How to Deal With Anxiety

I typically think of anxiety and depression as being on opposite ends of a spectrum; on one end, there’s depression, which is exemplified by the image of being unable to get off the couch- that life is hopeless, pointless, and shitty, and there’s nothing that one can do about it. On the other end is anxiety- being unable to sit still, feeling an incessant need to control life, and ultimately having a physical fear response that is too big for the event that triggered it. Interestingly enough, anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand.

Anxiety is thus a fear-based affliction. Our bodies have a fight-or-flight response when we sense danger; back when we were cavepeople, danger was a lion about to eat us. Today, danger is our boss needing to meet with us or a loved one dying. Loss in particular triggers a fight-or-flight response because our environment as we knew it is completely changed. Avigail Abarbanel has a whole article about how our brains find a change in our environment as being an imminent threat to our security, and thus respond to it in fear. Thus, although no lion is about to maul us, a big loss will still release a ton of cortisol and adrenaline into our bodies. 

When we don’t deal with our emotions, the cortisol and adrenaline have no way of being released. They sit suppressed in our bodies, manifesting themselves in other ways, both mentally and physically. We might notice that our breathing is more shallow or our heart is pounding; we might notice our thoughts racing or that we wake up in a panic thinking about everything that we have to do that day. We might notice that, all of a sudden, we feel kind of funny while having lunch with friends; that we feel disconnected from the scene or even from reality. We worry that we’re going crazy. Yet we fear being alone or having free time- it makes us feel antsy or panicked. All of these aspects might manifest themselves into a full-blown panic attack. 

A lot of people are told to deal with anxiety and panic attacks by using deep breathing or other relaxation techniques and mantras such as “I am safe.” These are important- however, they only treat the symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing treats the symptom of shallow breathing. “I am safe” treats the fear of going crazy or suffocating or having a heart attack or needing to go to the hospital. A lot of people recommend yoga for dealing with anxiety; I, in fact, am currently doing training to be a yoga teacher and can attest to this. However, my one beef with yoga is that I feel it can be somewhat emotion-denying. The vibe that I sometimes get when reading my yoga texts is that “thoughts, emotions, and the mind are bad. You must conquer the mind.” Conquer the mind? How violent! Not properly allowing yourself to feel your emotions is really unhealthy and is what fuels anxiety. 

Thus, my own personal mantra whenever I’m feeling anxious is, instead, “What is the root problem?” If I’m driving on the freeway and all of a sudden I start to feel weird and my breathing becomes shallow, I ask myself why. I don’t try to force myself to calm down or berate myself for feeling anxious over a task as simple as driving that billions of people do every single day. I ask myself what’s really upsetting me. When the answer is, “My dad died and my boyfriend, who helped me to deal with my dad’s death, broke up with me, so now I’m feeling pretty abandoned and like two huge aspects of my life are missing. It’s a tough reality to adjust to,” that calms me down. It calms me down because I realize that those are huge and legitimate reasons to be feeling my ultimate, underlying feeling- which is sadness. Then I allow myself to feel sad, and sadness is not a scary feeling like anxiety is. Then I feel better once I let it out. Anxiety is a feeling that masks an underlying feeling. Recognizing and allowing oneself to feel the underlying feeling and thus release it will release anxiety. 

Dear World

Dear World,

It’s really not that hard to be nice to each other. It’s not that hard to not hate someone who doesn’t look like you. It’s not that hard to talk about your problems instead of hurting and killing people in an attempt to solve them. Like, it’s really, really not that hard to not kill people. It’s not that hard to not go to war. It’s not that hard to not spy on people, wiretap their phones, or collect data on their internet usage. It’s not that hard to not sexually assault people or enslave them. It’s not that hard to not imprison people indefinitely without giving them charges. It’s not that hard to not torture people. It’s not that hard to not rig an election. 

You know what would be a lot easier? What would save us time, energy, and, hell, money? Leaving each other the fuck alone and being nice to each other. 

We’re taught in kindergarden to treat others how we want to be treated. Yet, when people grow into warmongering, bigoted adults, one must ask- who are the real children now? Maybe they all need to go back to kindergarden- and maybe people in developing countries who don’t have access to kindergarden should be given it. 

Why don’t they have access to kindergarden?

Dear planet Earth, please elevate yourselves.

Sincerely,

A concerned human 

Not All Westerners are Evil

Let’s get political up in here. Rafia Zakaria recently posted an article on Al Jazeera that really yanked my crank. It’s about the #bringbackourgirls campaign on Twitter regarding the 200 kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Here are my thoughts on it:

I understand the importance of social media in instances such as organizing protests and, yes, spreading awareness about injustice. However, too often I think that people equate spreading awareness with activism; it bugs the shit out of me when people post on social media about these issues or simply tweet a hashtag but then don’t do anything to address it or stop it in their real life. It’s like they think that tweeting a hashtag is their good deed of the day, and then they can go on with their lives without thinking twice about it.

Additionally, as this article discusses, using the uplifting of women as a means for justifying war- such as the Bush administration’s boasting about how the war in Afghanistan helped to liberate women- is also wrong. War helps no one, and there are ways to empower women without violence.

Hooowwwever, the rest of this article is shit. It basically says that the only reason why Westerners care about the abducted girls in Nigeria is that our Western Savior Complex makes us feel sorry for them and believe that we are the only ones who can help them. It states that, ignoring other, more complex problems in the developing world, we can only recognize the simplistic plight of young black and brown girls- calling this our “schoolgirl feminism.” Um, young girls are a legitimately and deeply oppressed group of people in the developing world. Reducing their problems to “schoolgirl feminism” is not only simplistic in of itself, it’s offensive. These girls often live in cultures that not only don’t want to help them but want to maintain the female inferiority and violence against women and girls status quo. I think that it’s okay for us to impose our Western value of gender equality in other countries. While it’s vital to use local resources and organizations instead of just blindly or ignorantly coming in to save the day, we can’t do nothing. No, we shouldn’t act violently. But this article condemns us for caring at all. Some of us are just caring people who see the abduction of a few hundred girls as the true atrocity that it is. We’re not all ignorant, egotistic people who simply need to save.

What would you prefer us to do, Ms. Zakaria- be unsympathetic, coldhearted robots who don’t want to help our fellow humans?

Aside

How to Cure the Flu

Grief is like the flu (but having it for a long time). When you get the flu, it leaves you with a variety of symptoms, including a runny or stuffy nose, a fever, or a sore throat. Do you get mad at yourself for having a sore throat, mad at yourself that you can’t just feel better or make it go away? Do you try to go to work and school and socialize and continue to live your normal life as if you are in perfect health? No! None of those things are helpful. When you have the flu, the only thing that you are supposed to do is just rest and ride it out until it goes away. You can take medicine to mask the symptoms or immune support supplements such as Vitamin C, but there is no cure for the flu. The only cure is just going through it; in fact, getting mad at yourself for feeling rotten (causing yourself extra stress) or trying to continue to live your normal life as if nothing happened will prolong the sickness and make it worse.

In our culture, we understand how to deal with physical ailments. The flu is something that we all experience at some point in our lives and thus we are taught about what to do when we catch it. Yet, we similarly all experience difficult emotional events in our lives- grief in particular- that leave us feeling rotten with a host of symptoms. Unfortunately, we are not taught properly how to deal with grief when it hits us (if we even talk about grief at all). Instead of resting and riding it out, like one typically does with the flu, a griever will oftentimes beat him or herself up for feeling grief symptoms and will try to continue to live his or her normal life as if nothing happened. It’s as if our society only validates ailments caused by biological pathogens instead of shitty-life-event-pathogens.

Grief is the reaction to a loss. It is oftentimes associated with the loss of a loved one, but it can incorporate really anything that one loses: moving (loss of a familiar environment), losing a job, or the end of a friendship, to name a few. It can even be a reaction to positive changes such as graduating from school, having a baby, or getting married. Symptoms of grief can be all-encompassing: emotional, mental, spiritual, and even physical. In her article, “Grief and How to Deal With It- A No-Nonsense Approach to Grief,” Avigail Abarbanel outlines an extensive list of events that can cause grief as well as symptoms. Here are just a few examples of symptoms that one might experience:

Physical:
-exhaustion, low energy
-changes in apetite
-sleep disruption- sleeping too much, not enough, or not being able to stay asleep

Emotional:
-numbness
-shock
-confusion
-sadness
-anger
-loneliness- feeling like no one understands what you’re going through
-dissatisfaction with life

Mental:
-forgetfulness, absentmindedness
-difficulty concentrating
-feeling stupid
-fear of “going crazy”
-anxiety
-worrying about not achieving or living up to usual standards

Relational:
-feeling like a burden on others
-wanting to talk about the loss a lot
-wanting to be alone
-feelings of disappointment in the relationship because of the perception that your partner cannot understand what you are going through or that he or she isn’t feeling the same way as you

Spiritual:
-anger at God
-thinking more about the meaning of life
-thinking more about illness and death
-feeling a deeper spiritual connection

There are more symptoms, and one might not experience all of them. The most important thing is to recognize that these feelings and experiences are normal- getting mad at oneself for feeling them is counterproductive. It can just be very hard when you know that what you are experiencing is normal, but the rest of the world doesn’t. If you are going through grief, try to educate your friends and family so that they won’t pressure you to just “get over it” or “get on with your life.” Would you tell a person with the flu to just get on with their life?

Just as taking Dymatap or Nyquill can quell flu symptoms without curing the flu itself, so, too, can antidepressants quell grief symptoms without curing the grief. It can alleviate the pain and make one feel better temporarily, but the grief will still be there once the medicine is gone. (**Please note that I am not a psychiatrist or any kind of doctor, so don’t rely on my advice about what psychiatric drugs to take or not take.)

Unfortunately, while the flu may go away after a few days, it takes grief a really long time to run its course- and in the end, a griever won’t stop feeling sad about the person lost or ever stop missing them; it will just not hurt as badly, and the lost person can be remembered in a fond way more so than an achingly sad way. Thus, when a friend or loved one has the flu, we might bring them soup or movies to watch at the beginning to be there for them. Once we leave, the person will feel better shortly. When a friend experiences the death of a loved one, we bring them flowers and food at the beginning- but once we leave, it might take them a year or two to feel better (each person is different, and each relationship is different, so there really is no timeline for how long grief should last. As Abarbanel says, “It takes as long as it takes”).

Others’ impatience with grievers can be exemplified by the fact that, in our country, most businesses will give their employers a whopping three days off for bereavement time. Yet, perhaps that impatience is a combination of both lack of understanding about the grief process as well as simply feeling awkward and not knowing what to say or do. For example, grievers can oftentimes get angry and offended when friends, family, or other people say cliché things like, “He’s in a better place,” “Don’t be sad/don’t cry,” “Time heals all wounds,” or “It was her time to go.” I’ve heard all of these remarks, and they feel more insensitive than helpful. Yet, before my dad died, if I was ever with someone who had lost a loved one, I remember having no idea what to say. Sometimes, I wouldn’t say anything at all out of fear that the person would get mad at me for bringing it up, feel uncomfortable, or start feeling really sad and start crying. I probably made some people feel like they couldn’t talk about their grief with me or that I didn’t understand.

And the thing is, people who haven’t gone through the death of a loved one can’t really understand what it feels like. They don’t know what to say, what to do, or how it feels, and thus in their lack of experience and lack of a proper grief education, they act accordingly. They ultimately want you to feel better and they don’t want to offend you, but they just feel awkward.

We thus must begin to treat grief the same way that we treat a physical illness. Us grievers must give ourselves time to rest and go through all of the emotions. We can try to educate our friends and family on what we are going through so that they can understand a little bit better; we can maybe try to brush off our friends’ weird behavior or clichéd comments. We can understand that what we’re experiencing is totally normal and that there’s nothing wrong with us. We can even be more patient with ourselves.

We also must remember that it’s okay to have fun, too. It’s not required of us to feel sad 24/7, and our laughter as well as our tears are ways of honoring our loved one. ❤

The Boho Girl Goes Swing Dancing

I recently have taken up swing dancing, and it is a ton of fun. Compared to my two other loves- the sexiness and sultriness of salsa and the coolness and confidence of hip-hop- swing dancing only requires a fun-loving, silly attitude bordering on complete dorkiness. Sometimes whilst swing dancing, I wonder at how such nerdy moves were once cool and commonplace back in the 1920s-1950s. However, letting go of the need to look cool is perhaps what makes swing dancing so enjoyable.

Swing dancing does, though, seem to have a standard that everyone follows: the vintage fashion. Expect to see guys with flooded trousers, quirky socks, button-down shirts, and slicked down hair, and women in knee-length hourglass-shaped dresses, high-waisted A-line skirts, t-strap pumps or Keds, pin-curled hair, and red lipstick. Going to a swing event feels like stepping into a time capsule of the 1940s and 1950s.

Examples of 1950s looks:
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tumblr_m75dmoXzIv1rpfml3o1_1280

I went through a time in high school in which I loved 1950s fashion, finding the prints and colors cute and the silhouettes most flattering to the female form. However, my style now is more beach-inspired, flow-y, bohemian, and laid-back. I feel like it correlates better with my personality and the things in life that interest me. Wearing flow-y clothes can almost feel like a rebellion against, for example, the stiffness of corporate fashion, just like the hippies did back in the 1960s. Conversely, it can sometimes feel even uncomfortable to wear fashion that harkens back to an era of female suppression- do I really want to look like a 1950s housewife?

This is more of what I prefer:
jen

I subsequently do not own a lot of 1950s-style clothing or shoes. The outfits that I have worn to swing events have been stumbling blocks of trying to find something in my closet that will fit in with everyone else’s outfits, to not a whole lot of success. Each time that I go to an event in what feels like a more appropriate ensemble, there is always a girl whose Keds are more on point than my Toms, whose cherry-print halter dress is more Modcloth than my Forever 21 blue and white geometric print dress, whose pin curls rival my naturally straight locks. It has me making a mental note to myself each time that I go out dancing to make a trip to the vintage store, stat. And then remembering that I don’t have enough money to go out and buy all these new clothes. And then resolving to myself that the first thing I will buy once I do have enough money is a new vintage outfit. That way, I won’t feel so out of place.

Last night, I had half a second to get ready for a swing event. I was wearing a multicolored, triangular print romper, dream catcher earrings, and a loose cardigan, and my hair was wavy from having had it in a braid all day. Knowing how long it usually takes me to piece together a semi-1950s outfit, I was suddenly stressed out. However, I then just had a moment of, “Fuck it. I like the outfit that I have on and feel very comfortable in it, and if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s outfits, tough shit.” Upon arrival to the event, I felt a lot more confident being in clothes that I actually liked and felt like myself in, as opposed to trying to wear a vintage outfit just to blend in with everyone else- which can feel like wearing a costume.

It’s absurd to think that I have to spend money on all these new clothes and accessories and makeup to paint my face in a certain way just so that I won’t stand out while dancing. Life is not about obtaining possessions and fitting it- it’s about being yourself and caring more about experiences than looks. It’s not like I’m wearing pajamas to the Met Gala- swing dancing is not a particularly formal event that requires a certain dress code.

At the end of the day, swing dancing is about dancing and having fun. If one is doing dorky dance moves- the antithesis to trying to look cool-, then why should one feel the need to dress in a certain way to be “cool” in the swing world?

Feminists: Pick Your Battles

I’m a feminist, meaning that I believe that both women and men should be treated with the same respect and dignity. It means that I don’t believe that a person should be told that they can’t do something because of their gender, and that a person should not be sexually or physically violated because of their gender. Well, I don’t think that a person should ever be violated or told that they can’t do something for any reason, but reasons based on gender are thousands-of-years-old, deeply rooted issues in our world.

In our modern society, these issues range from basic human rights violations- such as girls being unable to attend school, girls being sold into sex slavery, or the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault against females- to economic issues such as women being paid less than men for doing the exact same jobs, to, in my opinion, less important things such as the fact that women have to tell men that they have a boyfriend to ward them off if they are not interested in them.  

Too often, particularly in our online, social media culture, us feminists dwell on the petty issues that don’t matter in the grander context of injustice against women worldwide. 

Yes, it’s annoying going to a bar an being hit on by someone whom I am not interested in and feeling the need to make up an excuse to get him to back off. However, I think it’s more annoying that women in Afghanistan can be jailed for fleeing their abusive husbands. It’s weird that 13-year-old Willow Smith was in a photo on a bed with a 20-year-old shirtless man, and some people on the internet blamed Willow and her parents for it and not the man. Yet, I think it’s weirder that the United States ranks 50th in maternal mortality rates worldwide (behind every other industrialized nation) because our healthcare system doesn’t provide affordable, accessible, and quality healthcare to all women. 

Sexism is alive and well in our culture and affects so many aspects of a woman’s life. However, we really need to determine what our priorities are. Maybe if the Internet focused more energy and attention on the fact that there are 914 girls for every 1,000 boys in India (a ratio definitely not caused by nature) than why Beyoncé shouldn’t name her tour “The Mrs. Carter Show,” then we could make some actual progress in the world.  

Finally, maybe if we internet consumers spent less time debating these issues in the comments of articles and more time in the real world doing something to combat them, then our society might be a better place. 

I Think That the Internet Makes Us Unhappy, Part One

Results from a study that were published last year indicate how more time spent on Facebook is correlated with decreased levels of happiness. The hypothesis is that Facebook- an avenue that allows users to share photos and status updates on their lives- leads people to compare their lives to others’. The problem is that, oftentimes, people only post about the positive aspects of their lives in an effort to come across as “fun” or “interesting” or to avoid revealing too personal of information to friends-of-friends. For example, one is probably more likely to post a status about receiving an A on an exam than failing it. People who post “emo” statuses or photos with captions such as “oh my gosh, I’m so ugly” tend to be, and I would probably agree, people fishing for compliments or attention. Yet, isn’t the person posting photos of a fun night out with friends also looking for attention in some way- a sense of validation, like, look world, I have friends?

I’m not immune to this either; I usually forget to take pictures of my life, but when I do, I post them on Facebook. Once I post them, do I walk away from my computer and let the photos be free? No, I relentlessly check to see if people are liking or commenting on them. It’s addictive, and I feel disappointed if a photo goes un-liked or un-commented on.

Facebook also creates a false sense of connection to other people. Passively (or even actively…) looking at someone else’s Facebook page does not compare to the sensation of being with him or her in the flesh and blood. Every so often I am reminded of what I think the meaning of life is, and it is something that cannot be replicated online. Want to know what it is? Crying in front of your friends.

However, I not only rely on Facebook to give me more than zero readers for this blog- I also use it to communicate with friends who live in other countries or to reconnect with friends from my past with whom I had lost contact. It’s really expensive to talk on the phone with people who live in other countries (well, I guess I could Skype with them… but that requires, like, effort… or I guess I could email them… well, who uses email for personal reasons anymore?). I also recently connected with two girls whom had I hadn’t spoken to in years but, through seeing their Facebook updates, realized that we turned out to have very similar interests to each other. In those regards, I think that the Internet is really cool.

I also fear deleting my Facebook in case I won’t get invited to cool events. Would people forget to invite me to things because I’m not just another box to be clicked? Am I worth the extra effort of being sent a text message instead?

I don’t have a smart phone- not because I think I’m so high and mighty, but I simply don’t want to pay for it and don’t feel a huge need for one. Consequently, I sometimes feel like there’s this whole club of smart phone users with their own language and lifestyle of which I am unaware or not a part. For example, the other day, I was taking a photo with some people, and someone shouted out, “IG worthy!” It took me quite awhile to figure out what IG was. It had me wondering how often per day people must think about or use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other social media apps exist. If I only go on the Internet at home, and Facebook is the only form of social media that I use, yet I still feel consumed by it… how must other people feel?