It’s hard to find these days.
I don’t think it’s been here for over 6 months.
Between the kids and 2 parents working from home and 3 noisy dogs and 2 cats (or 4 dogs and 1 cat if you count the cat that thinks she is a dog), this house is very loud.
Silence here is simply not a thing.
Sometimes I can sneak away and soak in the bathtub while the bathroom fan drowns out the noise of dogs barking, video games being shouted at, pianos being played, cats knocking stuff off tables, and dishes being washed.
In those moments, I can almost hear silence.
But tonight I found silence that I didn’t know I was missing.
After my oldest and I ate dinner, he left the kitchen to take a shower. My youngest and my husband were out running an errand. The dogs were sleeping peacefully with their recently full bellies. I have no idea where the cats were but they were quiet.
Work was done.
TVs and radios were off.
The street was empty.
All I could hear was the gentle humming of the ice machine and the soft snores of the dogs.
Rather than getting up to do the dishes or flip over the laundry or sort the mail or prep backpacks for tomorrow, I sat.
I took in the silence.
I breathed in the silence, allowing myself to be fully present for the first time all week.
I felt the chair legs beneath my feet (because I’m short).
I felt the smoothness of the kitchen island built by my family during the height of quarantine.
I felt the air fill my allergy-induced asthma lungs and took my first full deep breath all day.
I felt my mind wander but I brought it back each time to focus on my breathing and the sounds of the silence.
I sat fully present in that moment for as long as it lasted.
Gradually the silence was filled. The ice machine dumped its newly formed tray of ice. The shower turned on in the bathroom down the hall. A car pulled down the street, waking two dogs, causing one of them to bark and the other one to tip tap up and down the hallway, her way of asking to be let outside.
As I stood to do those dishes and flip over that laundry and sort that mail and pack those backpacks, I noticed a lightness inside.
The weight I had been carrying all week was lighter, somehow made less heavy just by being in the silence.
Then I remembered an important fact about me. Silence refuels me. It recharges me. It recenters me.
But silence is hard to find.
Tonight I remember that I have to try harder to find it, even if I have to find it in some stolen moments at a kitchen island.
Most days I feel like me.
On those days, I feel great.
On those days, I wonder if that decades-old diagnosis of depression is accurate.
On those days, I feel like being with friends.
On those days, I feel like getting out of bed.
On those days, I feel like working out.
On those days, I feel like eating healthy.
On those days, I filter out the negativity around me without much effort.
On those days, finding the positives is easy.
Then it happens.
The bottom drops out.
Maybe it’s my scale not moving quickly enough in the right direction. Maybe it’s an argument with my spouse or a friend. Maybe it’s something I feel guilty about as a parent. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s a scheduling error.
Maybe it’s nothing.
On those days, the darkness rolls in and hovers above me.
On those days, my motivation is so low that it takes almost all of my energy to do the simple things like get dressed, put on makeup, do my hair, talk to a friend, laugh.
On those days, I become a raw, open wound — super sensitive and vulnerable.
On those days, everything hurts — emotionally and physically — and everything is hard.
On those days, I am grateful for the tools I have to help the lows to not be so low.
On those days, I can find the energy for the people that rely on me, but the other stuff just doesn’t get done.
On those days, I give myself some grace and kindness.
If you have those days too, let me remind you that you are not alone.
You are seen.
You are heard.
Even on the darkest days.
On those days, ride the wave and trust that the dark days will pass.
They always do.
I lost it this morning.
The weight of the past 6 months caught up with me.
My favorite time of the year — the reset provided by fall and back to school — finally made it to my house, albeit 3 weeks later than usual.
It’s my annual chance to reorganize my life, my routines, my systems, and my brain. New clothes for the boys for back to school, expanded hours for my clients, new classes for me to teach at the college level, and evenings spent on a sports field watching my boys play their favorite game usually fill my life this time of year.
Of course, none of that happened this year.
But today did mark the start of the in-person portion of the school year for my boys — the first time my oldest would step foot inside the high school as a student, not a visitor, and the same for my youngest at the middle school. It was kind of a big deal.
But, I lost it.
I slept through my first alarm and spent the rest of the morning playing catch up, racing through our morning to do list with one eye on the clock because they couldn’t be late — not on their first day.
Then the negative thoughts started.
I felt the weight and guilt of having to turn yet another handful of interested clients away because I cannot increase my hours this fall due to at-home schooling 3 days/week.
The state of disarray that is my house with backpacks, school supplies, masks, half-finished projects, dog toys, and a weird blend of clean and dirty clothes was all I could see everywhere I turned.
The bickering on social media flashed before my eyes as I absentmindedly scrolled through my feed while waiting for my tea to steep. Negativity and stress was everywhere this morning.
When I went to wake up my now middle schooler for his first day of school, I found the grumpy, moody, developmentally appropriate but patience-testing version of him before me.
I lost it.
Everything boiled over.
The doubts about whether this hybrid model is the right choice for him, whether this school was the right choice for him, whether this town was the right choice for him, it all rushed to the surface and I yelled.
I lost it.
I imposed an early bedtime, said I would take away all electronics, took away his option to walk home from school today, and I cried.
Today was our big day as a family and I lost it.
I failed to see that everything I was feeling, he probably was also feeling.
Six long months without being in school. Six long months of hearing about this virus. Six long months without the routine and structure that had filled most of his 12 years on this planet.
He doesn’t want this. He wants the world back to the way it was. He wants to play football. He wants to go to school full time with ALL of his friends. He wants to ride the bus while sharing a seat with his friend. He wants to sit across from his friends at a lunch table.
I failed to recognize all of that this morning and instead focused on how he wanted to wear ratty sweatpants with a hole in the knee to school and had a negative, grumpy attitude.
We were sure to say I love you and hug goodbye after our meltdowns but there were no cheerful first day of school photos for him.
Because I lost it.
We all have mornings like I had today — mornings where everything feels rushed and wrong and the choices you make are just the wrong ones. The guilt from those wrong choices is heavy and thick and can stick with us long after the bad moments have passed.
The truth is, no amount of “hold onto hope,” “be patient,” “give it time,” or “find the bright spot” memes or stories can actually take the stress of reality away. Sometimes life is just hard and it all catches up to you, washing over you like a gigantic rogue wave. Sometimes you just have to feel your feelings. I guess this morning was one of those times for him and for me.
So, what do you do after you lose it? What do you do when you regret the choices you have made as a parent, a partner, a friend, a worker?
Sure, I could sit in this guilt and negativity all day but that will probably only set off a whole big chain of further negativity. Today I choose to reflect on it, learn from it, take ownership for my actions, and reset.
Tomorrow is another day and I will try my best to do better, to be better.
Also, maybe I will set a back up alarm.
Sometimes the silence is so loud, it is deafening.
Sometimes in life you expect to hear from certain people, the people that are closest to you.
You assume you will hear things like “I miss you” or “I love you” or “Way to go, I’m so proud of you!”You think that surely they will call you, message you, text you, email you, post on your social media.
But, sometimes, the people closest to you are nowhere to be found.
The silence left in the wake of their absence is so loud that it rings in your ears.
The silence is all you can hear.
Their missing presence is all you can see.
But in focusing on the silence, you miss out on all the things that ARE there.
Sometimes you need to step away from the noisy silence and open your ears to what else is around you.
Maybe it’s not the people you thought it would be, but I bet you will find people there for you — reaching out to you, acknowledging you, appreciating you, needing your presence.
Turn down the volume on the people who are silent so that you can turn up the volume on the people who are present.
Most importantly, turn up the volume on your own inner cheerleader. Be the person that applauds your successes, that encourages you to keep going, that makes you feel like you are enough.
Be the voice that drowns out the silence.
This past weekend I ran away. I took my family north for one last trip to the mountains to take a break before the next chapter of 2020 begins.
There were lots of reasons to not take the trip. My pet sitter wasn't available. The hotel cost more than I wanted to spend. The weather wasn't going to be great. Covid-19 is still a thing and would prevent us from doing the things we usually like to do up there. It would have been easier to stay home, save money, and try again another time.
But, we went anyways.
It was the right decision.
On our final day up there, we stopped for ice cream. My eye fell to the homemade chocolate chocolate chip flavor on the menu. Once again, there were many reasons not to order it. I just worked hard to lose 10 pounds in August. I would probably only eat three bites before declaring it too sweet. I would probably get a tummy ache.
But, I ordered it anyways.
It was the right decision.
A few minutes later, my family of 4 sat at a picnic table overlooking the mountains as we enjoyed our ice cream and talked about our trip, the upcoming school year, and the start of the football season.
Then it hit me.
Life is short.
I’m so glad we invested in the moment this weekend. I feel recharged and ready for whatever September has in store for us. The weekend was just what we needed.
So, what's your ice cream in the mountains going to be this week? What is that one thing you have a million reasons NOT to do but deep down you know it will serve you well? What would it take to make it a reality?
Tonight the feelings of self doubt are big.
That negative voice in my head is loud.
It shouts at me:
“You are a fraud”
“Your kids deserve a better mother.”
“Your friends deserve a better friend.”
“Your husband deserve a better wife.”
“Your family deserves a better version of you.”
“Your neighbors deserve a better neighbor.”
I know all the skills to use to drown out the negative thoughts.
I know how to poke holes in what I am saying to myself; how to find lack of evidence to support the negative thoughts; how to find evidence to support the opposing thoughts; how to identify the faulty thought patterns.
I know that the voice I am hearing does not have to dictate how and what I actually feel and believe about myself.
I know that I am loved, I am worthy, I am good enough, I am deserving of the good in my life.
But, some nights the depression and anxiety are just so damn loud.
Tonight is one of those nights.
So, tonight I write as a way to push those thoughts away.
Tonight I write to tell those thoughts to beat it.
Tonight I write to remind myself that I would never let a friend believe these things about themselves, would never let my children believe these things about themselves, would never let me clients believe these things about themselves, and so I’m not going to allow myself to believe these things about myself either.
Tonight I write because I know tomorrow will bring a new day.
Tonight I write because I know I’m not alone.
Tonight I write so others can know they are not alone
Yesterday I stopped.
My gas tank was completely and utterly empty. I had nothing left to give to anyone.
I closed my computer.
I left the dishes in the sink.
I left the the laundry in the baskets.
I left the mail on the counter.
I left emails unanswered.
I left my to do list undone.
I laid in my hammock and did nothing but listen to the wind rustling the giant tree in my backyard while two of my dogs ran and played.
I pushed away all the “shoulds” and just breathed.
And it was glorious.
We all need to stop a little more.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
I’m reminded of this quote I once saw on the side of a building in Cape Town every time my rose bushes start to bloom.
It’s an important perspective to consider, especially today when so many things feel as prickly and painful and frustrating as thorns.
All of those thorns are balanced and softened by the presence and existence of the beautiful blooms.
How can you find a way to reframe the thorns in your life right now?
Four or five years ago we tried our hand at gardening. Turns out that we are much better at tending to pets than we are at tending to a garden.
But every year the strawberries return.
Without any effort from us, they awaken and grace us with their beauty.
Complete and total neglect.
Today this strawberry, the first from the forgotten bunch for this year, reminds me that we all have everything we need inside of us already.
Like these strawberries, we can persist and continue to grow, even when no one believes in us, we feel forgotten, or the odds are stacked against us.
Just the word itself causes many people’s chests to tighten, pulses to quicken, minds to start racing, and their breath to feel more shallow.
It’s not fun.
If you are one of the many people that experience anxiety on a daily basis, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of the US population struggles with a diagnosis of anxiety. That means that 1 out of every 5 people deals with some level of anxiety. At least you are in good company, right?
Add in a pandemic that requires parents across the country to suddenly home-school their children for the rest of the school year while simultaneously having to either work from home, continue to work their normal jobs as essential employees, or struggle with hours being cut, I’m guessing that the 20% number is more like 75% theses days.
How do we manage the anxiety during a global pandemic?
How can we somehow find ways to control the crushing anxiety when we are quarantined in our own homes and forced to live a version of life much different than the one we had built for ourselves?
How can we prevent the anxiety from becoming a very unwelcome house guest with whom we must spend our lock down?
Here are 9 quick strategies to help you regain a sense of control over your anxiety, despite living in the midst of a global pandemic:
1. Let Go of Perfection
Now is not the time to put pressure on yourself to learn a new language, start a new workout routine, begin that great diet program to “finally” lose the extra body weight, get your house in tip top shape, or become the perfect spouse, employee, or parent.
Now is about surviving and getting through this rough time.
So much of what we are collectively feeling right now is grief. Would you expect perfection, increased motivation, improved concentration, and a chipper mood if a loved one just died? I hope not — because you’d be grieving.
You are grieving now too — think about the things you have lost. Are you missing face to face time with friends, dinners out with your partner, lunches with your colleagues, commutes to your job, watching your children play sports, or attending a group fitness class? If so, you are grieving.
Is your To Do list not getting completed each day? Then the problem is with your list — not with you! You are expecting too much of your grieving self right now.
Reset your expectations right now.
There will be time to expect more of yourself but that time is not now.
2. Rethink Social Media
For many of us, social media has been a bit of a lifeline during quarantine. It has allowed us to connect with our friends, coordinate birthday drive-by parades, laugh at funny tik toks from people that probably shouldn’t be tik tocking (is that a word??), and vent about our feelings. It has kept many of us quite grounded at times.
But, social media has always been a potentially dark place. It is where keyboard warriors go to vent their own emotions and frustrations. It’s where name-calling is worse than any school yard could possibly be. It’s where misinformation spreads like wildfire. It’s also a place where people don’t often change other people’s points of views. Used incorrectly, it can be a place of wasted emotional energy.
If your social media friends, groups, pages, or followed sites are causing increased anxiety from you or are making your own blood boil, hide them, unfollow them, snooze them, or even delete them. There is no sense getting into a conversation about it, alerting them to it, or trying to tough it out. Just delete and move on for now.
Clear your social media so that it can be filled with people and stories that make you feel good — or at least don’t make you feel worse.
3. Make Room For Self Care
When in quarantine, so many of the things that filled our tanks and made us feel good are now off limits. Although it may feel like you don’t need self care because life has maybe slowed down for you, because of everything going on and the heaviness that surrounds every day, self care is actually more important now than ever.
What can you do for yourself? Look at your schedule and block out some time for just you. Go for a walk alone — even if your dogs and your children look at you with sad puppy dog eyes. Get in your car and go for a drive alone. Go sit in your car in a parking lot, roll your windows down, and read a book or listen to a podcast or play some music. Take a nap. Pour yourself a glass of that fancy wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion and watch your favorite movie. You may need to get creative but find a way to take care of yourself each day.
There is no right or wrong way to self -care — it’s just important that you carve out the time and do something for yourself.
4. Say No
After spending so much time in quarantine, many of us have gotten very good at connecting with friends and family virtually. But, what many people are beginning to experience is technology fatigue. There are only so many virtual cocktail parties, group video chats, and Zoom bingo’s we can have before we start to crave some time away from the computer and phone.
It’s ok to turn down some of those many invitations you are receiving from professional colleagues, friends, and family. It’s perfectly acceptable to take some time and NOT connect. In a weird way, many people are socializing MORE now than before the quarantine. Would you be going out this many nights a week or seeing friends in person as often as you are connecting virtually with them?
It’s ok to cut back a bit — even if it’s just for a few days.
5. Get Moving
Physical activity can really help break up long days in quarantine. If you live in an area of the country where even walking or running outside now requires a mask and parks are closed, your best options for getting moving may now require some added creativity and planning.
Maybe you could take an early morning walk around your neighborhood, apartment complex parking lot, or even do laps up and down your own driveway. Or, perhaps your best option to get moving may be inside your own home. With lots of gyms, fitness studios, and online programs finding a way to stay relevant and profitable while not able to operate their physical space, there are many free and reduced options to try online. Have you always wanted to try a Barre, Pound, Zumba, BodyPump, Kickboxing, or any other workout program? You probably can find a way to try them all within the comfort of your own home now. Imagine — no one can see you trip or stumble or struggle with any of the moves!
Choose one way to get moving for at least 10 minutes each day and note how you feel after you have done it.
What do you do when anxiety hits you full force and you can’t catch your breath? Being able to get control of your breathing again is key.
One of my favorite breathing techniques to recommend is one called Square Breathing. Think of this as breathing in a square. There are five steps to square breathing:
1. Inhale for a count of 4.
2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
3. Exhale for a count of 4.
4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
5. Repeat steps 1–4.
The Square Breathing technique takes some practicing. You don’t want your counts to be so fast that you hyperventilate. You also don’t want them to be so slow that you almost pass out. It’s best to practice this when not feeling anxious so that you know how to do it when you need it.
Take a few minutes each day to practice being aware of your breathing. It’s amazing what a few good deep breaths can do for our minds and bodies.
7. Point Out the Positive
It is really easy to become overwhelmed by negative information during a global pandemic. But, I promise you, there are positive things out there too — you just may need to look a little harder to find them.
Try to find and read at least one positive, funny, or hopeful news story each day. Try to watch a tv show or movie or read part of a book each week that focuses on a funny, hopeful, or lighthearted story line.
In addition to seeking out the positive, you can choose to BE the positive. Before you share that negative post or meme on your social media page or with your housemates, stop and think about whether it’s worth it. Would it be better to share something funny or bright right now? How would it feel to make someone else smile or laugh right now?
It’s amazing to see what can happen once we start searching for and leaning into the positives and leaning away from the negatives.
8. Focus On Your Thoughts
There is a thing that many of us with anxiety do — it’s called catastrophizing. When we catastrophize, we think about the worst possible thing and worry about it happening to us or our loved ones. We wonder how we would respond and how we can be prepared for the bad thing so that we are never caught off guard.
Become aware of your thought patterns and when you catch yourself starting to fall down the rabbit hole of “what if,” pull yourself back to reality. Ask yourself what value this line of thinking is providing right now. Ask yourself how likely the things you are worried about happening actually are right now. If that’s not enough to stop your catastrophizing, start a “worry journal” and write down your worried thoughts there. Give yourself a limit on how long you can spend reading and writing in your worry journal and make sure you give yourself equal time to write about and think about the positive things in your life, the things you can still have hope about, and the things you look forward to doing in the future.
We don’t have to let our thoughts control us. We can climb into our own brains and begin to take control of our thoughts.
9. Consider Counseling
Even thought many counselors (myself included) have moved their practices to an online format during the pandemic, now is still a good time to begin counseling for the first time. Although meeting a therapist for the first time via video or phone chat may be awkward, it can be a great opportunity to vent, unload, and have someone completely there for YOU for 45 minutes each week. They can also help you explore specific strategies to help manage the anxiety you are feeling now.
How great would it feel to have someone there for you every week, holding supportive space for you, and helping you to develop new strategies for coping? All without having to leave your home!
Although this pandemic and resulting quarantine time may leave you feeling very alone within your own home, remember that you are not alone. There are many people out there who struggle with anxiety even when there isn’t a pandemic. So, don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with your friends and family — it is very likely that some of them are feeling the very same way.
Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of and it is not something that has to control you. With practice, you can learn how to turn down those anxious thoughts and have greater enjoyment in your life, even when you life is completely turned upside down from a pandemic.
Mental Health & Wellness
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.