I've said it before. I have a tendency to be a bit of an adrenaline addict. I'm not the sexy kind of adrenaline addict. I am certainly not a living GoPro commercial. I don't jump out of planes or climbing big mountains. I tend to indulge in the adrenal drug in much less glamorous ways. I do it with busyness. I'm a pro at taking too much on or at least acting as I have.
For a full year, I doubled timed my already busy schedule by running a state-wide campaign. That campaign job was a job that three people should have been doing. So, basically, I gave myself four full-time jobs out of which only one paid me anything.
Now to be clear, as much as I'd like to think I am, I am not Super Woman. Things in my life didn't just slip or suffer because I was too busy. A lot of stuff fell through the cracks, and other things fell completely apart. I put a serious strain on my coaching practice and my family. I stressed my body beyond what any body should have to manage.
And then one day out of a sense of frustration and anxiety I quit. There was a folk in the road with the project, and I decided to take the road that led me in another direction. And I thought my life would magically feel different when I woke up the next morning.
It did not.
Although my life slowed down to a reasonable pace and the stimulus was gone, I still felt jacked up and anxious all the time.
I thought I'd instantly shift into zen mode and naturally devote a lot of time to being healthy and engaged in self-care. I didn't. I continued all the less than self-loving habits I'd developed when I was under the gun.
When I simplified my life, I imagined my house and my life would magically clean themselves up and I'd be living in a magazine-worthy space just because I wasn't running in twenty different directions at once. That didn't happen either. Everything was still a hot mess and felt wildly out of control the day after I quit, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Much like depression - there are two different kinds of anxiety: Situational and chronic.
Some people have brain chemistry that makes it nearly impossible for them to ditch that feeling of anxiety or anxiousness. These people feel anxious no matter what's happening around them, even when everything is fine, and there is no cause for alarm. It's chemical. It's a malfunction of brain chemistry. This would be chronic chemical anxiety.
Sometimes people feel anxious because a situation warrants it. You're doing or experiencing something that's stressful, and that feeling of anxiety makes perfect sense. It's a response to environmental stimulus. This is situational anxiety.
If you're not careful, situational anxiety will turn on you and can become hard wired in. Neuroplasticity in your brain starts to form around the situational anxiety. Neurons rewire under stress, and you develop receptors in your brain specifically designed for the neurochemicals of stress and worry.
That is when situational anxiety becomes chronic.
When I left the campaign and returned to my "real life" it didn't feel like anything had changed. My real life didn't feel any different. I was still jacked up and anxious.
There isn't really any mystery here. I wanted my external circumstances to change my internal state. I hoped I could shortcut the process of having to deal with my inside issues by manhandling my outside issues. However, when it didn't work, I can't say I was surprised. I know better.
Now, to be clear, I know I made the right decision. Maybe I could have shifted my internal issues without walking away, but I don't think so. I think giving myself my life back was a wise choice. However, I still had to deal with my thoughts and my brain chemistry if I want to feel anything other than insane.
Here are four strategies I'm still working to make sure my brain is healing from the anxiety and I stay pointed in the direction of how I want to feel.
I've been preaching it a lot lately for a reason. I know the power of meditation first hand with powerful recent experience. However, you don't have to take my word for it. Meditation has been studied and scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression.
Long term stress rewires the brain to a chronically anxious state. How long that takes is different in every person and every situation.
Meditation rewires the brain to a controlled state of peace. I knew I needed to work on my anxious thoughts. However, before I could do that, I needed to learn to control them again. Meditation builds those muscles and puts you back in the owner/operator's seat of your brain.
Simply put, meditation helps you run your thoughts instead of them running you by learning you can control how you think them.
2. Capitalize on the power of environment.
Clutter is distracting, and disorganization stimulates stress. Everyone's idea of what is cluttered and disorganized is different. However, if you're over the line, it really helps to get yourself back to a state of ease with your personal space.
The brain makes a lot of literal associations that might not be accurate. When you're in a fight or flight state, you tend to let "unimportant" things in your environment slip. Making the bed, doing the dishes, or sorting the mail doesn't seem important. You don't have the bandwidth to tend to those kinds of details consistently.
So, even if things are peachy, when you look at your environment, and things are askew, your brain will think there's a problem and start whipping the anxiety back up.
Look at your home, your office, and your car. First get things clean and neatly organized. Then find ways to make those spaces more beautiful and peaceful. Sometimes just moving things around a little will help your frantic brain find a new place to settle in.
You might also focus on all your senses in the environmental upgrade. Think about scents and music. Make sure you have fabrics in your spaces that feel comfortable and soft. Design an environment that calms and nurtures you. Your brain will respond instantly.
3. Re-evaluate your perfect day.
I think one of the reasons I struggled with getting back to my "real life" is because I am a different person now than I was before. Getting back to my real life was actually an attempt to get back to my old life, and I didn't fit there as well as I once had.
The changes in my life changed me. Some things that were important to me before weren't necessary or even enjoyable anymore. Some of my desires had expanded or changed completely.
Figuring out would a perfect day might look like through fresh eyes is helpful anytime you've gone through a significant transition, no matter what kind of transition it is. It is probably something you should revisit every few months just for good measure.
Sit down and make a list of what your perfect day would look like from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed again. Your perfect day might seem a bit like a fantasy, but there are probably a lot of aspects of it that you can start to incorporate on the spot.
Trying to fit yourself into your old box is anxiety inducing in and of itself. Getting clarity on where the new you wants to be is a relief.
4. Make spa grade self-care your new distraction.
So, after I took a few days to settle into my new reality without a campaign, you know what I decided to do?
Start a new campaign. Old habits die hard. Now to be clear, my better judgment did take hold. However, when you've been too busy and all of the sudden you've got more downtime than you're used to, habit wants to fill that void. It's easy to start repeating old mistakes, or similar mistakes.
Spa level self-care is a better distraction. Spa level self-care is infused with pleasure, and pleasure re-wires the brain very efficiently. Creating a life that replicates the spa experience as much as possible requires a lot of attention to detail, but it's worth aiming for.
Spa self-care would involve a higher level of attention to detail than every-day-normal self-care. If you were spending time at a spa, you'd have spa food, spa exercise, spa downtime. You'd have aromatherapy and mineral baths. You'd be sleeping on the good sheets. You'd get lots of fresh air and time to contemplate.
When you've been frantic for too long, downtime can feel awkward, uncomfortable even. Doing your downtime with some purpose keeps you from getting off the ditch or worse yet, turning around and heading back to the chaos. There is no better purpose for your downtime than spa-grade self-care.
Do your self-care with the intensity you'd been doing the thing that got you jacked up. Spa grade self-care works for me every time. When I'm in overachiever mode, spa grade self-care gives me a productive place to channel that energy. It usually settles my jets down pretty quickly. It will probably work for you too.