Keeping up with life these days can be tough for anyone, not just those of us with autoimmune diseases. In order to keep up with the Jones’, there are so many things we need to keep track of, which makes getting ahead sometimes feel impossible. For me, that feeling has made turning off at the end of the night very difficult because my anxiety would find a way to dial up as I was ready for the day to dial down. I know part of this is brought on by myself and my constant mission to prove I am capable and able to fulfill the goals I have set for myself, but after talking with my brother the other night, it seems like a lot of people feel like this. When trying to balance my life and not give myself a heart attack by 30 (I am legit afraid of this), I have a few things I try to do to ‘de-stress’ or turn off at the end of the night, or when I just want a night off.
The Obvious: Work Out!
When I would get stressed in college I was able to shuffle around my responsibilities and deadlines and turn off when needed. When I was in law school, I would go to hot yoga several times a week, which was my way to de-stress to the best of my ability after sitting still all day in class and then spending my evenings in the library. For some reason, I love being active when I am all worked up – something I think resonates with many people especially today. But, activity isn’t always an option anymore…
My biggest struggle regarding stress has been learning how to harness my anxiety when I am going through a flare and have to watch my life continue as I lay in bed. Deadlines get missed. I stop answering emails and texts. My friends still get together without me. At one point I actually let my anxiety get the best of me, contributing to a spell of passing out I had for a couple years, or so my doctors said – but that is another post for another time!
What To Do When You Can’t Do Anything
Since I am aware of my behavior, I try to constantly reassess what I am doing and how to alleviate those stressful moments, but …. it is a constant work in progress. As I continue writing, this anxiety was hitting me again. My parents took Henry for a couple weeks while we are traveling. I get even more anxious about Henry in the city when I am not here, so he goes to my parents because he loves them and his uncles (their dogs, two beautiful Black Labs named Jack & Baxter). Alex went for a long bike ride and for the first time in a long time I was sitting here alone with no schedule. It felt great, but also very overwhelming for me. Realizing how anxious I was becoming without Henry and Alex gave me the opportunity to get back in touch with what helps me cope.
One of the more memorable times I can think of when I realized I needed to slow down or detach was when I was studying for the bar. At the time, I was living alone and also working full time. I am almost always the best version of myself when I am busy, but this was more than busy. I had every 10 minutes of my day planned out for 2 months straight. Yes, this sounds crazy, I know. I was feeling lost one day and swallowed by a practice test, so I got on Amazon and ordered adult coloring books and the best set of markers I could find. For the next two months, I made a habit of putting my stuff away every night at 10p, turning on a show or music, putting my phone on do not disturb, and for at least 30 minutes – just concentrating on filling in these silly lines. It helped me so much. I am not sure whether it is impressive or embarrassing how much of these books I have colored in, but it is a lot.
Another activity I have recently gotten into with this most recent flare is calligraphy. Am I a professional? No. But I enjoy learning it! I have always loved a good card, so being able to write and address my own makes me feel good. Also, mail always brightens my day (unless it is one of my 1000 medical bills) so I imagine my friends feeling the same way when they get an envelope. I feel engaged when I am doing it, a feeling I struggle with when I have a flare and cannot work out like I am used to. I am not naturally very creative, so this quickly became my creative outlet and I still love it (see post on Entyvio Dose 4 and treatin’ myself to some goodies). Like I have said before, it is important to do these things that feel good to you, and sure I dropped $20 on a notebook + pens, but whatever, it’s not like I am racking up a $100 uber/food/bar bill on the weekends…
The last two tactics have been part of my life for a bit, but have only really taken precedence recently. I have gone back and forth with meditation. I get more into it when I am practicing yoga, and when I told our yoga studio manager about my Crohn’s the first thing he offered was coping strategies using meditation. I have to admit that I was nervous I wasn’t doing it right, and shied away from the situation. Since I had to leave the studio shortly after due to exhaustion, we found an app that helps ease into the practice, called Headspace. I am sure there are multiple, but the narrator’s voice is really relaxing. I have begun to do it at night before bed usually and have gotten the hang of it, (but I often fall asleep too). I did it in the middle of the day after Henry left, and it felt really nice! I look forward to reconnecting with my studio and manager regarding the practice and how I can expand it in the future.
Lastly, writing is another tactic or outlet for me. I have never really held a diary or anything, but I frequently write things out (and mostly delete them) when I am feeling strongly about something or want to memorialize a moment or feeling. I hate admitting how terrible my memory has gotten, I don’t know if it is from falling enough times when I was young and in college during my passing out spell or from the medication, but writing really helps me hold onto that moment for the future. Writing my first post on World IBD Day was one of the more emotional experiences I have been through in a while, but was totally worth it. Putting your thoughts together enough to convey them to another person effectively is an art I am constantly working on, but is something I very very much enjoy. I don’t care if 5 people or 500 people read this going forward, it is another thing I do for me!
My point in all this ... being self aware and in touch with your emotions, especially when they hike up and down as much as mine do as I try to live a normal life with these diseases, is important. Take time to appreciate yourself and everything you have done. Relax and realize the next day will come and it is all just fine right now. You will deal with things as they come, but making sure you aren’t killing yourself to try and get it all done is critical.