Tips for coping with anxiety from a Psychiatrist

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that is responsible for executive functions such as planning for the future, judgment, decision-making skills, attention span, and inhibition. It’s responsible your ‘normal’ mood.

For a regular person, the Amygdala (fight or flight) portion of the brain is switched on when one comes in contact with danger, or potential danger. The Amygdala takes over the frontal lobe to ensure you make/take steps to protect yourself. For example, when you’re walking a trail and you can see a bear in the path ahead of you – that is when the Amygdala comes into play.

For an anxious person, it can almost seem as though there is no clear line between what is perceived as safe and what is perceived as dangerous. Instead of their being a clear switch to turn on the Amygdala, it seems to consistently stay on. Almost like a light with a dimmer switch. The light can be bright, or it can be dim, but it always stays on, and that anxious feeling always stays there, in your mind.

If you’ve ever experienced anxiety before, you know that static can really take over your brain and make it hard to do or focus on anything. Everything seems to stress you out more, and everyone seems to agitate you with even the most simple of gestures. Once you’re in that state of mind, it’s hard to escape it.

I’ve recently started seeing a psychiatrist to see if it will help me cope with the massive amounts of anxiety that I’ve had in 2019. And, quite honestly, if it’s something that you can afford, I highly recommend it. But, I realize that it’s not a feasible option for everyone. It’s expensive. And, if you’re not in Canada, it gets even more expensive! The Psychiatrist that I’ve been seeing has given me a few points of suggestion to help me cope when I become anxious, and I wanted to share them. They might seem quite obvious, but sometimes it helps to see everything written down in one place to take things more seriously.

  1. Exercise daily. Just 30 minutes of exercise that elevates your heart rate is the equivalent of a mild dose of prozac to the body. Something as simple as going for a walk each night can greatly boost the serotonin production in your body.
  2. Think of a memory, one happy memory, and keep that memory at the top of your mind, always. When you think of happy memories, it produces serotonin in your body that can help boost your mood. If you keep one happy memory at top of mind, always, you can use that memory when you’re feeling triggered. Forcing that happy memory on your brain when you’re feeling anxious/stressed can help trick your brain. It’s not going to take away the things in your life causing you stress, but it will help you cope with the stress better.
  3. When you get anxious, write down your happy memory, much like a journal entry. Whether it be in your phone, on your computer, in a journal, on a napkin at a restaurant… just write it down. The brain is such an analytical object, seeing the written words, wherever it might be written, will help your brain to think of the happy memory when you become triggered. While it may not happen right away, after a while of writing down your happy memory time and time again, your brain will automatically associate the happy memory with your triggers in order to help you through the struggle.
  4. Sleep. Sleep is so integral to keep the brain functioning properly. If you’re feeling anxious, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to ensure you’re getting adequate sleep and sleeping during the normal period for which one should be sleeping. (IE. Don’t sleep from 10 am – 6 pm) Giving your brain the proper rest it needs is much like taking an off-day at the gym. Much like your arm muscles needing to recover during leg-day, your brain uses sleep as a period of recovery. Without it, your stress will remain high.
  5. Consider an anti-inflammation diet. Inflammation wreaks havoc on the body and if you’re in a state of mind that is wreaking havoc on your soul, having an inflamed body is only going to make your state of anxiousness seem worse. With as many alternatives to Dairy and Gluten as there are these days, it’s easier than ever to avoid foods that could potentially be wreaking havoc on your body.
  6. Always keep music near by. As the universal language of the human condition, music can help distract you from yourself when needed most. Even sad songs. The simple act of putting those headphones in your ears and focusing on the lyrics or the beat, rather than what is plaguing your mind can help to provide one a greater sense of peace and help to boost serotonin when it’s needed most.
  7. Keep some sort of small ‘knick knack’ with you at all times. Make sure it’s something simple, something that can fit in your pocket, or in your purse, or wherever it needs to go so that it’s with you. When you’re feeling triggered, take out the knick knack and study it. Tell yourself it’s colour, it’s shape, it’s dimension, it’s size. Be as descriptive as you can in your mind about what this knick knack is and what purpose it serves. While you might just look like you’re fidgeting to everyone else in the world, what you’re really doing is sending a message to your brain that these triggers and anxious thoughts do not control you. Putting your attention elsewhere in moments of anxiousness is much like avoiding your boyfriend when he’s being a jerk. You are strong, fierce and independent and no boyfriend nor negative thought is going to weigh you down.
  8. Consider keeping a journal. Use this journal to write out all the nasty, or mean or negative thoughts in your brain. Sometimes, just having these thoughts escape your brain, even if no one ever reads them, provides catharsis for the mind. And that’s the ultimate goal. So test the journal method and see if it helps at all.

There’s no quick fix to combating anxiety. It’s going to take weeks, months or even years to train your brain that the irrational fears aren’t as bad as you think they are and that the real fears can be faced, and conquered, if you’re willing to work at it. Everyone faces hardship, and that likely won’t ever go away. But, if you can stare that hardship down and put yourself back to a good place in life, you can lock those anxious feelings in a tiny little box in the back of your brain and tell them to stay there and shut up. (Bad analogy, I know)

I’ve committed myself to trying these tips, to making a conscious effort to retrain my brain and defeating the static. Fight or flight is not a bad portion of my brain… but it also need not be on 24/7.

If you are out there and you’re struggling, I see you. I hear you. I understand you. You are not alone in this. Anxiety, depression, whatever plethora of mental illness/struggle you might be dealing with, I am with you.

My psychologist said that, in her professional opinion, through her patients she often finds that the people who struggle most are those of higher intelligence. And this is because they see the world and the people around them in a way that the majority of the population cannot understand. Being hyper alert and aware, it’s a sign of high intelligence, and also, most often a symptom for highly anxious people.

So… glass half full? If you’re reading this and you are struggling – kudos to you for being smarter than everyone else.

A day in the life of an unemployed millennial.

I’ve been unemployed since December 31, 2018. I was fired, without cause (legally speaking). It’s actually a bit of a story that I, at one point, had posted on this blog but took down. Regardless of details, here goes:

8:15 am – Wake up.

8:20 am – Drink BCAAs and cook eggs for breaky.

8:45 – 9:45 am – Some time during this period I will drive my mom to the cancer clinic. The time she begins her treatment depends entirely on what the doctor has scheduled so it is different each morning.

~ Sit with mom at cancer clinic, through appointments with Doctor and Nurse Practioners.

12:00 pm – Return home from cancer clinic. Make Lunch for myself, my mom and my dad (if he’s off work that day)

1:00 pm – Do dishes. My mom usually goes to nap at this time, so I am left with some freedom to pick up around the house, or watch Gilmore Girls. Usually it’s a bit of both.

2:00 pm – My Mom’s awake and now in her ‘cancer won’t get me down’ kind of mood, determined to go out into the world and do something. So I will take her out to run her errands, or wander around the mall. Just something to get her out into the world that doesn’t take place at the hospital.

4:00 – 5:00 pm – This is my sacred hour. During this hour I’ll look at/update my blog or head out on my own and just wander, decompress and calm myself.

5:00 pm – Start cooking dinner. Eat Dinner. Clean up Dinner. Do dishes.

6:30 pm – Help my Mom with various things.

7:30 pm – My Mom usually crawls into bed. I’ll take the dog for a walk, or watch Jeopardy. Or both.

8:30 pm – Sit down at computer and start looking for jobs online. Send my resume off for positions that don’t sound sucky or shitty. A lot of times I’ll send my resume off for positions that do sound suck or shitty as well. I’ll also respond to emails at this time, browse wordpress a little more and, play Clash Royale, watch TV or do something mindless and easy.

12:30 am – Go to bed.

Of course, not every day is the same. But, it’s a lot of just helping my mom at this time. She needs all the help she can get, lately. And, luckily for her, she has a lot of support from myself, my brother and my father. Cancer will do that to a family, though. I admire anyone who’s been through cancer with someone in their family. It’s a lot of hard work both for the person suffering and for the person looking after them.

Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, she should have a status of being in remission in just a few short weeks. I’m looking forward to her being healthy again, because I know she wants to go back to enjoying life and not feeling so sick all of the time.

I also think that soon enough, when she’s healthy and starts enjoying life again, perhaps things will change for me, too. I’m looking forward to going back to work. I’m looking forward to not having to worry so much. I’m just looking forward to life calming down a little bit.

This became a lot longer than I wanted too. People say that I’m the ultimate cliche because I am an unemployed millennial. I think, though, that’s what happens when you judge a book by it’s cover. Or perhaps I am normal and this is normal. Either way, the most important thing to me at this point in time is that my mom gets healthy again.

That’s all.

I bought a plane ticket.

That’s right, I did it. After weeks of humming and hawing about it, trying to talk myself out of it, telling myself that I shouldn’t be spending the money right now, etc, etc… I pulled the trigger and I bought a ticket.

It’s definitely not an exotic locale, but what matters to me is that it is somewhere that will make me happy. And I really need something to smile about right now.

I’ve been afraid to tell people about it, because I don’t wan them to lecture me on spending my money in a frivolous manner when I don’t have a steady flow of income right now. I’m not sure how I’m going to break the news, but, I will do it.

Yesterday, as I sat in bed reading one of my favourite books of all time, I made it to the chapter that has stood out in my mind since I first read it as a teenager. The quote, as follows:

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.

Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

And I thought ‘I’m not waiting any longer’. So I did it. I went online, I booked the tickets, and I’m going.

It’ll be a short trip. Nothing in life lasts forever, I know that. And, in spite of the fact that it might seem rather reckless to book a trip when you don’t have a steady stream of income coming in, I’m not stupid when it comes to money. I know how to save, where to spend, how to choose the cheaper options. I’m going to be smart about this, of course. But I’m also going to live my life.

Life should be adventure, and, when it really comes down to it, I’d rather be the person that says ‘I’ve been there and it was amazing’ than the person who says ‘I’ve always wanted to go’.

Not afraid of what’s to come.

Normally people talk about having ups and downs in life. From my perspective, the past eight weeks of my life have had a lot of downs. I won’t lie, there has been a few good moments. But, it’s seemed as though the bad has far outweighed the good. For me, bad things don’t come in three’s, bad things come in eleven’s or twelve’s.

Nevertheless, life goes on and we must learn to deal with what is put in front of us. For me, for the first time in eight weeks, I am feeling hopeful. At least I think this is what hope is.

Today was a really good day. Nothing overly special happened, it was just a calm quiet Sunday. I think that’s why I liked it so much though. Calm and quiet are good things to have right now.

This week I will be getting some blood tests done to test for autoimmune diseases. I’m not afraid of being diagnosed with something. At this point, I would actually really like to be given a diagnosis. At least with a diagnosis, I could have proof that my symptoms aren’t in my head. Also, with a diagnosis, I could say ‘okay, this is what it is, lets work towards minimizing my symptoms and the toll it takes on me’. Wish me luck!

In other news, something really cool is happening this year that I haven’t really talked, or thought much about the past eight weeks. My two younger brothers are identical twins. This year, they’re having babies… just two months apart from each other. They’re going to become dad’s for the first time, right around the same time. I’m excited to see what the future holds for them, I am excited to meet the newest little additions to my family and I have been really enjoying shopping for adorable baby clothes for them. The babies will be technically both cousins and half-siblings (DNA of identical twins being the same). How cool is that?

This week I am determined to make farther steps to getting a new job. I’m tired of being unemployed. I don’t need work to feel as though I have a purpose, but I want to work to feel as though I am contributing to something. Furthermore, I want to travel so I need to work to save money. All things said, I NEED A JOB. Vee does not want to tolerate being unemployed any longer. I am a badass, intelligent human being with a university degree and ten year’s experience working PR for a massive organization. I CAN DO THIS. I CAN. (That was a pep talk to myself, in case it wasn’t clear)

It’s 8:30 on a Sunday night and I’m already considering curling up and calling it a night. Is this what being a grandma is like?

Rest easy, world.

Choosing to save your money for travel.

When you make the commitment to travel, you make a commitment to forgo other things in life in order to travel. At least, if you’re the majority of the population that’s the case. Some people are born independently wealthy (I’m jealous of you if you are/were) and don’t have to worry about saving money, but for the rest of us, the fact is, we have to plan if we’re going to see the world.

For me, the prospect of travel is an important one. I want to run away on my long weekends rather than staying home. I want to say that I’ve been to all of the continents and keep a running tally of all the countries I’ve visited. I want to collect tiny a vile of sand from every beach I visit. To do this, I knew I needed to get serious about my finances.

I’m quite lucky in that, in spite of not being employed presently, I still have a couple of trips on the docket for 2019. When you’re going to travel the world, here are some realistic tips for saving your money because, after all, it’s better to save your money to have more to spend there!

  • Meal Prep. Meal prep is helpful because it causes you to make use of the food that you already have. If you’re eating the food that you have prepped in your fridge already, you’re not going to be tempted to eat out – thus saving that money. Take that money you would have spent on your fast food dinner and put it in your piggy bank. Literally. Furthermore, if you’re meal prepping you’re making better use of the groceries that you purchase and therefore you will find your grocery bill going down each month.
  • Have a piggy bank. This one might sound weird, but it’s oddly motivating to see the money in your piggy bank grow. If you can get a clear piggy bank, that is the most motivation because you can see when you put those five, ten and twenty dollar bills in there. The more money that’s in your piggy bank, the more you’re motivated to fill it.
  • Automatic withdrawal from your pay cheque. When you get paid, set aside an amount of money that is automatically coming off the cheque. You’re not going to use it, you’re not going to spend it. It’s going towards your travel dollars. Whether it’s $20 per cheque or $100 dollars per cheque, telling yourself that you get zero access to that set amount every pay cheque can add up in a year.
  • Cut the luxuries. I’m talking about things like Netflix and Itunes Music and your subscription services. The average person has 3-4 of these, minimum, and if you cancel all of them that is hundreds of dollars in a year that you’re saving.
  • Don’t drink when you’re out. Going out to have alcohol, whether with your friends or your significant other, the markup on alcohol is ridiculous. If you like a nice glass of wine once in a while, do it with your friends at one of your home’s. You’re going to enjoy it more without the extra noise of a club or a bar, and, you’re going to save a lot of money when you’re not spending $14 on a glass of wine.
  • When you’re shopping – shop sales. I know this can sound awful to some people, but it can be really beneficial if you’re smart about the way you shop. We all have things we need in life, like a winter jacket or a new pair of shoes. Right now, on the North Face website you can purchase a winter jacket from last year’s collection for $125, rather than $500. This savings is solely because it’s last year’s coat. North Face jackets never go out of style, and honestly, no one’s going to know that it’s last year’s coat. Whereas you might have previously budgeted several hundred dollars for your winter jacket, you can now take that extra money and put it into your vacation fund, wear your new Northface coat and no one will be any the wiser.
  • Track your finances. This is the most important aspect of all. If you’re looking to save money for travelling, track your finances. Being able to see on paper, or an excel spreadsheet, where your money is being spent will help you to realize where you’re spending too much and where you can cut. After all, you are not going to become a millionaire over night, so, if you want to travel the world you need to know where you’re going to cut money from in order to put it into your travel budget.

As you’re saving for your trip and cutting money from other places in your budget, please remember for your own peace of mind that you need to treat yourself once in a while. Don’t cut everything from your life cold turkey in order to save for your trip, that will make you miserable. Buy yourself that chocolate bar on the day when you really need some chocolate. Just make sure that it’s a once in a while treat and not an every day treat.

Hopefully, if you’re smart about it, you’ll be sailing off into the sunset of a beautiful trip in no time. Because I am a firm believer that it’s far more important in life to collect experiences rather than things.

Go forth and travel the world.

Tips & tricks for smooth transitions through the airport.

As someone who’s been on a few thousand flights over the past 10 years, I’ve learned a few things about how to make the most annoying place on earth (aka the airport) as easy as possible when you need to get somewhere.

First and foremost – a very important thing to note – where at all possible, DO NOT BUY BLACK LUGGAGE. Everyone buys black luggage. If you want to identify yours when it’s coming down the conveyor belt, avoid the chance that random strangers will pull it off the belt thinking it’s their’s, or your luggage getting lost in general, don’t buy black luggage! Not to mention if your luggage does get lost the first thing they will ask you is “What does it look like?” If you say “Well it’s a black suitcase,” you’ll see the eyes roll. Everyone has black luggage.

As for the airport, here goes:

  1. Always check-in online. In this day and age where it costs for EVERYTHING, spending $50 for seat selection just seems like something I don’t want. But, here in Canada, you can check into your flights a full 24 hours early. And, if you’re one of the first people to check in, you’re assigned an aisle or window seat ahead of them assigning you a middle seat. So ALWAYS check-in online.
  2. Skip the jewelry when you’re getting dressed. (And belts) If it’s important to bring it, put it in a little baggy and slip it into your carry-on or suitcase. Then bring it out when the timing is right. By avoiding putting it on, you’ll avoid needing to take extra time in the security line taking it all off.
  3. Dress up to dress down. Combat boots are cute and all, but taking those bad-boys off to go through security to put back on immediately afterwards takes a considerable amount of time. Things like slip on shoes can, and will be, your best friend.
  4. Take a screenshot of your booking information/boarding pass. The screenshot on your phone will be a lot easier to access than trying to fumble through paperwork amidst everything else in your backpack/carry-on.
  5. Separate your electronics. This will make your time in the security line go much more smoothly and much faster.
  6. Figure out your liquids game before you get to the security line. Where at all possible, if you don’t have to bring liquids then don’t. But, if you must bring liquids, know the rules before you go. Don’t be that doh-head who needs their bag to get searched and have full-sized perfume and hand creams pulled out of it. I’ve seen a lot of times the TSA Agents be nice about this, but you can also get into a lot of trouble.
  7. Wear an item of clothing with a sports logo on it. This isn’t a certified fact, and I only do this in North American airports, but I have noticed on days when I am wearing certain jackets with sporting logos on them, the TSA agents will move me to the quicker line. Perhaps they like sports? Perhaps, they just think I’m some sort of coach and want to help me on my way. I’m not sure. But, when wearing the logo makes the security line shorter, I’m going to wear the logo.
  8. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up inside of security. Buying water at the airport is no-bueno. I’ve paid upwards of $6.00 Canadian for a single bottle of water. Having a reusable water bottle with you can avoid a lot of unnecessary costs.
  9. Save your Starbucks rewards for the airport. It’s a well known fact of life that Starbucks costs 2-3 dollars more per drink when you’re at the airport. If you collect Starbucks rewards, save the free drinks for when you travel, for when you’re in the airport. And if you don’t collect Starbucks rewards, start collecting them. Seriously.
  10. When you’re travelling internationally add international data and roaming minutes to your cell phone plan. In the airport alone you can’t always rely on wi-fi in other parts of the world. If you’ve got the international data, you can still use your phone to help you get to where you need to be.
  11. Bring a phone charger. Always bring a phone charger. And, if you’re travelling internationally, bring a plug converter. You don’t want to find yourself in the Amsterdam airport, unable to speak the language, with a dead cell phone.
  12. Keep your money in your front pocket. Especially in busy airports, pickpocketing is a real issue. For guys that keep their wallets in their back pocket, put it in your front pocket while walking through the airport to avoid pickpocketing.
  13. Always arrive at your gate early. Why? Planes can leave early. I’s not a frequent occurrence, but they do leave early. You don’t want to be the doh-head that missed the flight because you were looking at overpriced magazines down the hall.
  14. Be kind. Don’t yell. Even when it’s frustrating. Even when someone pisses you off. You don’t want to find yourself in a foreign country where you cannot speak the language, with people unwilling to help you because you’ve been a tired, pissed off asshole. There was one instance in Frankfurt when the security guard was telling me to take off my shoe. I could not understand her because she was speaking German. Naturally, being Canadian, my response was “I’m sorry”. And then I said “English, English?” She called over the German police (at the time I was worried I was in trouble, but it turns out she was doing it because she knew they could speak English). The police officers were actually very kind to me. One of them told me I was very soft-spoken and told me thank you. Moral of the story – always be nice. Even when it’s annoying.
  15. Fly the flag. This is a big one, especially if you’re Canadian. Put a Canadian flag on your luggage, on your carry-on, on your backpack, etc… It’s a good conversation starter with strangers. There’s nothing cooler than striking up conversation with a badass human being half-way around the world and making your wait at the airport a little-less boring. And who knows, in this day of social media, perhaps you can stay in touch.