Let me know in the comments.

Supporting Someone with Mental Illness Can Be Overwhelming

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Feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone with mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but sometimes we can struggle to admit our true feelings. Here's a little bit about how I felt when my brother was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression.

Don't Deny the Stress of Supporting Someone with Mental Illness

As a healthcare professional, I had supported people with mental illness before my brother received his diagnosis. Because of this, I knew the names of various drugs and their side effects, as well as the most recent diagnostic criteria for depression and anxiety. I also knew a bit about the different therapies that can be useful for those living with mental illness.

I guess on paper it looked like I was well-prepared for my brother's conditions, and the rest of my family just assumed I was okay because of this. In retrospect, I was completely overwhelmed by supporting someone with mental illness, but too proud to say so.

There were days, particularly early on, when my brother's condition and how it affected our family dynamic made me feel as if I was drowning. I learned that when we try to repress our stress, it will come out in other ways. Shortly after my brother's diagnosis, I found myself storming out on people after small disagreements or bursting into tears at the silliest inconvenience. Hitting a wall was inevitable, of course -- I completely broke down after about six months and ended up a shivering mess in the doctor's waiting room.

Admitting to Overwhelmedness

I was put on antianxiety medication and began seeing a therapist, and this was the beginning of a turnaround for me. Putting my hands up and saying, "I can't do this anymore," was ironically the moment when I started to feel that I actually could do this with support.

The overwhelmedness still hits me sometimes, but now I have clear strategies for when it does -- I book a therapy session, contact my doctor about temporary medications, if necessary, and clear out some time in my schedule for a calming activity. Your overwhelmedness strategy will look different to mine, depending on what works for you, but I recommend proactively putting one in place.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I want to say that it's okay if you feel completely overwhelmed by supporting someone with mental illness. It's okay to ask for or accept help from others. It's okay to be angry that you and your loved one are both living a life that you never chose. You are not a bad person for any of this; you are simply a person.

What are your thoughts about being overwhelmed because you're supporting someone with a mental illness? Share in the comments.

How a Meditative Body Scan Can Tune Out Your Anxiety

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My anxiety presents itself to me in many physical forms. I can pinpoint the exact onset of an anxiety or panic attack if I pay attention to my body's signals, using a meditative body scan, to help prevent the discomfort.

We happen to live in a world dominated by distraction, though. Every day we succumb to the mind-numbing fixation of social media scrolling, texting rather than talking and an apparent need for noise. This constant flow of stimulation floods the circuit board that is our mind. Only when we stop to listen to the sounds of our body can our mind truly relax. 

A Meditative Body Scan Calms My Mind

Last week, the blog mentioned the physical indicators that one is experiencing anxiety. This week I want to share a technique for noticing the small changes in our bodies that can signal we are beginning to feel anxious, called a meditative body scan. These prevention indicators let us know we are holding tension or worry in various parts of our body. This can lead to stress or anxiety if held in our body for too long.

The following body scan meditation technique uses the counting of the breath to focus our mind on nothing outside of the present moment. Body scan meditations help me remember that no matter how overwhelming my anxiety can become, it begins with something much smaller and more manageable. 

In the video below, I take you through a very shortened version of a body scan. This meditative technique is best attempted when you are feeling calm and not anxious. The body scan can help us detect otherwise silent triggers of anxiety. If we are already feeling anxious and overwhelmed, a body scan might not be as beneficial. Our mind can't sit and become calm when already at a 10 on the anxiety meter. 

Please share your experiences and thoughts on this body scan meditation below. Was it helpful for you and your anxiety? Did you expand on my version, and if so, how? I look forward to hearing from you, so leave your comments below. 

Namaste.