Forecasting a Snowy Night:
I dunno. I was fine. I was playing my guitar and singing. It was like 30 minutes of covers and almost 2 hours of my own stuff. The personal deep dive into my own songs and belting them out at the top of my lungs was totally freeing. I was starting to feel exposed…vulnerable…like all my defenses were falling down around me. I was free from my controlling thoughts…I felt completely present. This sounds amazing in some ways, but amidst all the uncertainty I was hiding from, this may have not been the best time to open the flood gates. My emotions started to feel like electricity. The intensity of the pain flooding in was too much for me to organize. I couldn’t breathe very well. Every 20 seconds, I needed to consciously take a huge breath because my chest felt as though it was collapsing. My body started to shake. I was slipping into an uncontrollable panic attack. And, it was happening without any anticipation or catastrophizing, which has only happened two other times long ago.
These physiological symptoms went on for 10 minutes and I was able to push through eating dinner. After eating and talking through it with my wife and sister, the shaking and breathing problems went away…but the scar remained…lingering in the back of my mind and the pit of my stomach.
As I tried to go to sleep, the symptoms were still screaming at me in the form of heartburn, nausea, stomach pain, and neck tension. These physical reminders of the anxiety kept bringing the fear, uncertainty, and out of control feeling back to my mind. I spent hours trying to sleep until I was frustrated enough to go to the kitchen and do something else. For the first time in a long time, I was researching what to do because I could not find the answer within my own toolkit. It just seemed too extreme for me.
I read an article that reminded me that issues with sleeping and anxiety are highly treatable. This calmed me down enough to keep researching 😊. I read another article that brought up the acronym APPLE. With the world outside and inside of myself being a bit uncertain and scary, I found this very helpful:
- Acknowledge – notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind
- Pause – don’t react as I normally do…don’t react at all…pause and breathe
- Pull Back – remind myself that this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary
- Let Go – of the thought or feeling…it may remain for a bit, but it will pass…I am not required to respond to them
- Explore – the present moment, because right now, in my surroundings, all is well…what do I see, hear, touch and smell right now
- After going through these steps and feeling a bit more grounded, it is important to shift my focus back to anything productive or positive that pulls my full attention and helps me find my natural flow again
The last article I read sealed the frickin deal. I usually get the same sleeping tips over and over again: no screens before bed, no lights on in the bedroom, the bedroom space is only for sleeping, etc. All great, but this one proves, in my actions, that I will only use my bed for sleeping and if it doesn’t work then I’ll try again later. Basically, it said to try falling asleep for 20 minutes like usual. If it doesn’t work, then get up and do something sleep inducing like drinking tea or reading. Then, try again. Do not stay awake for hours in bed cycling through negative spirals of shit.
By this point, it was 4am. I was definitely lost and demotivated, but now I had something to physically try. I made some tea, drank it slowly, and committed to 20 minutes of trying to sleep. And, between all the articles, the tea, the committed 20 minutes, and my pure exhaustion, I ended up falling asleep for 5 hours 😊
With such a tough night in my rear view, my goal for the next night was to put together a 20 minute commitment routine, and also to pull priorities from my quarantine schedule that I can look forward to checking off of a list tomorrow.
The night came. I was a bit nervous. However, I jumped in bed and was excited to try the 20-minute schedule I had put together. It was very effective and I have my self-talk to thank for that: “These emotions and these thoughts are mine. This is me. I need to feel them and think them no matter what they are. It is actually more beneficial to just be me rather than force myself to think or feel another way. I can find the natural flow of this moment much more smoothly if I don’t try to control the thoughts and feelings. Just think and feel where I am at. Whatever comes my way. This is me. This is my natural flow which will bring me back to a happy and healthy place. No matter what I feel and think right now. It is important to just be here and breathe here. Breathe here.” It became this mantra that didn’t allow catastrophizing thoughts to rule my mind. It became a gentle and motivating self-talk that gave me inspiration to breathe into my pains and actually fall asleep.
The next night was just as effective, but my self-talk was a bit different when closing my eyes to fall asleep. On this night I was more trusting in my body, however I was less trusting in the state of the world. I was finding it hard to have a good attitude towards the amount of patience I needed to have right now. When is this going to end? How long can I stay strong like this? My self-talk was, again, on point: “I need to be patient right now. What is patience? Can I practice it and make it a part of my personality? I need to be patient with the quarantine, with myself, and…” I fell asleep pretty quickly this night because of the amount of work that I put into the nights before.
These two rounds of self-talk brought me to a very important insight: in order to be happy during this time…and, consistently throughout my life, I need to understand and practice patience with a present attitude.
When Will this End?
Typically, I am not a very patient person. I get upset when YouTube buffers. I can’t tolerate the imperfection…the inefficiency…the uncertainty…the wait. My brain loves to jump to the next task, and I will never actually be in the present if I am pissed off sitting in traffic thinking about a meeting that I am missing.
Patience is the capacity to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. It is the level of endurance a person can have before negativity. In scientific testing, most animals including humans chose the short-term reward versus the long-term reward.
Impatience is so popular because it is easy…and because humans want a short-term fix. I see impatience everywhere on a daily basis. I will be facing conflict and difficulty if I want patience to be a consistent trait in my personality.
How Can I Wait that Long?
“That was the longest day of my life and I still have 27 days till the proposed end date of this quarantine…how am I going to keep this up?” This is what I said on Friday, April 2nd after my rough night with anxiety. Of course, I want to rush through this and get back to normal. But, I have heard that impatience breeds anxiety, fear, and discouragement, and patience creates confidence, decisiveness, and a rational outlook. So, which path would I prefer to go down during this quarantine?
The hardest part of patience for me is when I’m only one mile into my five-mile run. I am already winded and have four miles to stay strong. I need to reach the end though. It is incredibly important to my goals, my health, and my overall strength. How do I stay determined? How do I get through the entire five miles when I am already wanting to give up at mile one?
If I focus on the five miles the entire time, my mind will give up before my body gives up. Treat each quarter mile like a mini adventure. Each mile has its own importance in reaching me towards the end of the five miles. Just keep pushing…my body and mind will get in a rhythm the farther I get passed the first mile.
In this quarantine, there is no need to look all the way out to when this will all be over. There is no reason to look at every day as a whole. Each day is its own adventure. Each day has its own importance to the sum of its parts. Today is important. Tonight’s sleep is important for tomorrow’s important day. Focus on them one by one and get into a flow…a rhythm…the present moment.
“Waiting is essentially just experiencing a certain period of time without any reward. But if our rewards are internal, if we take pleasure in our own thoughts, our own presence, in the simple act of experiencing the world as it is, then we can theoretically feel rewarded in any place, and in any moment.” – Mark Manson
What the Hell is Going on in the World…and in my Body?
To stay present, creative, and adventurous day to day, I will need to stay in the natural flow of the moment. It is easy to get distracted though. What the hell is going on in the world? What the hell is going on in my body? To let go of these distractions, takes different methods. However, I believe that the first step is to trace the symptom back to where it originated and gain some context to calm me:
- “When did I start developing a cough? Oh…was it directly after that run? Then, it is obviously runner’s cough. I don’t have to continue to be distracted from what I was doing then.”
- “What thought started this fear in me? Did I start thinking about how it is only the beginning of April and there is a lot of time to go in this quarantine? Oh. I see now. Let’s take it a day at a time, because each day I spend in positive spirits and focused on passionate pursuits will lead me to the end of quarantine a very strong and capable human being. Now, I can go back to what I was doing.”
Although, sometimes that understanding can only go to a certain point. There is no reason to poke too far down the black hole of unknown unless I see that I can discover it in the next 10 minutes…or if it is my professional responsibility to get to the bottom of it. Once there is no understanding or context left to uncover…or it is something that I just can’t know right now…then the next step is to just accept and allow all those feelings to roll through my body.
The feelings will pass. I need to experience the intensity. I need to accept my body’s way of feeling that pain and discomfort as I breathe and let it pass uninterrupted and out of control. It will not kill me and trying to stop it actually makes it worse. Trying is like jumping in front of a massive punch to the nose.
Once I let the uncertainty and unknown simmer, then I will need to steadily move back to what my focus was – yoga, my dogs, hanging with my wife, schoolwork, a bike ride, or this blog post. I respect who I am when I am tied to the here-and-now. Distractions can remove me from that mindset, but I need to steadily make my way back to my senses and my focus. This is the attitude of patience. This is the attitude of my quarantine.
There is No Substitute for Time when Developing New Skills:
Nothing has been perfect. But, I have not become lost in pain since that snowy Thursday night. Every night during this 2nd week, I developed a positive, relaxed, and structured plan for sleeping, a fulfilling checklist for my next day of adventure, a steady practice towards a present attitude with my patience, and an even slower practice of letting my body and mind’s pain just pass through me without interruption or distraction. This has created a beautiful space and freedom for me that I have never felt before during uncertain times. As I mentioned, these practices are going to be slow and steady. There is a lifetime of habits and scars to work and breath through. I have been told though that there is no substitute for time. As long as I put time into these practices, the journey will be incredibly rewarding.
Very snowy days or blizzard conditions can make me feel a bit claustrophobic. Thursday night in the story above was one of those examples. Also, singing and playing music can open up my body to feeling that anxiety more fully. So, with the snow coming up this weekend, I decided to learn one of my favorite Bear’s Den songs, Only Son of the Falling Snow and record it live for everyone. I am facing these fears and preparing myself for the cold days to come. Enjoy! 😊