7 Strategies for Staying Afloat During a Major Life Transition

7 Strategies for Staying Afloat During a Major Life Transition | Whether you're graduating, moving, getting married, or just feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, I've got seven strategies to help you infuse more joy, meaning, and simplicity into your crazy days.

So far, 2017 has been the Year of the Major Life Transition (or MLT, a totally unofficial acronym I invented just now). In January, within the span of just a few weeks, I received and accepted a job offer, moved from a medium-sized town in north central Indiana to the most populated city in the state of Texas (#cultureshock), and started my first full-time position out of graduate school. In many ways, I was so ready for the change–ready to be done with resumes and cover letters and actually launch my career, ready to live 15 minutes rather than 15 hours from my boyfriend, and ready for a new beginning after two physically, mentally, and emotionally draining years of school. And since I had left most of my belongings in boxes when I moved back in with my parents last fall, I was even ready in the practical sense.

And yet, nothing can truly prepare us for the ways in which an MLT will transform our world, nor can we fathom the range or patterns of emotions we may experience throughout the process. In the months since the move, I have felt excitement, joy, peace, and conviction that I made the right decision, as well as loneliness, overwhelm, exhaustion, and doubt–sometimes within the span of a single day or even a single hour. Throughout all these ups and downs, a few key tools and strategies have helped me to stay afloat, and since many folks are undergoing MLTs this time of year, I’d like to share them with all of you. And even if you’re not graduating, moving, and/or getting married in the coming months, think of the following as ways to infuse more joy, meaning, and simplicity into your days. 

1. Decluttering in every area of life

Back in December, I wrote about my discovery of Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less, and my subsequent mission to pare down my material possessions. Since then, I’ve continued exploring what it means to live a more minimalist lifestyle, and I’ve gotten rid of a ton more stuff in the process. I’m by no means a hardcore minimalist, but I can now attest to the incredible freedom that comes with allowing yourself to let go of things that no longer serve you and merely take up your time, space, and attention. And during periods of rapid change and perpetual uncertainty, it’s so much easier to find peace of mind when your surroundings are simple and uncluttered.

This “back to basics” mentality has begun to spill over into other areas of my life as well. For example, I’ve started taking a hard look at my technology-related habits in an effort to reduce digital clutter. I gave up social media for Lent after realizing how many of my precious after-work hours were spent mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds, and once I survived that first painful week or two, I found myself actually enjoying the break. And by the time Easter rolled around, I noted significant improvements in my ability to focus and remain patient and present. Now that Lent is over, I’m slowly adding social medial back into my life so that I can find the balance that works best for me. The free iPhone app Moment has been really helpful in this regard, since it allows me to track the total amount of time I spend on my phone, the amount of time I spend using specific apps, and the number of times I pick up my phone each day.

I’ve also tried keeping my personal calendar as decluttered as possible. In high school, college, and graduate school, I maintained a pretty busy schedule–I worked, volunteered, played instruments, and joined a number of clubs. These activities brought me immense joy and introduced me to some of my best friends. Right now, though, I’ve found that what I need is massive amounts of margin–white space in my calendar to allow me to breathe, rest, and do things on my own terms. I’m still recovering from the move and feeling its aftereffects in waves, and quite honestly, I think I’m still recovering from the intense anxiety of the past two years. At some point, I’m sure I’ll be ready to get more involved at my new parish, join a book club or yoga studio, or start volunteering again. But right now, I just need time, space, and stillness. And that’s okay.

2. Revitalizing my workouts

I’ve been doing yoga on and off for years, and I’ve always cherished its numerous physical and mental benefits. Recently, though, my practice was feeling a bit stale and in need of a little somethin’ somethin’. Thankfully, one of my lovely readers introduced me to the Yoga with Adriene Youtube channel, and y’all, I am in love! Adriene Mishler, the yogi behind it all, is incredibly talented, encouraging, funny, and real, and she has created dozens (hundreds?) of free workout videos for all levels and purposes, including losing weight, relieving anxiety, improving digestion, and healing a myriad of injuries. (She even has holiday yoga, yoga for when you’re angry, and yoga for hangovers!) Her motto is “find what feels good” and her emphasis on personalizing your practice based on what your mind and body need on any given day has completely rejuvenated my workouts. She’s also so good at helping you retrain your brain to notice negative self-talk and replace it with more positive and accurate messages. This month, I’m making my way through her 30-day Yoga Camp series, so I’m sure this won’t be the last time you’ll hear me gush about my new YouTube bff. 

3. Meal planning

I first discovered the beauty of meal planning in college, but now that I’m working full time, I have an even greater appreciation for its benefits. I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen; however, when I arrive home in the evenings, the last thing I want to do is dream up what to have for dinner. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’ve reached decision fatigue for the day. And that’s where meal planning comes to the rescue! On the weekends, when I’m more rested and less rushed, I take some time to find a few fun yet relatively simple recipes to make the following week and then head to the grocery store to get everything at once. It’s so much more appealing to prepare a homemade meal after a long day when you’ve already done the thinking and the shopping! And because I’m #human and don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen, I also leave room in the menu plan for using up random leftover ingredients in an omelet, salad, etc, or simply heating up a healthy-ish frozen meal. Balance, simplicity, and flexibility, y’all. 

4. Starting the day with a creative and energizing activity

As you may know, I took a little blogging hiatus during the move so that I could focus my time and attention on the 1.67 million tasks that apparently come with relocation. And while I’m grateful that I allowed myself this space, I quickly began to notice that not having a regular creative outlet was draining in its own way. However, when I was ready to start writing again, I faced a bit of a dilemma–I was always too tired and braindead to produce anything noteworthy or even grammatically correct in the evenings, and I was already waking up pretty darn early for work. I used this conundrum as my excuse for a while until I realized that if I didn’t actually do anything about it, I might use it as my excuse forever. So I began tracking my time (using the free web service MyHours) and analyzing the data in search of opportunities to streamline and/or rearrange my schedule. I ultimately concluded that mornings were my best bet and figured out how to free up about 45 minutes to write before work. Yes, I now get up really darn early, but I’m kind of loving it. I feel so much more energized and alive when I start my day with a creative activity, and writing has been an invaluable way to express and process all of the thoughts and emotions that this MLT has triggered.

5. Consuming lots of great audio content

During the workday, I get by with a little help from my friend Pandora radio. I’ve created artist-based stations for deep concentration (e.g., Explosions in the Sky), chilling and contemplating life (e.g., Ben Rector or The Head and the Heart), and rocking out/powering through projects (e.g., Smashing Pumpkins or Bleachers). And when I’m cooking, cleaning, or commuting, I’m almost always listening to one of my favorite podcasts, which range in topic from minimalism to productivity to Catholicism. These podcasts inspire, challenge, and entertain me, while also getting my mind off whatever might be stressing me out at the moment.

6. Being honest with others

Every time I finish exchanging pleasantries or remarking on the weather with someone, I feel like I ought to be awarded this shirt (#introvertproblems). But I also understand that it’s not always the right time and place to discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and I have learned the hard way that many people just want you to say “okay” or “fine” when they ask how you are. As a result, I often end up erring on the side of caution and promoting the very small talk that I despise the most. Recently, though, I’ve tried to find a balance and take advantage of opportunities to dive a bit deeper. When someone I feel I can trust asks me how the job/move/etc. is going, if it seems like the right setting to provide more than a one-word answer, I’ll try to be honest; there is a lot I love about my new life, but there are also times when it’s stressful and exhausting and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. The results? Family members, friends, and even several new coworkers have shared amazing words of encouragement, advice, or wisdom, not in a shallow or dismissive “you’ll be fine” sort of way but in a compassionate “I’ve been there” manner. Simply knowing that I feel overwhelmed because I’m human, and not because I’m lazy, inadequate, or incapable, can go a long way.

7. Enjoying the little things

By which I’m mainly referring to my regular practice of enjoying a delicious bowl of ice cream. Because even with all the above strategies in place, sometimes you just need to plop down on the couch, dig into some mocha-Oreo-cookie-dough-swirl (which is totally a thing, and a beautiful thing at that), and remember that everything is okay, you’re going to make it, and by golly, you deserve to enjoy the ride.

Do you have any MLTs on the horizon?

What strategies do you find helpful for maintaining health, happiness, and perspective during stressful or uncertain times? 

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A Playlist for Connection: Songs for Healing & Harmony in a Broken World

A Playlist for Connection: Songs for Healing & Harmony in a Broken World | In times of pain and division, we need real, authentic connection more than ever. Here are some of my favorite songs for cultivating relationships and interactions based on honesty, charity, and humility--and for remembering the brokenness and fragility that unites us all.

I really, really didn’t want to write about the election, or about politics in general.

I felt that I couldn’t possibly say anything that hadn’t already been said–or take any stance without my position being misconstrued.

And since my blog isn’t about politics, I reasoned that it was acceptable, even advisable, for me to avoid the topic.

But then I found myself totally overwhelmed with pain, frustration, and hopelessness regarding the current state of our nation and world. It seemed that I was witnessing more nastiness and division–both online and in real life–than I remembered observing at any other point in my life. In so many other upsetting and uncertain circumstances, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks, I had seen people rise to the occasion and come together–but this time, it seemed that our differences were only driving us further and further apart.

So I did what I so often do in these situations: I made a playlist.

It’s such a simple thing, maybe even a silly thing, but throughout my life, music has truly been there to help me muddle through my lowest lows, celebrate my highest highs, and live out every experience in between. I’m always searching for the perfect soundtrack to match every mood and moment, from driving around town to drinking coffee to decorating the Christmas tree, and this time was no different. So I compiled a list of songs that just seemed to resonate with me in these post-election weeks, that seemed to say what I’ve been struggling to put into words. Then I tried to figure out what they all had in common. And then it hit me.

In one way or another, all of the songs were about connection.

About supporting and sacrificing for one another.

About walking a mile in another’s shoes.

About turning enemies into friends. 

About persevering together in the face of pain, disappointment, and uncertainty. 

About our common tendency to pretend that everything’s okay when it’s not. 

About how love has always been–and always will be–the antidote to fear. 

About the brokenness and fragility that unites us all.

And this common theme made so much sense, because based on my observations over the past few weeks, I believe that what we need the most right now is real, authentic connection–the kind that demands honesty, bravery, and vulnerability. The kind of connection that requires us to listen intently to others, even if we don’t understand–even if we can’t imagine ever understanding–their views. The kind of connection that challenges us to share our own stories and beliefs with charity and humility, free from any air of snark or superiority. The kind of connection that absolutely hinges on the fact that every individual–whether loved one, stranger, or reviled politician–is a human being with worries, dreams, strengths, flaws, and–no matter how unlikely it may seem–the potential for good.  

So I  wanted to share this playlist with all of you, because although this blog isn’t about politics, in so many ways, it is about connection. It’s about letting people into the messiness of our lives, balancing virtual and real-life interactions, practicing self-care so we can better serve those around us, and being open with our struggles and encouraging others to do the same. And such connection is especially important as we approach the holidays, which, for many of us, means spending time with family members and friends with whom we strongly disagree on a variety of issues.

I had hoped to write this post without any disclaimers, but given the sensitivity of the topic and the fact that some of you may not know me in real life (and therefore may not read my true intentions as readily), I want to make this very clear: I’m in no way trying to minimize the suffering or fear of any individual or group. I’m not implying that we can just bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles and suddenly get along. What I am saying is that I know we can do better. We have to do better. It’s a broken world out there, so let us each do our part to heal and be healed.

Spotify users: If you’re currently logged into your account, you can click on any track below and start listening right away. If you’re not logged in, clicking on the playlist below will prompt you to do so. 

Non-Spotify users: Clicking on the playlist below will prompt you to sign up for Spotify. If you’ve never tried it, it’s a pretty amazing digital music service that I use practically everyday, so I highly recommend it! (I’m not receiving any sort of compensation for this endorsement; I’m just a huge fan!) But if you prefer to get your tunes another way, I’ve also created a graphic displaying all of the track and artist names. 

Songs for cultivating relationships and interactions based on honesty, charity, and humility--and for remembering the brokenness and fragility that unites us all.

 

The Adventurous Life: How to Define Your Own Brand of Bravery

The Adventurous Life: How to Define Your Own Brand of Bravery | Don't think of yourself as adventurous? Think again! Learn how living adventurously can mean something different for each of us--and how to identify the risks truly worth taking in your own life.

When I hear the word “adventurous,” the first image that comes to mind is someone who spends his or her free time doing awesome things like skydiving and zip lining and scaling mountains. I picture someone who seizes every opportunity for new and fun experiences with little or no hesitation. I envision someone who thrives on taking risks both large and small and whose life motto is essentially “why not?”

When I hear the word “adventurous,” I also think of the exact opposite of me. As much as activities like skydiving and zip lining and scaling mountains sound awesome, they also sound kind of dangerous and expensive and let’s be real, I’d probably be equally content spending time alone writing and drinking coffee from my favorite mug (#turndownforwhat). I don’t think I’ve ever seized an opportunity without totally overthinking it first, and my idea of living on the edge is keeping my library books past the due date. And because I’m an INFJ obsessed with finding meaning and purpose in every freaking thing, my life motto is definitely “why?” as opposed to “why not?”

However, my conversations with my amazing therapist over the past 5 months have begun to shift my view of what it means to live adventurously–and for that matter, why it’s even important to do so in the first place. 

I’m about to make a big claim here, but it’s my blog, so…here goes nothing. I believe that the greatest adventure in life–and the bravest thing we’ll ever do–is to become the person each of us is meant to be. (And as a Christian, I believe this means becoming the person God created each of us to be.) Consequently, living adventurously means constantly challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones in order to better align our actions with our values, goals, and unique strengths. Skydiving, zip lining, and scaling mountains may be out of my comfort zone, but is it imperative that I do these somewhat arbitrary things in order to live adventurously? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on what I hold most dear.

For example, developing and sustaining deep and meaningful relationships is very important to me. I don’t need a large social network to be happy, but I do need a tight inner circle with whom I can be my most authentic self. However, as an introvert with a lot of social self-doubt, it feels much safer for me to hang out alone than to invite a family member or friend to catch up over coffee and risk feeling like a bother. And if we do end up meeting, it feels much safer for me to gloss over the tough stuff and act like everything’s fine than to admit to my struggles and risk being viewed as a Debbie Downer or an over-sharer. So for me, living adventurously means taking these risks on a regular basis anyway, because that’s really the only way to cultivate the types of relationships I’m after. And it also means returning the favor and being there for these individuals when they need me the most, when they’re scared to reach out or share, and loving them wholeheartedly, no strings attached.

As another example, having a fulfilling career is very important to me. This is not because I view my career as the pinnacle of my life and happiness but rather because I want to enjoy the many hours I put into my job and also feel like those hours are making a real difference in the world. But the further I get in my process of job searching and self-discovery, the more I realize that in order to achieve most of my professional goals, I’m going to have to step way outside my comfort zone. Leap outside it, really. My dream is to someday run my own online nutrition and wellness business, but that will be difficult and scary and require a significant shift away from the 9-to-5 mindset I’ve held for so long. (Even typing the words here is totally freaking me out.) It’s also likely that I will need to go back to school at some point and become a registered dietitian, which, after the completely overwhelming graduate school experience I completed just a few short months ago, is not exactly my favorite thing to think about right now. So living adventurously will mean going after these grand goals anyway, believing in myself even if no one else does, and knowing that I’ll still be enough even if I fail.

So maybe someday I will skydive, zip line, or scale a mountain. But if I do, it won’t be because I feel I need to in order to prove that I’m “adventurous” in some vague and arbitrary sense. Instead, it will be because it fits with my own brand of bravery and brings me closer to the person I was put on this planet to be. And that will be a risk truly worth taking.

What does living adventurously mean to you? How do your goals and values help you define your own brand of bravery?

5 Ways that Traveling Rejuvenates the Mind, Body, & Soul

Remember when I discussed my love-hate relationship with traveling? Below is a story that I’ve wanted to share on the blog for a while but haven’t due to a fear of sounding spoiled or ungrateful for “complaining” about an incredible opportunity. But I finally decided that in order to truly illustrate how crippling anxiety can be–and how much it can lead someone to think and act in ways he or she isn’t proud of–I needed to share. I also hope this post will serve to remind me, as well as anyone else who suffers from anxiety, of why it’s so important to travel anyway, worries and all.

5 Ways that Traveling Rejuvenates the Mind, Body, & Soul | Anxiety can tempt us to remain in the comfort and familiarity of our homes forever, but sometimes traveling is exactly what we need to calm our minds and lift our spirits.

Imagine having the opportunity to enjoy a two-week summer vacation in Europe with your significant other.

Even better, imagine that airfare costs are already covered, and you’ll get to stay with relatives who can help you navigate the unfamiliar landscape and plan all sorts of fun activities. Sounds pretty peachy, right? I mean, who wouldn’t totally jump on this once-in-a-lifetime chance?

Well, apparently me.

More specifically, the anxious and depressed version of me that was presented with this exact opportunity last winter.

At that time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by school, work, and life in general that the thought of any additional commitment, let alone one of this length and intensity, was simply too much to bear. My mind was so ridden with anxiety that I could think only of what could go wrong, and my heart was so depleted of hope and enthusiasm that I no longer knew what it meant to enjoy or look forward to things.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, was totally jazzed for the opportunity–as anyone in a healthy state of mind would be–and (lovingly) begged me to say yes. Thankfully, in between lengthy periods of fear and dread, I experienced a few moments of clarity that enabled me to see how much the trip would mean to him and to our relatives abroad. So after weeks of painful deliberation, I agreed, albeit with great reluctance. And in the months leading up to our departure in May, I continued silently dreading the trip and wanting to bail approximately every 5 minutes.

Things finally started to turn around for me during the week before we left, when I attended my first therapy session and got a much-needed dose of perspective (as well as some helpful strategies for managing my anxiety while traveling). By that time, I had also completed my final semester of grad school and gotten a few nights of decent sleep under my belt, and as I’ve said before, adequate rest truly does wonders for my general outlook on life. As a result, I was able to board our first flight with significantly less apprehension.

To make a long story short, as you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post, the trip ended up being fantastic in spite of all the worry and hype. I assumed that traveling would only further drain me, but instead, I found the two-week excursion to be completely reinvigorating. I’ve taken several smaller trips since then and have noticed similar effects, so I’m convinced that there’s something both energizing and healing about going somewhere new, even if the thought of doing so initially generates a lot of anxiety. Specifically, here are five ways that I believe my trip to Europe served to rejuvenate my mind, body, and soul when I needed it most:

  1. It provided a much-needed change of scenery. Although I had fantasized about spending my first few weeks of summer break lounging around and doing next to nothing, I’m not sure I would have been able to get the R&R I craved this way. I still had an ongoing research project to wrap up and a summer job to prepare for, so if I had remained within reach of my desk, laptop, and Bottomless Pit of Death and Despair e-mail inbox, chances are that I would have spent all of my time either working or feeling guilty about not working. By leaving everything behind and surrounding myself with brand-new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, I was finally able to break free of old habits and thought patterns that only served to heighten my anxiety or spiral me deeper into depression.
  2. It allowed me to lose track of time. In my day-to-day life, I tend to be pretty obsessed with plans and schedules and staying “on track.” When I travel, though, I typically pay far less attention to the clock, only checking the time when I need to make a flight, dinner reservation, or the like. In Europe, I went with the flow and slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, and let activities and conversations last as long as necessary without feeling pressured to wrap up and move along to the next agenda item. And it. Was. Awesome.
  3. It enabled me to engage in many rewarding conversations. One of my favorite things about traveling with family members and friends is that spending extended amounts of time with these individuals naturally seems to spark awesome discussions. Long walks, relaxed meals, and late nights provide the opportunity to go beyond small talk and delve into the things that really matter. And being in a different city, state, or country always opens my eyes to new insights and observations about the world, providing the perfect springboard for a good heart-to-heart.
  4. It included plenty of rest, great food, and exercise. Vacations can definitely present an opportunity to skimp on sleep, eat a ton of junk food, and forgo exercise, but I think the most rejuvenating trips incorporate healthy habits in an organic way. On this trip, for example, we didn’t schedule any sort of daily workouts–but boy, did we end up walking a ton as we explored beaches, castles, markets, and more. We also didn’t adhere to any sort of diet plan, but in our efforts to enjoy the wide variety of foods we encountered, we ended up eating plenty of fresh, wholesome stuff along with the French pastries, Danish hot dogs, and other treats.
  5. It reminded me what I’m capable of. For some people–maybe even most people–going on an extended trip may not require much strength or bravery, but for me, it took a whole lot of both. So when all was said and done and I had accomplished the thing I had feared and dreaded for so long, I regained a bit of confidence that I could take on additional challenges in the future. And I regained a bit of hope that maybe anxiety and depression didn’t have to be my forever.

Your turn! Tell me, do you find traveling to be rejuvenating? Why or why not?

The Social Media Comparison Trap (And How to Avoid It)

The Social Media Comparison Trap (And How to Avoid It) | A quick scroll through Facebook or Instagram can leave us feeling down on ourselves if we aren't careful. Here's what we should--and shouldn't--do to remind ourselves that no one's life is as perfect as it looks online.

Have you ever taken a look through your own Facebook archives?

Being the nostalgia junkie that I am, I actually love revisiting old posts and pics every once in awhile. And unlike with other social media platforms, I’ve been on Facebook for long enough now that my account history actually encompasses a significant portion of my life. Recently, as I was taking one of these virtual strolls down memory lane, I noticed something interesting that I hadn’t before.

I realized that, in addition to questionable fashion choices circa 2008 (plaid Bermuda shorts, anyone?), my early Facebook profile was characterized by content that is far less filtered than the stuff I post today. My status updates were more frequent and mundane, my “about me” page included dozens of goofy quotes from family members and friends that made sense only to me, and my photos were far less, er, complimentary. (Heck, my very first profile pic featured my younger sister and me throwing up peace signs and making duck faces before it was cool. Luckily the plaid Bermudas were cropped out of this particular gem.) The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of my friends’ profiles were once quite similar. In those early days of Facebook, we were all just learning what it meant to share our lives with others online, and share–and overshare–we did. We had yet to fully realized our capability to curate content in order to project a certain image of ourselves to the world; instead, our Facebook walls (precursors to today’s Facebook timelines) were filled with the things we liked, found entertaining, or simply wanted to remember someday, regardless of whether our resulting profile made us look cool or interesting or beautiful or smart.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I’m not hoping to portray us all as perfectly authentic then (we weren’t) or incredibly shallow now (we aren’t), nor am I implying that all of these changes have been unfavorable. Let’s be real, I’m grateful that true “status updates” (you know, the kind where we provide a play-by-play of every waking minute of our lives) have become largely passé, and I don’t think that the world is any worse for its lack of Facebook albums consisting entirely of unflattering Paige selfies. (I could be wrong, though.) However, I do believe that social media can strongly influence how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, and I know that personally, the more others’ online lives look like an unending stream of grand accomplishments, fun outings, and perfect hair days, the more I struggle with comparisons and self-doubt.

It’s tricky, though, because I do want to know when my loved ones do awesome things so I can celebrate and congratulate. And I do like seeing beautiful images to uplift and inspire me in today’s often dark and ugly world. But because it’s so easy to convince myself that whatever I’m seeing is the entire story, frequent exposure to a constant highlight reel leaves me with a skewed sense of reality. After all, that Insta-worthy photo of a friend’s pastry and latte at a chic cafe rarely comes with a disclaimer that this is not his or her everyday routine. Those updates from a neighbor’s tropical getaway vacation don’t detail the stress and financial sacrifice that went into planning the trip or the arguments that occurred during the car or plane ride there. Those fairytale wedding photos make it easy to overlook the months or years of hard work, compromise, and tears that the couple has invested in the relationship–and will have to continue investing until death do them part. The caption on that flawless selfie doesn’t indicate how many attempts or filters went into achieving the shot or remind us that even Hottie McHotterson has days when his or her look isn’t #onfleek.

When we juxtapose our own messy stories to only the neat and tidy chapters of others’ lives, it’s no surprise that we often arrive at the conclusion that we’re doing something wrong or that we’ve failed in some way. So I think it’s important to make a conscious effort to balance out the picture of perfection we so often see projected online, especially if we find ourselves tempted to play this comparison game. But how?

First, a how not: The answer isn’t that we should start sharing our every unfiltered thought and experience with the online world. Many of us have hundreds of friends and followers on social media, and there are struggles and secrets that should be entrusted with only our inner circles. I’ve also seen enough vicious comment sections to believe that some version of “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” can and should be practiced more often online. (We should certainly speak the truth and stand up for our beliefs, but if we can’t do it respectfully, we need to cool off a bit until we can. You know, check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.)

Instead, I think that the best approach is rather simple: decreasing the amount of time we spend on social media and increasing the amount of time we spend connecting with others in real life, preferably in person. And I’m talking truly connecting here– not just a quick “Hi, how are you?” but rather a genuine conversation about real issues and stories in all their shades of gray. This is easier said than done, of course; actually finding time to spend with people is a challenge in today’s busy world, while Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are almost always just a click or tap away. But making these shifts has helped me immensely in remembering that I’m not alone in my imperfection or even in the way that social media can sometimes make me feel. And whereas I’ve often regretted the minutes and hours of mindless newsfeed scrolling, I wouldn’t trade a single heart-to-heart with a family member, close friend, or mentor for the world. 

Do you ever find yourself comparing your life to the lives of others on social media? What strategies help you to maintain perspective?

Managing Anxiety: 5 Strategies That Have Worked for Me

Managing Anxiety: 5 Strategies That Have Worked For Me | Strategies such as embracing the diagnosis and seeing a trusted therapist can help keep anxiety at bay.

This past January, I visited my doctor to discuss some disturbing symptoms I was experiencing, namely dizziness, chest pains, and a rapid heart rate at the most unexpected and inexplicable times (such as when I was driving, lying in bed, or sitting in church). I walked into her office terrified that at just 24 years old, I was already exhibiting signs of early-onset cardiovascular disease. I walked out with the knowledge that while my heart and blood vessels were functioning just fine, my brain was another story: I was experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) along with panic symptoms. (Later on I would learn that I demonstrated many symptoms of clinical depression as well.)

In the months since these discoveries, I have taken a number of steps in hopes of improving my mental (and subsequently physical) health. I still have a long way to go, and GAD may be something that I have to learn to cope with for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, I have found a number of strategies and lifestyle modifications to be helpful thus far, and today I’d like to share some of them with you.

Unfortunately, given the relatively high prevalence of anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and separation anxiety disorder), it seems quite likely that either you, dear reader, or someone you know and love suffers from one of these conditions. So while the following strategies may not be groundbreaking, I feel compelled to share, if for no other reason than to offer hope for the many others in similar situations. And although I am not a medical professional and am therefore in no position to diagnose or treat anyone else, I do have six years of public health education under my belt, so I intend to discuss the issues in an informed and responsible manner.

I have a total of 10 tips to share, but since I’m nothing if not verbose, I’ll keep this post at a manageable length by discussing only the first half. So without further ado, here are five strategies that have helped me manage my anxiety over the past seven months. And although I’m not focusing specifically on depression in this post, many of these same tactics have helped me tackle those symptoms as well.

  1. Embracing the diagnosis and admitting that I need help. Although the diagnostic labeling of mental health issues can be a controversial topic, for me, discovering that my experiences had a name was immensely helpful. It enabled me to research the disorder and better understand what was going on in my body and mind; it gave me an explanation for my irrational thoughts and actions other than “I’m ridiculous” or “I suck.” It provided me with the vocabulary I needed to communicate my situation to others and helped me to understand that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. And most of all, having a diagnosis forced me to finally acknowledge the gravity of my situation and motivated me to take action and reach out for help. I was no longer just “stressed about school”; I was truly miserable and functioning suboptimally in almost every area of my life, and I lacked the knowledge and resources to turn things around all by myself.
  2. Taking medication. I was initially a bit reluctant and ashamed to take the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that my doctor prescribed. The list of potential side effects made my current symptoms seem like a cakewalk, and since I’ve always been an advocate of making holistic lifestyles changes rather than relying solely on pills, I felt like a hypocrite for taking meds right away without at least attempting therapy first. (Therapy came later; see item #3.) But my desperation drove me to start taking the medication anyway and I’m so glad that I did. My panic symptoms (dizziness, chest pains, and racing heartbeat) have completely disappeared, and I haven’t experienced any noticeable side effects. We eventually upped my daily dose a bit and I’m happy with where we’re at right now. Yay for normal serotonin levels!

  3. Seeing a therapist with whom I really connect. Once I finished the semester and my schedule was more accommodating, I started making the 1-hour commute to visit a therapist who came highly recommended by several people I know. Although I wasn’t expecting to find a perfect fit on the first try, after just one session with Nicole, I completely understood why these individuals had spoken so highly of her. She was warm, funny, and an incredible listener, able to weave the various threads of my experiences together into a coherent picture for me to gaze and reflect upon. I laughed, I cried, and I discussed things I hadn’t even realized were bothering me, and the whole time I felt completely comfortable and respected, even when she pointed out that some of my thoughts or actions might be irrational or counterproductive. I’ve continued seeing her all summer and can’t believe the difference. Whereas my medication has helped alleviate my physical panic symptoms, therapy has helped tackle the thought patterns that send me into a spiral of anxiety in the first place.

  4. Talking and writing openly about my experiences. Initially, I wanted to share what I was going through with as few people as possible–my parents, my boyfriend, and maybe one or two friends. I was still processing it all myself and didn’t know how to go about discussing it with others. So for a while, I waited, avoiding the topic whenever possible and speaking vaguely of “appointments” and “medication” whenever I couldn’t get around it. And that’s totally okay! Eventually, though, I felt that I was ready to share–that in a way, I needed to share. My public health education had taught me many things, one of which was that mental health issues are incredibly common and yet all too often not diagnosed, treated, or even discussed. I had always lamented this reality and wanted to do something about it; here was a glaring opportunity. So I started by writing, and then, with some trepidation, by sharing that writing. Hitting “publish” on my first blog post was both terrifying and thrilling; I was finally being completely open and honest about my mental health, but what would people think? Would friends and family suddenly find me burdensome and unstable? Would colleagues be less likely to trust me with major tasks at work for fear that I might not be able to handle the pressure? Would everyone roll his or her eyes and tell me to get over myself? I was fortunate to receive an overwhelmingly positive response, but I see now that even if I hadn’t had such a warm reception, sharing my experiences was the right move for me. On a personal level, writing and talking about anxiety, depression, fear, perfection, vulnerability, mindfulness, identity, and more have been incredibly therapeutic, and on a professional level, I like knowing that in some small way, I’m helping to fight a stigma that causes so many people to suffer in silence.

  5. Being patient with myself. In some regards, I’m a very patient person; however, when it comes to my own personal development, I often expect myself to have it together at all times, to be good at things on the first try, and to flawlessly and immediately adapt to whatever life throws my way. When I started realizing that I would never expect this level of perfection from a family member or friend, I knew that it was time to start being kinder and more patient with myself. I’m going through a lot of life transitions right now, with graduation, moving, and the search for my first full-time job. It’s okay that it’s taking me more than a day, a week, or even a month to wrap my brain around it all. I also can’t expect managing my anxiety to be a perfectly linear process; there will still be plenty of days when I find myself overthinking the smallest of things, worrying about the unlikeliest of scenarios, or feeling tense and panicked for no discernible reason. I’m aiming for large-scale progress, not day-to-day perfection.

So there you have it! In the next installment, I plan to focus more on health behaviors such as sleep, exercise, and caffeine intake. In the meantime, if you have any advice of your own for managing anxiety (whether or not you have a diagnosed disorder), please feel free to leave a comment and enlighten us!

Life Under Construction: Pursuing Authenticity Over Perfection

Life Under Construction: Pursuing Authenticity Over Perfection | We shouldn't wait until we have everything figured out to starting letting people into our lives.

The parking garage next door to my church is currently being bulldozed, so on my way to mass this morning, I walked by a fenced off pile of rubble with a sign reading DEMOLITION AREA: DO NOT ENTER. At first I thought nothing of it; Indiana roads have undergone so much construction over the past year that you routinely have to take a detour to get to your detour. People joke that the government is going to have to change the state flower to an orange construction cone. So at first glance, the sign seemed like nothing remarkable. But as I re-read the words, it hit me that the phrase DEMOLITION AREA: DO NOT ENTER captured, with uncanny accuracy, my general approach to life.

Even though I know that all of us are constantly growing and changing–we’re people “under construction,” if you will–for as long as I can remember, I’ve acted as though someday the work will be complete and then my life can really begin. In the meantime, though, I have to be careful not to let anyone witness the mess or trip over the rubble. Don’t stop by and visit until I’ve had time to clean my apartment from top to bottom! Don’t snap a photo or even look at me until I’ve had a chance to put on makeup and style my hair! Don’t ask for my opinion until I’ve done all my background research and composed an intelligent, nuanced response! And don’t get to know me until I’ve fixed all my brokenness and smoothed out all my rough edges, because right now my life is an occupational hazard, and one (or both) of us might get hurt if you get too close. It’s best for all of us if you just keep your distance.

Or so I thought. It turns out that (spoiler alert) this is an exhausting and unfulfilling way to live. Sure, maybe a few people will fall for the act and think you have everything together and possibly even admire you for your perceived ability to “do it all,” but in the end, the time, energy, and worry you spend in the process will hardly be worth the approval of a few acquaintances. And the people who fall for it will be acquaintances, because you can’t have any sort of close, meaningful relationship when you’re separated from the other person by orange cones and chain-link fences.

So I want to stop living this way. I no longer want DO NOT ENTER to be my life motto. I’m not sure of the best way to go about it, so I’d appreciate any ideas that you, dear reader, may have to offer. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding myself of a totally obvious yet brilliant statement my therapist once made: “Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean that the thought is true.” So next time I’m tempted to push someone away until I feel like I have my act together or postpone an experience until I feel 110% prepared, I will try to assess the accuracy of my thought processes rather than automatically throwing up the DEMOLITION AREA sign. For example, how likely is it that family members or friends dropping by on short notice will actually make harsh judgements regarding the tidiness of my apartment? Not very. Instead, it is far more likely that my loved ones won’t even notice the dusty blinds or full trash can, or that they will notice but not think any less of me for it. And most importantly, their reaction, whether positive, negative, or neutral, will have absolutely no bearing on my worthiness as a human being. BOOM. Paige: 1, irrational thoughts: 0.

So tell me, friends: What are your suggestions for living life fully, even when you’re “under construction”?