Anxiety Diaries – What You Should Know About GAD and Panic Disorder (Video)

Overcoming Anger & Outrage (Video)

Anger and outrage can be helpful or harmful. It all depends on whether we manage them or let them manage us. In this video, I talk about some ways to overcome anger and outrage and to channel them to be effective and not affected.

Healthy Tension (Video)

Not all tension is bad. In fact, leaning in to healthy tension can help us grow, improve, and make a bigger impact on our world.

 

If you enjoy these videos, or any of the blog posts, please give a like, a comment, and most importantly, share them with your friends. Thanks!

Leaving Toxicity Behind (Video)

What is toxicity and how does it effect our lives? Are there really “toxic people,” or are there people who live in toxic situations and have toxic lives? Most importantly, how can we leave toxicity behind to improve our own outlook and experience? This video offers some perspective on those questions and on the idea of toxicity in our lives.

The Myth of “Safety”

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I actually started it almost two weeks ago; but, for various reasons, not the least of which has been my own up-and-down battle with anxiety and stress, it’s taken until today to finish.

Better late than never, I suppose…

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written  here on the blog, which is odd when you think about it. There’s so much anxiety and stress wrapped up in our current situation with the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic–you’d think I would have a lot to say about it. And, I do, but until now I haven’t been able to come up with the words I need to say it. Who knows if this post will even accomplish that. But, I’m going to try.

So, on that note, let’s talk about…

When I teach my students about myths, I’m very careful to make sure they understand that, in the context of literature, the word myth does not carry with it the negative connotation that we endow it with in modern speech. While myths as stories are fictional, they are, for the most part, based in genuinely held beliefs and are used to explain the inexplicable in nature. That’s why I’ve purposely chosen the term to describe the phenomenon I’m writing about today.

In the late spring of 2009, I began having severe panic attacks again. As I’ve written about previously, although my anxiety is persistent at some level on a daily basis, from time to time, I go through what I refer to as malignant periods–periods where my anxiety is severe and acute. That spring was one of those times. As usual, I had (and still have) no idea what precipitated their onset. Quite literally, I had a panic attack when I got off the elevator at work one morning, went home a few minutes later, and never went back. That marked the beginning of what was an almost year long battle.

The Olympians

As with all of my previous malignant periods, I sought what I believed to be the safety of my home and my family. They were my safe place and safe people. But, as time went on, and as this period of severe panic and anxiety lingered, those safety nets got smaller and smaller until, by the end of that summer, I was essentially confined to my bedroom. I only left its confines to get food or use the restroom, and I certainly didn’t leave the house. Even then, I didn’t feel safe.

That’s why I refer to the myth of “safety.” I truly believed that I could and would be safe from my anxiety and panic in my own house and with my own family. In the beginning I felt safe; but as the panic attacks continued on, my world became smaller and smaller, until there was nothing left of it but my bed, my desk, and my television.  The myth had been shattered. I realized that there was nowhere I could run and no one I could run to that would afford me real safety.

Fast forward…Spring 2020

Here’s the hard truth about Coronavirus (and almost all other viruses & bacteria): hiding from them won’t stop them. We can lock ourselves away from now until eternity and that virus will still be out there.

There are people who truly believe that if we all shut ourselves inside long enough that we can kill the virus–that we can starve it of enough places to land that it will become a non-entity. They believe that hiding away offers safety. That is a myth–a genuinely held belief that explains the inexplicable in nature.

Now, let me be careful to say that I am not suggesting that we simply go on about our lives as if nothing is wrong. That is foolishness. This virus is very real, it’s very deadly, and we need to take it seriously. We need to mitigate as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable members of our population. But, we also need to be realistic. Staying locked away forever won’t kill this virus. It doesn’t offer us the sort of “safety” we so desperately need right now.

OK, if I’m not really “safe”, what do I do with the fear?

This is a good time to remind you that I am not a psychiatrist, nor a psychologist, nor a trained counselor. I’m just a guy who has suffered from panic and anxiety since he was a little kid. But, over the years, I’ve learned some things that help me when my anxiety and panic are peaked out, and I’ll share them with you.

  1. Educate yourself. If your anxiety/panic are caused by something which you don’t know a lot about, but which presents at least some level of threat to you, educate yourself about that thing as much as you can. This is the case for many of us in our current situation. We don’t know enough about this virus yet, and we always fear what we don’t know. Find reputable resources for accurate information (I’ll provide some below). I don’t include media in this category, not because I think they’re purveyors of false information, but because I understand that they have paying advertisers to satisfy with maximum viewers and maximum clicks on stories.
  2. Avoid information overload. This one is tough for me because I’m an information junkie. I want as much information as I can get my hands on as quickly as I can get my hands on it. Unfortunately, that often leads to information overload which leads to increased anxiety and becomes a vicious cycle. Turn off the television. Back away from social media. Find something to do that offers you a break from reality. I’m not saying turn everything off and pretend nothing is happening, but give yourself a break from the onslaught of numbers and theories and arguments.
  3. Mind your physical health. One of the things I have learned about over the years of my struggle is the mind/body connection. It’s very real and it works both ways. Just as much as an unhealthy mind can lead to physical illness, an unhealthy body can contribute negatively to our overall mental health. It’s important to eat healthy foodsdrink plenty of water (stay hydrated), exercise our bodies, and for heaven’s sake GET ENOUGH SLEEP! 
  4. Isolate without being isolated. I know what you’re thinking — “Huh?” Just trust me here. We’re all being told how important it is to avoid being too close to crowds of people for long periods of time. We’ve learned this new term, “social distancing,” and it’s ubiquitous in our culture now. But, it’s important to remember that, as you isolate yourself in an effort to avoid exposure to Coronavirus (as much as that’s possible to do), it’s equally important not to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. Stay in contact with family and friends. Visit with them in person if possible, maintaining recommended protocols. Talk to them on the phone, via Skype or Zoom or FaceTime, etc. Most importantly, BE HONEST with yourself and with them. If you’re struggling, let someone know. Don’t struggle alone.
  5. Be realistic and don’t ask too much of yourself. We’re all glad (well, many of us anyway) that the restrictions are easing up–that we’re beginning to be able to get out and about more, and that there is some good news out there about the virus and progress being made toward vaccines, treatments, and just general knowledge about it. But, not everyone feels comfortable enough yet to get out and about. That is OK!! It’s important not to put a time table on your own ability to manage anxiety. Not everyone feels better at the same speed. If you’re still not comfortable getting out, then don’t push yourself. Set realistic goals that you can achieve. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  6. Seek professional help if you need it. This is an incredibly stressful time we’re living in. Truth be told, it’s probably the most stressful time most of us have ever lived in. For me, the only time I can compare it to is the days and weeks immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The sort of fear and stress we’re experiencing now can cause long-term mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder; not to mention depression. These are all very real and very serious. If you think you might be suffering from any of these, it’s important to get professional help as quickly as possible. There are resources available to help. Don’t wait.

The reality of the situation…

The point I’m trying to make with this post (see, I told you I was still struggling for words) is that it’s important not to get caught up in a myth. While myths can help us process the brutality of reality, they can also generate a false sense of safety that ultimately works against us.

Isolated

Oh, it’s very true that we can continue to make our world smaller and smaller, and we can continually limit contact with the outside more and more; but in the end, if we do that, we’re just damaging ourselves in a different way. I know this from personal experience, and that’s how I’ll end–where I began…

By the end of summer 2009, I was essentially confined to my bedroom. I didn’t leave the house for any reason, and people didn’t come to see me very often. My only contact with the outside world was my immediate family and Facebook. That isolation caused a lot of damage that took years to repair. I didn’t trust anyone. I felt paranoid of people’s motives. I worried constantly that I had some serious physical illness, and regardless how small I let my world become, I still didn’t feel safe. 

I hope that something I’ve written here has made some sense to you or offered some encouragement or at least made you think a little. Be well. Be safe. And try to find some light!

My Story

If you’d like to read more about my history with anxiety and panic disorder, click the link below:

Anxiety — Destroyer of Lives, Part I: My Long & Complicated History With Panic

Mental Health Resources

If you, or someone you know or love, is suffering from a mental health problem, I urge you to reach out and seek treatment, or offer your support and help for your loved one who is suffering. Below are a few numbers to call for help in finding resources near you.

Please like and share this post…you never know who you could help!

If you are considering harming yourself or someone else, CALL 911!!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800.273.8255 (TALK)

Veterans Crisis Line – 800.273.8255 (Press option 1)

Treatment Referral Hotline – 877.726.4727

For more resources: www.mentalhealth.gov

Not Dying Was Easy. Surviving Was the Hard Part – 17 Years Ago Today

17 years ago today my life changed forever. What follows is that story…

Not Dying Was Easy—Surviving Was the Hard Part

I wonder sometimes what might have been if I’d taken my normal route home; if I’d swerved faster; if I’d not been driving on the spare; but, I didn’t, I couldn’t, and
I was, and everything in the world changed because of it.  

“What time is it?” I asked. Everything was dark, but I knew someone was in the room with me. I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids felt like they were made of lead, and what little light penetrated them was so bright that it hurt.

“It’s 4:30.” It was my mom’s voice. “You were in surgery for about seven hours,” she continued. “Do you remember me telling you about it when they brought you back to the room?” She asked. What she said didn’t make any sense. The last I remembered it was about one in the morning. How could I have been in surgery seven hours if it was only 4:30?

“4:30 in the morning?” I quizzed her—I was too confused to say more. 

“No. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon.” She was standing next to my bed and had her hand on my right arm. She wasn’t crying, but I could hear the worry in her voice. With her blocking the light from the open door, I was able to open my eyes enough to see her standing there. My brain was foggy, but I understood now what she meant.

“What did they do to me? I don’t remember if you told me.” I heard her take a deep breath and clear her throat. “Shit,” I thought to myself, “my arm is gone!”

“Mom, did they take my arm? Just tell me,” I said in a more demanding tone.

She squeezed my right arm, “Shhhh. I’m going to tell you, but you can’t scream in here.” I guess moms never stop being moms, even when their babies are hurt.

She told me that the surgeon spend the first two hours of the operation suctioning “bone dust” out of my arm. Every bone in my left arm from my shoulder to my wrist was shattered, and I literally had no elbow left. They implanted two titanium plates, sixteen screws, and a six inch titanium rod was inserted into the radius. The incision started in the middle of my upper arm and extended to about three inches above my wrist. She also told me that my left lung and kidney were both bruised, that there was extensive bruising on my torso and left leg, and that I had a concussion. 

“You have a long recovery ahead of you,” she said as she wiped the streaming tears from my face. “The doctors say probably a year or more until you’re fully recovered. But, you didn’t die, and that’s a miracle.” Not dying was the easy part—surviving was going to be the real trick.

Less than twenty-four hours earlier I was on my way home from my family’s Christmas celebration. I had dinner planned that evening with a friend whom I had not seen in some time. I was running a little later than I’d hoped and was driving above the speed limit. I never saw the small piece of metal in the middle of the highway, and the next thing I knew, I was struggling to stay in one lane. I pulled off the road. I got out and walked around to the passenger’s side of the car. BLOWOUT! The right front tire was completely shredded. Now I would be late for sure.

I opened the trunk to get the jack and spare tire. It was full of boxes and when I finally reached the spare tire, I discovered it was nothing more than the “donut” that car manufacturers included with new cars. My frustration growing by the minute, I unpacked it and the jack and went to work. As I tried to maneuver the jack under the car, I realized that where I pulled off the road was uneven and that the right side of the car was resting on a small hill. There was no room for the jack to fit. I tried it under the front bumper, but it was too small and wouldn’t hold sturdily to the car there. 

Thankfully, an old man passing along the road saw the trouble I was having, stopped and offered to help. I rode with him to his home not far away to get a big jack like I’d seen in mechanics’ shops. He told me that was the only way we’d get the car lifted to change the tire.

As we returned to the car, I saw my sister’s green Ford Expedition pulled over near it. She, my mother, and my niece were headed to Dallas for shopping and happened to notice mom’s disabled and abandoned car. As the old man put the toy spare tire on the car, I stood and talked to them. 

My mother tried her hardest to convince me to turn around and go back to her house. She was worried about me driving on the toy spare. I promised I would be careful and that I would go first thing the next morning and get a new tire. I pulled back onto the highway and headed for Dallas. 

As I reached the Stemmons/Highway 183 split, I noticed a small, gold-colored sedan traveling almost parallel with me for some time. Somewhere between the Walnut Hill and Royal Lane exits, the little car swerved and collided with my right front quarter panel. The impact wasn’t that hard, but the little toy spare couldn’t handle its force. I was stranded. 

I stepped out of my car and noticed that another car was stopped just behind mine. A young woman was behind the wheel. I motioned for her to wait and began walking toward her. She was driving a brand new silver Lexus with the dealer tags still on it. I walked up to her passenger window. I leaned in and asked if we could use her phone to call 911. She said we could and handed me the phone. I made the call and reported the accident.

“Do you know where Frankford Road is?” the Good Samaritan asked. I leaned into the window again and began to tell her how to get to Frankford. Then I heard the noise. . . like metal grinding followed by a gunshot. I looked up just in time to see the front end of an eighteen wheeler barreling toward us. Before my brain could process what was happening, the truck slammed into the back of the Lexus. Then, darkness.

photos of two wrecked vehicles On the left, the car I was standing next to. On the right, the truck that hit us.

I felt myself get hit, first from the right and then from the left. Everything moved in slow motion. There was no light and no sound, but I was not unconscious. I was keenly aware of what was happening, but at the same time there was nothing. It’s not true what they say–my life didn’t pass before my eyes–nothing did–it was just dark, and still, and deafeningly quiet. I never lost consciousness. I knew when my body was thrown into the air and I knew when I came crashing to the ground with a thud. 

In just a few seconds my brain assessed that I was still alive–I could feel my heart beating and I could hear myself breathing. I was hurt–badly, and I was still in the middle of the freeway. “Jason, get your ass up before you get hit again!” I don’t know if the voice I heard was my own, my mind, a guardian angel, or some other celestial sentry charged with saving my life. Whoever. . .whatever it was, I trusted it and picked myself up off the pavement.

My glasses were gone, but the rest of my clothing seemed intact: shoes, check; pants, check; belt, check; shirt, check. But, something was not right. I only felt one arm. I looked down at my left side. The arm was there, but I could not feel it attached to my body anywhere. I began to panic, thinking that the only thing holding my arm off the ground was my shirt sleeve. I heard myself scream in terror, “NO!” Almost simultaneously I realized the fingers on my left hand were moving. I couldn’t feel them moving, but I saw them moving. Left arm, check.

Traffic was completely stopped. I walked toward the right shoulder where I could see the back of the truck peeking over the ledge of the deep ditch between the freeway and service road. It was burning and people were rushing around from side to side. 

It was then that my head cleared and all of my senses returned. The smell of rubber and diesel burning filled the air and irritated my eyes and the inside of my nose and throat. The entire left side of my body, from shoulder to knee, felt like someone had smacked me as hard as he could with a baseball bat. It was an intense, burning and aching pain. I grabbed my left arm with my right hand and bent it at the elbow. I could feel the bones moving freely under my skin. As I brought my arm to my abdomen, I could hear them moving. It was a nauseating grinding and cracking sound.

“Somebody help me!” I screamed for my life. Until that point I don’t think anyone knew I was there. A man who was standing nearby ran to me. He grabbed my shoulders, and a lightning bolt of pain shot through me. I nearly collapsed, but the man caught me and sat me down on the pavement and leaned my back against the metal guardrail.

“Where are you hurt?” he asked calmly.

“I think my arm is broken,” I said, now writhing in excruciating pain. “No, I know it is, but what about my pupils? Are my pupils dilated?” I don’t know why I asked about my pupils, but I asked at least three times before the man assured me that my pupils looked fine. 

Before long, paramedics, firemen, and police officers descended on the scene. As they attended to me, I noticed a familiar voice. I opened my eyes and squinted. Through the strobe of red and blue lights and the smoke from the truck, now completely engulfed in flames, I was able to make out a familiar face. “Ben Roberts?” I asked. Ben was a friend from high school whose parents were the youth leaders at my church. I had not seen him in over ten years.

After a moment he recognized me, too. “Jason Walker?” He asked. “What are you doing here?”

I grabbed his hand and squeezed as tightly as I could. “Don’t let me die, Ben. Please.” I began to cry—the first tears I’d shed during the entire time. Ben assured me I was not going to die, but was honest and told me that I had significant injuries and that they needed to get me to the hospital quickly. I asked him to ride with me in the ambulance and he agreed.

It was surprisingly quiet and calm on the ride to the emergency room. Ben asked me to tell him exactly what happened. I told him the whole story: the first of about ten repetitions of it that night. Then, I took Ben’s hand again and asked him to pray with me. He agreed and proceeded to ask God to protect and heal me, and to give me peace and comfort. I did begin to feel peace—finally, peace. When he finished, I asked him to call my mother and tell her what happened. He reached her on her cell phone and told her where she would need to meet us. I could hear her crying on the other end of the call and Ben assured her that everything would be alright.

We finally arrived at the Parkland Memorial Hospital Emergency Room. Ben and the other paramedic wheeled me in on the stretcher and we were met almost immediately by a nurse who jotted down the vital signs Ben gave her. After they transferred me to a hospital gurney, Ben told me that he had to leave, but that my mom should be there soon and that he would check in with me the next day. I thanked him again and closed my eyes as he walked away.

There were what seemed like hundreds of people milling about in the hallway, and from time to time I would hear blood-curdling screams coming from down the hall. Since the accident happened, time had stopped. My watch was gone and I couldn’t see a clock. I had no concept of how long I laid there on that gurney in the hallway waiting. Waiting for someone to help me; to give me something for the horrific pain I was in; to tell me I could go home and get me out of that hellish place. 

Home. Five days later I was on my way, but not to my home. I was being released from the hospital and was headed to my mother’s home. I couldn’t take care of myself at all. On December 30th, the day I left the hospital, my left arm was still tightly wrapped in bandages. A drain tube and bag still collected the blood and puss which constantly oozed from the wound. I couldn’t take a shower or bath. I couldn’t dress myself. I could eat, but only if it was something which could be easily manipulated with my right hand alone. I was helpless, and if it hadn’t been for the wretched physical pain I was in, I would have felt that way. I had a fabulous apartment full of nice things which I’d worked hard to get, and something inside of me knew I’d never be back there again.

The first two weeks after I arrived at my mom’s house were spent in bed in various stages of consciousness and alternating between hydrocodone for the pain and Phenergan for the nausea that it caused. During the day, while Mom was at work, my sister would come and stay with me. Every other day for those two weeks, Eric, a friend from high school who still lived in town, came to help me get cleaned up. The entire situation was demoralizing and humiliating. I was ready to get out of bed, get moving, and get back to my life, but that wasn’t going to happen for months.

At the end of January, my doctor, who I had been seeing once a week since I left the hospital, released me to begin physical and occupational therapy. In the beginning I went three days a week. It was the hardest work I’d ever done. Even the simplest tasks wracked my body. My therapist began each session by having me lie on the floor. I held on to one end of a Theraband, and she held the other while I stretched my left arm as far across my bod as I could. The goal was to touch my right shoulder with my left hand—it took almost three weeks before I could do it. Each time I tried my weakened body would tremble, sweat would pour from every pore on my body, I would be as short of breath as if I’d run a marathon, and I cried like a brokenhearted schoolgirl. 

During those days, victories were small, and they were few and far between. Tying my shoes, spreading peanut butter on bread, combing my hair, and shaving were cause for celebration. But, there were many days when victory was nowhere to be found. After one particularly difficult session, I called my mom at work. “Mom,” I said, sobbing, “why didn’t you just tell them to cut my arm off.” I was sitting in the floor of the bathroom where I’d collapsed trying to get into a hot shower, the only thing that seemed to help my arm. The physical anguish was bad enough, but nothing compared to the unbearable sadness I felt the day I sat in my mother’s living room and watched most of the things I owned being sold to complete strangers for pennies on the dollar. There was no victory in that.

My adult life up to the point of my accident had been largely directionless. I played around at college for almost ten years before giving up and going to work full time. I had a good job, but not a career, and certainly not what I felt was my true calling. During the nearly nine months I was recovering, I had a lot of time to think, to reevaluate my life, and to consider my options. In an odd way, the same accident which turned my world upside down had also cleared my head about life. I finally had an appreciation for what I’d heard people say all my life—it’s too short to waste a minute. 

I was released to go back to work in early September of 2004, and I secured a job at Southern Methodist University that November. I was responsible for the operation of the Information Commons in the Hammon Arts Library. It was a dramatic cut in pay and responsibility from the job I had before my accident, but every day I was surrounded by people who valued education and hard work, including my boss, the library director. He knew my story and knew my goals. In November of 2006, after two successful and empowering years, I sat in his office and tearfully handed him my letter of resignation. I had finally saved the necessary money and was headed back to school full time. I was scared to death about what his reaction might be.

“Jason, I think this is wonderful, and I’m so happy for you,” he said with an enormous smile on his face. Not only was he gracious and encouraging, as usual, he gave me the biggest surprise of my life when about a month later, just before Christmas, a package arrived for me. It was a brand new computer with the latest software installed. It was from him. There was a note inside which read, “You are greater than your past. Love always, Tim.” I was overwhelmed.

Many things about the accident and the two years which followed it overwhelmed me. The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to also be the best thing. Coming literally within inches of losing my life saved my life. Working to regain the ability to use my arm for the most menial tasks taught me that those things are not to be taken for granted. And, the day I walked across the stage at Texas Tech University, all of the pain and all of the heartache seemed somehow worth it.

In the end, surviving was the hard part. But, I could, I did, and everything in the world was better because of it.

 

Struggling, Discouraged, & Generally Feeling Like Something of a Nobody

Yeah….sorry about the melodramatic title, but if you’ve been reading my blog long enough then you know I have a penchant for drama. *shrug* It’s who I am. I apologized for it for years. I’m not going to apologize anymore.

I’m struggling…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. There are a lot of reasons for that: I’ve been busy (not really, but sorta), I haven’t felt like writing anything (totally true), and as hard as this will be to read for many of you, I’m a little miffed that more people don’t read my blog and that the people who do won’t share it (sorry, but y’all said you like my honesty and transparency…that’s just honesty).

More honesty – it’s not only writing that I don’t feel much like doing. I don’t feel like doing much of anything. I’m pretty much phoning it in both with my teaching and with my schoolwork. I don’t have a lot of motivation to do either. Fortunately, I’m naturally gifted at both, so I still do better than most who actually give a damn and try (yeah…more honesty *shrug again*).

So, I’m struggling. I’m struggling to find much of a purpose in what I’m doing or a plan for what is coming next. Right now I’m teaching just for the money. I don’t really care about much more than that. I’m going to school because I set a goal 10 years ago and this is the last step. But, I don’t even know now if it’s a worthwhile goal to have. *shrug 3x*

I’m discouraged…

My anxiety is getting worse, not better. I go to counseling every single week and talk about all the stuff in my life that bothers me and all of that stuff is supposedly the stuff that is making me anxious. But, so far, yacking away….blathering on and on and on about shit that happened when I was a kid, about how out of place I felt most of the time and about how worried I was that people in my family were going to die…none of that psychobabble horsecrap is helping me feel less anxious.

I’m starting to wonder if I can be helped at all. *shrug quadrilateral*

I feel like something of a nobody…

This really isn’t anything new. Growing up a completely un-athletic clod in a town that valued nothing but sports made me feel like something of a nobody from the age of about 10 on. But, it’s intensified now.

Being stuck in the house all the time because of anxiety means that I get to watch my “friends” live their lives and progress and move forward while I sit at a tiny desk in front of a $12 map of the world and pretend like my job teaching ESL online is important….and that taking two online graduate courses and writing discussion posts about semantics and pragmatics and communicative intent and cross-cultural communication actually means that I’m a scholar. Who believes that? Not even me. *shrug quintuplet*

There you have it. That pretty much sums up how I feel about life right now. I’m not going to put any of my usual “Hey let me know what you’re thinking” BS at the bottom because nobody ever does and it’s just a waste of my time.

Pencils Down, Your Time Is Up: 5 (+1) Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety (A Reader Request)

For the first time in almost 10 years writing this blog, I’ve had a reader request that I address a particular topic! So, of course, I am very happy to oblige, especially since this particular topic is one that is very important to me as both an educator and a student–TEST ANXIETY!!

I suppose that I’ve been fortunate in this particular area. With all of my anxieties, and there are many, test anxiety is not something from which I’ve ever suffered. I’ve always performed well on tests and taking them never produced much stress for me.

However, that is certainly not true for many friends, family members, and my students. I personally know a large number of people who suffer from test anxiety–some of them experience severe, adverse effects.

What is test anxiety exactly?

In his book, Test Anxiety: The State of the Art (1993), Moshe Zeidner defines test anxiety as, “a combination of physiological over-arousal, tension and somatic symptoms, along with worry, dread, fear of failure, and catastrophizing, that occur before or during test situations.”

That’s a whole lot of what my grandmother used to call $5 words that basically means when you go in to take a test, you’re so worried about failing or not doing well that your sympathetic nervous system (that part of the nervous system that controls our “fight or flight” response) kicks into overdrive causing both psychological and physical symptoms in the body.

It’s important to note that these symptoms don’t only occur during tests. Often times, people experience anticipatory anxiety (symptoms of anxiety prior to the event) which can cause problems for days or even weeks ahead of time.

What causes test anxiety?

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), some of the causes of test anxiety include: fear of failurelack of preparation, and poor test history.

Fear of Failure
Often times, students who have high expectations for themselves, or whose parents, guardians, family, colleagues, etc. have high expectations for them, have an intense fear of failure. This fear is directly linked to those expectations. Although the expectations are a constant in that student’s life, fear associated with the thought of failure intensifies during tests.

Lack of Preparation
Some students are anxious about tests simply because they did not adequately prepare for them, or because their preparation was hurried or “crammed” into a very short period of time close to the date of the test. As the student becomes aware of their lack of preparation, anxiety sets in about the outcome of the test.

Poor Test History
Of all the causes of test anxiety, poor testing history has been the most common among my students and people I know. Without getting into the quagmire of opining on our education system’s obsession with standardized tests, suffice it to say that students now days are tested far more than when I was in school. And, the truth of the matter is now, just as it was back then, that there are some students who just don’t test well. After multiple experiences with failure on tests, many of these students develop a mental “block” about testing, which leads to anxiety, which leads to poor performance…and the vicious cycle is born.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety?

According to the ADAA, symptoms of test anxiety may include (but are not limited to):

  • Physical Symptoms–“Headache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and feeling faint can all occur. Test anxiety can lead to a panic attack, which is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort in which individuals may feel like they are unable to breathe or having a heart attack.”
  • Emotional Symptoms–“Feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment are common emotional responses to test anxiety.”
  • Behavioral/Cognitive Symptoms–“Difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others are common symptoms of test anxiety.”

These symptoms are, of course, not all present in every student; and some students may experience symptoms which are entirely different.

To read the ADAA’s entire page on Test Anxiety, click here.

5 Strategies for Avoiding Test Anxiety

  1. Be prepared. The biggest mistake I see my students make when it comes to taking tests is that they don’t adequately prepare. When they do assignments leading up to the test, they simply complete the assignment and then move on. They don’t study what they learned from the assignment while they’re doing it, or when it is returned to them after being graded. Students often wait until a day or two ahead of time, or even the night before a test and “cram” for it. According to researchers at UCLA, cramming for tests, and the “trade off” with lack of sleep, is one of the least effective ways to study for tests. They say that the best method for test preparation is “maintain[ing] a regular study schedule” (UCLA Newsroom, 2012).
  2. Use good test taking strategies. This really isn’t rocket science. In fact, you’ve likely heard this since your very first days in school. When taking a test, you should do all of the following:
    • Read the directions. Too many students don’t bother to read the directions and miss questions because they didn’t.
    • If you don’t know it, skip it and come back. As a general rule, I allow myself about one minute to read and think about a test question (depending on the number of questions and how much time I have to take the test). If I’m not sure of the answer by then, I flag it–mark it to come back to later–and move on. Then, if time allows, I return to the question and give myself a little more time. If I still don’t know it…..I MAKE AN EDUCATED GUESS! Never leave a question blank. If you do, you have a 100% chance of missing it.
    • Keep your focus on the test. It’s important that, while you’re working on the test, you stay focused on the test…on your test. Don’t get hung up on what other students are doing or on which students have already finished. Your job is your test. Just focus.
  3. Keep yourself healthy. I wrote in one of my other posts how important it is to be physically healthy in order to maintain good mental health. Fighting test anxiety is no different. Before your test be sure that you’ve a) had enough sleep the night before–don’t stay up cramming, and b) you have a good, nutritious meal. Yes, your grandmother was right! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Be sure that you eat it, even if you think you’re too nervous to eat! That goes for other meals during the day if your test isn’t in the morning.
  4. RELAX!! Part of the reason that many of my students who consistently performed poorly on tests did so is because they couldn’t relax. They got themselves so worked up over the test that they almost certainly doomed themselves. It is important to be as relaxed as possible. Some nerves are ok…they mean that you care. But, getting so nervous that you lose focus is not good at all. Before the test, if possible, find a quiet place. Close your eyes. Try not to think about the test. Take some long, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing at least 2 seconds for each. If you don’t have a quiet place to do that before the test, just sit at your desk, be quiet in yourself, close your eyes, and breathe. Then, while you’re taking the test….keep breathing!
  5. Stay positive. There really is no substitute fora positive attitude. If you walk into a test believing you’re going to fail, you probably will. But, if you walk in telling yourself that you know the material, you’re prepared, you’re going to focus and try your hardest, then you dramatically increase your chances at success.

And now, your +1

Examine  and evaluate expectations. One of the traps that people with anxiety disorders often fall into is the trap of unrealistic expectations. From time to time, we must take time out to examine and evaluate not only our expectations of ourselves, but also the expectations that other people have for us.

When examining and evaluating expectations ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Is this an expectation I have of myself, or is this someone else’s expectation of/for me?
  2. Is this expectation realistic or achievable?

It’s OK to say “No.” No is a sentence all by itself. If the expectations that you are laboring under are either a) someone else’s for you, b) unrealistic/unachievable, or c) both, them dump them! Just say no! Reevaluate and regroup. It’s OK to change your expectations and to change your mind!

Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

Changing your mindset, your habits, and your focus can and will help curb test anxiety. However, if your anxiety has reached the point where it is impacting your ability to function and succeed in your education or job, it is very important that you seek help.

As with any other type of anxiety, there are professionals available who can help you overcome this severe anxiety. Don’t ignore warning signs! They are the same as with other forms of anxiety: chronic sadness, thoughts of suicide, feeling hopeless about your life, separating yourself from the outside world, diminishing physical health. These are all signs that your anxiety has reached a level where professional help is necessary. Seek it out. There is hope!

I hope that something I’ve written here will help you overcome anxieties about taking tests. I know this is a big problem for many students, but I also know that it can be overcome.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or encouraging words, please leave them below in the comments section.

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!

 

 

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: Finding the Time and Tenacity to Get Well

Most people who suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks (panic disorder) are the typical, tightly wound, Type a personality. Actually, all personality types have some level of tendency toward anxiety and stress about some thing according to Tanya J. Peterson, author of The Mindfulness Workbook For Anxiety. But, Type A’s are highly susceptible to the stressors that typically lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

I am somewhere in between a Type A and Type C personality (yes, there really is a Type C personality). I am highly driven and goal oriented, but I am also incredibly detail-oriented, a perfectionist, and fear criticism (all traits of Type C). Each of these personality types is susceptible to anxiety, panic, and depression.

This week during my session with my counselor, we talked a great deal about my fear of criticism and the way I react to seemingly insignificant triggers–blowing them out of proportion and treating them as if they’re the end of the world. I’ve been that way since I was a pretty young kid. I probably noticed it first around age 15 or 16.

While it’s impossible to say that these are the things that caused my anxiety and panic, it’s a pretty sure bet that they didn’t help minimize or prevent it. That’s why it is so important for people like me–for people like all of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally.

But that’s not always easy to do….

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

One of the things that I struggle with most is guilt. I feel guilty about many things; some of those things don’t even have anything to do with me–I just take them on as my own because…well, I guess I think I can worry about them better than someone else.

Because of those intense feelings of personal responsibility and guilt, I find it very difficult to take time out for myself. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this blog post for well over a week, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to write it because there were so many other things that I “needed” to do.

The real problem with this is that when I get consumed with these feelings of guilt, I become completely ineffective, even in the things I feel responsible for. I shut down. I can’t get anything done at all, and that just intensifies that guilt all the more.

It is vital that we learn to take time for ourselves, even when it feels like the most selfish thing in the world to do!

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health makes you more resilient, helping you weather hard times and enjoy good ones” (NAMI.org, 2018).

We are the only people who really know what we need in the way of care. We must advocate for ourselves, and we must be willing to endure criticism that comes our way when we choose to take care of ourselves.

That starts with learning to say “NO.”

No is not a dirty word. We’ve just been made to believe that by a society that, once upon a time, valued a sense of community, but which has now morphed into an increasingly codependent society, completely unhealthy and devoid of any emotional boundaries.

Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you care enough to know when you’re too busy or too tired to really help.

Finding the Time and Tenacity to Get Well

I’m busy! We’re all busy! I don’t know anyone in my immediate circle of friends and family who isn’t going all day from sunup to sundown most days of the week. Finding a few minutes free during the day is hard enough, much less a few hours…and forget about a few days!

But, we must.

There is nothing more important to our mental health than our physical health. If our bodies are worn out and worn down; if they’re out of shape and out of sync with our lives then it is impossible to be mentally healthy.

Taking care of our physical bodies requires 3 important things:

  1. Healthy Food
  2. Water
  3. Adequate rest

I’ll write about food and water later, but for now I want to talk about rest.

Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night (NAMI, 2018). This can vary, of course, but as a general rule it’s true. I don’t know many people who get that much sleep at night, so NAMI also notes that a short nap (20-30 minutes) during the day can help us recharge if we didn’t get enough rest the night before.

Rest and relaxation are not optional! 

Maybe we can go for a while on 2 or 3 hours sleep. Maybe we can go for a while with never-ending schedules that have us meeting ourselves coming and going, but eventually we will wear outOur bodies will start to shut down and fail us. So, it’s important to find the time to rest and relax.

Be a pit bull!

As important as it is to find the time to rest and relax, it’s even more important to find the tenacity–to find that sense of dogged determination that leads us to do things we know that we need to do, but that the people around us tell us we just can’t do because it would be selfish.

HOGWASH! 

Don’t be a jerk about it, but be very clear that you need time to relax. Their problems, their issues, that work will still be there tomorrow and the world won’t end if it doesn’t get done today. Stand firm. Advocate for yourself!

If you don’t, who will?

Suggestions for Finding Time & Tenacity for Self-Care

  1. Schedule time to rest. No kidding, it’s as simple as that! Block out time on your calendar for rest and relaxation. Then, once you do, don’t book over it–EVER!
  2. Do things you enjoy doing on a regular basis. We all have things that we love to do. So…GO DO THEM! Just like rest, we need to block out time to do things that edify and enrich our lives. Schedule it if you must, but don’t book over it–EVER!
  3. Be assertive, but not aggressive. If you have someone who or something that is too demanding of your time, speak up for yourself. Don’t wait until you’re angry and resentful about it to say something. Rehearse what you’re going to say ahead of time (no, I’m serious), take that person aside, and tell them what you need and why you need it. If they care about you, they will understand. If not, then maybe you need to set some boundaries for that relationship.

Remember, it is not selfish to take care of yourself. In fact, it is the most natural human instinct we have. Unfortunately, our modern culture has beaten that instinct into submission, which has resulted in a society so wound up that we fight and argue about everything.

Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others! It is the right thing to do.

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason

Tell me what you think. In the comments section below, share your thoughts about self-care. How do you practice it? What are some things you would suggest for others? Click in the “Leave a reply” box and leave your message there.


 

I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!

The Things We Say to Ourselves, part 2: 5 Positive Statements You Should ABSOLUTELY Say Every Day

Last week I wrote about 5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now.  So, I wanted to follow that post up this week with 5 Positive Statements You Should Absolutely Say Every Day.

When I was in high school, there was a skit on Saturday Night Live called “Daily Affirmations with Stewart Smalley.” Stewart Smalley was a character written and performed by Al Franken–yes, that one, the former U.S. Senator from Minnesota.

Stewart Smalley was a caricature of the typical power-of-positive-thinking sort of self-help guru that really started becoming common on TV and radio in the 1980s. He wore bleach blonde, overly styled hair; dressed in an Oxford-style shirt buttoned all the way to the top with a powder blue v-neck sweater over top. Smalley sat in front of a stand-up full length mirror, gazed longingly at himself, smiling a goofy smile, repeating his catch phrase, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me” over and over again.

self talk posterI know, sounds goofy, right? And, it was. The character and his show were meant to poke (innocent) fun at this new self-help industry which seemed to have cropped up over night.

But, as silly as Stewart Smalley was, the premise of his “show” and his method were based in some fact.

There have been numerous studies done on the impact of self-affirmation on both mental and physical health. While the results are mixed and would require far more explanation than I have time to write here, Psychology Today summed up several of those studies in a 2017 article:

 

By enhancing the psychological resources of self-integrity, self-affirmation reduces defensive responses to threatening information and events, leading to positive outcomes in various areas such as psychological and physical health, education, prejudice, discrimination, and social conflicts . . . Repeated use of affirmations in a meditative state can help to rewrite messages—but only if an individual is ready and willing to manifest positive change (Gupta, 2017). Click here to read the full article.

It is important to note, however, that there are several conditions (for lack of a better word) that need to exist for these positive affirmations to be effective. Here are a couple of important ones:

  1. The individual making the affirmations must be willing to make the changes. This reminds me of that old joke: how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the bulb really has to want to change. Funny, but not far from fact. In order to make positive changes, we must be willing to receive them.
  2. The affirmations must be positive statements. Avoid using words like “not,” “don’t,” or “can’t” in these statements, even if the net meaning of the statement is positive.

Have positive affirmations worked for me?

I’ll admit to you now that my use of positive affirmations (or, positive self-talk as it is often called) is pretty new. I’ve only been consciously working to replace negative self-talk with affirmations for a couple of months now. I knew about it before, but I had never earnestly tried it.

steart smalley that's ok gifI have had pretty good results. Why only pretty good? Well, I have about 40 years of brain retraining to do, so it’s going to take a while for this habit to become deeply ingrained in my day-to-day life. As Stewart Smalley would say, “And, that’s…OK.”

I can definitely tell a difference in how I feel when I use them.

So, what about you? What can you say to yourself to replace those negative thoughts? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are….

5 Positive Statements You Should Absolutely Say Every Day

  1. I am worthy of goodness. Because that is the truth! You are worthy of having good things and good people in your life. Tell yourself that every day and you will be far more likely to surround yourself with good people and manifest good things.
  2. I am healthy. Because that is the truth! Now, I don’t mean to be Pollyanna about it and ignore actual health problems. But, the truth of the matter is that, most likely, you ARE healthy despite the symptoms that your anxiety, panic, and depression produce.
  3. I will endure/overcome. Because that is the truth! Whatever situation it is that you’re going through right now, the good news is that you’re GOING THROUGH it. You will endure and you will overcome, just like you have countless times before.
  4. I can make it on my own. Because that is the truth! Most of us don’t like being alone, and loneliness is a terrible feeling. But, the truth of the matter is  this: we can all make it on our own. We just have to learn to enjoy the company we keep when no one else is around. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
  5. I am a strong person. Because that is the truth! Even when we don’t feel very strong, we are remarkably resilient and more than capable of coming back from the toughest of times. You are strong, and you will survive.

As corny as it may seem to you now, saying these things to yourself out loud every single day can have a significant impact on your overall mental and physical health. It’s awkward at first, but just keep doing it. You’ll get the hang of it and you’ll be glad you did.

Until next time – stay positive and say good things to yourself!

Love and light,
Jason

PS – Give yourself 6 minutes to watch the video below. It will make you smile, and maybe even laugh a little. 🙂

So, tell me what you think. Do you say positive daily affirmations to yourself? If so, do they help? If not, are you willing to try just for one week and see how it goes? Leave a comment below and let me know, or just leave a positive encouraging word!


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!