The Power of the Phone

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Photo by Laura Beyer

Ah reader, the irony. The last time I wrote to you, it was gorgeous out and I was even tanning my blindingly white Minnesota skin. Now, we have been blessed with a week of 40 degree temperatures and rain. Rain, rain, go away.

Anyway, I stumbled upon another piece of news that I wanted to comment on with you, concerning something that seems extremely beneficial to anxiety sufferers and I could not be more excited about it.

As a teenager, I am constantly looking at my iPhone (pictured above). Like, constantly. Sometimes I worry it’s becoming an addiction. I don’t know if you know the feeling, but a typical day for me goes like this:

I’m tapping away at my computer, doing research or writing the billionth paper of the semester when I hit a little brain block. No matter, I pause to recollect my thoughts, and there it is.

My phone is just sitting next to me, taunting me, making my fingers move toward it. It’s saying, “Look at me, Laura. I’m so much more interesting than school work. Look at what you’re friends are doing…” and on and on like that.

Fumbling to stay on track, I steadfastly try to ignore the nuisance, but ultimately my concentration has been broken and I have to take a peek, maybe check my emails, send out a few text messages, whatever it is, it always feels good to pick up my phone.

Now, I hope I’m not the first person to admit that this is extremely shallow and definitely irritating. Why does an inanimate object hold such a weight over me?

And as my fingers are flying over my screen, I begin getting anxious about the pile of work I still have to go through. My little friend isn’t so helpful after all.

Now, there are tons of articles about how teens should not be using their phones as much as they are including this one from postdesk.com, and this one from the Washington Post with study credentials to back it up. Negative news on phones is just a Google search away.

Teens aren’t going to quit using their phones. Trust me, it’s just not going to happen. So imagine my glee when I find an article about a smartphone app that is proven in studies to reduce anxiety. Eureka! A positive use for my little friend.

This is extremely promising because, according to the article, 18% of the population suffers from anxiety, and less than 37% are getting treatment for it. This could be a low cost, widespread treatment for anxiety sufferers everywhere.

The app basically makes you follow a happy faced creature around the screen, carefully guiding it away from angry faced creatures. Sounds kind of silly right? Wrong. Science proves this can actually retrain the brain to focus on the positive, not only in the game, but in the world around you.

The article goes into further detail about its anxiety reducing ways, but all I can say is that I am super excited and I hope this makes it out into the app world.

It’s about time scientists focus on a mental health problem that ails so much of the population, and I for one, cannot wait to download it to my phone and reduce my anxiety, hopefully this time AFTER I complete my work.

 

 

Breathe in the Peace

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Photo by Laura Beyer

Okay reader, I don’t know about you, but the weather around me has finally started to act more Spring-like. Last year at this time, Minnesota still had seven inches of snow on the ground. Ew.

We were blessed with a 75 degree day full of sunshine yesterday. I took the opportunity to sit out on my back deck, letting the hot sun finally soak into my blindingly white skin.

Sitting out there, I could literally feel my stress melt away. All my anxieties about the upcoming school week, finals, and other end of the semester activities dissolved as I took in the sight of new buds forming on trees, baby blades of grass poking their heads up through the ground, and the world just coming back to life after winter.

It was gorgeous. Such a peaceful moment for me, and I look for those whenever I can find them. Having anxiety means never quite knowing when my body will finally relax from overdrive.

So what is it about the outdoors that brings down anxiety? Is it the warm weather, telling me that summer is coming soon and most of my anxieties will be gone? Is it the fresh air I’m finally breathing in after so many months of dry winter air?

Maybe, but it could also just be that people and their bodies respond positively to the outdoors. Especially areas where there is a lot of greenery.

The article, “Greener neighborhood reduces depression and anxiety,” discusses an interesting new study out that proves those who live near more greenery reported lower rates of depression and anxiety.

This is exciting news for people, like me, who suffer from anxiety. I can quell my stressed feelings by simply taking a walk near some green areas in nature.

The study proves the “attention restoration theory,” which states that the more time people spend outside in nature, the better they can concentrate.

I know as an anxiety sufferer, that when I start feeling the chest tightening, heart pounding, overwhelming feeling of an anxiety attack coming on, I have no concentration whatsoever.

Simply by going outside, or even looking at pictures of outside if you’re really feeling lazy, can reduce those feelings and instantly give a boost to your concentration. This is awesome news. Who knew going outside could be so beneficial?

This article highlights other beneficial reasons to going outside, including increased vitamin D levels, that make taking a nature walk sound like the best quick fix I’ve heard about in awhile.

So, if simply going outside can reduce anxiety, increase concentration, and do loads of other good things for you, why not head out there for a few minutes a day? I know that’s where I’ll be.

 

 

Finding Dreamland

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Photo by Laura Beyer. Chocolate lab Holly tries to catch some Z’s.

Okay reader, here’ s a topic I’m sure we have all dealt with in the past. Sleeplessness at night. Today, in particular, we’re going to discuss sleeplessness brought on by anxiety.

This post idea hit me last night, around 4 am, when I was tossing and turning in my bed, desperately trying to get some sleep. As an anxiety sufferer, let me tell you this definitely was not my first sleepless night.

My sleepless nights do not come from getting too much sleep the night before, or from having caffeine, or from taking too long of a nap that day. My sleeplessness always comes from little pinpricks of anxiety in my brain, making my mind go a thousand miles a minute.

First I’ll start thinking about how the day went, I’ll worry obsessively over what I said to someone, which will make me question every single thing I said that day, which will make me question my ability to interact with others, which will then lead to my heart hammering in my chest as I wonder how I’m going to do it all over the next day.

These thoughts will then lead to me wondering whether or not I did enough on an assignment due the next day, then I’ll start worrying about grades, which will lead to worrying about the semester and finals, which will eventually lead to worrying about finishing college and everything that takes.

Phew. I kid you not, my mind runs away with itself, and soon I’m tossing and turning, worrying about all that, as well as why I can’t sleep now. This is part of something that HealthWorks Collective calls Night Anxiety, and it’s something that can often lead to insomnia in bad cases.

With insomnia comes something called Sleep Anxiety, which means you start to have anxiety over the fact that you’re not sleeping. Insomnia is a paradox. The more you worry about it, the worse it gets.

I, fortunately, do not have insomnia. But the way my mind carries on some nights makes me wonder if that’s something my anxiety could develop in me. I decided last night that I needed to come up with tricks to nip this in the butt before it gets any bigger.

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Photo by Laura Beyer. Is your sleeplessness at night causing you to fall asleep anywhere? Chin up, I can help.

One thing I know that helps me when it starts feeling like I’m having sleep problems is rearranging my room. You’re probably thinking, what? What does that have to do with anything? Let me tell you.

Therapist Mark Tyrrell suggests rearranging your room to help with sleeplessness in his article, because if you’ve spent so many hours laying in the same room worrying, you can develop a conditioned response to immediately become anxious the moment you get in that room.

I know this works for me because last year, I was having sleep problems in January, and my roommate and I decided to rearrange our room just for something different. Wouldn’t you know, our rearrangement instantly made me sleep like a rock.

Redecorating or rearranging gives your brain a clean, restful canvas, which puts a stopper on all those anxious feelings. This is just one way to calm sleepless nights, and in Tyrrell’s article above, he gives you four more I definitely recommend checking out.

So, if you’re starting to feel that itch of anxiety overtaking your good night’s sleep, it may just take a little redecorating to fix the problem for good. Now, get some sleep.

 

Crossing the Bridge from Fear to Action

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By Laura Beyer

As an anxiety sufferer, I feel fear a lot. Whether I am trying to finish an assignment and worrying it’s not good enough, going to class, or even just talking to other people, I deal with it all day long.

You probably can relate to what I’m talking about, reader, even if you do not have anxiety. It’s that chest tightening feeling you get when something is really bothering you. Your heart rate goes crazy, pounding like a jackhammer against your ribs. The hairs on the back of your neck prickle up, and an icy trickle of cold swooshes down your spine.

Maybe your hands have started to shake and take on a cold, clammy feeling. Even if not all these feelings happen, they can happen on a much smaller scale.

For example, fear can be that tiny jolt in your heart that makes you realize something is wrong. Whatever your body is doing, you know you’re scared of something. These are all natural human reactions; the issue is when you let them shut you down.

Fear should be used as a catalyst to achieve things, not be something that makes you unable to cross the bridge. By flipping the negative effects of fear and making them work for you, you can take hold of those scary feelings and accomplish with them.

A quote from Dale Carnegie that I like to live by is this, “If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” This is important for those who often feel shut down by fear, like me, because it reminds us that fear does not have to be crippling.

So, how can we use fear to get us where we need to go? Something I think works the best for me was suggested by blogger Henrik Edberg, in his article, “5 Life Changing Keys to Overcoming Your Fear.” He suggested taking little steps to accomplish a task.

While this advice may seem simple and straightforward, it often is forgotten when something really scary has to be accomplished. I know that when I’m fearing something, I often see it only as the large issue, when I should be taking it apart into manageable segments. 

Just removing the big picture and focusing on the smaller parts of your problem can help you cross the bridge or finish line from fear to accomplishment.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Marianne_Vos_winning_the_women%27s_road_race_at_the_2013_UCI_Road_World_Championships_%283%29.jpg

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Don’t you want to be the one crossing the finish line, reader? You don’t have to be the one stuck at the starting line, unsure of how to tackle the task and becoming completely consumed by the fear.

Like in this comic, fear can help us go from being unable to do anything, to being able to take on the world. All it takes is remembering you can conquer anything in a few simple steps.

 

Set Yourself Free

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Photo by Laura Beyer

Do you ever feel like something is weighing you down? Maybe it’s not just one big thing, but several small, nagging things? Maybe you have a million little projects floating around in the back of your mind, taking up space and increasing your anxiety. I know this is me pretty much daily. I also know I would rather feel light and free, like the ocean, which can be held back by nothing.

So, what can you do about those days where you are running on empty with a million things important things cluttering your to-do list and you can literally feel the motivation leaking out of your body? How can you defy being held back by these things?

One of my favorite rules to live by and an easy thing to declutter the mind was first introduced to me when I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. She helped organize her life and increase her happiness simply by sticking to the “one minute rule“.

This rule basically says that you should take care of anything that can be finished in a minute immediately. Do not procrastinate on these types of tasks because you can get them done so quickly, and off your mind.

Whether it be hanging up a coat or getting the mail or even just throwing away a water bottle that has been sitting around your house for too long, taking care of these one minute tasks takes that strain off your mind. It also gives you that perfect feeling of accomplishment, which could even increase your motivation to tackle harder tasks.

Some days, you’re really dragging. Maybe you just want to curl up in bed and not wake up for a couple days, you’re that exhausted. But, of course, your to-do list will not do itself. That’s where the power nap comes in. It only takes 20 minutes out of your day, but its benefits are huge: increased attention span, motivation, and alertness. All things you need to tackle those projects.

Feeling like you can’t close your eyes today without staying asleep for hours? Try this unique yoga pose. It can make you feel completely rested without even laying all the way down. It also has benefits beyond making the brain feel free; it helps immunity, as well.

Utilizing simple techniques such as these to bring your stress level down can make you feel free and peaceful, like the wide-open ocean above. We’ve talked about having bad days before, but these techniques might be able to actually help with those dragging days.

No one wants to be held back by anything, especially those to-do list objects. Don’t let yourself get swamped down by this stuff, you can be free like the ocean, too. All you need to do is take a hold of your life and make tiny tweaks such as the ones above. That could spell the difference between getting through the day and giving up.

 

The Dream Vs. The Reality

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Photo by Laura Beyer

Let’s reflect today on something that has been bothering me for a while now. We’ll start with a quote by Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”

Think back to a time when you were little and you still believed Santa Claus brought gifts on Christmas and the Easter Bunny left chocolate for you on Easter. Remember that time? How willing you were to dream and to be engaged in those dreams?

Engage yourself again. Where would you be right now if nothing was holding you back? My answer, reader, is simple. I would be on Pacific Beach in San Diego, California, shown above.

This is one of the only places I have been to that gives me such extreme peace in utter chaos. Seagulls screaming in the air, looking for beach-goers with food to spare. Salty waves crashing onto the shore with sand as fine as powder. Distant sounds of surfers and swimmers calling to each other.

Given the opportunity, I would be there in a second. That is my bliss. So this begs the question, reader, why do we let life get in the way of following our dreams?

Yes, we all have obligations, such as a typical 9 to 5 job, school, friends, family, the list goes on and on. So, most of us just put these dreams off until suddenly you wake up and you’re 85 and you never followed your dream.

Don’t settle for ignoring your dreams. We live in an apathetic society, one that finds little meaning in our day-to-day activities. Actually, according to the Emily Esfahani Smith’s article, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” 4 out of 10 Americans have not found a satisfying life meaning.

This, to me seems ridiculous. The meaning we all deserve to find in our lives is often found by following our dreams. Even if you can’t dump everything to go follow your dream right this minute, you could start saving the money needed to, say, go to California again.

Planning for and following our dreams gives us the break from reality we need, and everyone deserves to wake up in the morning happy and excited for their life, not just starting down the ugly face of another 9 to 5 day at a job they hate.

Do you want to be a writer? A traveler? Someone who works with underprivileged kids? A gourmet cupcake baker? Then go for it. Don’t settle in life just because that is what the rest of society is doing. Go forth and follow that dream, even if you do just start by practicing your cupcake baking.

No one wants to wake up when they’re 85 and ask themselves what happened to their dreams and the fun life they planned for themselves. Don’t be that person. You owe it to yourself to make the best out of the only life you were given. You owe it to yourself to follow your bliss.

The Freeze Out

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Photo by Laura Beyer

There are many anxieties we all face on a day-to-day basis, and just as many ways to deal with those anxieties. Anxieties can weigh us down and make us freeze up instead of being confident and living life to the fullest.

Take for example something we have all probably experienced. You have a close friend, someone you have relied on, laughed with, shared secrets with, and so on. You used to hang out with this person all the time, seemingly in a very mutual, two-way friendship.

Now, I’m sure you’ve been there, reader. One day, it seems like something between you and your friend has just shifted. The air around the two of you has taken on an awkward feel, and you know something isn’t right.

It’s almost like the friend has pulled away from you, and you’re left wondering what you did wrong. You thought for sure you had given everything you could to this relationship. You remember all the times you were there for your friend, listening to her stories, helping her through rough patches, encouraging her in times of positivity.

Now, everything is different. She’s always with new friends, and when you ask her to hang out, she makes excuse after excuse. She begins only coming to you when she needs something.

You feel left out, alone, and confused, still asking yourself what the heck did I do wrong in this situation? Soon, you’re completely swallowed up by self blame.

Stop for a second. Reflection time. People often get caught up in self blame when things don’t seem to be going their way. Relationships are difficult no matter what, and you have to remember they are a two-way street. It would be pretty hard for you to tank a relationship all on your own.

It’s time to sit down and have a long talk with your friend. You need to bring all your issues to the table, and just lay it all out. There’s no use stewing over something and not doing anything about it, it will only hurt you more.

So what if you talk to her about everything, she plays it off completely as a mistake, and the deep freeze continues as if she hadn’t heard you at all? Maybe it’s time to move on.

Think about what you’re putting into the relationship and what you’re getting out. Do you feel completely drained because she’s taking and taking and not giving you the time of day? Maybe it’s time to cut ties with her. She’s not worth the worry.

You deserve the time and attention you give her to be given back to you equally. You’re worth it. Don’t tell yourself you aren’t or that there’s something wrong with you, she’s just being a bad friend.

Life is too short to have draining relationships. Don’t freeze up. If she’s as cold as the Arctic to you, find someone who actually enjoys you as a person. Don’t just let it happen, go out and take control of your life. Your happiness depends on it.