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How Does That Make You Feel?

If you’ve been following my other blog posts, you would know that emotions are a big deal to me.  The reason why is the topic of this blog post: My failure to acknowledge my emotions on a daily basis has been the ultimate source of my anxiety.  For a long time, I kept my emotions bottled up inside of me, afraid to show others how I felt.  I was scared that no one would understand–or, even worse, that no one would care.  As a result, my anxiety became the only thing that I would let myself feel.  On the outside, I became quiet, reserved, and stoic.

I would have random moments where I would not be able to control my emotions.  My friend would invite me to hang out, and I would angrily scream that I was always busy and I could never hang out with anyone!  My mom and I would go out to eat, and I would start crying.  I would apologize and then become irritated because I would not know why I was crying.  I would have a great day at the beach with my friends, then come home and have a bout of depression.  I believe that this chaos of emotions is due to the fact that I did not deal with my emotions on a daily basis.

As a result of my inability to control how I felt, I would feel more and more anxiety because I did not know what was wrong with me.  I even developed psychosomatic symptoms (physical symptoms caused by mental or emotional stress) because I was not emotionally healthy.  There was a period of time where I could not eat anything; everything I ate made me sick.  I would also randomly get headaches.  These physical sicknesses, as well as the episodes of emotional outburst, were red flags that something needed to change.

This last year of college, I learned how to identify my emotions.  I discovered the value of my emotions, and the freedom to express them whenever I needed.  When others told me to stop overreacting and just calm down, I stood firm in my ability and entitlement to feel what was in my heart.

I am finding a balance between expressing when I feel sad and forgetting about all of the blessings that I have. Today, I read some insightful advice from Tommy Newberry’s 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life.  He made it clear that it is okay to feel emotions, but it is also important not to let those emotions justify negative thinking or behavior.  I realized that my negative emotions (irritability, feeling unloved, and feeling belittled) come from my refusal to take responsibility for my emotions.  I justify my emotions by blaming others or saying that I’m entitled.  I have a right to feel irritable because I did not sleep well last night.  I would feel happy, if she did not look at me the wrong way this morning.  Well, now that I am an adult, I am now responsible for how I feel and what I think.

You are responsible for your emotions.  You could either suppress them or dump them onto other people.  It is important not to justify your emotions but to validate them.  You can start by writing a journal entry, maybe something like this:

Today, I feel (emotion) because (reason why you feel this way).  I know that this is a valid emotion, but it does not have to control how I live.  In order to be happy today, I can (practical ways that you can feel joy again, whether it is talking about it with a friend, changing your perspective about the situation, or doing something fun to distract yourself from it for a little while).  Today is going to be a great day, filled with joy and peace rather than anxiety and negativity.

It is difficult to sort through your emotions when you have a lot of them. However, identifying your emotions can dispel anxiety and cause long lasting peace.  I can honestly say that identifying and learning how to express my emotions has been the most helpful exercise in overcoming anxiety.  Because of the support of other people, the grace of God, and the many hours I spend a day writing in my journal, I do not have any more stomach problems or headaches.

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When Energy Attacks

I’ve been told that emotions are just energy.  I have found this to be true.  I have always had more energy than the average human being.  Even without regularly drinking coffee, I rarely have been able to take naps, except when I had been deprived of sleep for long periods of time.  I usually have been hyper and excited most of the time.  I recently noticed that it doesn’t take much to make me happy.  I burst with excitement over the smallest of compliments, pieces of joyful news, and inspirational quotations.

Many times, I’ll become joyful, and those around me will tell me to calm down.  Among some people, I have learned how to hide my joy because they don’t approve or they don’t understand.  As a result, I have energy within me that is waiting to be exerted.  If I choose not to let it manifest in joy, the energy will automatically manifest in anxiety.  There is no other way that I had allowed myself to release the energy.  So I’d wake up in the middle of the night, with energy welling up inside of me, and I wouldn’t know what to do.

In learning to overcome anxiety, I have discovered how to control the energy within me. I avoid high fructose corn syrup and other types of sugar (as well as caffeine) so my body does not create unnecessary energy.  If I ingest too much sugar or caffeine and then start to feel anxious, I will tell myself that my anxiety is not caused by a legitimate fear but by an excess of sugar.  Instead of freaking out, I go for a walk or a bike ride every day before I start my routine.  My favorite way to exert energy is to dance. I remember a time where I could feel a panic attack starting.  I just stood up and started dancing.  I jumped up and down, not caring who saw me.  After a few minutes, I began to feel tired.  I danced some more, past my fatigue, and then I stopped.  I was so tired that I fell to the floor.  Whatever troubling thoughts I had didn’t matter anymore.  I was too tired to care.  But because I exercised, my body created endorphins, so I felt peaceful and happy.

If you struggle with anxiety, try to become aware of the energy you ingest.  Record the food you eat, and see if a diet change makes a difference.  Women’s bodies could create more energy during different times of the month, so being aware of that is helpful as well.  Eating food with hormones could also cause a chemical imbalance that could produce anxiety.  When you exert energy, you could go for a walk.  If you’re in panic mode, you could even go for a run.  You don’t have to be on the defensive side of a panic attack.  If you feel a panic attack coming, fight it before it gets the chance to overtake you.

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Know Your Boundaries (And Use Them!)

I have an allergy to nuts. When I eat certain types of nuts, my throat swells and I have trouble breathing.  Therefore, I have to be very clear about what I can and can’t eat.  When people cook me or buy me something to eat , I always ask them if there are any nuts in the food.  Although in most cultures it is rude to refuse food, in this case, my life and health is more important than being polite.   Recently, I also discovered that I was carb sensitive, meaning that eating carbs makes me gain weight.  Once I eliminate as many carbs as possible from my diet, I lose weight instantly.  Although it is important for me to maintain physical health, I will give myself the freedom to eat carbs if someone brings me to a carb-crazy restaurant or bakes me cookies.  My sensitivity to carbs is not destructive to my health, but I should limit my interaction with them in order to stay healthy.  Eating carbs every once in a while is fine, but eating them over a long period of time could make me sick.

Just like our physical health is affected by certain types of food, our mental health is affected by certain types of situations.  Certain situations trigger anxiety in certain people because of their past experiences.  Someone may have drowned as a child, so deep water may scare him.  Someone may have been betrayed by a close friend, so she may be scared of commitment.  Just as we should know ourselves and our personality types, we should also know our boundaries.  We should know what makes us anxious, and we should avoid them.  There are some situations that could lead to stress, but do not trigger anxiety.  When we go for long periods of time under these conditions of stress, however, it could result in anxiety.

Personally, I would have a panic attack if I was working with people who do not follow structured plans.  Every time I had been in a disorganized situation, my stomach would get in knots and I would have difficulty breathing.  When I learned that lack of consistency makes me anxious, I began to communicate my boundaries with my co-workers, supervisors, and classmates.  If I had to work on a group project, I would tell my partners that I need deadlines or else I would be upset.  I also take responsibility for my boundaries by establishing my own deadlines when possible.

A less serious boundary is my bedtime.  I go to bed early, and when I am tired, I become irritable.  Lack of sleep does not give me anxiety; it only gives me stress.  However, as time progresses, the less sleep I get, the more anxious I become.  Therefore, I try to get enough sleep each night.  If I do not get enough sleep, when I am hanging out with my friends or I am about to have a serious conversation with a loved one, I will make it known that I am irritable.  If someone says the wrong thing when I am tired, I will get angry because I am more sensitive without sleep.

There are times where we may feel called to do something uncomfortable, but understand the implications of that decision.  Although it is good to make choices that are beyond our comfort zone sometimes, going against our comfort zone could cause anxiety.  Being aware of this normal emotional reaction will help you prepare yourself to handle your anxiety.  In another post, I will talk about practical ways to handle anxiety, such as deep breathing exercises.

By remaining unaware of boundaries (or by neglecting to make your boundaries clear), you are creating more anxiety within yourself.  We all need boundaries in order to survive.  People will understand if you have boundaries, and if they don’t, well, at least you’re taking care of yourself.  As you think about your boundaries, think about what gives you anxiety.  Think about the last times you have had anxiety; think about the situations and the people involved.  When you identify your boundaries, make them clear to the people around you. It is helpful to have an accountability partner to help you keep your boundaries.  By freely stating your boundaries, you are protecting yourself as well as people you encounter from unnecessary anxiety.  At the same time, you should take care of yourself by honoring your boundaries.

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Know Yourself

It seems that the most socially acceptable type of person is an extrovert who goes with the flow and has no problem making friends.  For a long time, I felt like I was unacceptable because I didn’t jump at the opportunity to hang out with people.  Before transferring to the school where I graduated, I went to a school that always had events.  Students were always out of their dorms, interacting with other students on campus.  After a few days of it (yep, a few DAYS), I had enough.  My two roommates would invite me out, but I would politely decline.  Even more time passed, and they would still ask me. I would get angry at them, not because they were being rude, but because I felt like I was doing something wrong.  I didn’t want to hang out with everyone else. I wanted to be by myself or a small group of other people.  While other people wanted to make small talk while being surrounded by people they didn’t know, I wanted to share my feelings with a close group of friends that I did know.

My failure to conform to the way society told me to behave gave me anxiety.  There was a battle within me: should I suck it up and act more extroverted, or should I become a shut-in and forget everyone?  At the time, I didn’t understand this terminology, so instead I said to myself, “What’s wrong with me?  Let me take out my frustrations on my friends and family.”

Ultimately, I became a shut-in and forgot everyone.  As a result, I didn’t talk about my emotions or struggles with anyone (which, I discovered later, is something I need to do in order to maintain peace).  I was in a completely different environment with people I didn’t know, and I was trying to find a balance between schoolwork, my emotional health, my spirituality, and my social life.  I felt alone, and I needed help.  Instead of asking for help and looking to others for support, I found my own answers.  I developed a prideful attitude, that only my advice would work for me.  I believed that no one else could help me, and that no one else could tell me what to do.

As I became more mature, I started to discover more about myself.  I took a few personality tests (the free, online versions!) and I learned that my personality is different from the socially acceptable type.  Although I enjoy to be around people now, in reality I still need time to myself in order to feel calm on a regular basis.  I tend to make decisions based on my emotions more than rational thinking, so understanding my emotions is important for me.  Finally, I am a person who thrives on structure, so last-minute changes in plans frustrate me.  Therefore, when I am in situations that involve interacting with a lot of people that I don’t know, making rational decisions that do not consider emotions, or changing the plans last minute, I tend to have more anxiety than in situations that fit my personality type.

In order to move forward, it is important to know yourself.  You were created in a way that is good, even if it is different from the rest.  I encourage you to take a personality test or ask yourself questions to help you understand yourself better.  Take a look at your life and notice when you were anxious in the past.  Was there anything in the situation that went against your personality?  Now, I am not saying that you should avoid all situations that make you uncomfortable.  You will have to interact with people who are different from you.  However, if you know yourself, you can be better prepared.  When you know yourself, you become more comfortable with who you are, and it is easier to have peace.

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New Series: Overcoming Anxiety

I find great joy in using my struggles and successes to bring encouragement to other people.  This next series that I feel I should share is a rough topic for me.  Having had anxiety since I was seven, I could say that I am an expert at dealing with anxiety.  I have heard many times that if you have anxiety, you are living in sin or you do not have enough faith.  While there is some truth to that, it is not encouraging for someone who seeks to be obedient to God.  After praying and seeking counsel, I have realized that there is more to overcoming anxiety than simply thinking good thoughts or breathing clean air.  By the glory of God, I am a lot better than when I was even a few months ago.  I hope to share what I have learned with you over the course of the next few days.  

I will be talking about practical ways that I have developed more peace.  I will include advice given by my counselors, good friends, and authority figures.  I believe in a God that heals, so I will be discussing how God has helped me find peace.  

Although I have dealt with anxiety and have had success in overcoming it, I am not a doctor or a psychologist. I can only suggest speculations about what has helped me.  I do not claim that what worked for me will definitely work for you, but I hope that it encourages you that you are not alone.  If you have an actual anxiety disorder, I suggest that you go to counseling.  But if you are simply looking to live a more peaceful life, I encourage you to read this series.

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DON’T Go Back

It goes without saying that each season of our lives is different from the other seasons of our lives.  The season that I just left as a college student is incomparable to anything I had endured in the past or will endure in the future.  However, I find myself comparing my current season to my life as a college student.  My college friends lived walking distance from me; all of my friends here live at least a fifteen-minute drive from me, and we all have jobs that prevent us from seeing each other.  The students at my school understood me because most of them were my age and studied under the same professors; when I ask people here, “You know what I’m saying?” they say, “Um, no.”

When comparing my life now to my life a few weeks ago, there is a temptation to want to go back.  Sure, I am moving forward, but my heart desires to return to my old ways.  Looking at the way things used to be, it seems so much easier than what I am living now.  Although it was difficult, there was structure, and I liked the work that I had to do as a college student.

On the other hand, there are things about my life as a college graduate that is better than before.  I am glad that I do not have to pay college tuition anymore.  I have more options at mealtimes.  I have more space in my room than I had in my college dorm that I had to share with another person (even though I loved my roommate!).  I have more freedom with my schedule now that I don’t have papers to write.

Despite the fact that it is tempting to go back to our old seasons, the reality is that we cannot get those seasons of our lives back.  Instead, we need to move on.  Leave what’s behind, behind you, and cling to what is ahead of you.  Instead of comparing your previous situation to what you have  now, learn to appreciate your current situation.

One thing that has helped me appreciate any season of my life has been writing thank you notes.  Whether I actually give them to people I appreciate or hold on to them to remind me of their kindness, they allow me to process the positive influences that these people have had on me.  Gratitude gives me hope for the future.

This blog post ends my series on transitions.

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Goodbye vs. See You Later

For a while, I thought that a transition was a completely new start.  I could wipe my slate clean of all the distressful people I had met and the memories that made me shudder.  However, I do not have to forget about the people that actually helped me grow, and the memories that motivate me to be joyful and successful.

True maturity is knowing when to say “goodbye” and when to say “I’ll see you later.”  “Goodbye” is definite, while “I’ll see you later” provides an opportunity to reconnect.  When I had my exit interview for my job at the writing center, my boss told me to e-mail her with updates about how I am doing.  My professors all made sure I knew that I could still contact them if I needed support.  I found ways to stay in touch with my friends through Facebook or texting, making plans to see them in the near future.  However, there were some people that I did not want following me into this next season of my life, so I avoided them or gave them a definite, “Goodbye.”

Sure, that season of my life is over, and it will never be the same.  However, that does not mean friendships have to end.  I may never be an undergraduate student again, but that does not mean I will never see my friends again.  It only means that I will never see them like I did before.  Instead of seeing them in the cafeteria, in classes, and in my dorm, I’ll probably Skype with them, take them out to lunch, or go on a weekend trip to visit them.

As you are thinking about who to bring with you into the next season of your life, think about the direction in which your life is going.  If you know someone who can help you attain the career that you want, stay in contact with him. If someone has blessed with you wise counsel, encourage her by continuing to share the good events happening in your life. Always leave room for an opportunity to stay in contact.  A few years down the road, you may need those people.  As a matter of fact, they may even need you! When it’s time to say, “Goodbye,” you’ll know.  But when it’s time to say, “See you later,” make “later” a possibility.

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A Juggling Act

I have a few friends that like to juggle.  One time, while I was bored, I picked up some rocks and taught myself how to juggle.  After observing my friends, I thought I was a pro.  Later, I told one of my friends how great I was at juggling.  He watched me as I threw three tennis balls around, feeling like an expert.  “How am I doing?” I asked hopefully. “You’re doing it wrong,” he told me flatly.  He grabbed the balls from my hands.  “This is how you do it.”  I stared as he juggled with such ease.  As he threw the balls into the air, he shot words of advice in my direction.  Now, I knew I should not have been upset.  I had only started. I am sure that with more time, practice, and guidance, I could learn how to juggle.

Lately, it seems like my life has been a juggling act. Now that I have graduated, my life is not structured.  People ask me, “So… what have you been doing?”  I feel like they expect an answer like, “I’m getting my master’s in the fall” or, “I got a journalism position in the city.”  But instead, I tell them the jumble of activities that I have been doing to occupy my time.  I just started working at JCPenney again.  I’m writing a blog.  Next week, I’m starting a TEFL certification class.  In October, I’m going to Haiti for a week. I’m visiting friends over the summer in different states.  I applied to work as a page designer for a local newspaper.  Hopefully, if I plant enough seeds, something will bloom into a career…or at least a way to pay off my loans.  When I pay off some loans, I’ll look into getting my masters in something.  These activities are not related to each other.  I’m simply looking at my skills, passions, and interests, and making the most of the fact that I have no obligations until my loan payments start in a few months.

As I answer the question – “What are you doing with your life?” – it feels like all the pins that I’ve been juggling are falling to the floor.  I feel like something is not right.  I watch other people and wonder why their lives look so orderly.  Part of me wonders if life will always be this way.  Without college, will my life be in a constant state of confusion and uncertainty?  Since I trust God with my life, I know that I am in good hands, but I am looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.  I am waiting for life to make sense again.

Transitions are allowed to be chaotic.  It’s OK to be in a period of uncertainty.  If you have trusted God with your future, you are in good hands. Before you have any obligations, I encourage you do what you love. Use your gifts and passions to help someone else.  Trust that what you plant – your talents, skills, and energy that you put to use – will eventually grow into something fruitful.  Keep trying; with practice, guidance, and time, we can master this juggling act!

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Let Go, and Let it Out

When classes were over and most students went home, the seniors had a BBQ to celebrate graduation.  Everyone was having a good time.  Some students were squirting each other with water, and others played with glow sticks.  I was enjoying some food while talking with some friends.

Over time, it became chilly outside.  I turned to one of my friends and said, “I think I’m going up to my room to get my jacket.”  She smiled and told me to go ahead.  As much as her answer was fine, our interaction caused me to miss one of my best friends.  Normally, when I needed to go to my room (or anywhere for that matter), my friend would hop up from her seat and insist that she accompany me.  But at the time, she was on her way back to her home state, on the other side of the country.  Suddenly, I felt the urge to cry.  While everyone was having fun around me, I could not help but feel sad.

I went back to my room, grabbed my journal, and wept.  It had finally hit me that my time as a college student was over.  Most of my friends were back in their home states (or even their home countries) far away from me.  There I sat, sobbing in my room, as the sun set and darkness filled the sky.  I wrote whatever came to mind in my journal.  I wrote down what I was honestly feeling, knowing that no one else would read it.  I was raw with my emotions and how I expressed them.  In between sentences, I would take breaks to cry.  I would also take breaks to pray, giving my burden to God and trusting that this pain would not last forever.  At the end, I felt much better.

Over the next few days, I put my emotions to the side again.  My senior class went on a trip to Washington D. C.  I couldn’t cry on a fun trip like that!  Then the next day I saw some friends for the last time.  I wanted to enjoy seeing them rather than talking about how much I would miss them.  The day after that, I graduated. Between packing, cleaning, eating, driving, seeing family, and taking pictures, I had no time to process how I was feeling.

On graduation day, my friend gave me a piece of paper that helped me sort through my emotions.  The paper had questions printed on it, such as “How are you feeling?” and “Why do you feel that way?”  When I finally settled back into my house – after sitting in traffic and then driving around just to let off some steam – I looked at the note. Well, this looks great, I thought excitedly, let me fill this out.  As I started to think about how I felt, all the emotions that I had stuffed finally welled up like a geyser inside of me.  I ran for my journal and started writing again.  I felt a random assortment of emotions.  In one sentence, I was happy to be finished with school.  In the second sentence, I was angry that I had sat in traffic.  I was sad, excited, and scared all in one moment.  While I was processing my feelings, it seemed like there was a deep burden in my chest, like a rock was weighing down my soul.  As I cried, as I was honest with my emotions, as I gave my emotions and my confusion to God, the burden lifted.

Last blog post, I talked about the importance of enjoying the last moments of a season.  However, it is also important to grieve what was lost.  I write in my journal every chance I get, filling the pages with my thoughts and feelings.  These emotions are normal, even if everyone else appears joyful and excited.  Give yourself time to grieve. I know that you cannot turn off your emotions like a faucet. However, if you stuff your emotions, they will be more uncontrollable when you finally deal with them.

I encourage you to write down how you are feeling and why you think you feel that way.  Write about how you honestly feel.  If you do not like to write, find a person who could support you as you grieve.  Do whatever you can to deal with your emotions in a healthy way.  If you need to cry, make sure that you are comfortable as you do so.  Cry with someone who could hug you or listen to you as you process your thoughts.  Cry squeezing a pillow or curled up in your bed.  Do not be surprised if you feel a mix of emotions, especially if you are used to stuffing your feelings.

When you leave a good season, let it go, but let out your emotions. Give up your emotions to God.  By trusting him with your situation, you know that your tears are not shed in vain.  Letting out your feelings with help you to move on into the next season.

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Running Back For One Last Hug

As I’ve been thinking about the idea of transitions, the image of hugging comes to mind.  In my life, hugs have symbolized happy endings.  Before leaving for my junior year of college, I hugged a great group of friends that I had met that summer.  I hugged my friends from Spain before going back to the United States.  I hugged all my friends from college before graduating.

A few weeks ago, I went out to eat with my friends for the last time that we would all be together.  We had a great time taking pictures and laughing.  At the end of the night, we all hugged each other.  Afterwards, we stood there and talked for a few minutes.  We hugged again, but then we talked.  Finally, we all just said, “OK, one more hug.”  We enjoyed one last hug together, and then we parted ways.

Some seasons are easy to leave.  If there’s a job, a class, or situation that I do not like, it will be easy for me to say goodbye when it is time.  However, there are times where we don’t want to move on to the next season.  Graduating college was one of those times for me.  I was very comfortable living in a dorm with women my age that encouraged me and supported me.  I enjoyed eating with my friends, having classes with my friends, and studying with my friends.  It seemed that community followed me everywhere.

By the end of March, right after Spring break, talk of graduation started.  Students would come up to me and remind me that I was graduating within a matter of weeks.  One of my friends who was graduating with me posted a countdown on his Facebook.  Professors began to ask me what I was doing after college.  Everyone was ready to finish, but I still had about a month and a half before I had to think about graduation.

I am not going to deny that college was difficult, or that I was excited to graduate.  However, looking at my calendar in March, I was sad to leave the place I had called my home for four years.  Walking around campus, I remembered the laughs, the tears, and the conversations I shared with other students.  Once I would walk across the stage, I knew that my life would be different.

In my last few weeks of school, I decided to make the  most of every opportunity.  I spent time with my friends.  I studied with more strength and fervor than I ever had before.  I made healthy decisions that allowed me to take care of myself.  Rather than complaining or letting life pass me by, I enjoyed every moment.

In an instant, all of the friends, programs, jobs, and classes that I had enjoyed appeared to cease as I graduated.  I said goodbye to my status as a college student, my job at the writing center, my friends from my major, my favorite classes, my professors, my job as layout editor of the college newspaper, my dorm, and all the people that have blessed my life during this season.

There came a time where I had to say goodbye to my season as a college student.  I had to let go of what I was leaving behind and embrace what was before me.  Since I enjoyed my last few weeks in college, I had no regrets when I graduated.  Because of the blessings I had received as a student, I look forward to how I will be blessed in the future.

If you are going through transitions – whether you are graduating, leaving a job, finishing a program, or changing schools – I encourage you to enjoy the last moments that you have.  Instead of counting down the days until it is over, think about something unique that you can do now. What is a privilege that you have where you are right now?  What do you have now that you will not have when this ends?  Whatever you do, do it with joy and excitement.

Take some time to reflect on the good memories you have.  It is easy to recall the difficult and stressful times, but the fun memories are the ones worth remembering.  If you like to journal, write down some memories that make you smile, and reflect on the obstacles that you have overcome.  Be thankful for the blessings that you have received from God.  Use the hope of these blessings to give you hope for the future.

It’s OK…you can run back for one last hug.