Lifestyle

Stop Panicking Before There’s A Problem: The Best Advice You Never Asked For Part 1

2020 may be a dumpster fire thus far, but we have the power to control our response to it. So, what you gon’ do? Own your mind, or let it own you?

“Don’t Worry. Don’t Hurry.”

– The sloth on the keychain dangling from my rearview mirror

I know I can’t be the only person who is capable of watching five hours of Family Feud in one sitting.

Between seeing how many shows “the Black family” can make it through (not a family whose actual last name is Black, but the multiple melanin enriched groups that roll through the show’s Atlanta set), judging Steve Harvey’s ostentatious suit and tie combos, and playing against myself to see if I can name all of the number one answers during the Fast Money Round, it’s easy for me to sit and watch episode after episode until my butt is sore and it hurts a little when I get up. Judge not. Ya girl is 26 now, which means I no longer fit into that cute 18-25 bracket and I hear an occasional bone or four crack when I stand up.

Of course, the occasionally outlandish responses from the contestants are worth the watch as well. Like these fine folks who didn’t quite understand the meaning of the word “neurotic”:

To clear things up, neurotic and “erotic” are not synonymous. Like, at all. Dictionary.com defines neurosis as “a relatively mild personality disorder typified by excessive anxiety or indecision and a degree of social or interpersonal maladjustment.” Therefore, a person showing characteristics of neurosis can be called neurotic, or in a nutshell, overly anxious.

My mother is the most neurotic person on the planet: high strung, excitable, over the top, and edgy. Our personalities often clash because I’m a lot more like my daddy: calm, measured, not easily rattled, and easy-going. While certain encounters between the two of us sometimes leave me exhausted, I have experienced my own bouts of neuroticism throughout my life. We all have. Major life decisions and transitions such as choosing a college, starting college, going through college, job hunting, relationships, buying a car, living alone, and establishing a career in a stressful profession have sometimes caused me to lose my normal sense of steadiness.

The COVID-19 pandemic also hasn’t been kind to my mental health, and I’m sure it hasn’t been to yours either. If it has, it’s probably because you haven’t been social distancing, wearing a mask, or trying your hardest to adapt to our “new normal.” And if that’s you, then I’m judging you as I type this in my furry slippers and bonnet that’s nearly stretched out of shape from all the overtime it’s been working as I practice social distancing in my apartment. Ok, shady PSA over. Anyway, if this ominous virus that has infected and killed thousands has either cancelled your plans or, taken your job, home, health, or peace of mind on top of all of the other grit it takes to simply make it in this crazy thing we call life, it’s totally understandable to not always feel like yourself!

As I’ll remind you several times throughout this series, I’m not a life coach (more specifically for this particular piece, I’m not a mental health professional. For those of you with diagnosed mental health conditions, I see you and I’m sending virtual hugs). But I do know a thing or two about a thing or two and have a healthy dose of common sense.

So, my first piece of advice to you is to stop panicking before there’s a problem. Stop it right now! On those occasions, I feel my anxiety getting out of whack, I’ve found that the root of the problem is typically this: my mind is too focused on trying to change the past or control the future instead of where my feet are planted right now—the present. The present is literally the only place we have control. We cannot change the past and while I believe in the power of prayer, manifesting, good vibes, karma, etc., we can’t necessarily control the future.

So, when you feel yourself sliding back or jumping too far ahead, it’s a sign that it’s time to practice something called mindfulness. Mayo Clinic defines mindfulness as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” Mindfulness makes you aware of your emotions, calls on you to own them, and then gives you the power to combat them. Pretty fierce, right? Here are some simple mindfulness techniques for you to try out!:

Breathe – That’s it. Deep breaths in, deep breaths out. Do it for as long as you need to and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel in just a few minutes.

Focus on the 5 Senses – I first started experiencing anxiety attacks a year after my dad died, which was my freshman year of high school. They popped up again during a difficult school year a couple of years ago and again during the pandemic. It wasn’t until I felt like I was losing my mind in a Dollar General parking lot a while back that I came across this method on Google. Here’s how it works:

  • Focus on five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Mix and match the senses however you’d like, but the main purpose here is something called grounding, or casting away all past and future worries and forcing yourself back into the present. Some other great grounding strategies are:

  • Counting – This works really well with kids. It’s amazing how taking a pause and counting down from 100, skip counting, or counting your steps as you take a quick walk can calm you in a matter of seconds.
  • Mantras & Positive Self Talk – I love a good quote. I’ve literally trained my brain to cut myself off from negative thoughts just by reciting a simply message or two I’ve stored in my brain for when things go left. Here’s a really good list of mantras to help you get started.

Listen to Music – Youtube has the BEST 2-3 hour instrumental videos that can be used for meditation and sleeping. Find the right track, lie down in a dark, quiet room, and press pause for a while. Or, listen to something that makes you feel good like your favorite artist or song. Dance if you need to or cry. Remember, it’s all about acknowledging and taking ownership of your emotions.

Unplug – Sometimes you have to ignore calls and texts, take a social media fast, let the phone die, or simply turn it off. This is especially true if social media or friends (we’ll get to friendships eventually) are potential roots of your anxiety.

Be Aware of Your Body – Do jumping jacks, clench and unclench your fists, wiggle your toes, stretch, etc. As you do this, be mindfully aware of your body and its functions. This brings presence.

Far too often, we don’t appreciate the present. It’s cliche, but it’s funny to me how eventually we end up looking back on some of the wildest roller coaster rides of our lives with humor and fondness. You know, “the good ole days.” But the gag is (Keke Palmer voice), these are the good ole days—the present. 2020 may be a dumpster fire thus far, but we have the power to control our response to it. So, what you gon’ do? Own your mind, or let it own you?

X’s and O’s,

JF

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