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Hi, I'm Rachel

It takes more than a few deep breaths

Aug 27, 2020

The internet is incredibly overwhelming these days. I’ve seen so much advice on “how to use this time,” tweets, about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine and about how this is the time to up-level your life and business. And I agree with the idea that we can and should use this time to our advantage and turn it into as positive a situation as we can. I also think we should be careful about setting unrealistic expectations.

I know American culture is anti-silence, anti-stillness, and anti-breaks. But maybe if we all took a second to lean into stillness, we’d be better off for it? And by leaning into stillness I mean more than a little guided deep breathing via zoom and youtube.

I have been going back and forth for days about whether or not I should write and post another blog post during this time for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve been in a terrible mood. Like i-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed terrible, and I’d hate to project that onto anyone else.
  2. I’ve noticed every time I open social media this week, my anxiety skyrockets. I feel like I can’t be the only one this is happening to.
  3. Every time I open social media, I see one comforting post. Which is odd, considering it also is giving me such anxiety (a note on our society perhaps?).
  4. I’ve seen so many “positive” posts about being productive and the last thing I want to do right now is to feel like I have to prove my worth through productivity.

These last two weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for me. The same one I’ve ridden a time or two before. As many who have fought mental illness know, there are signs a storm is coming. What we do with those signs is completely in our control. When I have a depressive episode coming I can tell a few days before the peak hits. My sleep pattern changes dramatically. In college, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’d run around staying up for hours on end before depression really set in. In the last year and a half of my life, it’s switched to the opposite. All I want to do (and do) is sleep – I oversleep, I fall asleep on my couch in the middle of a conversation at 8 pm. I can sleep for hours and wake up and still not want to get out of bed.

All I’ve wanted to do this week is sleep. Getting real-time updates of bad news after worse news is exhausting. Things are crumbling all around me. And when I start to sleep more and decide nothing is worth doing that’s when it really hits. Everything seems 10x worse than it actually is. This is always so frustrating to me.

I’ve been fighting anxiety and depression at varying degrees for years. I’ve been extremely fortunate to start my journey to mental health with some of the best psychologists in the world. When I was a teenager I was put in a rehab program at the Mayo Clinic for chronic illness. Here, at 16 years old I received some of the most groundbreaking therapy I’ve ever had in my entire life.

As I have continued my journey towards sustainable mental health. I have learned so much about fight, flight and freeze responses. Way back in the day, these responses (aka our parasympathetic nervous system) saved our lives. They still do if you’re in a traumatic situation. However, over time humans have started to trigger these responses in non-life threatening situations.

Right now, we are all in a potentially life-threatening situation to varying degrees, and with the use of social media, it’s been brought to our attention. All the time. Our body physically responds to fight, flight and freeze responses. I’ve listed what some of those responses are below:

Fight signs -Crying -Feeling like physically acting out at something or someone -Jaw is tight or clenched, grinding teeth -Feeling intense anger -Burning or knotting feeling in your stomach

Flight signs -Restlessness -Numbness in extremities-Fidgeting-Tense -Feeling trapped -Exercising excessively

Freeze signs -Feeling cold -Numbness in your body -Feel still or heavy -Heart is pounding -Heart rate may decrease -Feeling yourself tolerating or pushing down stress

Have you felt any of this in the last week or so?! Cause I sure as heck have!!!
Any time I go on social media or get an Apple News notification lighting up my phone I can feel my body start to physically react. Our bodies take 20-30 minutes to stop a parasympathetic response.

What are we doing to ourselves when we open close and reopen Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter every 20 minutes?

I started to realize I was feeling anxious, fidgety, and angry when scrolling my feeds. So I decided to take a 24-hour break from it, and it made all the difference. My jaw loosened, my back got less tense and I felt myself feeling lighter. Almost every morning I start my day with yoga and mediation (even before this started). This helps keep me calm and grounded on a normal day when we aren’t living through a pandemic.

These last two weeks I was noticing I needed to be on my mat for longer to feel calm. And even then, my body and mind would only feel relaxed for an hour or so tops. Then it would go right back to an aching, tight body and chaotic mind. I was angry that what normally pulls me out of stressful and depressing feelings wasn’t working. This is when I realized my social media was causing my body to physically act out.

Here’s the thing. Right now we are in danger. And we can’t fight it or flee it. This means we’re either repeatedly going through fight or flight responses one after another after another or we’re freezing. When you freeze a trauma it can lead to never releasing the trauma which can cause PTSD later on down the road.

I’m worried. I’m worried that because we’re all trapped in our homes with each day feeling like the one before that we aren’t giving ourselves a proper break. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like I can’t take a break. But I’m here to tell you that you can. Not only that you can – but that you’ll be better off and more productive if you do.

Right now everything is extremely extreme and in your face. This means that while a few deep breaths might work to calm you down on a normal day – it likely isn’t doing much right now. And that’s okay. It can take a few days of working your butt off mentally to have a day or two of really feeling like yourself. If the only thing you do today is lie in bed – that’s okay. Just because you aren’t sticking to your normal routine running around non-stop it doesn’t mean your brain isn’t working overtime right now. Because it definitely is.

So I’m here to challenge you. Can you commit to spending a full 24 hours doing nothing but caring for yourself? Unplugging from all social media and news for 24 hours. Committing to eating regular meals, moving your body, meditating and sleeping 8 hours in a 24 hour period? Drinking enough water?

I guarantee committing to yourself and granting yourself the grace and love to take more than a few deep breaths will change your whole week.


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