make, move, read, do: coping with anxiety

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Because I’ve seen articles about pastors and counselors and therapists seeing the same in the people they care for, I feel pretty confident in saying that I’m not the only person feeling anxious as all get-out lately. I had anxiety before it seemed our country went to hell in a handbasket, and it feels like every day there’s a new reason to protest, be outraged, be worried. Advice to unplug from the news may be well-meaning, but it doesn’t really suit my personality. I’d feel even more panicked if I didn’t know what was going on. Still, I probably could do better with my time than spend hours a day reading articles online and freaking out.

So. Since I’m freaking out and you’re probably freaking out, we need some coping strategies.

First of all: I take medicine. I make no secret of the fact that I take anxiety medication, and it helps me function. Before I took medicine, my face and neck and back hurt constantly from being perpetually tense, I had trouble sleeping, I ground my teeth when I did sleep, I was constantly one tiny trigger away from a rage or crying outburst, and I was having panic attacks. Most of that I don’t have to deal with anymore since I take medication.

Now my new thing seems to be avoidance. I do not feel like doing anything. Sleeping. Checking my voicemail. Doing much of anything. I just feel overwhelmed. All the time. And my sleep has been out of whack– I’m in a vicious cycle of sleeplessness, exhaustion, and afternoon napping.

My new strategy? Make. Move. Read. Do.

Make means exercising my creativity. This means writing, sewing, cooking, hand-lettering, and painting for me. It turns out finding time to be creative every day really does make you happier. And it doesn’t have to be a great work of art. I remember hearing Mary Steenburgen speak in college. She talked about creativity, and how when we’re kids we’re dancers, singers, painters, artists, but at some point, we let those creative outlets go, often because we decide we aren’t “good” enough to keep at it. But the point isn’t the product, it’s the producing. I find especially that something that allows my hands to be busy and my rational brain to take a break can refresh and relax me. Some creative pursuits I’ve been up to lately: sewing rainbow felt banners for the girls’ upcoming birthday, watercolor painting, hand lettering, and making complicated food like homemade pasta while sipping wine and listening to music.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Move means literally moving my body, preferably outside in the sunshine. I am not naturally a “move” kind of person. I have observed that my new city of Denver is an outdoorsy place. When people ask you what you “do,” they often mean “outside for fun” not “professionally.” All of my favorite things happen inside. I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios. However, as we all earned from Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” They also tend not to feel like they’re flipping out all the time. Now, I’m not suddenly going all outdoorsy, but I’ve taken THREE WALKS OUTSIDE WITH MY DOG lately, and I admit they make me feel better. Usually I listen to a podcast that calms and interests me (Fresh Air, On Being, and the Robcast are my favorites). Also, I read somewhere that having an anxious mind is like having a border collie puppy: you have to give it something to do, or it will find something, and you probably won’t like what it finds. I’ve got anxiety AND a border collie mix, so the walks are good for both of us.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Walks with my dog also give me the opportunity to see cool signs like this.

Read means the news, yes, to stay informed, but it also means reading actual books. Right now I’m re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and making a point to read and post a poem a day by a Black poet for Black History Month (check out my Facebook Page to see today’s poem). Note: I do not watch television news. Television news makes me more anxious and panicky. Even listening to NPR news can make me feel like the world is closing in. I follow a lot of writers I trust on Twitter, so I get a lot of the articles I read there, and I’m a New York Times subscriber. I try to stick to sites like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, etc. and avoid things that overly stress me out. And then I need to also make a point to walk away from news and the internet and just read stuff that feeds my mind and soul.

Do means taking action on behalf of what I believe in. Ideally all that reading will give me one thing per day that is a tangible thing I can do to let my voice be heard and try to resist the Trump administration. This may be calling my Senators and Representative, attending a protest or rally, sending a postcard or email, going to an event where I learn about an issue, or donating money or time to a cause I believe in. I can’t do All The Things, but I can do one thing per day to resist and persist.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

That’s my coping strategy. Are you doing anything to cope with Trump administration anxiety? What’s working for you?


a good nap, spoiled

I probably need to do some self-examination to truly get to the bottom of these feelings, but as the mom of two preschoolers, I cling to the quiet of naptime like a life-preserver. Parenting small people requires every ounce of patience and energy I have, and I begin to run low after a few hours. I need a respite in the middle of the day to gather my reserves and recharge a bit, to refill the patience and energy tanks so that I have more to give in the hours before bedtime. And on days when my kids won’t nap? I feel actual rage. It’s like I can feel them actually stealing MY TIME away from me, and I start to feel desperate– how will I find more patience and energy to last me until bedtime?

I should have known as Etta Jane drifted off in the car on the way home from the daffodil festival that we were borking any chance of an actual nap. But visions of some quiet time on the couch to read danced in my head as we attempted to put both girls down for a nap after their short car snooze. I went back in twice to get them back into bed. I handed them books and begged them to just lay there and be quiet. But eventually it became clear that the nap  rocket was not leaving the launchpad. I pictured my husband going in to work at four. I wondered what I was going to feed us for dinner, something that seems to occupy at least 75% of my brain most of the time. I wondered how in the heck I was going to make it to bedtime on current patience and energy levels. I got mad.

“Why don’t you leave and go somewhere and let me take them?” my sweet husband offered. Blinded by my desperation for the nap time that wasn’t happening, all I could feel was trapped. “Where would I go? There’s nowhere for me to go!”

I heard him telling small people to put their whiny voices away, heard him finding them shoes, and as he led them outside where he had planned to spend naptime working on the garden, I snuck away. I sat on the couch and tried to gather some patience and energy. Small people soon returned demanding snacks, so I fixed them a cheese stick–no, cwackers!–no, the orange ones!–no, the ones she has! I got exasperated and raised my voice to ask them to OH MY GOODNESS JUST SHARE WITH YOUR SISTER THERE ARE PLENTY OF SNACKS, WHY DON’T YOU EVER ACTUALLY WANT THE ORIGINAL THING YOU JUST ASKED ME FOR?

I realized maybe I needed a snack and some quiet time too. I fixed myself some cheese and crackers. I retreated to my bedroom with a book and the cat, who I am worried about lately because he’s been sick, who keeps getting put on the back burner because life is sometimes so very hectic with small non-napping constantly-snacking insanely-picky preschoolers running around.

I ate my snack and read a chapter and enjoyed the fact that the cat is such a quiet, lovely companion. I felt the patience and energy meter start to creep up, just a hair.

Soon a small white-blonde head bobbed in next to my bed. “I sowwy mama. I sowwy I made you mad by not shawing wif my sister.” I melted. “I’m sorry too, baby. I’m sorry I got so mad about the nap and the snack. I love you very much.” I read two more chapters as my little sprites wandered in and out, catching worms with their daddy outside, pausing to come in and try on some of my necklaces, wandering back out again. I appreciated the sound of their stompy little kid feet in the hallway, snuck some kisses on top of soft hair warmed in the spring sunshine. I helped Etta wash her hands and returned to my perch. I helped them find “the widdle bubbles” and then returned to my perch. I got out my laptop and felt moved to write this post, confessing my sins to the page, releasing them as I typed. The brittle edges of my bad mood began to soften. I forgave them for not napping, forgave myself for being tired and impatient. To be a mother, for me, is to have to forgive myself at least seven times a day. Thank heaven grace abounds. I’m still growing, too.