Monday, February 20, 2012

check yourself.

...You know, before you...wreck  yourself?

It's been a week since I officially started tracking my exercise for my work's exercise-incentive program, and, um...yeah. Mixed results. So far, it's at least pushed me to exercise more, and I'm technically meeting my time goals, but I'm not yet actually doing the daily activities I planned out for myself. Nonetheless, the exercise program concept + having a bad anxiety funk a couple weeks ago = a new concept for me: If, in order to maintain physical health, you really need to work on it daily, then wouldn't it follow that mental health maintenance requires the same kind of effort?

There are lucky folks out there who don't need to put much effort into their physical health to maintain it. I can count myself among them. I mean, aside from consuming massive quantities of sugar (which will probably need to be decreased if I get pregnant someday...zoinks), I eat a generally healthy diet - vegetarian, mostly grains and fresh produce, organic when I can, not too much food, not too little. I cook at home more than I eat in restaurants. I hardly ever have fast food. I'm also an active person, and I get regular sleep (and regular naps, woo!). I'm on a prenatal multivitamin that, hopefully, fills in any nutrient gaps I may have. So, physically, I don't require much conscious effort beyond my relatively healthy lifestyle.

Mentally? Ha. Another story. Most people can probably skate by without having to put in major hard work to maintain their mental health, and I've been one of those people for the majority of my life. Not these days, though. I don't want to give too much weight to mah new label (Generalized Anxiety Disorder); in fact, I think that's partially why I had a rough time a couple weeks ago. I started believing in it too much and giving it an awful lot of power, which created (shocker) more anxiety. I despaired at the thought that, for the rest of my life, every day would just be a fight against unbidden, inexplicable anxiety. Generally anxious, day in, day out. I mean, that's a pretty awful prognosis. Sometimes I understand the origin of the anxiety - an important presentation, a misunderstanding, a meeting with my boss's boss's bosses. But when I'm chilling on the couch, flipping through a magazine, sunshine streaming through the windows, and all of a sudden, I'm barely breathing and my stomach clenches and my hands grow clammy? Nuh-uh. Unacceptable.

I shouldn't say that: "unacceptable." Part of this is going to be learning to accept that anxiety will just sometimes be there, provoked or otherwise. But I was forgetting that acute episodes of anxiety, whether they last an hour or a week, aren't representative of reality - even the reality of general anxiety. In order to give myself any kind of hope, I needed to address two things: preventing the constant anxiety, and my response to the moments of acute anxiety.

That's when it clicked - the connection between maintenance of physical health and of mental health. And although I'm still working on incorporating my exercise program ideas, I think it would be a good idea to start incorporating daily activities that promote mental health, and that, specifically, prevent anxiety.

There are a few activities that I know are stress-reducers for me, like watching dumb super awesome sitcoms ("Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother" rank high up there), perusing home magazines, stalking blogs, and singing at the top of my lungs in my car. Those are great, and I don't really need to work on incorporating those into my life any more than they already are. (In fact, that's one of my hesitations about becoming a parent - not having time for those regular stress-reducers anymore.) And the fact that I eat well and sleep well (minus the periods of frequent waking, nightmares, and panic attacks) certainly contribute to good mental health. I think, though, that all of these qualify as "inactive" efforts.

I'm aiming now for times when I am actively working to calm and relax my mind and body. These would be in addition to the therapy sessions I go to every other week. So far, I've come up with a few activities that fall under this category:

  • Meditating
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling (ew, I hate all forms of the verb "to journal." "Journal" should only exist as a noun.)
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
Two of these activities - meditating and yoga - I need professional guidance for...although I could probably find some guided meditations on YouTube. Or through my friend Leonard. The rest of the activities could easily be incorporated into my day.

Like physical exercise, I'm gonna have to ease my way in. I want to start with 10 minutes a day of any of those six activities and eventually work my way up to at least 10 minutes, three times a day, with one of those sessions being longer than 10 minutes. It's not all that much, when you think about it, especially since the one that helps me reduce anxiety the most - deep breathing - can be done anywhere, almost anytime: driving to work, on my lunch break, while watching TV, before I fall asleep.

My other goal? To hold myself accountable by checking in here, weekly, on Mondays. For this week, since I haven't started the mental exercising yet, I'll only log my physical exercise (which I'm also doing through the exercise program website, but I only log the minutes there, not what I did). The weekly "check yourself" check-in will go a little something like this:
  • Tuesday, 2/14: 60-minute walk with J.J.
  • Wednesday, 2/15: 10 minutes of stretching/yoga
  • Thursday, 2/16: I logged 15 minutes, but I can't remember what I did - wasn't keeping careful track yet
  • Friday, 2/17: 20 minutes of heavy lifting (and, yes, heavy breathing) while I built a bookcase and moved furniture
  • Saturday, 2/18: 60 minutes of mega house cleaning
  • Sunday, 2/19: 10 minutes of stretching/yoga
  • Monday, 2/20: 60-minute walk with J.J.
Challenges (aside from remembering to record all of my physical and mental activities)? Eh, the usual. Time. Laziness. Acute stress. Being tired. And, just like physical exercise, it's when those challenges loom that the mental exercises would benefit me most, so I'm just going to try to remember: 10 minutes a day. Push through it.

Totally worth it if it reduces the general feeling of omg-panic-sucky-panic-sweaty-fearful-omg-anxiety.

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