To someone who suffers from anxiety and/or depression, the word should can be so damaging.
Let me put it into perspective for you - last night I was having a chat with a friend and she brought up that she'd been in a recent funk. The weather here has been absolutely beautiful and instead of waking up and seizing the day she found herself sleeping in. I said to her that I understood that feeling - and the apathy that comes along with it - why not just go back to sleep? I told her that I set up an expectation for myself to go out and enjoy the sun, I felt that I should be doing so.
I remember the day that I started the curse the concept of the word should, I was at my therapist's office and talking to him about all of the pressures that I felt coming from simply myself. All of the expectations I was putting on myself to succeed, to remain sober, to pursue and maintain friendships, to give myself the space that I deserved to grow. When I finished my rant he looked at me and asked simply, "Why?"
"Because I should." I responded, and he smiled. Right there and then I had a revelation, because his next question of course would be again, why?
Now it's because I want to.
When I put the pressure on myself to feel the way I felt was appropriate, the way I should have felt, the internal backlash ensued. I felt I should be happy and I ended up miserable, instead of simply feeling. I felt I should be calm, I experienced anxiety. When I let myself breathe and allowed my body and spirit to feel the way that it wanted to feel, I experienced a true connection with myself and a genuine bliss.
I know I feel as though I "should" wake up every day motivated and energetic and happy, but when you live with a mental illness, this isn't always the case. Berating myself for waking up in a lousy mood is only going to make myself feel worse, and the pressured guilt of reminding myself that I "should" be happy compounds these emotions. If I wake and I am experiencing depression or any other negative emotion, I let myself and my body sit and reflect on it. The same is to be said about any anxiety.
Just yesterday I woke up at 8:30 and had plans with a friend for 10:00 and I was experiencing a particularly anxious morning. The word "should" repeated in my mind - "You should get up and shower, you should get dressed, you should brush your teeth, you should get ready for the day," and the more I said it to myself, the worse I felt. I sent a text to my friend explaining my anxieties and pushed the meeting back to 11:00 and allowed myself the space I needed to breathe. I waited until my body and mind told me that going out was something that I wanted to do.
Once I changed my mindset yesterday I was met with a day of entire bliss. I spent time at beaches and allowed myself to exist within nature. I went shopping for healing stones. I made a healthy balanced dinner. I treated myself to a sunset along the beach. I made time for my friends and went out for part of a local show. I came home to my partner and spent time with him. Most importantly, throughout my day yesterday I spent time with myself.
Not every day is easy when anxiety, depression, and mental illness are a part of your daily life. Not everything that I say or write will work for everybody - I am simply highlighting the techniques I learned through therapy or through myself, which have helped me cope with my anxieties. I don't think anxiety is something that ever goes away - it just becomes easier to cope with in time.
For myself, I had to stop telling myself what I should do, and started focusing on what I truly wanted to do. I had to ignore that voice in my head telling me how I should feel and instead just started feeling exactly how I do feel - even if that is anxiety at times. I have learned to allow myself to be.
Before I end this blog post I would like to share a technique I learned in therapy for calming down during anxiety/a panic attack. For me it has yielded extremely interesting results.
During my panic attacks I would self-inflict pain, physically and verbally. I would rip my hair out. I would call myself worthless. I would tell myself, "Normal up, stupid!" That was my mantra, to call myself stupid. The first (and only) time that my therapist saw me exhibit this behaviour, he explained to me how my negative comments to myself were ultimately destroying any chance at reducing my anxiety or depression. He taught me a practice that I use to this day.
"Close your eyes and imagine the last person or being that you touched with a true sense of love," he told to me (I still to this day imagine my cat, Fiona). "Feel the love that you had for this other person, this living being, feel the way that it felt in your body, flowing through your hands, and your fingers. Feel the energy of that love within your fingers as you are transferring it to this other entity."
It took me a few tries but I finally managed to get in the headspace and holding my hands together I was able to draw up that loving energy in the memory of last petting and cuddling with my cat.
"Good," my therapist told me, "Now take your hands and place them over your heart. Give that energy to yourself - you are the one who needs it the very most in your darkest of times. Remember to love yourself, and to show yourself compassion."
This is a technique that I have used to calm myself, to remind myself of the love that I deserve. Sometimes I even do this when I'm not experiencing anxiety - just to remind myself that I am worthy, I am deserving, I have love to give, and I am capable of receiving that love in return. Most importantly, to love myself and to show myself compassion.
I mentioned that this has held interesting results.
When I experience anxiety, I simultaneously experience incredible happiness. Often times when I am the most anxious I begin smiling, giggling, and laughing. It took me a few months to recognize this habit, after using this technique, and when I told my therapist this he smiled at me and confirmed exactly what I had suspected - I have subconsciously trained my body to react with happiness and self-love during my times of anxiety.
It has become a subconscious reaction to my anxiety.
There is no reason why this technique also wouldn't work during times of depression as well!
Isn't it amazing the effects that our brains can have? Imagine the effect that your subconscious can have on you if you stop caving into unknowingly damaging words that you inflict upon yourself, stop focusing on how you should feel, and simply start allowing yourself to be.