The Best Way to Handle Anxiety Is by Doing

I moved to Indiana from Tennessee earlier this month. My boyfriend wants to finish the college degree he started many years ago, and I am in full support. It’s forced me to confront many things though, like leaving my family and friends, starting over in a completely unfamiliar environment, getting a new job in a place where I don’t know the job market, and having to rebuild my entire social network.

This move has inspired me to be more courageous. I am going to try new things, face my fears, get out of my comfort zone, and be fierce! I’m no stranger to facing fears. I made a point to highlight my proud moments before, and I’d like to continue that trend–to prove I can do it!

I want to show you that you can do it, too. If terrified, awkward, anxious mess that is me can do it, so can you.

It’s not easy because I struggle with massive anxiety. I overthink the smallest things. I fear what people think, how they’ll judge me, if I’m going to do something wrong, if I’m going to do something stupid. I fear it all. Crowds make me anxious. Making phone calls makes me anxious. Doing new things makes me anxious, even if that new thing means just doing laundry at the laundry facility in my new apartment.

It’s hard to succinctly describe how profoundly anxiety affects me, and how much it’s held me back because I was afraid of the outcome or afraid I’d do something wrong or look stupid.

I’ve walked away from opportunities because I didn’t want to ask questions or I didn’t want to make myself deal with those nervous jitters that we all get. Fear has made me avoidant. Too avoidant.

The best medicine for mild to moderate anxiety is to face it head-on. While I believe in a multifaceted approach to overcoming anxiety, standing up to anxiety like it’s a bully has proven quite helpful for me. More than just helping my symptoms, it’s empowered me and made me feel more confident.

So far, in 4 weeks in a new state, I had planned on a lot more daring adventures, more social activities. But baby steps, my friends. I’m here to celebrate all victories. When it comes to facing anxiety, no victory is too small.

Hoping to inspire you, I’m sharing what I’ve accomplished since I’ve decided to become a fiercer version of myself and stop letting anxiety dictate every action.

  • Made important phone calls to a) gather information about vehicle registration and a drivers license; and b) cancel a subscription.
  • Navigated my way home without GPS.
  • Survived a drive through Purdue’s massive campus on the first day of classes, while nearly having a panic attack because of the sheer number of students (I felt like I was constantly going to careen into someone, despite only going 15 mph).
  • Learned Excel at an intermediate level at a time when I’ve felt my learning capacity has been really low.
  • Aced four skill assessments at a temp agency after contacting them about a two jobs I really wanted. They told me I had some of the highest test scores they had seen in awhile!
  • Landed a temp job at a cool company doing easy desk work as a nice change to the fast-paced, demanding environment of retail.
  • Have consistently been practicing yoga for the first time in years.
  • Going on nearly nightly walks with my boyfriend.
  • Researching nutrition and cooking recipes so that I can be healthier and more hands-on with my food intake.
  • Visited the Bureau of Motor Vehicles 3 times so far (a fourth one will be coming), procured all information I needed.
  • Continued to work through the difficult emotions and mood swings in a healthy manner, despite sticky situations popping up frequently.
  • Shopped in multiple crowded stores without backing down or making myself smaller to those around me.
  • Handled move-in day and the subsequent process well, despite leasing office being less than useful. Also, on our second day, I stood my ground on not having maintenance come and put down new flooring in our apartment at 6pm, when they should have had it done before we moved in.
  • Turned down a low-paying job and handled things professionally, even when the store manager did not.
  • Found a social club to join.
  • Reignited my interest in learning Spanish.
  • Further developed my interest in photography and photo editing.

At first glance, you would think some of these items aren’t even linked to anxiety. Yet, much of my life in the past 5-6 years has been dictated by fear. Not just any fear, but crippling fear that made me run away, made me miss out, made me say no to so many things.

Anxiety makes easy things incredibly difficult. Doing the difficult things in spite of anxiety shows you how strong you are–and shows that the situation isn’t a threat. It shows you CAN do anything.

So while not everything on here seems as empowering as acing a few assessments or teaching myself a new skill, it’s incredibly empowering to face fears or to try something new.

I want to get out of my comfort zone. I want to be happier. I don’t want to be tethered by my anxiety. Constantly saying no, shutting myself down, and letting anxiety just run my life.

This is the new fiercer me! And she’s celebrating all her wins.

Have you conquered anxiety lately? There’s really no such thing as big or small. When it comes to anxiety, any victory is big.

How to Be More Empathetic (and why you should care)

I consider myself to be pretty empathetic. Until I’m not.

I’m the first one to shake my fist at you if you cut me off in traffic. I’m the first one to complain if a coworker isn’t doing their job the way I do mine. I’m the first one to roll my eyes when I see a mom or dad out in public with kids running wild and reckless.

If I were being more empathetic, would those things bother me?

I could write a laundry list of things I could be more empathetic about. What about you?

More importantly, why should we care?

What Is Empathy?

The dictionary definition is the ability to understand and feel what another person is feeling. However, if we’re going to dig deeper here (and we are), we can also break empathy down into two categories, according to the Greater Good Magazine by Berkley University.

“Affective Empathy” is the feelings and sensations we get in response to someone else’s emotions. It could be feeling sad when someone tells a sad story and seems really upset by it, or it could be feeling stressed out by your friend who is freaking out about an impending storm. You might not fear the storm, but her reaction to it may stress you out.

“Cognitive Empathy”, or “perspective taking”, is the ability to understand, or identify, another person’s emotions, without actually having to feel them or mirror them ourselves.

Why Should We Be Empathetic?

Empathy has been observed in animals, especially primates, and in our own primitive history. After all, it’s advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint for mothers to be empathetic to the needs of their children, otherwise they might not survive.

It often goes hand-in-hand with compassion and is usually a strong component in altruism and charity. Helping others often comes from an emotional response to someone or something’s plight. You can understand why it’s bad or needs to change, and you are moved to help.

So it seems we may be hard-wired to a certain degree to care about others–except for one thing.

Human survival, and evolution, is based on self-preservation. We have to look out for ourselves, and our immediate family, so that we may continue to prosper. Humans are egotistical by nature, and that’s not always a negative thing. We are naturally going to frame our entire world and lives around ourselves because we are the one experiencing our own self at any given time.

So why care about anyone else? Why be empathetic?

I could easily point to friends and family and make a case for showing better empathy to them. That’s the easy sell though because you can easily come to that conclusion yourself. So let’s cut straight to empathy towards strangers. Also known as the General Public. Also known as the hardest people to be freaking nice to and understand/be empathetic with.

I’ll be honest–my own opinion on empathy comes from a selfish place. I want to care about strangers because I want strangers to care about me. I think the human race functions better at its core, when we are all being kind to one another. Empathy is a starting point for kindness, but you don’t necessarily need to be kind to be empathetic.

Cognitive Empathy, as mentioned above, can be applied from understanding someone’s point of view, even if you don’t necessarily feel the same feelings they do. Does it take kindness to understand someone? I think it’s in the ballpark, but it’s not always necessary. Empathy does help us “do the right thing” though when taking care of others.

Empathy leads to caring, which leads to action. You’re more likely to help someone or give to a good cause when you understand where they’re coming from. You’re more likely to go easy on them. You’re more likely to be forgiving and kind.

A lot of hatred and anger could be erased with empathy.

A lot of the world’s problems could be helped with empathy.

While that’s a naive-sounding, reductive statement, it’s true that empathy can cure hatred and anger. How can you still feel so strongly against someone or something if you come to know it and understand it? Sure, empathy doesn’t always mean you will care or advocate for that person, thing, or cause, but a heart of empathy doesn’t have a lot of room to hate something.

So How Do I Become More Empathetic?

  1. Listen more, talk less. It’s easy to just wait your turn to talk or to jump in when you have something to add. A lot of conversations naturally flow that way. But someone telling a heartfelt story or having an emotional moment is not the time to butt in. It’s the time to try to listen.
  2. Try to identify specific feelings. Are they sad? Happy? Nervous? Scared? Think of how you’d feel in that situation. Everyone’s different, but the heart of empathy is trying to put yourself in their shoes.
  3. Follow up. Tell the person, “I would have felt so angry in that moment,” or “that must have been awful”. Or ask a question: “What did you do next?” “How did you feel in that moment?”
  4. Don’t try to one-up their story or give advice, unless they ask. This isn’t the time to say, “yeah, that happened to me, too,” and then go into all the details of your story or tell them what they should do. If someone is sharing a difficult story about a chronic illness they’re suffering from or venting, it’s best to just listen. If your story helps you empathize with them (“yeah, that happened to me, too, and I felt so hopeless. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.”), share it after they’re done. Otherwise, most of us appreciate the listening ear and non-judgmental platform.
  5. Talk to new people. Jodi Halpern, a psychiatrist and bioethics professor at Berkley, says, “the core of empathy is curiosity. It’s ‘what is another person’s life actually like in its particulars?’ ” Start conversations with strangers in the elevator or in a fast food line, or coworkers you don’t know well. Follow a variety of different people on social media with different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. Become curious and you will find things you didn’t know before–the basis of understanding.
  6. Participate in a group that shares your interests. While this feels opposite of the previous point, the goal of this would be to unite yourself with others who have the same common interest, goal, or hobby as you, and in doing so, you will meet lots of different people. Maybe even some you didn’t expect to find in this group. Apps like MeetUp or Bumble BFF can help you meet individuals or groups with common interests. You could also take a class at the local community center or join a recreational sports league. There’s a group or meeting for almost any interest or hobby out there.

What do you think about empathy? Is there a reason we should or shouldn’t be empathetic? What are some other ways to be empathetic? Let me know in the comments below or on social media!

20 Questions to Improve Your Self-Awareness

Darius Foroux, blogger and author, invented a list of 20 questions to improve your self-awareness. In my ever-expanding journey of self-improvement, I found it refreshing and inspiring. It’s also a fantastic chance for me to slap this thing in a blog post and share it for the world to see!

There’s no going back. My vulnerabilities and self-awareness (or lack thereof) are lying here, on the table, for your viewing pleasure:

  1. What am I good at?
    Writing. Making people laugh. Learning things quickly. Working hard. Loving fast and deeply. Criticizing myself. Eating Taco Bell and then whining about how I can’t lose wait.
  2. What am I so-so at?
    Writing. Playing video games. Knowing when it’s my turn to talk and not interrupt someone like a goblin. Being patient.
  3. What am I bad at?
    Writing. Math. Not talking during a movie or TV show. Being empathetic toward strangers.
  4. What makes me tired?
    Socializing all day. I’m an extroverted introvert, but my God, I have my limits. Also, pushing myself physically, mentally, or emotionally. I don’t seem to have an extra reserve somewhere like others do. When I’ve hit the wall, I’ve hit it. Buh-bye.
  5. What is the most important thing in my life?
    Of course, family, my boyfriend, those I care about. But beyond that, which I think is pretty universal, I’d say personal fulfillment and purpose. Through career or hobby or whatever, I need purpose.
  6. Who are the most important people in my life?
    My boyfriend, Colby; my son, Alex; my family; my closest of friends (all 3 of them).
  7. How much sleep do I need?
    Either less or more than I actually get. I rarely get the right amount. I’d say about 7 hours.
  8. What stresses me out?
    Just like, general existence. Okay, Jessica. Stop writing for the audience. You know this is a pretty thin excuse for a blog post anyway. Alright, so, the expectations I’ve self-imposed to write this blog and become a successful blogger really are stressful. So maybe I shouldn’t take it so seriously.
  9. What relaxes me?
    Nice-smelling candles. Writing in my journal with a nice pen. My 80s playlist. My 70s playlist. My Stranger Things playlist. Doing progressive relaxation meditations.
  10. What’s my definition of success?
    This unattainable standard of perfection that I’ve set for myself that’s almost guaranteed to end in failure because I’m entirely too critical and do not have the tools, resources, or energy to pursue at the level I’d need to in order to actually achieve my goal, nor do I give myself adequate time to succeed, instead, folding under the pressure and changing my goals to avoid said failure.
  11. What type of worker am I?
    Truly, being the kind of person who has good work ethic and will work hard and do things the right way is probably one of my greater qualities. Why do I do it? I don’t even know. I don’t get paid extra. I just care about the quality of work I put out there. If I have a task, I want to do that task right. It’s the one thing I wish I could send a sample of to employers. See? Look at me! I’m a diligent, ethical worker! Please love me.
  12. How do I want others to see me?
    Funny. Likable. Interesting. Intelligent. The better question is how do I make them see me that way? And how do they see me now?
  13. What makes me sad?
    Not living up to my full potential. Feeling like I’m wasting time/my life. Seeing others in pain and suffering. Third on the list, but it’s on the list!
  14. What makes me happy?
    Connections to those people who make me happy. People in my circle, of course, but I also like connecting with new people over shared interests and hobbies or careers. Doing things I love. New things, old things. Something that fills me with light.
  15. What makes me angry?
    Disrespect, whether real or perceived. Someone not living up to the standards I set for myself that they somehow must also arbitrarily follow. Illogical behaviors. Stupidity in general. Someone implying or explicitly telling me that I’m stupid or dumb. Someone laughing at me or mocking me.
  16. What type of person do I want to be?
    I want to be Princess Carolyn from Bojack Horseman. Tenacious, ambitious, confident, fearless. “Takes a lickin’, keeps on tickin’,” she says. I want to bounce back like her, and pursue my dreams and ambitions the way she would. She also knows how to put a good spin on things when she’s pitching shows or movies to executives or producers. Oh, she’s also a pink cat. Yeah, I should have mentioned that. It’s not why I want to be her, but I feel that would be a nice bonus.
  17. What type of friend do I want to be?
    The kind you can go to about anything. Someone who is nice, empathetic, and caring.
  18. What do I think about myself?
    Not the greatest, but trying her best.
  19. What things do I value in life?
    I value my time over everything else, at least when it comes to work and money. No dollar amount can give me my time back. You’re paying me for my time; therefore, it’s far more valuable than the dollar. I can’t get time back. I can make more money though.
  20. What makes me afraid?
    Pretty much everything. What people will think of me, how people will judge me, how I will judge me, saying something dumb or wrong or stupid, doing something dumb or wrong or stupid, missing an opportunity, messing up an opportunity, failure in general, being actually mentally dumb or stupid and realizing that I’m not capable of doing all the great, cool stuff I actually want to and think I can do, if only I had the mental energy and time (and hey, I’m working on it).
    But I’m sick of fear. I’m sick of anxiety. I’m sick of my own judgments and criticisms. I’m working on all my dreams, little by little, and I’m going to crush all my fears, one-by-one.

Now it’s your turn! I’ve bared my soul, now you give it a go. In the comments, in your own post, on social media. I don’t care. Just get to self-reflecting!

How My Cat Helps Me With My Mental Health

my dilute tortoiseshell cat sitting in a sink and looking off to the side
Carmella, my dilute tortoiseshell kitty.

I had a bunch of cats growing up. They were all outdoor cats and suffered short lives. It was tragic, but there was nothing I could do to provide or care for them as a kid. It broke my heart, but I loved having them. They were my favorite animal. I had all kinds of toys and stuffed animals that were cats. I was pretty easy to buy for as a kid.

When I became an adult, I always wanted to get a pet, but for various reasons I put it off and didn’t get one.

Until last year.

I got Carmella when she was about 12 weeks old.

my dilute tortoiseshell kitten Carmella when I first got her. She's sitting on my lap and looking right at me.

She challenged me a lot with her hyperactive behavior, vocal personality, and curiosity (which led to some destructive behavior both then and now). But she was also a lot of fun, and she made me happy.

I didn’t realize how much she helped my mental health though. Here’s how she helped me, and I think this could be said of any pets!

My friend Brandy, at Live Mentally Well, also posted about how pets can improve your mental health. Check out her post, too!

Pets provide companionship

The obvious reason to get a pet is that you want a buddy! My cat has definitely made bad days better, and helped put a smile on my face when I hadn’t smiled all day. It’s great to have someone there to greet you every day, happy to see you, and ready to curl up with you at any moment. Her purrs of contentment when I’m giving her affection or holding her make my heart soar, and it can melt even the hardest of hearts. When I’m having bad days or even slipping back into depression, she’s there to pick up my spirits just a little and remind me I’m not alone.

Pets give you a sense of responsibility

Having to take care of something or someone else forces you to rise to the occasion. It’s not for your sake that you do it, but for theirs.

Having this responsibility is good for your mental health because it helps you from falling into a rut or withdrawing completely from civilization. I know when I’m feeling like isolating from everyone or I’m starting to feel bad about myself or my life, I will neglect household chores, I will ignore everyone, I will let it all go to hell. But having Carmella breaks me out of that cycle.

A pet gives you a purpose when you feel you don’t have one. I might be feeling hopeless or lost when it comes to my career or life’s direction, but I know for sure Carmella needs to be fed and given plenty of attention and routine checkups. I know I can’t leave her alone for too long because she’s a living creature who needs care! Responsibility is something that gives me a sense of duty and helps me keep going on days I don’t want to keep going.

Pets provide you with a routine

Routine is essential for mental health care. Your own personal treatment and self-care are important, but general routines for your day and your home are equally important. I find that having a routine with my chores and household tasks also helps me stave off depression, restless and empty feelings, or just general ickiness and muck that I tend to fall into sometimes.

With a pet, not only do you have a sense of responsibility in caring for this creature, but you create a routine with them. I feed Carmella at specific times of the day. I play with her at various points in the evening, especially right before bed. I make sure to give her plenty of attention. I take her out to the porch frequently. We do this on the weekend, too. It like having the stability of this routine throughout the week.

I’d love to see pictures of your pets! Do you think they help with your mental health?

The Sunshine Blogger Awards

sunshine-blogger-award

I feel honored to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by someone I admire in the blogging world, Gemma Newbery. She’s the writer and founder of the blog Help Me, I’m Adulting. It’s a fantastic and fun blog, definitely check her out. My favorite post (so far!) is 4 Easy Ways of Finding Forgotten Money.

Gemma Newbery’s Help Me, I’m Adulting! A blog about getting your shit together.

The Sunshine Blogging Award is an opportunity for bloggers to nominate fellow bloggers for their work. It’s also a fun way to spread positivity (and each others’ blogs)!

Rules For The Sunshine Blogger Award

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  • List the sunshine blogger award rules and display its logo on your site 
  • Answer the sunshine blogger award questions given by the other person who nominated you. 
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions
  • Notify the nominees about their nominations 

1. How long have you been blogging for?

I started my first blog probably in 2012, though I did it as a complete amateur. Silly, satirical things, like “how to get a date”, but it was the dumbest, most goofy things because I thought those types of articles were stupid. I started the Unplug Initiative in 2014. Just a few months ago, I decided to buckle down and buy a domain name, and now have been considering how to gain more traffic. I’m excited for what’s to come 🙂

2. What or who inspires your writing?

The desire to help people. Yes, it’s fun to write. Yes, I’m glad to share it with my social media friends. But it’s not just a way to say “look at me, I’m writing!”. I genuinely want to help people with their mental health, with their productivity, with their feelings of being lost or in a rut. I know about all these things, and I don’t claim to be some guru. I just want to help inspire and encourage along the way, using my own experience, compassion, and resources.

3. If you could recommend a book to everyone, what would it be?

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan. It’s a psychological and philosophical thriller. A pretty interesting and unique book that will make you think long after you’ve finished it.

4. Do you have any hobbies?

Besides writing, I enjoy video games, music, and reading. That’s super generic, but it’s true! Writing takes up a lot of my time though.

5. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

6. If you could visit anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?

Italy!

7. If you could spend the day in any decade, which one would you choose and why?

The 70s. I feel like a lot of great music happened that decade. It would be a fun time to be alive and witness that music live. Plus all the fun experimentation, under the guise of peace and love and happiness, when they were just all really high. :P8

8. Have you ever met someone famous?

A bunch of country singers. It’s not like I hung out with them or introduced myself. I “met” them all while working in retail. I checked them out at the register or made them a coffee. I’ve also worked security at a store where I saw Liam Hemsworth shopping. I didn’t interact with him whatsoever, but I was in the same area as him for awhile haha.

9. What TV shows are you into at the moment?

I finished Bojack Horseman a few weeks ago. I can’t recommend that enough. It’s such a raw, honest, shocking real and touching account of depression and addiction. It’s witty and clever, but it will break your heart and make you cry.

10. Favourite food?

Fettuccine Alfredo, macaroni and cheese, spinach and mushroom alfredo pizza

11. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

Oh, wow. I think the horse-sized duck. As terrifying as that sounds, at least they don’t have as powerful of legs as a horse does. I feel like a bunch of smaller horses would still be horrible because they’d be pretty strong. Plus 100 of anything doesn’t sound like a fair fight. I’ll take my chances against one giant duck!

Questions for my nominees:

  1. Who is a personal hero to you?
  2. If you could be one animal for a day, what would you choose?
  3. What’s your favorite blog post that you’ve written?
  4. Why did you choose your blog name?
  5. If you and I were to hang out for a day, what would you want to do?
  6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  7. What is an underrated song or artist that you want to call more people’s attention to?
  8. If you had to pick a favorite song, what would it be? If you can’t, what are a few that come to mind?
  9. Do you write for a living? If so, do you just make money off your blog, or do you do other writing? If not your blog, how else does writing earn you an income?
  10. How long have you wanted to be a writer?
  11. Do you play any instruments? If not, what would you love to learn how to play?

My wonderful nominees:

Britt K for Unapologetically You
Living Mentally Well
Time to Talk
Christa Leigh
Kate on Thin Ice
Elissa Renee
Brit for The Happiness Agreement
Gifted, Not Broken
Shreya Shanker for Working on That
Sunny Larue
Ruth in Revolt

How to Stop Procrastinating with Just One Tip

Stop Procrastinating Using Just This One Tip by Jessica Mathis of The Unplug Initiative
Stop Procrastinating! Made by Canva

I don’t think anyone alive is some workhorse of productivity. We all get tired. We all struggle to keep chugging along. When important tasks lie in waiting, desperate for a checkmark on the proverbial to-do list, we are the ones who take up said task and promptly…find a way to procrastinate.

I think I’m someone who focuses fairly easy and likes to just dive right in and get stuff done.

Right up to the moment that I don’t.

Procrastination comes for us all. It’s a major productivity killer, obviously. But it’s a huge mood-killer. Rather, the task you’re procrastinating is–science shows that people who procrastinate don’t do so because they’re lazy or bad at managing time. They do it to avoid negative feelings, like fear of failure, or confusion at not understanding an assignment or project.

There are ton of articles that will tell you how to beat procrastination or how to focus better, but I’m here to condense that into the one single tip that truly works for me.

Are you ready for my gold-star trick that I use to stop procrastinating? Because it’s really academic and involved, so I need you to pay attention. Here it is:

I take a lot of breaks.

I’m not kidding. You can get yourself in the mood all day to work. You can visualize the way to attack a project. You can do outlines. You can do all the pre-work and pre-thinking you want.

But when it comes right down to it, you have to actually do the work to get it done.

So that’s what I do. I dive right in and just get started. As soon as I feel overwhelmed, confused, or irritated, I take a short break. I usually take the first one pretty soon. Between 5-10 minutes in, to be honest.

Then, I come back, and I work on my project or task some more. I work longer this time though. Once that wave of overwhelm hits me again, I take another break.

I work the whole way through like this.

How Does This Help You Stop Procrastinating if You’re Always Taking Breaks?

Good question, dear reader!

The idea here is not to force yourself to work some set amount of time, but to overcome the awful, gut-wrenching dread and anxiety of procrastination. Knowing you have small breaks, and that you can theoretically take them whenever, can be a huge motivator!

The trick is to know how many breaks you can actually take and how long they can be. You know your deadline, you know your favorite time-wasters, and you know how long it’ll take before you’ve completely abandoned your project in favor of Netflix.

When I’m just starting out on a project, a break of about 10 minutes is just right. Sometimes 15 or 20, depending on how long I’ve worked. But that’s only for the beginning stages.

I also know that I need to stay away from social media, and either do some light exercise or meditation, or a few short, funny, and lighthearted videos on YouTube. Anything else completely sucks me in or drains my energy and any positive mood I had going.

Once I return to work, I eventually get into a groove and I don’t feel I need another break for awhile. You know that sweet spot where you’re really into what you’re doing and you have some momentum. I try to work a little longer when I’m feeling like this. Subsequently, I give myself a bit longer of a break when I need it.

Whether it’s assembling a piece of furniture with a 106 parts, writing a 10-page essay, or doing a massive cleaning and re-organization of my apartment, I find this one tip to be useful for all my fiercest procrastination.

The dread and fear I feel is nothing compared to the awesome feeling of just getting started. Even if I don’t stay “started” for very long. It’s like putting your foot in the pool before jumping in, or doing calisthenics before a full workout, or just taking a single bite of your food before getting to sit down and enjoy the full thing: it’s a preview of what’s to come and it gets you in the mindset for what you’re about to do.

I find that it eliminates a lot of negative feelings just to get started, even if I don’t make any super meaningful progress. Getting started is often half the battle. Procrastination is an ugly fighter, but you can fight smarter.

The trick only works if you come back after the short break and keep going. It’s essential to give your mind a break, especially the more taxing the project is, but it requires the self-discipline to go back.

If You Are Having Trouble Getting Started

If self-discipline is not your strong suit, consider setting a timer for your breaks, or giving yourself a reward for going back to work (that seems counterproductive, but make it something that you can do while working), or even an app that will lock your “time-wasting” apps for a certain period of time.

To reiterate what I said earlier, you have to know your limits and your weakness. Avoid those and focus on your strengths. What would give you an enjoyable, restful break? But that will ultimately not completely distract you from your project, like a video game or a TV show. Save that for a bigger break or when you’re completely done!

My favorite trick though is cheating.

I cheat my brain into thinking I’m being more productive than I am.

For example, let’s say I’m writing an essay for college. I would pull up my document, set all my fonts, and head my paper, as well as writing a title. I’ll pull up google and all of the academic and scholarly resources I have through the school. Then, I may do my first search term, but I won’t click on anything, I’ll just skim the results. If I know a little bit about my subject, I’ll just write whatever comes to mind as an opening paragraph. Oh, it most definitely will not be good, but it gets my base thoughts out on the topic.

This helps me to feel productive, while also getting the brainflow going a little. Then, I take that first break, feeling productive, and already giving my mind something to subconsciously work on.

So maybe not so much cheating as it is a hack.

Now it’s your turn!

Do you have any tips or tricks to fight procrastination? What makes you the most productive you can be? I realize my method isn’t for everyone! I’m interested to hear what else has actually worked for people.

The First Skill You Should Master in DBT

bpd, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, mental health, dbt skills, resources
Better mental health awaits

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a multifaceted approach to handling difficult emotions and learning to live in the moment. It was originally designed for people with borderline personality disorder, but can be used for any disordered thinking.

If you have BPD, or any other mental illness, and have researched possible solutions or treatments, you likely have encountered DBT. Maybe you’ve even tried it.

I’ve seen the list of skills and all the acronyms (DEARMAN, anyone?). I’ve tried to absorb and practice what I’ve read. It felt like I had been starving in a desert and then I came across a buffet, eating everything I could. The problem with this method is that it didn’t stick very long. I didn’t have any routine or sense or order to what I did. I would just become hyper-focused on DBT being my solution and would rush to see how quickly I could understand and apply each skill.

DBT is overwhelming, though. It’s incredibly hard to learn everything there is to know on your own, without a therapist. The best route is to find a professional to help you understand each skill and put it into application.

If that’s not an option right now, or you just want some additional help, learning the skills on your own is absolutely possible. I encourage a more deliberate, methodical approach. Slower, but steadier, not trying to learn it all at once.

In fact, I’d say you could help yourself a lot with emotional regulation and handling emotional crises if you just learned one skill from DBT. What skill am I talking about?

Mindfulness.

What Is Mindfulness?

It means being in the moment. It’s that simple–being completely present when you’re doing something. No distractions. No judgments. Just being present in whatever you’re doing.

Some examples: eating without watching TV or reading, spending time with your friend without scrolling through your social media feeds, going on a walk or a hike while appreciating the beauty around you, doing a task or chore and being completely invested on each step, instead of letting your mind wander.

To quote Marsha Linehan, who developed DBT, “Mindfulness refers to the quality of attention or the quality of awareness or the quality of presence that you bring to every day life.  It’s a way of living your life awake.  Which is to say, with your eyes open, instead of your eyes closed.”

The focus here is doing only the thing you’re doing, no multitasking.

Learning mindfulness can help you handle emotions and difficult situations better when you’re in a crisis. Being present and acknowledging the situation for what it is can help you make better decisions. Other DBT skills can be used for when distraction or self-soothing are needed, but starting off with mindfulness in any emotional crisis can help you make better decisions.

Whether or not you have Borderline Personality Disorder, learning mindfulness is a game-changer!

How Will Mindfulness Help You?

If you dive deeper into the principles of DBT, you’ll learn about the core tenets behind mindfulness. It centers around the concept of different states of mind: Wise Mind, Logical Mind, and Emotional Mind. The goal is to achieve Wise Mind. It’s the best frame of mind in which to make decisions and react to situations.

In times of crisis, it’s especially important to find your Wise Mind, so that you don’t engage in harmful or destructive behaviors. It helps you non-judgmentally assess a situation, allowing yourself to feel anything that you might naturally feel, and then make a decision.

As someone with emotional dysregulation problems, I struggle sometimes to react to situations. I get frustrated. I sometimes cry. Sometimes I shut down. Sometimes I storm off. Sometimes I wish I had just stormed off. But I’ve learned to stop and minfully assess the situation. No judgments of my feelings. Acknowledging how my body and mind are reacting, what state of emotion I’m in, and just letting it be for a moment. Once I assess and describe the situation, I’m able to look at things more rationally and make a better decision.

How to Practice Mindfulness

The best way to practice being mindful is to do any activity without distraction.

Load the dishwasher, while taking care to place every dish in its proper place. Notice the color of each dish. Notice the way each one feels. Are the all made of the same materials (glass, plastic)? Or are they different? Do they smell foul? Do they need to be pre-cleaned before being loaded? Focus on every step of what you’re doing and on doing the job properly without letting your mind wander.

You just mindfully loaded the dishwasher!

Sit on your porch or look out your window. What do you see? What do you hear? Do you have a nice view of nature, or are you blocked by other buildings or an unsightly view? Observe the clouds and the way the lighting hits the scenery around it–or doesn’t, due to it being overcast or rainy.

You can do this with your surroundings anywhere. Mindfully observing your current environment can be done literally anywhere and is a great way to practice mindfulness.

You can even mindfully observe yourself! This is also called checking in with your body or a body scan.

Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling. Physically, do you notice any pain or discomfort? Where is it? How is it making you feel? Is there any tenseness or stress held in your jaw or neck? Feel the sensation of your chair or bed underneath you, notice how your weight feels on it and how it changes when you shift around. Can you feel your clothes against your skin if you try to notice it?

Check in with yourself emotionally. Is something bothering you? Do you feel worried, anxious, upset, angry, sad, frustrated, bored, excited, or nervous? Are you hungry or tired at all? Do you feel the effects of these feelings anywhere in your body? When we are angry, we tend to clench our jaw, for instance. When we are nervous or scared, our stomach may be churning or in knots.

Noticing how you’re feeling physically and emotionally is the gateway to effectively practicing mindfulness in difficult situations. It allows you to assess your feelings and your body’s response to them, take a moment, and then make a decision in how to react.

It takes some practice, but it’s worth it! Have you ever tried mindfulness? What’s easy about it and what’s hard? I want to know your experiences and thoughts. 🙂

I Did Personal Affirmations for Four Weeks and This is What Happened

self esteem, self help, self improvement, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression
I did affirmations for 4 weeks for my self-esteem

In my pursuit for a healthier me, I run across many tips that say writing down affirmations is a good method to positively increase your self-esteem. I’ve half-heartedly memorized this tool upon dozens of times seeing it, and then never used it. At least, never properly used it. I always thought, How can I write down nice things about myself when I don’t even believe them?

One day, however, at Barnes and Noble, this book caught my eye: Self-Esteem: A Practical Guide. It looked like it had everything I had read about online, except easier to digest and easier to put into practice. All in one handy place, too. I bought myself a fancy leather journal for performing the activities and exercises. What also followed was a renewed excitement for bettering myself.

When it came time to learn about affirmations, I re-read it over and over. I was voracious in my desire to do this right. I reflected on and wrote thoughtfully in my journal to provide good self-affirmations and positive examples to support them. I read them every day, or every other day. I would remind myself of what I had written when my mind would idle. I’d force myself to think back to that list of affirmations whenever I identified myself thinking negatively or downplaying an accomplishment. I thought up new examples when I was at work or driving. I’ve done this for about a month so far.

And something started to happen.

I think it’s actually working.

My negative thoughts are decreasing and I’m finding it easier to remember good things that I’ve done. I can more easily recall things I’m proud of and can identify my good traits, without immediately trying to negate them or somehow wrestle with myself if it’s “good enough”. It’s given me permission to be okay with myself.

It feels good to see progress! I still deal with automatic, impulsive thoughts that bombard me, but refuting them with positive affirmations about myself has been a good practice. I also still tend to have a pretty negative body image, but I can see that I’m gaining confidence in myself, and it’s a really nice feeling!

So what does the book say that helped me so much?

Recognizing Your Positives

The author, David Bonham-Carter, emphasizes something that I think is important. “Acknowledging your own positives is about recognizing what you value in yourself and taking pride in yourself.” He says it’s a personal thing; not matching up to a standard someone else set. It’s pride in your own personal identity, which will naturally be different from your peers (the very people we often compare ourselves with).

So, for instance, I put on my list of things that I’m proud of that I was proud to have finished college at age 29. I actually feel embarrassed when I tell people I graduated at that age. I feel I have to do the whole song and dance to explain why it took so long, maybe crack a joke, get them to sympathize. It feels painful knowing so many of my peers, especially that I graduated with, were much younger when they got their degree. But why shouldn’t I be proud? I finished. My circumstances are not theirs. I had to overcome my own obstacles. I’m proud that I persevered!

In this section, Bonham-Carter also points out how activities you enjoy doing can help you identify abilities, qualities, and achievements you’re proud of and that make you happy.

Activity: Write a list of things you enjoy doing.

Characteristics of Helpful Affirmations

Using your list of things you enjoy, Bonham-Carter shows you how to write affirmations. Thinking of things you enjoy doing is a good springboard if you’re having trouble coming up with things you like about yourself or are proud of. You can see in these hobbies/passions a number of qualities about yourself that define you in a positive way. It may also get you thinking about some accomplishments or goals you achieved that you’re proud of. But not everything has to be some award you won or other tangible means of success. It’s about what’s important and special to you.

Some examples from the book of a fictional woman named Joanna:

  • I brought up my two children as well as I could
  • I am a good listener.
  • I usually try my best at things, even if I don’t always succeed.
  • I am kind-hearted.
  • Despite having a difficult background, I managed to gain professional qualifications as a lawyer.

The author warns the reader against making grandiose affirmations like “I can do anything” or “I’m a wonderful person”. Instead, he encourages you to be realistic and specific. He also encourages you to use examples, where possible, like “I ran a half-marathon and I’m proud of that”, or “I am kind because I have a heart for helping others”. The best affirmations, according to the book, are ones that can be supported by “evidence” (especially since we have such a hard time believing nice things about ourselves).

Activity: Write your own list of qualities, abilities, and achievements. Anything you’re proud of, whether it’s a personality trait or something you did. Reflect on your activities you enjoy, and the values inherent in them, if you need help. Don’t worry about what others might think or how they measure up–what do you think? What are you proud of? What do you think is noteworthy and special?

And that’s it for the summary!

That’s truly all it took for me to start seeing improvement in my self-esteem! If you’re struggling with your own self-esteem, I hope this gives you a jumping off point to start seeing some results. Read your affirmations every day (or try to)! Remind yourself of what you’ve written. Let it ruminate in your brain and stop those nasty, negative thoughts.

What kind of self-affirmations would you write?

The Universe Doesn’t Give a Shit About You

Are you sitting around, wishing you had the life of some Instagram-famous person? Are you jealous of people who do miraculous things for their age, while you can’t seem to even keep it together for a whole week? Do you whine about your life while simultaneously doing nothing about it? Don’t tell yourself, and all your followers, “the Universe has a plan for me”, or “The Universe has a way of working this stuff out”.

The Universe doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s not looking out for you. It’s not sending you signs. It’s not going to make things happen for you.

You are going to make things happen for you.

How do I know? Because I’ve been there too–and this is your wake-up call.

I’ve been in that position of feeling uninspired, in a rut, and lamenting how I’m stuck running in place, while my peers seem to be doing laps around me. I love to wallow in self-pity about it, too. It feels so good. I love to bemoan my current situation and feel frustrated at my shortcomings. It’s certainly easier than actually putting in any real effort to change. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel lost and unsure. It’s okay to be mad at yourself.

But don’t drag the fucking Universe into this.

The Universe isn’t going to apply to college for you. It’s not going to get you that dream job you want. It’s not going to keep persisting when you’re grinding out the hard work every day. If you want to credit the cosmos and believe all things work out in the end, that’s great, but you need to credit yourself, too. You put all the work out there into the Universe and are getting it back because you deserve it–not because of some random chance or because it’s the Universe’s will for you.

It’s one thing to believe in a higher power or the supernatural. It’s another to shrug and say, “Things will fall into place,” or “The Universe has a plan for me”. Yeah, girl, it might–but you’re going to have to actually execute it. Believing in something more than yourself or being a spiritual person isn’t an excuse to slack off, and it’s certainly not to blame when things don’t go exactly as you thought.

I want to empower you and inspire you to do the things you want to do, the things you need to do, and the ugly things you don’t even want to think about. Because you’re capable, you’re resilient, you’re tenacious. You can do those things you dream of–and you don’t even need the approval of the Universe to begin.

So let’s get out there and kick some butt!

What’s The Purpose of Having A Purpose?

I’ve worked a variety of jobs over the past 14 years, over 30 last time I counted. Since the age of 16, I’ve had jobs in retail, food service, mail rooms, corporate offices, and now IT. A lot of these jobs sucked. Jobs that paid too low to work for managers that were too high up on their proverbial horses. Toxic environments, bad scheduling, lack of policies, or lack of enforcing of existing policies, feeling like you couldn’t go to HR about things (or when you did, nothing changed). I admit that I hastily left some of these jobs in my impulsive youth, but objectively, many of them were challenging positions that were draining on both physical and mental health.

Despite those negatives, I noticed many of my fellow employees stayed for years. You will run into them at any job, no matter the type. I’ve talked to the veterans of a company, who agreed that the systems were inefficient, or that management didn’t hold anyone accountable, or that the general culture was lacking passion or enthusiasm for the job. But they didn’t want to leave because “the money is too good”, or “I need the health insurance”, or “I like my schedule here”. They loved to complain, but they loved those benefits more. I got a lot of excuses like that at multiple companies, from multiple people. Some of that goes into the fear of change, but it turns out quite a few people are happy just making a paycheck and going home.

I need to pay my rent, too, but I won’t stick around a crappy job for them. To me, a job should be more than just the benefits you get out of them. I like to feel a satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from what I do. I enjoy helping others, being in a bright, positive environment, feeling like I have the resources from my managers to do so, while solving problems, maintaining my autonomy, and having the right people around me.

In short, I crave purpose.

Humans, as a whole, seek purpose because it’s key to finding fulfillment. When we lack it, we feel directionless and lost. When we have it, we are confident, motivated, and more relaxed. Everything falls into place.

Having purpose is such a universal human experience, and yet, in my 14 years of employment history, I have found that many, if not a large majority, of my coworkers did not seek purpose.

At least, not in their job. Your paycheck doesn’t have to be your purpose, though some absolutely see providing for their family and paying bills as the utmost valuable thing they could do–and I see you. I am not driven that way, but I admire you.

What if you’re one of those lost, wandering souls, still looking for your purpose? Should you pursue a degree in a field you’re passionate about? Or look for fancy job titles and high-level positions at your most desired companies? Well, yeah, you absolutely could, if you want. But, it’s not a universal answer to finding your purpose.

I met a cleaning lady from Venezuela at my college who was dirt poor and barely spoke English, but she was so passionate about doing a good job as a janitor and getting to interact with people on a daily basis. She was a light in everyone’s life. She didn’t have a college degree, or a high school diploma, for that matter, but she loved what she did. She said that she loved doing this for the young people and being able to make a difference at the school.

That’s the kind of passion I’m talking about. It’s not tied to a job, but for her, it certainly was, regardless of whether it was a glamorous or prestigious position.

So, is it just finding something you’re good at then and like doing? I think that’s important, too, but it’s still only part of the story.

The important thing about finding purpose is finding something that you feel passion for, that you feel you belong to. It’s a cause, field, hobby, or industry that you feel needs you. It’s better for having you in it, and you’re better for having it, too.

How do you find your purpose? Well, that could be an entire article by itself. In fact, Google is full of them! Amazon, likewise, has tons of books on the topic that you can get for relatively cheap. Maybe I’ll write a post full of resources on this topic, but for now I’ll say this: you’ll know your purpose when you see it.

The amazing thing about not knowing what to do with your life is that you can do whatever you want! It’s so freeing. You can write a book, write a movie, be a counselor; advocate for an oppressed, victimized, or minority group; work with kids, work with animals, work with the elderly, learn to make or build something, be crafty, be YOU.

It can be your job. It can be your side hustle. It can be on a volunteer basis. It can be your hobby that no one knows about but you.

The best way to find out is to do. What do you care about? What gives you light? What are your values? Think about options that tick those boxes and find a way to incorporate it into your life. It may require a bit of sacrifice and rearranging of priorities, but it’s well worth it. I had to cut down on video games to make room for more writing. I do not regret it. We make time for the things we care about most. This is worth the space on your agenda!

If you’re still not sure what answers those questions, then try some things! What are your friends into? Can you try it out with them at a class or workshop? Can they introduce it to you and teach you about it? Look into niche subreddits on Reddit and see what it’s like to get into gardening or woodworking or video editing. It might draw your attention in more, or you might realize it’s not for you at all.

You’ll know it when you feel it. It’ll be what gets you excited. Working at a place that meets all my criteria would be a great way to serve my purpose and feel fulfilled, but if it’s just tolerable while I put my heart into my passion on the side–that’s fine, too.

Have you found a purpose in life? How did you know?