5 Rules for Mental Strength

It is not always easy to be mentally strong. I struggle with this a lot. I’m still working on this one. There are days that I feel fantastic and days that I can barely get out of bed because I feel so badly about myself. I’m sure that many others feel the same.

How does this “being mentally strong” thing work? It’s a little different for everyone, but here are a few ideas:

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Being yourself. This is number one for me. I have fought very hard to be accepted for who I am by my own husband and that’s something nobody should have to do.

People change, and sometimes people can’t accept that. When you are comfortable with yourself, it’s much easier to be strong, because you have more faith in yourself. You know you can get through things. You know that you can tackle what is in front of you.

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Trust yourself. Many of us tend to underestimate ourselves, including me. I’ve made many decisions and second guessed myself, even on picking clothes, shoes and maybe even mascara. This tends to occur when you have low self-confidence.

I’ve learned to trust myself a lot more through therapy-working more to shut down that voice in my mind that says “That’s a bad idea, Wrae. Don’t do it. You can’t pull this off”. When you trust yourself more, you will believe in yourself more. You will make decisions with a lot more confidence, even about the small things.

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Build confidence. As Demi Lovato once said, “What’s wrong with being confident?” First of all, I love Demi. She has an amazing voice, has great style and she’s one of my sobriety role models.

She had a point with that lyric. What is wrong with being confident? I’m not talking about crossing the line and being all-out cocky or anything like that, but knowing what you are capable of and what your limits are.

Everyone has them, physically and emotionally. Don’t feel bad about those limits. For sheer example, I hate spiders, extreme heights, and public speaking.

I had to take public speaking in college and almost had a panic attack once. I was also hugely pregnant with Cameron. My professor wasn’t in the mood to send me into early labor, so he allowed me to give my speech from my seat and things ended a lot better than I had anticipated.

Confidence is good. This also helps with looks and body image- I’m a size 14 now and weigh in at around 170. I do not care to disclose that. I weighed 125 in 2015 before my life imploded and I was a size 4. I have been confident both sizes and weights.

Like every other woman in existence, even the awesome Tess Holliday (my favorite model), I have days where I think I look like crap, but then I remember what my body has been through and will continue to do and move on.

This took a lot of work because, at some points, I didn’t take my 60 lb weight gain well. This confidence can be hard to attain, thanks to social media and Photoshopped images of models. It’s tough to look at, so I tend to look at body-positive models.

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Daily reminders. I remind myself daily to take care of myself- this is a must do. If I don’t take care of myself, who will? I have two chronic illnesses and self-care is a must for both. I also remind myself “One day at a time” because that is how I have set my life up.

I just can’t plan far in the future anymore. Whether it is a phrase, app, or something else that helps, once you set your mind on something daily, it becomes a daily habit to take care of yourself and that leads to and supports mental strength.

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Not caring so much what others think. My mother is 62 and does not care what anyone thinks of her. She has always been like this. She’s small, very feisty, and hilarious. Clearly, these genes have passed on to me.

It took me a very long time to get to the point that I really didn’t care what others think of me, but that’s where I am sitting. It’s not healthy at all to care so much what others think of you, because it will break you down in the end. It erodes your self-esteem when you don’t meet their standards.

Your individuality will fade as you try to be more like others and less like yourself. This isn’t good for anyone.
These tips may be what you need to move forward onto becoming stronger. Take them and consider what else you may need to form more strength within yourself.

Processing a Panic Attack

Living with anxiety is not fun, nor is it close to easy. It can be helped and somewhat controlled, with or without medicine, but it seems as if anxiety sits in the background just waiting to strike.

Is it just me that sees it in that way?

I’ve discussed my own issues with anxiety in other posts A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Social Anxiety: Mistaken Identity. I try to tackle them with yoga and meditation. I also color and watch funny movies (my new fave is the Ken Jeong Netflix special) to help.

Scared

How Panic Attacks Work

Panic attacks can happen without an obvious trigger, basically out of nowhere. Talk about scary. If these happen with a change in behavior with at least one month of worry about another attack happening, this crosses over into panic disorder. These attacks start with the well-known “fight or flight” response. When this response occurs multiple times, our bodies misinterpret what is going on- whether the event is a true threat or not.

At this point, it becomes a “fear of fear” situation and this makes for a vicious cycle. In other words, you become scared of the reactions in your own body- the increased heart rate, sweat, etc. It is not a good situation. These usually last 30 minutes or less, but to the person having the attack, it can seem like forever.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack:

  • A sudden increase in intense fear and/or discomfort
  • Racing heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling/Shaking
  • Shortness of breath/feeling of choking
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Nausea/other stomach issues
  • Fear of dying

What Can Others Do to Help?

  • Most importantly, stay calm. Please don’t judge the person having the panic attack- that is one of the worst things you can do because we judge ourselves enough. We don’t need the extra judgment. It also isn’t helpful. The feelings are real, please treat them as such.
  • Help them focus on their breathing by taking them to a quiet place (wherever possible) and guide them to take deep, slow breaths for a few minutes. You can also try gentle exercises to burn off some of the stress- even light stretches can help. Even a quiet chat about a shared interest or naming five things around them can help them break out of the thought pattern they are in.

What Can I Do for Myself?

  • Self-care is a very important tool to combat panic attacks. If you realize that you have triggers to your attacks, try to modify or avoid them whenever possible. If this isn’t possible, develop a plan to make things easier on yourself. Why set yourself up to have another panic attack if there is a way to prevent them?
  • Learn more about anxiety and panic attacks. You might be surprised to learn that the feelings you experience aren’t signs that you aren’t going “crazy” but are normal. This can be a source of relief.
  • Cut back or avoid nicotine, alcohol and/or caffeine. All of these are known to be stimulants or somehow cause personality changes that can cause panic attacks.
  • Try relaxation techniques. This is where meditation comes in, for example, or yoga. There are other ways you can try to relax or control your breathing. Exercising is also a good way to help with anxiety. It releases endorphins that help you feel good.
  • Sleep. Getting enough sleep can reduce anxiety- getting to sleep can be an issue, however, so there are things like calming music, melatonin, white noise machines, etc, you can try to get the sleep you need.

Shut down

Treatment and Medication

There are two main ways that anxiety and panic attacks are treated.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is used in many different ways. It helps change thought patterns by looking at how you currently think and learning to look at them realistically.

Medications used to treat anxiety and panic attacks include SSRIs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines act fairly quickly, within about 30 minutes, but do have a risk of addiction.

This Is Treatable and Tolerable

Panic attacks are something that can be treated and worked through. If you have them, please know that there is help and information out there. Please see my Resources page for more information or see these links:

anxiety.org

helpguide.org

RA and Me

I wrote a post a while back about having chronic illnesses and being a mom. Chronic Conditions and Momming was written before my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.

1. My older sister has lupus and we had the same rheumatologist at one point. Once we discovered this, we thought it was hilarious. There’s a lot of rheumatologists in Louisville, and we ended up with the same one?

2. My grandfather had severe RA. He died in 2016 at the age of 83. His hands were curled up from the severe joint deformities. He took medications for it, but still had issues that weren’t able to be reversed.

3. I am currently taking a mild medication daily. I had to wait for my thyroid meds to be regulated before I could start RA meds. That sucked but things are good in this area. (Short version: I’m on Levothyroxine due to a partial thyroidectomy in 2017.) Joint pain is REAL.

4. My biggest issues? Joint pain in my hands, knees, and hips. Like many others, I’m super stiff in the mornings and it takes at least an hour to loosen up. Hot showers help. Moving around does help but also hurts. Eventually, the stiffness goes away. Usually. If it doesn’t, then it’s a bad pain day, which leads me to #5.

5. I don’t like taking pain meds. They make me tired and nobody has time for that mess. I usually won’t take them unless I can barely move. I’ll use a heating pad, massage, stretch, etc. The pain meds I do have, however, are non-narcotic.

My doctor is pretty smart- probably not a good idea to prescribe a recovering alcoholic hardcore narcotics. She probably enjoys having a license to practice.
Rheumatoid arthritis sucks. I hate missing out on things because I’m tired, hurting, or both.

Pic with Cameron

It’s possible to live life with chronic conditions. I have two. Some days are just worse than others. I can get through them with humor and my support system.

If you have a chronic condition, how do you get through it?

Alone Time Is A Wonderful Thing

Everyone needs “alone time”. This is time to recharge your batteries, appreciate the quiet and not have people in your face asking for things. I like this time. I used to absolutely hate quiet time because I didn’t like to be alone with my thoughts. These days, I appreciate it a lot more. I can relax, color and read in peace, among other things.

Creating Space for Yourself

Besides the quiet and lack of demands from others, there are other benefits. Being alone can be relaxing, allow for time to reflect on your current situation in life and maybe even focus on hobbies and get things done. You can also do what you want, not just what someone else wants to do or have to come to some sort of compromise.

Not everyone is happy with the idea of alone time. Many extroverts are not into the idea, because they thrive on being around others. I hang out with a lot of extroverts. It is important, even if this is you because everyone needs to be alone sometimes, just to get away from the noise. It’s okay to need time to yourself.

Some ideas to ease yourself into alone time are:

  • taking short walks
  • cooking
  • trying a new workout class- without taking a friend
  • sign up for volunteer work
  • go to a bookstore/window-shop

For those of us who have had some practice with being by ourselves and actually liking it, here are some advanced ideas:

  • Go to a yoga class. I go to a class every Sunday. It’s recovery-based and I love it. I was very nervous about it at first, but my anxiety has lessened a lot. I sat next to someone last week and she actually thanked me for sitting with her. Wow.
  • Have a solo picnic.
  • People watch- at a coffee shop, in a park, wherever you feel comfortable.
  • Go to a movie by yourself.
  • Try an evening class.

If you want to go for the extreme:

  • Take a road trip.
  • Go to a concert alone.
  • Go hiking.
  • Go to a meditation or yoga retreat.
  • Start a home renovation project.

Have I tried any of these ideas? Sure. Not all of them. I’m a work in progress, so some of these are definitely on my to-do list. I’ve always liked to people watch, but it’s always been more fun to do it with someone else. I would like to try that one soon. I live near a large park so there are always people to watch.

Time for You is Good Time

It may be hard to squeeze in the time for yourself, but it is necessary. It may mean walking to the bus stop on a sunny day to get your kids, but you’ll have those 10 minutes of a good walk. Walking is exercise and a way to clear your mind a bit. It’s a two-for-one deal. A whole day isn’t possible for everyone, so don’t feel guilty for the time you can’t give to yourself.

When you’ve had time to yourself, you feel refreshed. You feel ready to face the next challenge ahead. Who doesn’t want to feel like that? It’s a nice feeling. If you’ve had your nails, hair or toes done, you look better. That’s also a great boost. This isn’t meant to encourage living a life of solitude unless you really want to, but to encourage time to yourself so that you can breathe. You can get to know yourself a bit better. What do you like doing? How do you want to spend your time?

Do you have ideas to add for the list of ideas of things to do alone? Leave them in the comments!

How Can Therapy be Beneficial for You?

Let’s Talk About Therapy

I’m a “therapy graduate”- I picked this term up from my friend and fellow graduate Melanie. I finished in May 2018 after two very rough years. My former therapist gave me the tools I needed to rebuild my life, coping skills, cheered me on and gave me hope for the future.

When I got into therapy, I was completely broken- Jake died a month earlier, my drinking was out of hand, I’d snapped at someone, lost a friend, and I was terribly depressed.

*Melissa helped me process my grief, decide to stay in a marriage that I was a week from ending just a month earlier, learn to trust myself and others again, among other things. Oh, and she had great candy. That helps.

Therapists are rock stars and I highly recommend them.

How Do I Know if I Need Therapy?

Life is not easy. Sometimes we have to grieve a loss and can’t do it alone, even with lots of support. Sometimes we don’t know how to appropriately deal with anxiety, depression, or both. There are many reasons people may need to go to therapy. If you’re unsure, however, here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself:

  1. Are my issues interfering with my daily life? For example, if you’re having a hard time getting out of bed because you are depressed, is this leading to consequences at work, school or other areas in life? Or if you’re worried about your child, is this causing your child to miss a lot of school or activities?
  2. Do you feel ” stuck” in your feelings? It can be difficult to get out of a cycle of feelings that you have been in for some time. You may benefit from some assistance to get out of that cycle plus some help with learning new thought patterns.
  3. Have I changed as a result of my thoughts, feelings or actions? Sometimes when we are depressed, grieving or otherwise not ourselves, we lash out at others or completely shut down. Neither is healthy. Therapy can help with learning new ways to deal with and appropriately vocalize emotions.

How Can Therapy Help Me?

Therapy can be immensely helpful. This can happen, however, if you are willing to do the work. Don’t go into therapy if you are not willing or ready to do the work. It’s not just walking in, talking, then walking out and coming back in a week or two.

Most therapists give you something to think about between sessions. Mine asked me to start new hobbies to have better coping skills- I love coloring. I’ve also learned to love meditating and yoga. Both help with anxiety. I was also asked to do various things with my husband to work on our marriage, which he was on board with. Therapy is a lot more work than most think but it is worth it.

While in therapy, we face things that aren’t so pretty. There are tears involved. It’s painful- this is not fun, but this is part of the process. Your therapist will guide you through the issues that brought you there and into a life that is a bit easier.

Life does become a bit more manageable. It’s good to have someone who is on the outside to help sort things out. The skills you learn are those you can take with you forever.

Finding Help

There are a number of sites you can go on to find a therapist- I found mine on Psychology Today

There is nothing wrong with needing therapy. This can be a great step in your life.

Information courtesy of Smsteevesblog

Pics courtesy of Unsplash