Awkward Silence!

This past weekend I went to a housewarming party. I go to these with my husband, but due to his work schedule, I was to go alone. PANIC. I don’t normally go to parties alone, especially when I only know a handful of people. Immediately I started to think of excuses of how to get out of it. My brain automatically does this, regardless if I want to go or not. I REALLY wanted to go: I haven’t seen my friend in a LONG time, I’ve never been to her house, and she has a baby on the way, so I’m not sure how often I’ll see her in the long run.

Since my husband would be home later in the evening, I made the drive out to her place with the full intent to come back home and spend some quality time with him. I made it on time, which I normally do so I can talk with the hosts. Luckily not a lot of people were there, and it made my anxiety subside.

At one point both of the hosts were in other rooms either giving a tour or pouring drinks, leaving me with two other couples in the living room. The room was a little silent, so I jokingly said loudly “Awkward silence!” which did not bode well with the others. They all glanced at me at the same time which made my throat close up. Tough crowd. My anxiety said to stay silent for the remainder of the time that I was there. I excused myself to the kitchen and poured myself some water for my dry throat. I didn’t have my husband to bring me down from my anxiety, but I was determined to stick it out for my friend.

Even though my visit was short and my anxiety did come through, I’m quite proud of myself for staying. As the party went on a couple of acquaintances came through, and I was happy to say hi to them as a welcomed distraction from my idiotic attempt at being funny. When I got home, I ran through that “Awkward silence!” possibly twenty times in my head, bashing myself for even trying to be funny. Unfortunately, this will never escape me, and I’ve come to accept it. Do I regret going to this party? No. Pushing through things that make you uncomfortable is the only way that you can grow as a person. Will I yell out “Awkward Silence!” Again? Most likely – I am Anxious Andrea after allsocial-anxiety-toronto-1

Symptom: Lock Jaw

Last week I went to my dentist, I’ve been having some issues with my jaw locking up on me while I sleep and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I am guilty of grinding and clenching my teeth – I don’t normally know I am doing it since it usually happens at night. My dentist fixed me with a mouth guard years ago and even though it was a temporary fix, the issue has come back. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to delve further into my issue and have to go back next week. You can all guess what I’ll be doing till then! OVERTHINKING!

Have my jaw discs started to deteriorate? Will I need to get surgery? How long will the recovery be? How nutritious is a liquid diet anyways?

Anxiety comes with a lot of symptoms, and some of them arise as physical pains. The ones that I am experiencing right now are due to muscle tension. Aside from being mindful of my anxiety, there isn’t much else that I can do. Recognizing my anxiety can be helpful in trying to not clench throughout the day, and that will help until my next visit.

What-are-Anxiety-Symptoms

How can you recognize anxiety? Anxiety can be very situational for most people, but I was compiling a general list over the weekend that could be helpful for either yourself or recognizing it in others.

  1. Physical Pains: This can include stomach issues, back problems, headaches and jaw discomfort in my case.
  2. Physical indicators: some of the most common symptoms are sweating, trouble breathing, rapid heartbeat, and
  3. Change in demeanor: becoming more reclusive, needing more assurance than usual, and lack of patience.
  4. Foggy Brain: this includes trouble concentrating and memory issues. This can be very frustrating and can cause even more anxiety once we realize what’s happening.
  5. Extreme worrying: It’s obsessing, it’s overthinking, it’s overanalyzing. Honestly, I deserve an award for this.

As mentioned, this is just a generalized list, and you can have more symptoms than the ones listed. It’s imperative to stay mindful so that you don’t overwork yourself into a panic attack or start clenching your jaw. Trying not to overthink is a huge task for me, but I know that my husband and others will ground me. Here’s hoping I get some good news next week!

Pushing through the anxiety

After pushing myself for a couple of weeks, I decided to take some time and just relax. I’ve been working on several projects and didn’t want to overstretch myself – I’m pretty thankful that I did.

During this small break, I took a look back on my writing career. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always kept a journal, but when I entered high school, I got into poetry. My English teacher at the time, Elaine Smajovits, was so incredibly supportive of my writing. Whenever I had a break or lunch, I would try to hunt her down so she could read my latest entry, always offering advice and a smile. My poetry was reflective of my relationship issues with my adoptive father and I never really shared it with anyone. I did try to share some short stories with my adoptive father and then step-mother, but they were quite dismissive and didn’t offer the support that I needed. I was told to find a “suitable career” and believed writing wasn’t viable. I started to doubt myself, and my dream of becoming a scriptwriter seemed too far-fetched.

When I graduated high school in 2004, I was published in an Anthology “Under the Poet Tree” and was quite proud of myself. My “parents” didn’t even bother to buy a copy of it. I swept my poetry under the rug and went into communications/film studies to hopefully find a better calling. One of the electives that I was able to join was script writing, and I figured I should at least give it a shot. My teacher wasn’t the best and constantly asked why I wanted to be a writer. With no self-confidence, I wasn’t able to answer her. When she initially introduced the course to us, she mentioned she doesn’t give anyone A’s, but I was pretty confident in my final submission. The highest grade I received was a “C,” and I took that as my answer to no longer pursue writing.

I look back on all of these factors and want to hit myself over the head. I let my atmosphere and anxious thoughts get the best of me.

Even at my lowest point, I would continue to write as a form of therapy. I have countless journals and a ton of notebooks scattered around the house. Knowing that this brought me joy I knew that I needed to do something about it. In November 2016 I decided to break some barriers and start a novel. This novel has been years in the making, and I finally had an “Ah-ha!” moment on how to formulate it properly.
Doing it part-time for 16 months brought on some new anxious thoughts, thinking that no one would want to read it but I pushed myself. I was back in my element.

On top of that, I started this blog four months ago and finished/submitted a short story to a local contest. I didn’t want to overstress myself and took last week off from my blog to focus on my novel. I’m glad I did because it’s now in the hands of my proof-reader – I feel ridiculously accomplished.

When I look back on my trials and tribulations, I’m not overly upset with myself that I took a long break. Its normal for us to go through anxiety when starting something new. Remembering Elaine Smajovits’s infectious smile was the push that I needed to jump back into it. Thank you for the push!

Grounding

When it comes to anxiety, I’ve found that the best way to overcome situations is by practicing grounding techniques.

Grounding is being present in your body and connected with the earth, allowing you to feel centered and balanced no matter what’s going on around you. I remember as a child I would practice this without even realizing: I would kick off my socks/shoes and dig my toes into the patch of ground closest to my house. Feeling the dirt beneath my feet always made me feel calm. From time to time I still do this, but when it comes to Canadian Winters, I need to find other techniques

1) Involve your senses: make a cup of your favorite tea, wear your grandmother’s sweater or, use essential oils. Being lost in nostalgia through your senses will calm you down and bring you back to the present

2) Self Soothe: Draw yourself a bubble bath/take a hot shower, light some candles around the place/put on the fireplace channel or, listen to some spa music. Try to set your atmosphere into a calming zone. Don’t worry if this is not your scene if you’d rather calm down by listening to metal, GO FOR IT.

3) Observe: Aside from the anxiety-ridden thoughts that are running through your head, what else is happening around you? Sometimes when I’m driving, I can get a little anxious. When I do, I try to give as much detail towards other objects surrounding me as a distraction: “The car in front of me is a Blue Sedan with the license plate number XXX-XXX its bumper has a slight ding on the right-hand side most likely from exiting a parking garage.” Observing others and objects around you brings you back into the present and is a great trick when you’re on the road

4) Breathing: I cannot stress this exercise enough as most people with anxiety can sometimes forget how to breathe. I posted a great video to follow. However, if you need a quick tip use 4-7-8: Inhale to 4, hold to 7, exhale to 8.

5) Distraction: This tip is excellent not only for oneself but for others who want to help with family/friends when they experience an anxiety attack. This trick is called 5-4-3-2-1, and once you get the ball rolling you’ll notice that by the end you won’t feel as anxious anymore:

List 5 things that you can see
List 4 things that you can touch
List 3 things that you can hear
List 2 things that you can smell
List 1 emotion that you feel

Grief and Acceptance

20 years ago I lost my mother to a long battle of cancer. From the age of three to eleven I had to understand what exactly was happening to her and didn’t fully grasp it until I saw an episode of Charlie Brown called “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?”.why charlie brown why

When I approached my mother after the show tears welled up as I asked “do you have cancer?” the room fell silent as she nodded yes. I tried my best to be hopeful, knowing that within the episode the character survived her cancer. My mother beat it once; there was no reason for me to believe it couldn’t happen again.

Not long afterward she passed away. I remember being angry for the longest time – I didn’t know how to access my emotions properly and became reclusive as the depression sank in. I felt so incredibly alone even though I lived with my adoptive father. We never had the best relationship, and we handled our grief entirely differently. He went through the five stages of grief within a year whereas I was stuck in the fourth stage, depression, for too long. It probably didn’t help that I had other stressors in life and I would always think that if only she would still be here, things would have gone differently.

Recently I read “The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck,” and a chapter on grief hit me hard. How I reacted to my mother’s death was my own choice.

Pain of one sort or another is inevitable for all of us, but we get to choose what it means to and for us.

It was my choice to wallow in my grief, and I know now that it wasn’t healthy for me. I didn’t choose how my life unfolded, but I was capable of choosing HOW to live with it. It took a long time to accept that my mother wouldn’t physically be around anymore. I would always think about my life adventures that she would miss out on – graduations, marriage, kids, etc. Sometimes I would have to stay home from work on this date just to make sure I wouldn’t show my “ugly cry” to others.

20 years later and this date still brings a tear to my eye. I don’t think my sadness will ever entirely go away, but I can make a choice – to celebrate the woman that she was and all of the positive influences that she brought to me. Her unconditional love made my heart full, and I cannot wait to share that once I have kids.

In the past couple of months, I inherited some pieces of vinyl from my Aunt that belonged to my mother. She signed the cover of her Beatles and Supremes LP’s, and I’m so thankful to call them a part of my collection. As well, My husband came home with Candy Buttons during Christmas. I was elated to tell him that it was my mother’s favorite. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion, and I know today is that day.IMG_3160

I will be spending the remainder of the day unplugged from social media and just focusing on how much my mother meant to me.

If you have any wonderful memories of Reesa Stein, please leave them in the comments

Social Anxiety

I’m not going to lie; I’ve had a difficult past couple of months. I won’t delve into my issues but recently it started to get better, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Usually, when I have rough months my anxiety kicks into full gear, and it’s still a daily struggle to get out of my element. So when my best friend in Montreal decided to host an event for her book launch, I was determined to show up for support. The only thing is, how was I going to deal with a crowd? If you know me personally, you most likely know that it takes a lot for me to show up at a party where I know no one. I decided I needed to break through my rough patch and support her.

When my husband and I arrived, I immediately walked into the venue and assessed where the exits were. Only one, so I hugged the side of the walls closest to the door. People started to show up in large groups and blocked the only entrance/exit, and my heart started to race. social anxiety
My best friend was rushing around but somehow found the time to come up to mention “why are you all alone?!” and then introduced me to one of her friends. I extended my hand for a greeting, but in all honesty, my heart rate elevated, my mouth suddenly lost all moisture, and I got an overwhelming sensation that I was too awkward because of my trembling hands. My husband noticed and ushered us into the larger part of the venue where vendors were set up, and the air was blasting. Getting the rush of cold air helped me calm down as I started to concentrate on my breathing. Soon enough a close friend of the family (Whom I refer to as my Aunt) stopped by and took my mind off of what was battling in my head. Keeping me engaged in a conversation took my mind off of the crowd becoming larger in our space and grounded me (Thank you!!)

I spent a solid two hours at this event alongside some acquaintances and was extremely proud that I didn’t bolt out immediately. If this happened several years ago, I never would have thought of coming out. One of the things that I learned in therapy was that I need to expose myself to situations that frighten me, that’s the only way that I’ll grow as a person. Overcoming my social anxiety wasn’t an easy task, but with the right CBT therapies, it can get better over time (take baby steps!!)
I’m thankful that I didn’t miss out on my friend’s success and I’m so proud of her accomplishment “Thrive Through Self-Care.”

Highly Sensitive

For the longest time, people mention that I take things too personally or that I’m too sensitive. Hearing it for years and from different groups of people, I started to look in on myself and ask: is there something more to this?

Last year I decided to research this aspect of my personality as I started to believe that there was more to me just being “emotionally sensitive.”
On top of being emotional, I know I get easily overstimulated by
a) Noises (One Example: When my husband sharpens the knives I cannot be in the same room)
b) Lights (One Example: Some concerts I have to lower my head to withdraw from the strobes)
c) Smells (One Example: Old Spice triggers me)
d) People (One Example: Feeling others emotions all too well)

All signs were leading to me being a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP for short). I couldn’t believe it! When I was a kid all of my peers called me “shy” or “quiet,” but I was mislabeled. Since I was highly sensitive, I often felt overwhelmed in most aspects of my life that would make me clam up and withdraw from others. Especially when people subject emotions around me on a daily basis. Through being highly sensitive, I’m more susceptible to anxiety through this absorption.

MIND. BLOWN.

It also affects the way that I think, since I have a more creative and active imagination, it can become more challenging to remain calm or convince myself there’s nothing to worry about since I deep dive into negative ‘fantasies.’ It usually feels like there is nothing that I can do to lessen the intensity.

AHHH what do I do?!

Well, first things first – You need to learn how to stop allowing emotions from invading your mind and protect yourself. Easier said than done, right? In all honesty, you just need to find the willingness to react differently if you don’t want to be overwhelmed.

  • Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of getting overwhelmed: for me; it’s usually dry mouth and a racing heart. Being in the present will help you overcome your situation.
  • Focus on yourself: If you’re anything like me, you tend to put everyone over and above yourself. Well, STOP. Self-care is imperative to recharge yourself and to boost your self-confidence.
  • Get mindful: you cannot control what others are going to do so live in the now, breathe deeply and try relaxation techniques. I cannot emphasize enough how important exercise is to burn off the adrenaline coursing through your system
  • Set Boundaries: Avoid the sources of your fear but don’t run away. The more you understand about your boundaries you’ll be able to prepare ahead of time to avoid or adjust your day to reduce the effect on you. I don’t like to avoid things as I feel it sometimes makes my anxiety worse, so I adjust.
  • Remember that it’s not the “end of the world” all of the thoughts racing through your brain is part of your imagination – let them go!

Curious to know if you’re an HSP, too?
Take this test to find out