What I’m Doing About Anxiety

For the past few weeks, I’ve had higher-than-usual anxiety levels. Lots of activity and a full house are definitely part of it, plus the changing weather, and my ongoing post-divorce inner work/healing. Yes, I know, we’ve all got stuff to deal with and we have to do the best we can every day. So, here is a list of some of the tools that are helping me get my anxiety under control each day.

Calming Aromatherapy Blend:

(4 drops Cypress, 3 drops Lavender, 5 drops Sweet Orange essential oil.) When my anxiety seems to be peaking, this blend helps me almost instantly. I put it in my diffuser, sit down to work at my desk, and within 10-15 minutes I feel that tightness in my chest ease, the inexplicable sadness and worry lifts, and I come back to myself.

Calmsense:

I’ve said it before and will say it again: This blend of B vitamins and herbs really works to calm me down, boost my mood, and relieve stress. Whether for everyday anxiety issues or for situational anxiety, (before a performance, for example), it works for me within twenty minutes. You should have this in your natural first aid kit.

Walking outside for at least twenty minutes each day.

Just get out there! Your mood will lift, your ability to focus improve, your stress levels will drop, and your overall sense of well-being will rise. Feel the sun or rain or wind on your face, connect with your surroundings, and remind yourself that you are part of the planet, and the planet is part of you.

Meditation/Yoga/Prayer/Pranayama:

Pick one or do all of them, but whether you are praying, practicing yoga, meditating or doing breathing exercises like Pranayama, you will benefit with lowered stress levels and a calmer, more positive outlook. I enjoy meditating and practicing yoga with the YogaGlo app on my phone.

Watching something that makes you laugh.

I can get so serious and stuck in my head, trying to solve problems and get work done, that I forget to take a break and just laugh. Whether it’s I Love Lucy episodes, a movie like Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah or a TV show like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a good laugh session will do wonders for your mood and you’ll stress less.

Reading books on contemplative prayer and mindfulness:

Peace of Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

I would love to hear about what tools you use to help yourself when you are feeling anxious.

I’m Thinking About Trees (A Poem)

I’m thinking about trees, the ones standing 

at the back of the house. Maples, in particular. 

And how they are so clearly trees and 

are not in the habit of having identity crises. 

They aren’t wondering if they should perhaps

be like the evergreens next to them, or, 

maybe, like the apple trees in the orchard. 

After all, those pines don’t stand naked and 

exposed during the coldest months of the year. 

After all, apple trees have pretty pink blossoms 

in spring and all those juicy apples in fall. 

No, the maples stand sure with their trunks straight, 

while their branches grow out their new green leaves. 

They don’t seem to care if the wind blows fiercely 

against them. They just dance along—their branches 

swaying and bending, their leaves shimmying 

with each gust. They have two aims: to root down 

deep into darkness and to grow up tall toward 

the light.

If anything looks like a prayer to me, 

it’s how a tree lives its uncomplicated life. 

How it gives itself to each day completely, 

as only a tree can. How it stands rooted 

no matter what comes and never tries to be

something it’s not. A tree is itself: a tree.

Poem by Kim Pollack /©2019 All Rights Reserved

Monday Meditation

I sat cross-legged on my yoga mat one morning at the beginning of practice and began to cry. The instructor was guiding us toward the place we wanted to be and told us to focus on that, rather than the stuff in our heads, and the things that were wrong.

I was weighted by much that was wrong–real and imagined. Things I have continually heaped on myself since my divorce and things that I wanted to change about my own life and surroundings. Ways I attempted to control circumstances so I could bring order to places in my mind and body that I felt were lacking. I was a mess–full of anxiety and wrapped tightly into a cocoon of sadness and guilt and darkness.

On the mat, I began to moved through the poses. The focus was on strength and the idea was that we are stronger than we think we are. The poses became more intense. I shook in holding poses, (planks, especially) and felt fatigue hitting me in waves as I did yet another vinyasa. But as I continued through the difficulty of the practice I felt stronger and calmer and more assured that my life was a thing of complicated beauty.

Off the mat, several hours later, I began to meditate on empowering thoughts. Then I wrote them down. You know what? All that anxiety and guilt and regret and need to control my surroundings just melted away! It was such a relief!

This was so helpful to me that I wanted to share my list with you. I encourage you to make your own–it’s actually kind of fun and I think you’ll feel anxiety slip away and a sense of calm and strength center you.

I Can

I can be my best self today.

I can tell the truth today.

I can enjoy my life today.

I can be kind and generous to myself today.

I can be kind and generous to others today.

I can bring ideas and solutions to work today.

I can accomplish what I need to today.

I can listen today.

I can say I’m sorry today.

I can release the past today.

I can learn today.

I can be enough today.

I can matter to others today.

I can love people today.

I can take care of my body today.

I can take care of my soul today.

I can love my children today.

I can love my husband today.

I can stay in the light and not hide today.

I can be a good friend today.

I can drink enough water today.

I can get outside and let Nature embrace me today.

I can laugh today.

I can communicate better today.

I can improve on yesterday today.

I can say no when I need to today.

I can say yes when it’s wholehearted today.

I can make mistakes and grow today.

I can be God’s child today.

Evening Poetry, April 13

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

Mindful

Every day

I see or hear

something

that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It is what I was born for–

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world–

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant–

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these–

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

This poem can be found in the collection Why I Wake Early.

The Hardest Promises to Keep

I don’t know about you, but I have a lifetime of breaking promises to myself. Of telling myself one thing and doing another. Of agreeing on a course of action only to face the unpleasantness and lack of novelty of follow-through and fizzle out.

Last summer, I was made aware of this while listening to a podcast by Rachel Hollis. She talked about how so many people are in the habit of starting and stopping things, about the lack of commitment to our own priorities, about how breaking promises to yourself makes you not trust yourself. And how no one would flake out on another person the way we often flake out on ourselves. That idea–of keeping promises to myself–was one I hadn’t really thought of before. I don’t know why.

Although I neither blame my parents or the Christian culture I was raised in, my life–the way I think and live– has been affected. Sometimes it’s been very positive, sometimes not. One of the “nots” would be this rather irksome saying my mother used to quote to me when I was a child: “Jesus first, Others second, and You always last. That spells JOY!” Sorry, Mom, but it ain’t necessarily so!

The whole concept of living to serve God and others is a noble one and I am not suggesting that now I have seen the light and only serve myself. I believe that a human who lives only for self winds up feeling empty and dissatisfied, lonely, and worthless. We all need to be investing part of ourselves in that which is greater than us, in that which may not serve us, but which will benefit others.

But in the past few years, I have begun to see how damaging the above concepts can be for women who think that God wants them to spend their entire lives putting aside their needs and/or desires, because someone else’s needs or wants must always come first. And as much as I hated to admit it, I had done a good deal of this as well. Until age 39 when I fell apart. My experience is not so unusual, really. As Brendon Burchard says, “Living incongruent to what you believe is the greatest form of unhappiness.”

So after I had my mid-life crisis, as it’s aptly called, I reassessed everything. I began to catch myself when I would say yes to something that I really didn’t want to do. I had to remind myself often of the Jen Hatmaker quote, “If it’s not a Hell, yes, it’s a No.” And this past year, I have begun to deal with my lack of consistency in many areas of my life and make myself do what I told myself I was going to do.

Commitment to myself is tough, but I know it is right! That means if I have time scheduled to write or work or exercise and one of my kids wants me to drive them last minute, or a friend wants to come over, I have to say no. It’s hard to disappoint people–I hate it!!! But I’ve had plenty of practice disappointing people in the past few years between leaving church, getting a divorce, getting remarried and living differently than I did before. (I am starting to warm up to the idea of writing more about this difficult season I’ve been in.)
If you have a habit of breaking promises to yourself, it’s going to be a process to turn things around. Begin with something small, but be on the lookout for places in your life where you constantly shove yourself aside to please others. You put things off, change your plans, let personal growth and wellness goals fall by the wayside because someone else is demanding. Again, I’m not saying live to please only you, but there has to be some place for you in this life. “Your one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says. I will leave you with her poem The Summer Day. Happy Monday, friends!

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand.

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life.

–Mary Oliver

What to Tell Yourself When You Feel Like a Failure

Let me be honest: it is a challenge to walk the wellness path I encourage others toward. It takes lots of time and dedication to the dreams I want to manifest. It takes willpower, grit, gumption, tears, motivation from many sources and plenty of failing forward. I have many areas I still want to master. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the things I am working on this year:

I need to be dedicated to daily writing, daily meditation and yoga, daily practice of my instruments. I have an irregular schedule, so I’m thinking that the best way to make these things happen are to make appointments in my calendar app and then follow through. I am not a morning person and do not think clearly enough to write first thing, except morning pages, perhaps. But maybe yoga would work in the morning.

Here is the emotional/mental/spiritual aspect of myself I need help with the most: being grounded in my body enough that I can be calmer, less anxious. I startle easily, am a “Nervous Nellie” as Alan calls me, and am often on the verge of panic. I am taking an herbal blend and use essential oils in the diffuser to help with this, but there are more pieces of this puzzle to be found.

The relational and personal growth-type of area I most need help in: being able to stop what I’m doing and focus on the other person, whom I love, without being preoccupied with work and wishing I wasn’t interrupted. It is really hard for me to change gears, let go of my plan, and be present with someone when I think I really need to get back to whatever I was doing.

I may fake it as well as I can on the outside, but inside, I’m fuming at having to live someone else’s plan for myself. Sometimes I can tell them that now isn’t a good time, but plenty of other times, I need to let this be my life: giving my time, energy, love and attention to the other person.

After all my years serving at church, reading books on selflessness and about being more like Christ, I wonder if I’ve progressed at all? I still like what I like and although I can be a grownup and do all the responsible, giving things on the outside, on the inside I am often willful and rebellious, smart-mouthed and sarcastic. It’s a good thing we can’t hear each other’s thoughts!

So, what do I tell myself? Do your best today! That is my aim everyday, as I’m sure it is yours. We aim to be our best selves, we sometimes miss the mark, but we reassess and keep going after the goal.

How do we treat ourselves after falling on our faces? Plenty of negative, critical self-talk, right? To care for yourself, though, and to promote inner emotional and mental health, you need to be kind to yourself. If you, like me so often, tend to beat yourself up with your thoughts and inner talk, then switch it up! Be encouraging. Find things to compliment about yourself. Remind yourself that mercies are new every morning. Tell yourself “I love you and you deserve to be loved”.

For Lent this year, I gave up negative self-talk about my body and my actions. Every time I catch myself getting ready to unload the mean words gun, I am amazed at how natural it is. It feels weird saying “I love you” to the parts of my body that I’ve never liked much. It feels weird to not criticize the way my jeans fit or my face looks on live video. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s stretching me in the right direction!

So today, assess your life and be honest about where you need to grow, be more consistent, be kinder, let go, create space, or boundaries. But notice the way you talk to yourself and if it tends toward the negative, then begin to sweeten your tone, be encouraging and kind, and tell yourself you are loved and lovable. Because you are!



Late Winter Musings

These last few days of winter and this last day before the season of Lent begins are vibrating with change, energy, and light.

I’m struggling to sleep past six each morning because I am still used to darkness and silence and haven’t yet adjusted to the sun peeking out and birdsong lilting through the closed window.

Not that I am complaining–quite the opposite! I actually prefer change over stagnation, but this year I seem even more aware of the natural world slowly waking up and shifting toward activity and growth.

I have the privilege of living in the middle of all this glory we call the Finger Lakes Region: fields and meadows, forests, hills, valleys, lakes, and wildlife everywhere.

Much of the time, I block out what is happening on the other side of these walls and carry on with the ” more important work” of business and commerce and marketing and study. This disconnect is detrimental to myself, other people, and the earth, so I seek to take a hint from the seasonal transition we are in and change my behavior.

When my children were young and we homeschooled, I followed the Charlotte Mason method which emphasized art, literature, music, history, handcrafts, and plenty of time spent out of doors for nature study. My kids and I each had a nature study notebook. The idea was simply to spend some time outside and draw something that you observed while there: a tree, a cloud, a bird, an insect, a leaf, etc. This strengthened powers of observation while creating a habit of attention to the natural world.

My homeschooling years are behind me, but I need to reconnect myself to nature’s rhythms and be at one with the true pace of the planet. I very much need to reawaken my whole self to what has been before me and what will go on after I have lived my life here.

Mary Oliver, who passed away earlier this year, wrote all the time of nature, of her observations in nature, and of the depths of emotion she experienced in the natural world. I’ll end with her poem, “Mindful” from her book Why I Wake Early:

Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Slowing Down and Paying Attention

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It’s Tuesday and I hope you’re feeling like you’ve gotten into a good groove for your week. If I’m honest, I’m still getting there. No excuses, I’m starting over with the habits I know are best for me in this season, but I am feeling a little beside myself or outside of myself. Recently, I listened to On Being’s Krista Tippet interview Ellen Langer on The Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness

From the twenty minutes or so that I listened to the podcast, what I heard Ellen Langer say was that mindfulness is simply paying attention to one’s surroundings and noticing what’s new. She said this can have a positive effect on relationships if you look for two or three things you haven’t noticed before (or for a while); rather than assuming you know everything about someone because they have grown so familiar to you. Maybe you just need to look a little closer?

When I homeschooled my kids, I followed the Charlotte Mason Method. One of her principles was to train children in “the habit of attention“. Isn’t that a worthwhile and wise goal? Habits, when formed young, can stay with one for a lifetime. To form a habit of paying attention and to have that be part of a child’s education is a brilliant idea.

It’s so true how much we can cruise around our lives, doing the dailies and forgetting to notice the amazing, the miraculous, the wonderful all around us and indeed, that we are wonderfully put together. If you are a gratitude journal person, this is one way the world can come alive again and you can begin to look at things with new eyes, with childlike wonder.

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What happens when you stand in a field, take a walk in the woods or down the road, or simply go out your back door and watch the trees, rooted and flexible, as they bend and sing to the wind’s song? Don’t you sense a peace and lightness as the day’s worries slip away and you begin to recall your connectedness to the beauty strength of the world you live in? And you slow down, breathe in the scent of pine, cut grass, fallen leaves, snow and you are renewed?

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Take a few minutes today to step outside or walk or hike. Slow down and really see your backyard or the field across the street. And inside, what beauty is in a corner, on the table, or windowsill that you might have missed? What about your family?

I noticed how how adorable my teenaged daughter looked with her hair half up and little curls framing her face. And again this morning, before I drove her to school, I thought how pretty she looked with her hair in a bun, how long her lashes are. I noticed my son’s attractive face as he drove past me on his way to school. I noticed the kindness around Alan’s eyes and the happiness that radiates from his face when he’s being silly.

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Alan with fresh local turmeric.

And I looked around my kitchen tonight and snapped some photos of things that brought me joy.

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Roasted apples and butternut squash.

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Tiny Bell peppers from our garden.

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Tulips, a locally-made beeswax candle and a lovely colorful salad.

Do you have a habit of attention or do you need help paying attention to your actual life? I’d love to hear from you.