Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spiraling

spiraling
My dear readers,

Several weeks ago, I posted a promise to write a series of entries about coping with change. Since then, I have been (almost entirely) silent.

In truth, I have little constructive advice to share. In truth, I have not been handling it particularly well at all. I will do my best to avoid potentially triggering language in the rest of this post. However, I should warn you that it will contain descriptions of the consequences of coping poorly.

I write this entry with a good dose of humility. At least for me, the mishandling of even mundane anxiety can be a slippery slope. The anxiety clings. It tears away at my ability to skillfully cope with other triggers. This brings more anxiety. Pretty soon, I find myself spiralling out of control. I find myself doing things that I would never do if I had full access to my Wise Mind. My competency fades away. My empathy fades away. My motivation fades away. The very emotional skills that have allowed me to find a level of success in my personal and professional lives become increasingly inaccessible.

My mind only tolerates this state of constant panic for so long. Pretty soon, my mind becomes exhausted, and I start losing the will to feel. Anxiety gets replaced by emptiness. Emptiness gets replaced by depression.

Fortunately, the majority of time that I face triggers, I am able to face them in a mindful, skillful manner. However, I have fallen down this slippery slope enough times that the pattern is familiar.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Coping with Change - Update

Two weeks ago, I posted a call for advice about coping with change. I received a huge amount of comments from others who empathized with my anxiety, but nobody took me up on my request for advice. I am not entirely sure how to interpret this... Did my more frequent readers (and commenters) stop following Down the Center when I stopped posting as frequently as I did previously, or is this simply a situation that stumps others? Either way, it appears that I am on my own with this for the time being. My plan is to remain mindful throughout this period of change and catalogue the strategies that do (and do not) work to keep me sane during this crazy time.

For today, I plan to keep this post short and give a tiny update. I have bubbled over to full-blown panic attack mode about twice per week over the last two weeks. However, I also have calmed myself down enough to write this post and do other productive things. Being productive and getting in control of the situation certainly is one thing that helps, but I don't think of it as a first step. At least for me, I have to get my anxiety into control before I can begin to be productive in a meaningful way.

This week, I hope to check one GIANT item off of my long term to do list - my fiancé and I are flying down to our new hometown to look at apartments and (hopefully) sign a lease. I can imagine that this trip will bring its own set of stressful situations, but I am eagerly anticipating the moment when we get to sign a lease and officially have a place to call home for the next year (or two or three).

I will try to write a more substantive post from the plane or hotel. Wish me luck apartment hunting!

Warmly,
Caroline

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coping with Change - A Call for Advice

Coping with Change A Call for Advice
This the first entry in a scheduled series about coping with change.

To be honest, this never was one of my strengths. Impending change is one of my largest triggers for anxiety - even if the impending change is objectively good. Right now, I am approaching many good changes in my life. I got engaged a few months ago. In addition to planning a wedding, my fiance and I are moving halfway across the country. In a short amount of time, my driver's license will be getting a new state and a new name.

At this point, I am equally terrified and excited. I couldn't be happier to be marrying the person with whom I have shared love, support, and friendship for nearly six years. I think that the move will be a really positive change. Still, I can't help but feel anxious. It is likely that there might be a few panic attacks to come between today and the time that I am settled in my new home.

This blog has been a wonderful source of shared support in the past. Not only have I used it as a venue to share my own advice, but so many entries brought responses that provided me with insight that led to an increase in my own position emotions. Therefore, my plan is to keep blogging through this whole process.

I will do my best to be mindful about what does and does not help to moderate my feelings of anxiety, and I will share whatever I learn. However, I want to take this time to ask YOU, my wonderful readers, to share your own advice.

  • What techniques have you used to cope with anxiety related to change?
  • How do you make yourself feel better during a panic attack?
  • How do you avoid panic attacks when you know that you are about to be exposed to a trigger?


Please share your thoughts in the comments or on my facebook page, www.facebook.com/DowntheCenter. I will share your thoughts in an upcoming entry! Also, if you have blogged about this, please let me know. I would be happy to link to your blog.

Your internet friend,
Caroline

Friday, March 14, 2014

Self-Esteem for Emotionally Sensitive People

wise mind bpd mindfulnessLast week, I wrote about how I tried to deal with a sucker punch to my self-esteem using the DBT skill of Wise Mind.

I would like to continue that discussion today. However, instead of talking about finding perspective on situations, I would like to talk about how we view ourselves. How many times have you taken external feedback and incorporated it into your own self-image? For me, receiving a compliment can cause my own self-esteem to skyrocket. Similarly, it is all too easy for me to internalize criticism and use it to define myself.

I firmly believe that this conversation is relevant for everyone, but those with who are emotionally sensitive or who have a diagnosis of BPD might find it particularly salient. According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, people with BPD can have feelings of emptiness, fluctuating moods, a desire to avoid abandonment, and an unstable self-image. Combined, this can lead to the tiny bits of feedback that we receive from others having a HUGE impact on both our mood and sense of self.

While DBT provides really nice techniques, such as self-soothing, to help lessen the immediate emotional impact, I decided to veer away from DBT to help bandage my own injured self-esteem. What did I do instead? I decided to take control of my own self-esteem.

One thing that struck me about having an unstable sense of self is that LOTS of things can impact it. Why can't I take control and guide my own sense of self?

As I sat and internalized the minor criticism that I received, I realized two things:
  1. There is NOTHING that I can do to change the past. All that I can do is be mindful of what happened and accept that it led to this place.
  2. I am in complete control of my future actions.
It is so tempting to internalize criticism, let it define me, and begin a self-fulfilling feedback loop. When I was a child, I was one of the youngest (and smallest) in my class, which led to me being much worse at sports than my bigger, older peers. I internalized that perspective, and 'being bad at sports' came to define me. It is impossible to succeed at something when you have no expectation of doing so. It has taken me 20 years to realize that maybe I am not doomed to be horrific at all sports. This weekend, I took a beginner skiing lesson and rocked it!

Similarly, I am in full control of my reaction to new criticism. Rather than letting it upset me, hearing criticism gives me an opportunity to form concrete steps to counter this perception of me.

I am a bit shy to give details regarding my exact situation, so let me create a hypothetical. One thing that I know that a lot of people struggle with is public speaking.

Imagine our hypothetical friend, Sarah, has to give a presentation. She is really nervous leading up to the speech. Finally, she gets on stage, pulls out her notes, and freezes. Maybe she regains her composure; maybe she doesn't. Either way, it is clear that this speech did not go well.

There are two ways that Sarah can react:

  1. She can decide that she is not someone who is good at public speaking. Based on this, she avoids future opportunities to speak publicly. When she does have to give a speech, she has low expectations for herself. 
  2. She can acknowledge that she bombed her first speech and then use mindfulness to evaluate exactly why it went poorly. Based on this self-aware assessment, she can develop a plan for how she can do better next time. Rather than judging herself based on this negative experience, she turns the experience on its head and uses it as a tool for improvement.
How do you react to criticism? Do you have any tips of your own for staying strong in light of threats to your self-esteem? Please share in the comments!







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