This year has been a particularly turbulent year for me. A friend of mine who specializes in Chinese Medicine says that 2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey, which seems so spot-on for what’s been going on for me personally. The new year brought about moving to a new apartment with a new (super awesome) roommate, my boyfriend leaving San Diego to move back to Northern California as he prepares for an exciting journey driving from London to Mongolia while raising money for a charity this summer (People with Penelope), and tackling one of the most challenging nursing prerequisites I’ve taken to date (microbiology, you beast). Feeling spread thin between my job working in a health clinic, teaching yoga, and performing well in my last round of nursing prerequisites, all while trying to squeeze in time to take care of myself.
An incredible amount of changes, worries, uprooting. As a full-blown control freak, these changes have been pretty darn difficult for me to deal with, as most of these situations are completely out of my control.
What I’ve found is when I put myself last after all of my to-do lists, my priorities, my jobs, my relationships, is I have nothing left and I will simply implode.
Keep pushing, don’t slow down, you have to keep going.
About a month ago, I experienced my first panic attack. To me, this experience was the ultimate loss of control, which terrified me. It started with benign stressors throughout the day that built up and that I gave into; these benign stressors then warped and transformed into stories I was telling myself. This was all exacerbated by the fact that I had not been taking care of myself, and suppressed feelings that had been slowly creeping up—that I perceived I had no control in my life, I was not putting myself first, and things in my life were starting to unravel and spin out of control.
It all started one morning, when a particularly difficult microbiology lecture and lab left me feeling lost, overwhelmed, and hopeless.
Twisted thinking voice: I’m not going to pass this class. I won’t get into a good nursing program now. What will happen if I don’t get into a good nursing program?
My lab partner having to skip our study session
Twisted thinking voice: Oh no! Studying with someone is the most effective way I study. Now I’m really going to do poorly on the next exam
Mixing up the times of my doctor’s appointment, showing up an hour early. Okay, no big deal, I’ll just go home and come back in an hour.
I get in my car and burst into tears. I wasn’t even sure why. As I’m driving home, feelings of inadequacy, shame, and fear started to bubble up to the surface. My crying didn’t cease, and I started hyperventilating, which then turned into a panic attack. Since I had never had one before, I didn’t really know what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t good. It felt like I was going to have a heart attack. I couldn’t control my breathing, my limbs started to get numb; all of which terrified me, so I kept driving so I could get home (if this ever happens to you, don’t do what I did and just pull over until you can breathe normally again).
My first panic attack served as a wakeup call. It was my body’s way of telling me: I’ve had enough of this. I’m at my maximum capacity, and it’s time to slow down and take care of you. SOMETHING has to change because this is not sustainable.
Something that has made me feel kind of shameful is how challenging it has been for me teaching yoga going through all of this. Some days are a piece of cake and absolutely wonderful, while other days I can feel some resistance, and it’s much more effortful to teach. You would think that because teaching is what brings me the most joy, and yoga is my biggest passion, that would help to reduce my anxiety and stress, right? Teaching yoga, as richly rewarding as it is, can be energetically draining. It takes time, energy, thought, and inspiration into planning classes, and mega presence teaching classes. Yoga teachers are expected to be fully “on” – present, available, and happy. If I haven’t been taking care of myself by replenishing with love, energy, rest, and inspiration, then how can I give?
While I write this sitting in bed, recovering from a gnarly virus that knocked me on my ass, it’s given me an opportunity to 1) rest which I haven’t allowed myself to do very much of and 2) reflect on the amount of stress and anxiety that has been building and building, almost paralyzing me.
Having the opportunity to be on the other side has opened up and provided some clarity. I’ve come to some realizations.
I’ve decided to give myself some advice and gentle reminders that might be helpful and applicable to you if you have any control-freaky, anxious, or other neurotic tendencies. 🙂
- I do in fact have control. I can control how I react to situations, to stress. I don’t have to let situations and stress dictate how I feel.
- You are not a victim. Things to do not happen to you, they just happen. The choice is always yours how you react to your situations.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of the stuff is small stuff.
- Switch perspective and try an attitude of gratitude. Look at all that you have to be grateful for and focus on the positive, not the negative.
- Journal and meditate daily. These have helped me to become aware of twisted, negative thought patterns that occupy so much space. Awareness is the first big step. Being able to observe and not attach to those twisted thought patterns is the next (big!) step.
- Do things for yourself. Even if you feel like you have ZERO free time, go take a short walk, treat yourself to some restorative yoga, or get a massage (or better yet, do all of the above!). #Treatyoself
- Put yourself first. In our society, we’re taught that putting ourselves first is selfish, especially as women. It’s not. It’s absolutely vital, especially if you’re in a position where you are responsible for taking care of others, too.
- You have the right to say no. Establish boundaries for yourself and your relationships, whether they be personal or professional.
Lots of love,