The Power of a Mantra

How do you get through tough moments?

What are the thoughts you have that bring you out of the deep pit of hopelessness, anxiety, anger or other emotions?

It helps to have a reserve of thoughts to remind yourself that things will be okay.

A mantra is a thought or phrase that you can repeat to yourself in tough moments. It is meant to reassure yourself, help you feel strong and capable.

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Five Simple Words

I kind of fell into my mantra. It is five simple words- “One Day at a Time”.

These words are ingrained into my blog and even tattooed on the inside of my left wrist. It reminds me that I can only move so fast. It is a short statement of how I live my life now- I refuse to make long term plans because I am terrified of them falling apart.

This is a result of the plans I had for a divorce, which fell apart, along with the rest of my life, after Jake’s death. Watching those plans shatter and trying to get through the days after was painful.

I don’t want to go through that again. I struggle to plan vacations a couple of months in advance because I’m worried something will happen to ruin it.

The phrase also helps me with sobriety. I can only stay sober one day at a time, even though I plan to never have a drink again. I am fully aware that relapses happen- I’ve worked with plenty of people that have done so and it can be a crushing experience.

Sometimes it can push a person to work even harder to stay sober, but it can also push someone the other way back into active addiction.

I can say that I won’t drink today, but I can’t say that about tomorrow. Anyone who is in recovery can understand that. This isn’t saying that I don’t believe in myself, but that I know that it’s a fact.

Lastly, it helps me be patient with myself. Anxiety is a rough beast to live with. This phrase reminds me that today might entirely suck but tomorrow has the possibility to be better, even if a little.

Insider Thoughts

If you go back a bit in time and read 5 Ways to Conquer Self-Kindness there are tips on how to be nicer to yourself. This can go a long way in developing a mantra, being kinder to yourself and improving your mental health.

The words you say to yourself, especially when you are upset, sad, stressed or angry, can make a difference between things being better or worse.

The mantra you choose can depend on what you struggle with. If your main issue is wanting to be more positive, find a quote on positivity. If you need a boost of strength, there are many quotes to be found. Pinterest and Google are full of quotes for this purpose.

Keep the mantra short so you remember it. It won’t help if you can’t remember it. I have a terrible memory, so five words are perfect for me. The shorter the mantra is, the better.

The first may not be the best. I went through a couple of mantras before I found one that fit. Otherwise, it would not have become a tattoo. Everyone has different needs and mindsets, find what you need and not what someone else thinks you need.

Pair your thoughts with deep breathing. Calm thoughts and deep breaths can be soothing in difficult moments. A helpful breathing exercise: breathe in while counting to four, hold for four breaths, then slowly let out while counting to seven. Do this while repeating your mantra.

After the Moment Has Passed

When your mind clears, think about how you felt during and after breathing and thinking with your mantra. Did you feel better? Would you try it in the future? This doesn’t always produce great feelings on the first, second or even third try. If it doesn’t, it’s okay.

Keep the progress up and you will see results. The power of a mantra is there, it’s just waiting to come out.

Do you have a mantra? Does it help?

Pics courtesy of Pinterest

Men and Mental Health

As kids, most boys were told not to cry. They were told to be tough, to be “real men”, and those men didn’t cry and show emotions. They hid their feelings, no matter the cost.

This piece of advice has had terrible consequences, leading to high substance abuse rates, violence against women and children (among others) and other issues. When you can’t let out your feelings in a healthy way, it tends to come out badly. It also leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and lack of self-care.

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Everyone needs to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. This is a well-known fact. Men have a harder time acknowledging this because of the stigma they face in doing so. This will be covered in a later post, so stay tuned, but here are a few examples of what many men fear when going for help:

  • Being labeled as “weak”, “sick”, or any number of labels.
  • Having to be vulnerable. I can say from personal experience that starting therapy is rough. You are opening up with some of your worst demons to someone you just met..many men (and women) are not having it.
  • Being judged by those who know that they are getting help.

This information is in The Stigma of Mental Illness

Untreated mental illness can also lead to suicide, which has a higher rate in men, and men usually use more lethal means.

This fact breaks my heart each time I read it. Suicide in itself is heartbreaking and has far-reaching consequences.

As a mom, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay to cry. My sons know it’s okay to have emotions. In light of numerous teen suicides in the news and those that I have lost to suicide personally, I feel a huge responsibility to watch out for my kids’ mental health. It’s HARD to be a kid these days.

Cameron started taking daily naps when he started middle school, and at first, I thought it was a phase. Then I worried about his heart because his SVT is pretty severe and can tire him out easily.

He told me that he felt fine, that school was just tiring him out. My next question was if anything was bothering him, and thankfully, he said no. Cameron is a pretty chill kid, but you never know.

Julian is pretty quiet, but he knows where Mom is if he needs to talk. So does Lily, but she is NOT the quiet type. The point of this is, please talk to your kids, no matter how rough it may be. Just check in.

What can we do for the men in our lives?

  • Check in with them. Especially if something major has happened to them recently- a death in the family, job loss, etc.
  • Be gentle. Most men facing a mental health issue don’t want to be forced into talking. Matthew’s parents divorced a few years ago, and there was a lot of drama involved. He’s not a huge talker, so I had to let him talk about it at his own pace.
  • Encourage him through whatever he does, if anything. If he decides to seek help, he needs to know you’re behind him 100%.

Of course, if things are going downhill quickly, please seek immediate help. You can go to the nearest ER or call 911.
Resources:

AFSP

Psychology Today

NAMI

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.

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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?