It’s been a pretty stressful summer. My parents are moving half way around the world, I am still working retail despite my desperate attempts not to be, and I will soon need to spend a lot of money on a variety of things that I both need and don’t need. But despite feeling all of this crippling self-doubt, I must solider on. One does not get anywhere by pitying themselves. But this is very hard! Feeling sorry for yourself is really easy and really satisfying. But it will kill you.
Hyperbole aside, I’ve tried to find small ways to manage this stress.There are the standard ways; listening to music, reading, cleaning the entire house. Anything that makes my brain work at something helps. Doing these things before bed helps, and sometimes even works. But sometimes it really doesn’t. And there is nothing worse then being alone with your thoughts when your thoughts are about how terrible you are. So I’ve found some other ways to not freak out over silly things.
One is breathing exercises. I breathe in for 5 second, hold for 5 seconds, and then breathe out for 5 seconds. This helps a little, and calms my heart rate. But weirdly what helps the most is holding my breath for as long as possible. I breathe in as much as I can and then bury my face in my pillow. Yes this sounds like self-smothering and it kind of is. But holding my breath like this, gives me something very immediate to focus on, and for a moment my brain stops going a million miles a minute. After about 30 to 45 seconds (depending on my lung capacity that day) I suddenly pop my head up and gulp as much air in my lungs.
I used to think this was very, very weird until I learned that holding your breath is a way to manage and even stop panic attacks. Your body starts to hyperventilate when you panic, and holding your breath is a way to stop your body’s out-of-balance chemical reactions. But more than that, I think what helps me the most is taking my mind off of whatever is stressing me out.
I also run through daydreams in my head. I meet famous celebrities and they tell me how cool I am. Or I find the perfect job that pays me to travel wherever I want (like Sara’s very contagious obsession with Anthony Bourdain). But giving my mind something to focus on that’s HAPPY is a convenient form of escapism. I get lost in the world I’ve created and eventually nod off because my brain doesn’t know that I’ve tricked it into not panicking. Classic brain!
But what I think helps me the most (and is also the hardest to do) is simply turning my mind off. If I’m trying to fall asleep I lay on my back, close my eyes, and think of nothing except for one thing. An ocean, a brick wall, an empty void. Anything that is singular and requires not words or noises. It doesn’t do much, but it allows me to process my emotions without analyzing them.
I’ve talked before about how fast my brain operates. It’s hard for me to focus on anything and sometimes I can only focus on one thing at a time, whatever it is. And I always, always, always over analyze everything that filters through my head. But I realized a long time ago that I don’t want to live my life with that much anxiety. There are too many things to be excited about. And though I have a long way to go before I’m infinitely less stressed then I am now, hopefully these little tricks will always work for me.
So tonight I will hold my breath in my pillow, dream up amazing travels and cool people, and maybe think of nothing at all. And tomorrow I will start to chip away at the old block again, so that one day I will be the person I’ve been hoping to be.