Calming down is nerve wracking

I’m meant to be meditating, keeping mindful, breathing deep whenever I start to feel overwhelmed or nervous. But meditating only makes it worse.

When I start trying to relax my body, I hit a point where I feel adrenaline start pumping and soon I’m breathing too quickly and then it’s all ruined.

I think it’s because I don’t like feeling vulnerable, and that’s a big part of relaxing to that extent. And yes, I do usually have a bit of tension–I’m always sore in my shoulders, my jaw, my lower back.

Stress is hard to will away. It’s hard to get rid of that thought, “I could be doing something more productive.” And everything seems more productive than listening to wave sounds for ten minutes.

Sometimes it works out. I’m okay at some of the ones that remind me of dance classes, stretching your muscles and all, but when it gets up to relaxing my chest and head it get uncomfortable and I start jittering around.

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All that written above I wrote about 2 years ago. It was sitting in my “drafts” all this time.

I still have trouble meditating alone, with nothing, but I’ve found a few solutions. Music helps, or other white noise. It helps to have something to look at, like burning incense or candles or plants or something else pretty. It also helps to hold something. A crystal, if you’re like me and half insane. A baby blanket, whatever. It helps to imagine it giving you strength by soaking your worries away, like a sponge.

It helps with visualization to have something real.

Just my two cents.

First anniversary

So, turns out today marks my first year since I registered with WordPress. I got an achievement for it and everything.

This blog has changed a lot over the year. At first it was deep and depressing and then it was day to day and then it was A to Z and then it was a bunch of things and now it’s…whatever this is. I guess just whatever I’m feeling, approximately once a day.

Jeez, not the best blog theme, is it?

I’m sure I will start up Conversation Starters and Short Fic Friday and other stuff soon. I’m just in a weird place and not ready for that sort of thing yet. It’s been a time. Not necessarily a bad time or a good time, just a time. And that time has required a lot of energy.

Anyway, before the notification that I’ve spent a year here, I was going to write a post about happiness. I’m writing a novella around the theme of happiness. What makes us happy, how do you find happiness and keep it, etc. I am working on it because it’s a problem I’m working on in my personal life as well.

I find it frustrating that my happiness is dependent on my surroundings. I wish I had an inner peace that could just let the outer stuff go. I want to go to sleep generally happy no matter the circumstance. Maybe that’s a lot to ask, but I find myself overly emotional (both positive and negative emotions) over events, people, etc. in my life. Minor things can make or break a day for me. I wish I wasn’t like that.

How can I make my happiness independent from the situation that I’m in? Is that even possible? I guess I don’t mean happiness, just peacefulness. I want to be peaceful.

Of course, I’m about the worst candidate for “peaceful” ever. I bounce my knees and move my hands around constantly. I can’t stand silence, because I get tinnitus, and I don’t like darkness, because I get visual snow, which I just recently learned isn’t something everyone has. Meditation makes me jittery. I’m even stressed out in my sleep–I grind my teeth so hard I’ve broken four night guards.

I guess it’s a good goal to strive for, anyway.

This blog has always been tied someway or another to introversion, and this is no exception. Introverts spend a lot of time doing introspection, and maybe this is what this new leg of my journey is about. Introspection, concerning happiness and peacefulness and a general sense of love. Not a bad new year resolution.

Introvert Boutique

Someone needs to invent a boutique for introverts.

I hate making small talk while someone’s cutting my hair. I hate piping up to ask for a change. Do you look at yourself in the mirror? Is it okay to take your arms out from under the cape thing they put you in?

And that’s just a haircut. My mother loves taking me out to get my nails done, but I outright refuse. Someone not a foot from your face, and you’re not allowed to move your hands? I feel so disgusting, making someone care to my hands while I look over their shoulder at the television, but I have no idea what to say to them so I just fall silent.

Massages are the worst—and I’ve never gone for one. I just can’t. Such an intimate thing, and what are you expected to say? Is it awkward to say that something feels good? Are you supposed to make noises, little moans and things, or stay silent? Massages have so many difficult social cues to pay attention to, and that’s not fun, that’s not relaxing. I would love to have one, but I’m too scared!

I vote on creating spas for introverts. An introvert boutique, an introvert salon.

The rooms in this imaginary spa are filled with soft music so it’s not an awkward silence. The lights are soft, the walls are peach. The chairs are comfortable. After a brief consultation to understand what you want in your haircut, manicure, massage, etc., the person who works there assures you that they expect silence, and they don’t mind it or find it awkward. They say that it is to foster a peaceful atmosphere. They say that they will not judge you if you do not smile or speak, and will take you for your word if you say you like it even if you may not seem to in the moment.

However, they say, please do interrupt the silence to notify them of any pain you are feeling or to correct them on anything they are doing wrong.

In the massage/facial area, they give you a nice little mask so you don’t have to worry about seeing them or them looking at you. They assure you that they do not mind if you make noises, or if you don’t. They say they will only say something if it sounds like you are in pain. In the manicure/haircut area, they have a television as well as the masks, so you can choose to either relax while they do their work or keep a keen eye out to correct them (especially with the haircut). They assure you that they will not be insulted either way.

At the end, they ask if you are satisfied. If you are not, feel free to say so. They will not be offended, and will do all they can to help you.

To pay, you may use any form of payment you wish. You do not have to approach the specific employee to tip them—in fact, tips are not allowed. The boutique pays them a flat rate plus commission, so you don’t have to worry about them not getting paid. You are welcome to write a short note of thanks if you wish, but there is no pressure.

After you are done, you are free to spend as long as you like in the meditation room in the back. It is silent here, too, save for a bit of peaceful music. It is warm, made of rich golden wood and peppered with canvas cushions. Once you feel relaxed and ready to face the day, you may leave without a goodbye and go about your day.

Doesn’t that sound like an idea spa day? Nothing sounds more relaxing than knowing exactly what is expected of you, and having that expectation be, “enjoy yourself in peaceful silence.” I can just imagine the zen-like set up, with plants in all the windows and a little rock fountain in the back.

I know part of being an introvert is learning how to face the world anyway. But I think that a business so focused on comfort and relaxation would do good to cater to the introverted crowd.

Dang. Now I really want to go.

Sick meditation

Being sick isn’t fun, but it isn’t all bad. I’ve had a sore throat for the past few days, and because of it I’ve felt rather groggy and low energy. However, it did allow me some time to spend on myself. I’ve found meditation easier when sniffling.

It’s funny—I spend the majority of the day alone, but it’s still not enough to satisfy my introvertedness. I spend 2-3 hours each day in my car, and about 8 in the office in my private cubicle. Add in the 6-8 hours of sleep and that only leaves about 6 hours a day where I can be around people, and even then I often opt to spend some of it alone.

It’s not so much the amount of time I spend alone, but the quality of that time. At work, I’m often busy on the phone or dealing with something else—my mind, as it should be, is on the work. Sleeping barely counts, and those precious 6 free hours are often spent doing something that keeps my mind off myself. The car is nice, but I’ve taken to podcasts. With constant information everywhere, “alone” doesn’t feel like it used to.

While I’m sick, I need to focus more on how I’m feeling. I have to take care of myself more than usual. I choose more comfortable clothes, with layers in case I get too hot or cold. I have to pack tissues and cough drops, and make myself tea.

Being sick basically forces you to be more mindful. Am I feeling worse, or better? What needs help? I’ve done more “body scans” in the past few days than I have nearly ever, and it’s because it both helps me care for myself and helps me stay centered.

My mom often says that everything happens for a reason. Maybe I got sick because I need to be more mindful. Maybe I got sick because I’m stressed out for a variety of reasons. Most likely I got sick because my boyfriend was sick, not because of any mind-centered reason. Who knows. Whatever the reason, I didn’t mind, I am glad it’s nearing its end though…hopefully.

Lying to myself

When I’m sick I often can’t tell how sick I am. I tell myself it’s not that bad, that I’m faking it, that I’m being a wimp. If I eventually cave and go home sick, however, it washes over me like a tidal wave and I realize how I was on my last leg all morning.

I lie to myself. Usually it’s in the form of “It’s not that bad” to help myself get through things. It’s surprising that it’s even possible to lie to yourself, since in lying one must by definition know the truth and purposefully evade it. Perhaps a better term would be pep talk. I give myself little pep talks. It’s not that bad. You can get through it. It’s only X more hours.

I’m also constantly telling myself that the worst is over. X is half over; just repeat what you’ve already done. You’re closer to the end than the beginning. The rain is letting up.

Or I bargain with myself. At least it isn’t a sore throat. At least it isn’t still morning. Double whammy: At least it’s almost over.

A common theme is thinking about myself in terms of “You.” I think it’s because hearing “You can do it” from a voice, even if it’s my own, gives me more confidence than an “I can do it.” It gives the impression that someone else thinks I can do it, not just me.

I wonder why I can’t give myself pep talks in my own voice, as myself. I have to use this “You” to take myself seriously.

Then again, I wonder why I need these pep talks at all. I suppose the reason for both is a lack of self confidence. Something like, I don’t trust my own judgement so I have to hear it from someone else, even if that someone else is just me pretending to me someone else.

Maybe I’m overthinking something everyone does, I don’t know. All I know is, I’m not a good liar, especially not to myself.

4’33”

A performance of 4’33”. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen!:

4’33” by John Cage always brings up the question, “Is this music?” By definition, music means sound, right? How could four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence possibly count as music?

Let’s back up for a second. Before John Cage (1912-1992) was Charles Ives (1874-1954), an experimental musician who was one of the first American composers to achieve serious international renown—for a long time, American composers were not thought of as real musicians at all. Ives wrote pieces that pushed the boundaries of music, such as “The Concord Sonata” that requires tapping keys with a 14 ¾ inch block of wood to create tone clusters, and “The Unanswered Question” which features extremely long single notes. His pieces often sound like a bit of an unorganized mess, but as time went on he came to be recognized as a legitimate musician perhaps a bit ahead of his time.

If Charles Ives pushed the boundaries of music, John Cage smashed them with an iron rod, recorded said smashing, and sold it as a record. He composed by using charts, tossing coins, and using random geometric patterns. He would litter the strings of a piano with objects to change the sound. He would swish water around in a seashell. He wrote pieces called “A Collection of Rocks,” “Paragraphs of Fresh Air,” and “Water Music,” which was performed with a radio, bird whistles, and a deck of cards which the player would shuffle and then deal over the piano strings. His most famous piece, of course, is 4’33”, which is performed by a person sitting at a piano and making as little sound as possible for exactly 4’33”.

I’ve heard multiple interpretations of 4’33”. Some say that the music is the accidental sounds a room full of people make, such as coughing or dropping keys. Some say that it’s arguing that silence is music, just like scheduled rests and pregnant pauses in (to avoid the phrase “normal music”) musical pieces including sound. Some say John Cage was plain crazy, like all the other Andy Warhol’s and Yoko Ono’s that dare defy convention.

Is John Cage the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of music–something people pour meaning and relevance into when really there’s nothing there? Or is it taking the easy way out to wave experimental art off with a dismissive hand and call it pretentious?

My favorite theory—plausible, since John Cage was interested in Buddhism—is that 4’33” was a sort of surprise meditation. In concert, the audience is captivated by the performer. In an anticipation-riddled song like 4’33”, they are focused intently, waiting for something to “happen.” This singular focus, all in silence, makes the audience unknowingly meditate, in a way. Their mind is clear, they are focused, and they are silent. Perhaps John Cage felt we all needed a meditation break now and then, and what better way to ensure people were getting one than putting one right in the middle of his concert? Then again, this doesn’t explain his other experimental music, so who knows?

Of course, we’ll never know, and that’s a good thing. What’s the point of art if there’s nothing to interpret? Then again, with 4’33”, there is literally nothing to interpret except the concept itself: silence as music. Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not it “counts” as music, but the message of the song. The method in the madness. The sound of silence.

The Breath of a Church Organ

Today I conducted an interview from inside a church organ. The man who restored the 130+ year old organ with his father explained how the air flowed through the reservoir and into the pipes. We sat in a space below and behind these pipes, hidden from view, studying the enormous inner workings of the beautiful instrument. His father sat at the console, pressed the keys, and I was instantly surrounded by music.

Inside the womb of the organ, I could see the whole thing breathe as it created the sound that filled the church. The reservoir was like a lung, sucking in pressurized air and deflating as it exhaled into the pipes. The pipes—over a thousand of them—were like long metallic necks, stretching up like herons.

I could have stayed there forever. I probably would have gone deaf eventually, but honestly, I could have stayed there forever. I wrote notes leaning on the reservoir, and it was like my notebook was floating. The wall behind me vibrated with the lower pipes. The chimes, dangling from the opposite wall, sang along with the mingling chords. I could see it all happening. I could hear it all happening. It was alive, and so was I.

On the way home, singing to the radio, I thought about how my body was like an organ. I had lungs pushing air out my throat, making my vocal chords vibrate and sing. An organ is like a part of the body. Perhaps that’s why it’s called an “organ.”

Life update!

I think meditating has been efficiently combating my anxiety. I do feel better, mentally, but worse physically. Today, I have a cold, and believe it or not, I think it’s a sign that meditation is working.

I often spend the first few days of school sick. The first week of my internship I was sneezing and coughing all over the place. I usually get a little sniffle when I go on big trips. I think it’s that whenever stress builds up, whenever I think about something a lot or worry a lot, my body goes into fight-or-flight mode. That’s why my hands get cold and shake, and why my heart beats fast, and why I have a bunch of extra energy and my knees bounce around. Too much adrenaline, pumping all the time.

After the trip/school year/etc. begins, all that stress goes away, and my body goes back to normal—usually through a short head cold. Almost as if releasing my stress I’m also releasing a floodgate in my sinuses. Ugh. Anyway, I’m willing to bet that my meditation and mindfulness has helped me combat my recent surge of anxiety, and now my body is adjusting to normalcy with a cold.

I don’t know how true that is, but I think there’s something there. Either I’m right, or allergy season came way early this year, which, with global warming and all, wouldn’t surprise me either.

Other signs? Well, I’m still fidgety but I feel generally better. This week-long break from both class and other people has done wonders for me. However, it’s Wednesday, and I’m pretty ready for my friends to come back to school. And I’m super ready for my boyfriend to get back into a wifi zone so we can message through Facebook again. He’s doing this really interesting week-long jungle trek for a botany class in the Mexican rainforest. I can’t wait to hear about it! I might even have him do a little guest post on the Playground about it.

He’ll be home for real in about five weeks, which is even more exciting. I’ll probably get another cold then.

Update complete!

Relief

Are you kidding me? After months of planning and talking with my parents and maneuvering my schedule around an impossible amount, I can’t study abroad because I missed a deadline they never warned us about?

I stared at my screen in disbelief, my wet hair wrapped in a wilting towel, my hands shaking and my eyes tearing up, and before I knew what I was doing I punched my mattress, shouting a mess of incoherent syllables. A few minutes later my roommate knocked lightly on my door, and I yelled, “Not now.” I would have to apologize for that later, by the sound of her slammed door, but I didn’t care.

Then, I spilt my tea on my keyboard, and my computer screen flashed to a dull gray. Of course.

snowball.jpg

Ever feel like bad things attract more bad things? Once one happens another happens, and another, and like a snowball rolling down a hill your day keeps getting worse and worse.

I know it’s just my mind noticing patterns. If I say to myself, “Gosh, I’m having a bad day,” then I’ll have a bad day, like how if I say to myself, “I won’t like eggplant” before trying eggplant, I won’t like eggplant. It’s about—a common theme in the Playground—open mindedness. However, it’s hard to keep an open mind when a giant snowball of sadness is trying to force it shut.

I can’t help but wonder, in hindsight, if I’m affected too much by external stimuli. My day seems to hinge on how the things out of my control function—almost mathematically. It’s windy? Strike one. Boss is moody? Strike two. Subway is late? Strike three…I only have a limited amount of strikes before I can’t handle it anymore. My anxiety likes baseball, I guess.

However, they’re only strikes if I see them as strikes. If I notice the pattern and call it a “Bad Thing,” then it is a “strike” and adds onto the sadness snowball. I know I’m mixing my metaphors, but I’m only figuring this out just now.

I’ve been trying to meditate. It is difficult because I’m always fidgeting, thinking, doing. It’s just hard to make peace with something when there’s no time between one bad thing and another. The pitcher throws the second ball before you can see where the first one went.

This morning, the study abroad office called and said that I was all set. I did miss the deadline, but someone dropped out and they had a space for me. Relief flooded me. If anxiety starts in my jaw, relief starts in my ears, then down my neck into my chest, finally out to my hands, allowing them to stop shaking and calm down a bit. It felt nice, though I still had leftover tremors of anxiety in my veins. I still had to apologize for snapping at my roommate. I still started the day in a bad mood, and I still feel the bad mood pulsing in the back of my head.

I often give a bit of advice in my posts, something that I have learned. Well, I have learned something from this, though I do have a hard time putting it in practice. Maybe we can work on following this advice together, as a community: Don’t let things affect you to the point of dysfunction. Feel it. Accept it. Then (try) to move on. There’s no use worrying over something you have no control over. I know it can be hard…but we have to try.

However good relief feels, inner peace feels better…I assume. It just takes a bit of work to get there.

Top 5 ways of dealing with anxiety

 

As a person who deals with anxiety on a pretty regular basis, I know how hard it can be to deal with it. When there’s no bathroom stall to hide in, or blankets to cover your face with, you can feel trapped, panicky, and like you’re losing control.

I’ve collected here a list of my top 5 helpful things when you feel anxious, whether you suffer from deep anxiety or are merely a little unsettled. I hope it can help!:

5. Becoming mindful of my body and my environment. This is the newest one I’ve found; it’s a type of meditation you can do at any time, no matter where you are. Allow yourself to feel the chair you’re sitting in, to hear every sound in the office, to smell the world around you. Do a mental scan of your body, take note of every ache, itch, and sensation. Becoming aware of how you fit in the world helps you feel more connected to it. This site is great for guided meditations like this: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

4. A calmer task. When I have homework piling, I often like to take a break to freshen up my makeup. Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone, but doing my makeup is a calming task that allows me to let my mind take a break. It’s also a great way to get my eyes off a computer screen and let my hands do some work. Doing a task that is still productive (ie, not watching television. Something like knitting or playing a sport) for a few minutes but isn’t the stressor can help you reset. These two websites are less productive than knitting or so, but are still calming and may help if you just need to turn your brain off for awhile: Silk: http://weavesilk.com/

Line 3D: http://www.barcinski-jeanjean.com/entries/line3d/

3. Talking it through. Whether a long rant to my mom over the phone or a brief pep talk to my mirror, talking out loud can help relieve the stress. Someone who will listen without telling you you’re being unreasonable or too worrisome would be best. Even just listing to yourself what is stressful can help you put your thoughts in order. If you have no one to talk to, try this site: http://www.7cups.com/talk-to-someone-about-anxiety/

If you really need someone professional to talk to, try this:  https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

2. Staying organized. When tasks keep getting put on my desk one after another, it makes me want to crawl under said desk and hide for days. Having a to do list helps a million—I like to put a star next to the items I have to get done today, and then number them in order of importance. It helps me realize how much I really have to do, and how much can wait until later. I use an app for this: Productive. It allows you to check off events throughout the day, even things you might not think of, like eating fruit or checking your posture.

1. Deep breathing and meditation. The best part about deep breathing is that you can do it all the time, without anyone noticing. Stressed during a meeting? Stressed in the subway? Deep breathing is your friend. If you have a bit of time, meditation is like deep breathing to the max, helping to relax you from the inside out. I have this amazing, free app on my phone called Pacifica that uses guided meditation and pleasant sound-scapes to help you relax. There is also a deep breathing activity that simply helps your breathing stay constant. You can plug it into your headphones wherever you are to help you calm down.

Of course, sometimes none of these work, and anxiety takes over. Whatever you do when anxious, even if nothing helps, know that you are not alone. There are millions of people dealing with anxiety all over the world. If you have extended period of anxiety or feel anxious often, and want to learn more, go to http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml