Thursday, July 10, 2014

Post-Party Anxiety

A while back, I wrote about Pre-Party Anxiety.

I think many people can relate to the nervousness or butterflies you get before going to a big social event, party, or gathering.  Some experience the anxiety worse than others – especially if you have agoraphobic tendencies or social anxiety in general.  On the flipside, I’m sure there are some people who don’t have trouble at all.  However, for those of you who are familiar with the symptoms of anxiety, you know that it’s no fun.

Previously, I thought that after an event was over, I was out of the woods, in the clear, free from harm…done with anxiety for the time being.  But after last weekend, I became aware of this other anxiety that came after an event.  I realized, begrudgingly, that there must also be a post-party anxiety.

Social events drain my batteries (even though I do enjoy them and participate in them because, to me, it’s worth the work).  Nonetheless, the company, the conversations, and all that good stuff, still get me overwhelmed and nervous.  Even after the event is over, I noticed that I get a different kind of anxiety that threatens to take over my brain.

I spend time mentally preparing for social situations, and I try to equip myself with the skills I need to get through it joyfully and relatively pain-free.  Yet, I haven’t been prepared for what comes after, even when I’ve successfully stayed at a gathering without leaving early because of anxiety.

It’s probably the result of low resources – being at parties takes a lot out of me – and I don’t have the strength to fight off the anxiety demons post-party.  But, I think a lot of it can be prevented (or at least, reduced) if I have a game plan.

It’s worth it to me to attend social gatherings.  I’m not just going to stay home all the time.  I want to learn how to cope with the anxiety so that it’s not so bad.  And being aware of what causes me anxiety is a good first step in learning how to deal with it.

After a party, I find myself unable to relax.  It’s like I need to decompress, move really slow, and reorient myself to my surroundings.  I find that I analyze conversations, re-live certain moments, and think and think and think and think about the day.

“Did I say the right thing to that person?  I didn’t get a chance to talk to that one person.  That one moment was really awkward.  Why did I say that?  Sometimes, I don’t know why I say certain things.  I should think before I talk!  Did I unintentionally blow off anyone?  I didn’t finish that conversation with that one person.  I hope they don’t think I didn’t want to talk to them.”

And vanity and pride play a part as well…

“Did I sound silly when I said that?  Did I overdo it when talking to that person?  Did I look dumb?  Did I eat too much or too fast?  Is that person still going to like me after that interaction?  Are they still going to think highly of me?  Is this one person still going to want to hang out with me in the future?”

My mind feels like it’s going 100mph and I don’t feel like I can stop it or slow it down.  Sometimes I find myself walking around the house in circles doing random things that aren’t necessary.  Like, I’ll fluff the couch pillows, fill up my water bottle, and organize the books on my end table…at midnight.

I think that I can help myself in these situations by first becoming aware of this “Post-Party Anxiety”, how it affects me, and what I can do about it.

I think a good way to deal with this type of anxiety is to first get rid of the desire to appear a certain way; whether it’s about physical looks or whether it’s about personality – appearing smart, composed, or graceful.

A lot of my anxiety stems from the fear of not being a certain way.  And the fear of not being a certain way comes from the fear of not being accepted and loved.

I need to remember that I am who I am and that this good enough for me.  I need to care less about what others think of me, because, in the end, it doesn’t matter what they think anyway.  Comparing myself to others is useless because it only leads to discouragement and self-pity.  I need to remember that I am loved, I am accepted, and I am good enough – first and foremost, because my self-worth comes from God Himself.

Also, I need to remind myself that I’m not weird.  It’s OK to have a transitional routine – nothing out of control or really lengthy – just a few things that help me settle down.  I was doing this before without realizing what I was doing, but my mistake was that I thought I was crazy and I felt weird for doing it.  But I can see now that it is helpful to have a specific routine in order to transition from a particularly taxing event.  What I need to add to the routine is the awareness of what I am doing and the confidence that when I’m done I can let go of the anxiety.  And I need to give myself permission to wind down when I get home instead of expecting myself to go perfectly from one thing to the next.

A transition routine can be anything from brushing your teeth to taking a shower to sitting for a few moments with your eyes closed or mediating.  I think a good practice would be to pray the rosary because it is so rhythmic and repetitious.  A rosary can calm the anxiety while getting you back into a pattern of peace and trust.  Or, if not a whole rosary, I’ll try just a decade or even just a short prayer, “Lord, I offer you this anxiety.  I pray for everyone I spoke with this evening.  I trust that you’ll bring good from all my weaknesses.  Help me always to desire to lead others to You.  All for Your greater honor and glory.  Amen”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bad Food, Bad Person?

Personally, I have a problem with categorizing food as unhealthy vs. healthy.  I understand that there are different foods – they’re not all the same.  And I realize that there is a hierarchy of food – some foods have more nutritional benefits than others.  But unless you’re eating cardboard, your body will metabolize whatever you eat into energy, muscle, necessary fat, etc.

Likewise, I think it’s harmful to teach kids about unhealthy vs. healthy food.  The danger lies in the rhetoric, what we say, how we talk about the topic.

The problem is that young kids learn in black and white.  If you’ve ever been around kids, you know this is true.  They take things very literal.  They don’t yet have a developed vocabulary to understand all the gray area found in food hierarchy.

When you’re teaching kids about right and wrong, you use words like “bad” and “good”.  They learn what these words mean before they can understand abstract concepts such as “sometimes” or “depending on the situation”.

If you’re going to teach kids about unhealthy/healthy food, until they are in about the 6th grade, they will translate your words into black and white statements, wrong and right, and bad vs. good.

Tell a little kid that certain foods are unhealthy and they will look at you and either stare or say “what” or ask you what that means.  You might say, “Well, unhealthy means it’s not good for your body to eat that all the time.”  Kid translation, “Not good means bad.  This is a bad food”.

Or you might take a different approach and tell them that unhealthy food will make you feel sick.  No one likes a belly ache.  If the kid is old enough to understand this, he might follow your advice.  But a stomach ache is still “bad” in his mind, and he will still think of that food as being “bad”.

The problem with learning that some foods are bad is that it becomes a moral decision.  If you eat a “bad” food then you committed a “bad” act.  Does it merit a time-out, a spanking, or something worse?

It would be better to let children learn about how food affects them on an individual basis.  Kids learn about their bodies and their appetites through experience.  They develop preferences and likes and dislikes over a span of many years.

Telling a kid that a food they like, i.e. ice cream or candy, is unhealthy will create confusing signals in their developing brains.  “How can something I like and that tastes good be bad?”

Some kids, if they aren’t ever allowed to have “bad” or “unhealthy” food, might resort to hiding food, hoarding food, obsessing over food, or lying about what they ate.  This causes unnecessary shame and guilt for a little kid because in their minds it becomes:

If you eat “bad” food, you become a “bad” person.

Even as adults, we tend to think this way.  Because of our “thin obsessed” culture, foods that could potential cause you to gain weight are deemed “bad” or, have you heard the phrase “sinfully delicious”.  Foods that could potential cause health problems are called “unhealthy” regardless of scientific backing or not.

The bottom line is: Food choices are not moral choices.  Food choices are preferential, like favorite colors, picking out furniture for your home, or listening to certain music as opposed to others.  You are not a good or bad person depending on what you choose to eat.

And, actually, if you think about it, food choices have more to do with social status.  Because some foods are more expensive than others, i.e. organic brands, food choices can become another way to separate the society’s classes.  But that could be a whole other post in and of itself.

No one should tell another person what to eat or not eat.  Each person is so intrinsically different and has his or her own needs, preferences, and individuality.  If certain foods make you feel physically ill, give you a headache, indigestion, etc, there is no reason to ignore your individual reaction.  However, other people might have no problems with those foods.  The problem lies in using blanket statements categorizing food into black and white, good and bad lists.

In reality, we don’t know everything there is to know about nutrition, healthy, and preventing life-threatening diseases.  I think healthy problems are more related to genetics and hereditary factors than to what someone does or doesn’t eat.

Whether or not that’s true, the state of someone’s soul does not depend on what they do or don’t eat.  The truth is everyone is going to die at some time or another.  Instead of obsessing over your food choices, spend more time getting your heart and soul in shape.  If we all spent as much time in prayer as we do thinking about unhealthy vs. healthy food, the world would be a much better place.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Guest Post!

A lovely reader recently left a BEAUTIFUL comment on one of my blog articles.  It was so good that, with her permission, I’d like to share it with you all in this post.  Her voice is stunningly honest and true.  Please take a reflective moment and thoughtfully read through her words.  Personally, I am so grateful that she took the time to rely her thoughts to me about her experience with depression.  I am adding the prayer she included to my repertoire.

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I am young woman suffering from depression. I also happen to be an artist and Catholic.

Depression if it is mild or moderate feels like an earthly experience of purgatory.  And if it severe it is like experiencing the first levels of hell.


People often romanticize illnesses like cancer, but it is hard to tell a story about depression, because it is depressing by default.  The only way to tell story about depression that isn’t soul crushing is by inserting humor and God.  Sometimes humor is the best a person can do, but I am so very grateful for God.

Now that the pain of my illness is moderate, mostly thanks to meds, I can go about my day without constantly thinking about my moods and saying, “oh my goodness, how can I possible live another day like this?”  Now I can say to myself, “It may or may not pass, but it can- oooh look a squirrel!”

It’s hard to describe what I’m going through to people that have never felt this. It is like a demon ran away with my soul or at least part of it, and the ever pressing weight that I may never feel like myself again.  And then of course there is the fatigue, pain in my lower arms and head.  That isn’t pleasant either.

Then there is God, who can make darkness into light.  The wallpaper on my work computer displays this prayer that I read every morning and every time I begin to get scared that this will never go away:

“I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him.  If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.  He does nothing in vain.  He knows what He is about.  He may take away my friends.  He may throw me among strangers.  He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me.  Still, He knows what He is about.” - John Henry Cardinal Newman

I wish the stigma of mental illness wasn’t so rampant.  I think people like to believe that they are in full control of their minds, and so they mentally outcast those who are not, because nothing is more terrifying than your mind running away from you… indefinitely.  That’s where all the well-meaning sugary mantras come from.  “Just try harder”, “Just pray harder”, “Just take up sports”, “Just count your blessings”, etc.  “If you only try hard enough, you can do anything!”

Only God can to anything, well all good anythings, but we want to believe that we are gods and that we have control.  If illnesses teach you anything it is that you are not God and not in control.

I am an incredibly gifted artist.  Drawing comes naturally to me.  I can be having a crap day and still illustrate a children’s book that gets translated into four languages.  If I were to ask my mom to make a copy of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, it wouldn’t be very good.  If I told her to try a harder it might be a little better but not much.  Maybe with years and years of training she could become as good as me, but probably not.  She’d need a miracle.  Luckily, her earthly wellness and happiness don’t depend on her drawings skills.  But the healing of my mind does.  I do need a miracle of sorts.  God might work through the right doctors or people or food or pixie dust, but I know that if I ever wake up excited for the day and with a respectable level of confidence, it will be an act of the Almighty.  I have fought tooth and nail to not be depressed, and although I am better I am not healed.  But because there is a God I know that it is possible, and so there is hope, and if there is hope, well all is not yet lost.

Much love, your sister in Christ,
F


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(F, so sorry it took me so long to respond!  I didn’t see your comment right away – if my computer hadn’t been broke, I guarantee I’d have published it the very next day!  Thank you so much for your vulnerability in sharing your thoughts.  I am sure many people will benefit from your words.  Know that you are in my prayers as you continue your daily struggle.  I am rooting for you.  Please feel free to write anytime!)