Confessions of a busy-aholic

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Hi, my name is Ayla and I am a busy-aholic.

That’s right. I numb emotional pain by being busy.

My therapist has been telling me this for the past few weeks. She noticed that when I have extended periods of time in which I have no commitments (i.e. work, school, volunteering, etc.) I tend to feel anxiety and ‘depressive symptoms’ much more acutely. As a result, my therapist has suggested that I have been subconsciously numbing emotional distress by distracting myself and keeping myself busy. Therefore, when my contract ended at my previous place of employment and I no longer had a job to keep me busy I no longer had a way to numb the anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

At the time, I was a bit skeptical. After all, it’s not like I don’t feel anxious when I’m busy. In fact, I would argue that my stress level is significantly higher at times when I have to juggle things like writing essays as well as going to class and working x amount of hours on top of all of the readings that university students have to do. But then I got to thinking about the difference between stress and anxiety. That difference helped me realize that my therapist may actually be on to something…I keep myself busy so that I don’t have to think about painful things…like say, I dunno, childhood trauma…

Yeah… I’m a busy-aholic.

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The final straw to realizing that I was using a busy schedule as a way to numb emotional pain occurred when I was reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In her book, Brown addresses the concept of being a busy-aholic as a means of numbing anxiety, stress, trauma, and so on. As I was reading this section of her book I had this eerie feeling as if she was describing my own behaviors with astonishing accuracy.

It was at this point that I had a little flashback to my therapy session 5 days ago when my therapist once again mentioned that she thought I coped with things by staying busy. She proposed that I might be keeping myself busy so that I would not have time to think about things that were bothering me. At the time, I had disagreed with her based on the fact that I had still been experiencing anxiety while I was busy with work. However, based on the fact that this anxiety has magnified exponentially since I’ve had more time than I know what to do with, I would hazard a guess that she may have been right. It’s true that I wasn’t anxiety-free when I was still busy, but that could probably be chalked up to the fact that a coping mechanism is not going to be 100% effective, but it was effective enough to diminish the amount of anxiety I was experiencing.

So…now what?

One option would be to fill up my schedule with things that will keep me busy. But the problem with this solution is that my anxiety has increased so much that I have a hard time forcing myself to leave my home. So that leaves me trying to stay busy within the confines of my teeny tiny apartment which is a lot easier said than done. I feel as though I’m going stir crazy sitting at home watching netflix and reading book after book after book. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE reading, but there needs to be more to life than spending day in and day out laying in bed reading for weeks at a time.

Thankfully, I have recently been hired at a part-time job working at a bookstore so that should keep me busy at least a few days per week. But that doesn’t really solve my problem; staying busy to continue to numb myself out is just a bandaid solution, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Instead, I think it’s time for me to start finding ways to address my anxiety that don’t require me to just cut myself off from what I’m feeling. It’s never a healthy solution to just refuse to feel the bad stuff. I think I need to find a way to allow myself to feel the negative emotions without letting it consume me.

At this point, I’m not really sure what that solution will be, but I’ve got a wonderful therapist who can help me figure it out! And you know what they day: the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So here is step one complete! Here’s to hoping I can make some progress with this before I go back to school in September. It would be awesome if I could have significantly improved mental health before I start my Master’s degree!

Thanks for reading!

xo

Ayla

Have a laugh :)

Yesterday while browsing through Facebook I came across the above video and I could not stop laughing! I had never seen a cover of a song done through voice impersonations before and it just cracked me up!

I’m not usually one to share things like this on my blog, but I really enjoyed the video and it made my day a little happier so I figured I would share it in the hopes that it would brighten someone else’s day.

Have a happy, laughter-filled day! ūüôā

xo

Ayla

Dear Mom, please stop talking about your weight

 

Dear Mom, please stop talking about your weight.

Stop talking about losing weight.

Stop telling me that you feel fat, that you are fat.

Just stop. Please. Stop.

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I think that learning to love yourself¬†is something that every single mother needs to do (I mean, everyone should learn this, but Mothers especially because they will pass it on…). I understand that having children does not make you immune to body-hatred, but just take a moment to think about how you are inadvertently impacting your child’s body image.

The first time I ever became aware of body-shaming was in a change room at the local Sears when my mom was trying on pants and saying “if I wasn’t so fat, these would fit”.

As an innocent, bright eyed six year old who saw nothing but beauty in my Mother, I replied by telling her “you’re not fat, Mommy”.

She brushed me off and sternly told me “Yes, I am”. The lessons to be learned?

1. Fat is bad.

2. Fat is a way of being.

3. Being fat is absolutely unacceptable.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but internalizing these messages would later come to threaten my life in the form of an eating disorder.

Dear Mothers, please stop with the negative self-talk and the self-hatred. How can you ever hope for¬†your sons and daughters to love themselves if your lessons only teach them¬†how to self-hate? Self-love is something that we learn just like everything else. Self-hate is something we are socialized to do. We pick ourselves apart until we see nothing but flaws. It’s a vicious cycle being passed down from one generation to the next without even realizing it.

Dear Mothers, you are our role models. You will teach your children how much love they are allowed to have for themselves and then they will teach their children and so on and so forth. You learned your lessons of self-love from your own mother and while she may not have taught you the best lessons that doesn’t mean that you have to pass on the messages of self-hate to your own beautiful children.

I personally continue to struggle with disordered eating; although I’ve definitely made some improvements in the past two months. Despite this progress though, the one thing that still sets me back is when I hear my Mom criticizing her body. I’ve tried to gently remind her that health is a better goal to have than weight loss. I think saying “I want to be healthier” is a much better message to send than “I want to be skinnier”. A lower weight does not necessarily equate to a healthier body and I desperately wish my own Mom would understand that and reflect it in the way that she talks about herself, especially when she knows how dangerous weight loss fixation can be for me.

I am not a mother, nor do I claim to know anything about raising children; but I AM a daughter who has spent her whole life growing up watching my Mom hate every single inch of her body, so I think I know a thing or two about how damaging a mother’s self-hate can be. While I do not even remotely blame my mom for my eating disorder, I know without a doubt that she was the first person to ever introduce me to the idea that my body was anything less than perfect. I do not think that she ever intended for this to be the lesson that she passed on to me, but it was a lesson she taught me time and time again.

If there is one lesson that I intend to teach my Mom it would be this: you are allowed to love yourself.

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Dear Mom, please learn to love yourself just the way you are.

xo

Ayla

“HER” by Felicia Johnson: Bookworm Bloggin’

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The most recent book that I’ve been reading (and absolutely LOVING) is HER by Felicia Johnson.¬†

The book follows the life of a soon-to-be eighteen year old woman named Kristen who is in a short-term psychiatric facility after attempting suicide. As you progress through the book you will learn that Kristen’s younger brother, Nicholas, was sexually abused by his father (Kristen’s step-father), Jack. Throughout the story Kristen shares¬†feelings of grief and guilt over her inability to stop the abuse after discovering that it was happening. As a means of coping, Kristen uses self-injury in the form of cutting in order to punish herself for not protecting Nick. Her self-harm is later identified as a symptom of a larger issue when Dr. pelchat, her psychiatrist at Bent Creek,¬†¬†diagnoses her¬†with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Essentially, the book follows Kristen’s life as she navigates the trials and tribulations of recovery and makes strides towards reclaiming her life and her happiness.

Overall, I found this book to be deeply moving, extraordinarily raw, and ground-breakingly honest about the realities of mental illness. Johnson tackles so many¬†taboo topics from incest to self-mutilation to suicide and so much more. Kristen experiences so much pain in her short life and I found myself empathizing with so many of her experiences. As someone who has many things in common with Kristen, I felt an immense amount of¬†compassion for her character. Alternatively, looking at Kristen’s story from the perspective of someone who has experienced none of these challenges I believe that this book could serve as a learning tool to help people understand what it is like to live through traumatic experiences and deal with the consequences of others’ destructive actions.

I believe that this book is something that everyone should read. If society was more educated about the experiences of individuals who are victims of abuse (or otherwise exposed to abuse) then I believe there would be less stigma attached to mental illnesses that are a direct result of such abuse. As someone who has experienced childhood sexual abuse, I can attest to the fact that society teaches everyone to turn a blind eye to the suffering of victims. I personally survived years of abuse and developed multiple mental health conditions as a result, one of which was self-harm. However, due to the stigma attached to my illnesses, I suffered in silence until my mental and physical health had deteriorated to a potentially life-threatening state. This never should have happened and I honestly believe that books such as HER could prevent other’s from suffering in a similar manner by raising awareness about such issues and diminishing stigma.

If I’m being completely honest,¬†I was initially a bit hesitant to read this book for fear that it would trigger my own self-harm urges. However, I think that Johnson does an excellent job of exposing the reader to the reality of self-harm without resorting to triggering language or imagery. She describes Kristen’s emotional suffering and her addiction to self-harm in a way that I believe readers might be able to empathize with. I personally empathized with Kristen in this respect as a result of my own¬†experiences, but I believe that even people who have never resorted to self-injury might be able to imagine what Kristen was feeling in those moments. In fact, I think that the way Johnson describes Kristen’s self-harm urges would be useful to parents, friends, and care-providers who are supporting an individual struggling with self-harm. Readers could really learn to empathize and truly understand the struggle of self-harm addiction by reading this book.

I truly believe that this book could change the way that people understand mental illness. Books such as HER are bringing us one step closer to abolishing the stigmatization of mental illness and I must commend Felicia Johnson on her absolutely wonderful novel. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Seriously, go read it!

As always, thank you for reading!

xo

Ayla

Decisions, decisions: more money vs. more happiness?

In the past week I went from having absolutely no job offers with very few prospects to having 3 job offers in the space of 4 days. Wow.

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One of the jobs was at a retail store that I could see myself liking.

One was at at bookstore that I could see myself LOVING.

And one was a desk job that I knew I would absolutely HATE based on past employment experiences…but it paid more than twice as much per hour than the other two…

Tough decision.

Through process of elimination I ruled out the first retail job right away because I knew that I would like the bookstore job better and I knew that I would choose the higher pay over that job as well. So then it came down to the deal breaker: should I choose the job that I know I will love or the one that I know will give me a higher income?

As someone who will be starting as Master’s degree in September, finances are obviously something that I need to keep in mind. However, given the fact that I suffer from extreme anxiety and I have difficulty managing stress, I also needed to think about which job would be a better fit for my mental health.

Ultimately, I made the decision to go with the job that I knew I would love. I know that it pays less money per hour, but for me being happy in my job is rewarding in and of itself. I knew that the higher paying job would be a lot more stressful and I most likely would not be able to maintain the demanding schedule of the position when I go back to school. So in the long term, working a less stressful job where I’m happier and where I know I will be able to continue working when I go back to school just seemed like a no-brainer. Plus, it’s a bookstore!! What could be a more perfect fit for a bookworm than a job at a huge bookstore!?

I think one of the lessons that I’ve had the opportunity to learn over the past little while is that nothing is more important than my mental and physical health. Sure, money is important; I need to be able to support myself and pay my bills. But even though I won’t be making as much as I would have at the other job, I will still be making enough to get by and support myself without all of the extra stress. After all, who would want added stress when they’re already going to be dealing with the stress that comes along with completing as Master’s degree? Not me!!

I know that some people will think that I’m absolutely crazy for making the choice that I did, and I would be lying if I told you that there wasn’t even a tiny part of me that is kicking my¬†own butt¬†for turning down the higher paying job…BUT happiness is a priority.

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Life is not about money. Human beings do not exist on this planet for the sole purpose of earning money and then dying. Life is about LIVING! Life is about finding happiness and doing things that you enjoy! I only have one life to live and I want to spend it doing things that will make me happy and fulfill my dreams. I honestly believe that the job at the bookstore will make me so much happier long-term than the desk job ever would have so I just need to silence that inner-worrisome voice that is questioning my decision and remember that happiness is the goal.

I get to spend my days in my happy place (read: surrounded by books) rather than sitting in front of a desk all day! So now the question becomes, how do I refrain from spending all of my pay cheque on books!? ūüėČ I’ll have to learn some new self-control skills!

Thanks for reading!

xo

Ayla

Everything has beauty but not everyone can see

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the old adage goes. So with that sentiment in mind, I suppose it would be safe to say that the beholder is often blind.

we live in such a self-scrutinizing world in which we tear ourselves apart and see only a blend of imperfections when we look in the mirror. And to make matters worse we are constantly bombarded with detrimental messages in media content which criticize celebrities for their weight, their lifestyle, their clothing, and pretty much anything and everything else. The result? We are left with the overarching feeling that nothing we do will ever be good enough for ourselves, our family, our friends, or society. We will never be good enough. We will never measure up.

In reality though, this is not true. To demonstrate, I want you to think about someone you are really close to–it could be your best friend, your sister, your brother, or perhaps your mother or father. Now, think about the things which they are insecure about. Maybe they believe that they are not thin enough, smart enough, or strong enough. Maybe they don’t think they are worthy of love or maybe they feel self-conscious about their ability to provide financially for their family.

Now, I want you to think about how their criticisms of themselves line up with your perceptions of them. Personally, when I think about my best friend I think about how incredibly supportive she his, how smart and talented and driven to succeed she is, and how happy I feel when I am with her. I think about how she can make me laugh when I’m having a bad day and how she has the most beautiful smile. I think about how emotionally strong she is for overcoming so much adversity in her own life and I think about how compassionate she is for using her experiences to help other people. She is wonderful.

Comparatively, as her best friend I know that she has so many doubts about her ability to succeed and her ability to overcome challenges. I know that she sees herself as incapable of overcoming many challenges in life and it baffles me to try to see her as she sees herself because the version of herself that she sees is so distorted and unrealistic.

The point that I’m trying to drive home with this is that even if you see yourself and being entirely flawed and imperfect, the people who care about you see so much more. They see your beauty and your strengths and your weaknesses all combined into the wonderful perfectly imperfect being that you are. You might only be able to see your flaws, but please know that your self-image is often very distorted. Think of self-image as one of those fun-house mirrors at fairs which are intended to make you look silly. Except in this case, you aren’t aware that the image reflecting back at you is distorted; you simply accept it as fact. It takes a lot of self-reflection to take a step back and see yourself as others see you. It’s not impossible, but it definitely takes a lot of work.

Remember, everything (and everyone!) has beauty, but not everyone can see. You may be blind to your own incredible awesomeness, but the rest of the world is not.

xo

Ayla

The power of white noise for anxiety relief

Yesterday I discovered a relaxation technique that is so unbelievably simple and yet so astonishingly effective. The secret? White noise.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety recently which has had a detrimental impact on my ability to concentrate. I’ve been unable to focus on reading (which is my #1 coping hobby to escape stress) and I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to write blog posts (if you don’t believe me you should see the number of unfinished drafts I’ve got going on right now…).

Usually, I find it helpful to listen to music and block out the world around me when my environment is stressing me out. I live in a landlord-occupied dwelling which means that it’s often extremely difficult to get some peace and quiet (let alone privacy) when my anxiety is at it’s worst. However, I also don’t want to leave the house when my anxiety is overwhelming which leaves me with no other option than to drown out the sounds around me with music. Or at least this is what I used to do. But in the past few days I’ve noticed that a lot of my favorite music is now triggering negative emotions ¬†such as sadness and loneliness. When I’m feeling anxious I don’t like to listen to upbeat, fast paced music; instead, I opt for slow, soothing music. Unfortunately, a majority of the slow music that I listen to tends to have themes of sadness in the lyrics. Can you see how that might be a bit problematic when you’re already dealing with depression and anxiety? Not the best combination…

Yesterday was one of those days where I was feeling extreme anxiety while my landlords were being loud, invasive and exacerbating my feelings of¬†stress. I needed something to block out the sounds around me that didn’t involve music, so I searched “soothing anxiety relief” in YouTube and the above video was the second result which showed up in my search.

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of listening to waves, but I was pleasantly surprised. Within minutes my anxiety level had decreased significantly and I was able to block out my surroundings. I decided to read with headphones in while listening to the video and not only was I able to focus on the book, but I felt as though the background noise actually sharpened my concentration. I completely blocked out all of the sounds around me, including my roommate who I share a room with. I could hardly believe how effective the sound of ocean waves could be in relieving my anxiety.

Currently, I am listening to the same video as I write this blog. I also listened to it this morning while reading a few chapters of my book (currently reading “Her” by Felicia Johnson) and once again I was able to block out everything else and focus on the story. I feel as though I’ve hit the anxiety relief jackpot! And the fact that it’s free is just the cherry on top!

If you find yourself really struggling with concentration due to anxiety I would definitely recommend giving this video a shot. I imagine it could also be effective in helping with insomnia; however, I haven’t experimented with this just yet.

I hope this video helps some of you out there who also struggle with anxiety! I know it seems a bit strange, but it really made a huge difference for me in the short time that I’ve used it. Give it a try and let me know how it works out in the comments!

xo

Ayla

30 Ways to de-stress and combat anxiety

This week everything is about stress and depression and anxiety. What can I say, I write about the things that I’m personally experiencing. So with that being said, here is a list of some of the ways that I cope with stress and relieve anxiety when I’m having a really hard day/week/month…(you get the picture).

  1. READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ READ (I can’t highlight this one enough. Reading is the best way to escape from stress and worries and anxiety. You get to immerse yourself in someone else’s world for however long you choose AND it’s a socially acceptable escape method!!)
  2. Make some tea/coffee/hot chocolate (best when paired with #1)
  3. Spend some time in bed with Netflix (maybe add some pizza if you’re feelin’ it)
  4. Increase your intake of magnesium, it’s a natural anti-depressant (in other words: eat more bananas)
  5. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep (perhaps consider taking a non-habit forming sleep aid every once in a while if you’re really anxious. The extra sleep could help you in the long run. Just don’t make it a habit)
  6. Go for a walk
  7. Go for a run
  8. Go shopping
  9. Watch a movie
  10. Go for lunch with a close friend (or invite a friend over to your place if you are too anxious to go out)
  11. Treat yourself to your favorite meal; sometimes it’s the simple things that can make all the difference
  12. Bake yourself a special treat (apple crisp, anyone?)
  13. Take a nap
  14. Write down everything that is stressing you out and then give yourself a specific amount of time (a few hours, the rest of the day, etc.) where you are absolutely NOT allowed to think about any of those things
  15. Draw, colour, paint, do something artsy
  16. Dance
  17. Listen to music (but not the kind that will make you feel worse)
  18. Exercise
  19. Start a blog
  20. Make a list of achievable goals that you want to work toward (this can be really good for motivation and hopefulness when you find yourself struggling to feel happy about the future)
  21. Call a friend, sibling, parent, or someone else who you find comfort in
  22. Play a musical instrument
  23. Write a motivational letter to yourself that you will open in 5 years
  24. Talk to someone on 7 Cups of Tea
  25. Watch YouTube videos
  26. Read articles online (or blogs!)
  27. Play video games
  28. Clean your room/apartment/ house (this may not be fun, but it will keep you busy!)
  29. Volunteer in your community
  30. Do more of your favorite hobby (for me this means referring back to #1 again…)

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These are some of the things that I find myself turning to as a means of coping when I’m anxious or feeling a lot of stress. I know that not everyone will like all of the things on my list, but I hope this inspires you to think of your own anti-stress activities. I keep a list of my personal favorites on my phone so that I can assign myself a task when I’m feeling extremely anxious. It’s not easy to force yourself to snap out of anxiety and worrying so I find that keeping a list on my phone helps me by giving me a starting point.

I hope that some of these ideas help you! Let me know in the comments what your favorite coping techniques/methods are!

xo
Ayla

How much stress is too much stress?

Everyone experiences stress; it’s a fact of life. A little stress is normal and can be expected, but how do we know when we’ve crossed the line from normal stress levels to unhealthy stress levels?89d3e004cd5ad96731e82232609190c3

As an individual who spends about 95% of her time worrying about anything and everything, I consider myself to be something of an expert when it comes to stressing out. Unfortunately, I do not have nearly as much expertise when it comes to coping with the stress which means that I also know a thing or two about the signs and symptoms of dealing with too much stress. Here are a few things you might want to think about:

Is your stress level impacting your sleep?

Are you suffering through night after night of tossing and turning without a wink of sleep? Insomnia is one of the first symptoms that manifests itself in my life when I am experiencing unhealthy levels of stress. If you are so stressed out or worried about something that it’s keeping you up at night then this could be a sign that you are under unhealthy amounts of stress.

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Are you self-isolating to cope with stress?

Do you find yourself turning down invitations to do things that you usually enjoy? Are you finding yourself spending more and more time alone as a result of your worries and stress? This could be an early symptom of depression (although not necessarily) and it might be time to force yourself to start saying yes to those invitations even if you really don’t want to. If you’re usually a social person then it could do you some good to get out there and have some fun with friends.

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Does your mood fluctuate frequently and rapidly?

Stress can really do a number on your overall emotional state which is why people who are chronically stressed out often experience extreme mood swings. Perhaps your loved ones have noticed that you’re easily angered, frustrated, or saddened. While this could be a sign of a more significant issue such as a mood disorder, it could also be a result of your heightened stress level.

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Are you experiencing difficulty concentrating?

Concentration is often one of the first things to suffer when we begin experiencing high levels of stress. We start to spend so much time thinking about the things which are causing us to feel stressed that we have a hard time thinking about anything else. Unfortunately, this could have a negative impact on job performance or academics which could in turn cause more stress which could then further inhibit your ability to concentrate. If this is one of the issues which you are experiencing I would encourage you to speak with your employer or teachers to explain the situation. Mental health is becoming increasingly supported in the workplace and educational environment so this could really help to take off some of the pressure.

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Has your weight fluctuated drastically since your stress level increased?

Weight loss and weight gain can happen for many reasons so this is yet another symptom that could be attributed to a secondary issue; however, there is also a correlation between stress levels and weight fluctuations. If you find yourself with an increased or decreased appetite as a result of your stress, this could be a sign that you have crossed the line to unhealthy stress levels. Conversely, it is important to note that food consumption (or lack thereof) can be used by some people as a means of coping which can result in disordered eating. If you are experiencing this I encourage you to seek help immediately.

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While these certainly are not the only signs and symptoms of unhealthy stress levels, they are undoubtedly among the most commonly experienced. If you are reading this post then I would hazard a guess that you believe you are experiencing too much stress. If that is the case I will give you one piece of advise: trust your instincts. If your body is telling you that you are too stressed out, you’re most likely too stressed out. And if that is the case, it’s time to take action and make some changes to bring your stress level down to a more manageable level.

While it may be true that experiencing stress is normal, it’s also true to chronically high levels of stress can contribute to significant health issues and a shorter life expectancy. Therefore, learning to cope with your stress before you cross the line into the unhealthy stress zone is not only essential for your mental and emotional well-being, but also extraordinarily important for your physical health as well.

If you feel as though you are experiencing high levels of stress for extended periods of time I would strongly encourage you to speak with a mental health professional. These practitioners will be able to provide you with individualized support and advice which can help you work towards bringing your stress level down and in turn increasing your overall happiness. And who wouldn’t want a little (or a lot) more happiness in their life?

xo

Ayla