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.

 

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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!!

The Things We Say To Ourselves: 5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now

People with anxiety and depression are notoriously bad about saying terrible things about ourselves. Most of the time, we say those things to ourselves

Oftentimes we excuse this negative talk by saying we’re just being “realistic” or “trying not to get our hopes up” about something. But, the problem is that with every negative word we speak, we’re only exacerbating the cycle of emotions and reactions that put us in the positions we’re in.

About 10 years ago, just after I first started writing this blog, I wrote a post called “The ne’er-do-well.” Basically, it was 1,000 or so words of me comparing myself to my friends and then trashing myself for not being like them. The following is just one of the paragraphs:

It’s Homecoming weekend at my high school alma mater and many of the people I grew up with and graduated with have come back to town to see friends and family they don’t often see. I’m here because on occasion I get a notion in my head that this time will be different – that this time I will have something to say, something to offer in conversation beyond meaningless platitudes about how great someone looks or how lucky they are to have such a beautiful family. For some reason the thought creeps into my mind that this year someone will say I look good or ask about my fantastic new job or how my writing is coming along. Keep looking, though – that’s me in the corner over there looking into the crowd with nothing to say. After all, what is there for me to say when I am as disinterested in my life as any of them are? There’s no question to ask to which they don’t already know the answer. The job is just that – a job. I get paid ten dollars an hour to listen to people gripe about their $400 telephones that don’t work and then I get to tell them to take the battery out and put it back in so that, as if by magic, it works again; and for that one brief moment I am their hero! I am their champion because I fixed their phone and now they can play Brickbreaker while their kids practice soccer or gymnastics. What more do they need to know about my writing? I write thousands of words each week and no one reads them. No, the questions are not necessary because the answers are always the same.

Holy cow! Even reading that now, all these years later, gives me the creeps. And trust me when I tell you, that is one of the more benign paragraphs! Those are an example of some of the things I said to and about myself on a regular basis.

Negative self-talk is poison!

Studies have clearly demonstrated that negative self-talk can do serious damage. It leads to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. It can damage our ability to succeed at work or school. And, negative self-talk can have devastating impacts on our relationships with family, friends, and boy or girlfriends, partners, and spouses.

Here are a just a few of the potential effects of negative self talk according to this 2018 article on VeryWellMind.com:

  • Limited thinking. You tell yourself you can’t do something, and the more you hear it, the more you believe it.
  • Perfectionism. You begin to really believe that “great” isn’t as good as “perfect,” and that perfection is actually attainable. (In contrast, mere high achievers tend to do better than their perfectionistic counterparts because they generally less stressed and are happy with a job well-done rather than picking it apart and zeroing in on what could have been better.
  • Feelings of depression. Some research has shown that negative self-talk can lead to an exacerbation of feelings of depression. If left unchecked, this could be quite damaging.
  • Relationship challenges. Whether the constant self-criticism makes you seem needy and insecure or you turn your negative self-talk into more general negative habits that bother others, a lack of communication and even a “playful” amount of criticism can take a toll.​

Additionally, for those of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, perpetual negative self-talk can lead directly to increased anxiety and even panic attacks through increased feelings of inadequacy.

In order to combat our anxiety, we must learn to 1) recognize negative self-talk, and 2) replace it with positive affirmations that build us up rather than tearing us down.

To help you combat negative self-talk in your own life, here are…

5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now

  1. I am not worthy/I am worthless. This is a LIEYou are absolutely worth every effort and every good thing that comes from those efforts. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are a living human being, you ARE worthy, you have worth, and you are worth the effort it will take to get better.
  2. I can’t do it. This is a LIE! You can do it! Whatever it is, you can certainly do it if you try; if you put in the work it takes to get it done. So what if you don’t succeed the first time? Who ever does? You can do it, you should do it, and you will do it.
  3. I can’t live without him/herThis is a LIE! Trust me when I tell you that you most certainly CAN live without him or her. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my life is to overcome my fear of being alone. Now, not only do I not mind being alone, most of the time I appreciate that quiet, alone time. As much as it may hurt in the beginning, you can live without him or her.
  4. I have to change who I am for people to like me. This is a LIE! Anyone who requires that you change who you are in order to be your friend is not your friend. Be proud of who you are. Here’s a secret: not everyone will like you! It’s another hard lesson I’ve had to learn, but it was liberating when I finally did. Surround yourself with people you care for and people who care for you just the way you areLet the others sort it out on their own. It’s OK that everyone doesn’t like you.
  5. I wish I’d never been born. If you say that to yourself, I want you to STOP right now, pick up a phone, and reach out to someone for help! I’m serious! If you think that you should’ve never been born, or that you don’t want to live anymore, or that you wish you would die, then you are at a point where you truly need help. There are some resources listed below, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, please use them! Or, call a trusted family member or friend, a pastor, a teacher–it doesn’t really matter who it is, just call someone you trust and let them help you find help!

There are millions more I could list, but these are a few of the things I’ve said to myself over the years. Most of them I don’t say at all anymore. One or two of them I still catch myself saying from time to time, but I immediately replace them with positive thoughts.

Next time, we will focus on the positive thoughts you can use to replace this negative poison in your life. Until then…

Love and light!
Jason

 

Tell me what you think! In the comments section below, talk to me about negative self-talk and how it has impacted you. Tell me how you’ve overcome it, or what you’re still struggling with. Or, just leave a positive word of encouragement. Just click “Leave a Reply” and write away!


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!!

 

Lessons from Star Wars–“You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned”: How Self-Perception Can Change Everything

One of the things I struggle with most in my life–one of the things I think we all struggle with–is self-perception. It’s not necessarily that the way we perceive ourselves is bad or negative, but a lot of the time, I think they way we perceive ourselves is, quite simply, inaccurate. That is something we must all learn…or, unlearn…

Let us now turn to the greatest teaching tool in all of history–Star Wars…

When Luke Skywalker first began his journey toward becoming a Jedi Knight, his self-perception was largely informed by the things his Uncle Owen Lars had told him about himself, about his history, and about his family. Those things weren’t necessarily false, but they certainly were not the whole truth.

What people tell us, and what we tell ourselves doesn’t have to be false to be untrue.

Yoda, the only surviving Jedi Master taught Luke to “unlearn what you have learned.” To see himself and his destiny for who he and what it truly is.

Upon his arrival on Dagobah to begin training with Yoda, Luke had come quite a long way since Obi Wan Kenobi took him from his home on Tatooine. But, he still had in his mind that he was just that simple farm boy; no one of much significance in the universe; always faced with the things he was unable to do.

Then, Yoda, the last living Jedi Master spoke words to Luke that would change both his outlook and the outcome of his destiny.

 

 

 

You must unlearn what you have learned.

With those words, Yoda started Luke down the pathway that would eventually lead to his defeating the Emperor and redeeming the soul of his father, Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), himself a case study in how self-perception can radically change the course of life.

So, what does that have to do with me and you and the universe outside of George Lucas’s imagination? Well, just like Luke, we must unlearn what we have learnedWe must stop believing all of the negative things that we’ve been told and that we tell ourselves and learn what the truth really is.

I am Darth Vader.

For a lot of years I fancied myself strong and ruthless. I thought that was a good thing. Strong and ruthless people don’t get hurt. They’re impervious to injury and damage. Strong and ruthless people can withstand any assault.

Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith. Strong. Ruthless. Evil. But, in truth, a tragic and pathetic character who believed things about himself that were not true.

But, something else that strong and ruthless people do is hurt others who they see as a threat–because really, they aren’t that strong.

When movie-goers were first introduced to Darth Vader, he seemed to be the ultimate villain. All bad. Evil. Sinister. Strong and ruthlessIt was only later that we learned the truth. Darth Vader was a sad and tragic character who spent the better part of his life believing things about himself that someone else told him.

And that was me.

I hurt people out of weakness, not out of strength. I burned bridges to avoid getting hurt and only hurt myself more in the process. I separated myself to avoid being cast aside and left alone. And the irony in that is rich.

We are ruthless because it’s easier than being vulnerable. But, in the end, our ruthlessness turns inward, and the people destroyed are, well…ourselves.

I’m actually a worried, fussy protocol droid.

When I finally figured out that strong and ruthless were not necessarily a good way to go, that left me a little lost. My self-perception and my identity were so wrapped up in those beliefs that I didn’t have anything to replace them.

C-3PO, human cyborg relations. Worried. Fussy. But, ultimately the consummate helper and hero.

Then I realized my true nature (not necessarily my true identity).

I am C-3PO, human cyborg relations.

Who I really am is a sort of worried and fussy guy who like things in order and sees his main mission in life as that of providing help and assistance to people who need it–and maybe a little comic relief along the way.

Now, you may be thinking, “Jason, I don’t want to be like C-3PO. He was always finding his way into trouble at the hands of R2-D2 who seemed to revel in the act of getting him there.”

Well, that would be understandable if that’s who he really was. But, it’s not. Yes, C-3PO did end up in a lot of precarious situations, but he always came out on top. And, most of the time, he was a big part of saving the day.

He made people’s lives easier. And that is not a bad person (or droid) to want to be.

Put down the mirror. It is not your friend.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone at some point in life say something like you’d better go take a good look in the mirror young man/lady. I know that I sure did. But, I have some advice for you…

DON’T DO THAT!!!

When you look in a mirror, what do you see? You see yourself the way other people see you. That is the sort of self-perception we should try to get away from, not lean in to.

Real change in self-perception comes from looking at yourself from the inside out. It comes from shedding all of the lies and half-truths you’ve been told by other people and by yourself, and seeing yourself for who you truly are. Once you do that, then you can change that perception and begin to change your life.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I believe myself to be an expert on this subject. Far from it! I’m still changing my self-perception…daily. And it’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Sure, I’m C-3PO now, but maybe some day I’ll be Luke, or Obi-Wan, or Yoda. Who knows?

The point is that self-perception, how we see ourselves, plays a huge role in both our outlook on, and the outcome of our lives. Self-perception changes everything…

It can change good to bad.
It can change bad to good.
It can change worthy to worthless.
It can change worthless to worthy.

 

SELF-PERCEPTION CHANGES EVERYTHING!

Take a good look at yourself. What do you see? Who do you see? Do you see the person you or someone else has always told you that you are, or do you see the truth?

Find it. Find you. Let is change your life!

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, part 5: A Road to Wellness (Here We Go)

In my last post, I wrote that I would be starting an intensive outpatient treatment program for anxiety and depression soon.

Soon has come!

I began the program on Monday, and completed the third day yesterday. One of the rules of the program is that I not discuss treatment outside of the group–with anyone. So, for the last couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about my experiences while staying true to that requirement–I want to work the program exactly as designed. I think I’ve figured it out.

In the journal that I keep (it’s true, I don’t write EVERYTHING here!), I write down takeaways each day. Most of them don’t relate specifically to treatment, but instead are my own thoughts and impressions. I will be sharing some of those with you, and I’ll also try to give you a general sense of my personal progression. I think that’s fair, and it honors the spirit of the rule.


First: Why am I writing anything at all about what I’m doing?

When I first started this blog, it was a place for me to keep my thoughts and feelings during a particularly dark time in my life. I was, at that time, nearly housebound with anxiety. I rarely went anywhere, and when I did, I stayed away from as many people as possible.

TAKE AWAY #1: ISOLATING BEHAVIORS ARE VERY COMMON WITH PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM ANXIETY AND/OR DEPRESSION. I’VE BECOME VERY GOOD AT ISOLATING AND AT JUSTIFYING THAT ISOLATION.

It was only a very short time before I discovered that there are many more people out in the world like me than I ever would have believed. People who suffer like me, or people who love and care for people who suffer like me began reading my blog and commenting. Just knowing that there were other people who felt the things I felt helped me more than you can imagine.

So, I write about this because of that! Maybe there is someone reading who is suffering; and maybe that someone who is suffering will feel just a little better knowing that they are not alone.


Stepping out of the tiny world-box I had created for myself…

I’m not going to lie–this week has been TOUGH!

When I arrived on Monday, the first day, I was a wreck. On a scale of 1 to 10, my anxiety was at about 412! I was experiencing every, single physical symptom that come with my anxiety and panic attacks all at once!

Dizziness
Feeling like I was outside myself
Rapid heart rate
Weakness
Trembling and shaking
Stomach cramps and nausea
Headache
Muscle tension
The desire to get up and run away

Yes, for real…all of those AT ONCE!!

I didn’t think I was going to make it through the intake process, much less the entire four hour treatment time. But, with the help of some really good and caring folks, I did. It wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t feel good. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but I stayed.

Day 2, Wednesday, didn’t go so well…

I don’t know why Wednesday was such a bad day, but it was. All of those symptoms you see above…yeah, they were magnified by a factor of about 100. I only made it through about an hour and then I left–I had to go. I wasn’t doing myself any good being there…

Or, at least that’s what I told myself as I was leaving.

I came home, got in bed, and slept for about four hours Wednesday afternoon.

TAKE AWAY #2: FLEEING/RUNNING AWAY FROM SITUATIONS THAT CAUSE ANXIETY (AVOIDANCE) IS MY GO-TO REACTION. THE MINUTE THINGS BECOME UNCOMFORTABLE, I RUN. THAT IS NOT ON THE ROAD TO WELLNESS–AVOIDANCE IS AN EXIT RAMP OFF THAT ROAD!

Day 3, Thursday, was a better day…

On the way to Tyler I was doing some serious rationalization–talking myself into quitting and “trying to get better another way” (because that has worked so well up until now). Twice I turned on my left blinked ready to make a u-turn and go home.

Twice I turned it off and stayed on the road.

It wasn’t an easy day. But, I stayed. I wanted to leave. I came up with some pretty good reasons to leave. But, I stayed. I left the group twice. Once I even picked up my stuff and took it with me. But, I stayed. I stayed and I finished the day. I didn’t feel good. It was difficult. I was exhausted…

But, I stayed.

TAKE AWAY #3: EVENTUALLY THE TERROR PASSES. MAYBE I DON’T FEEL GREAT ONCE IT DOES, BUT THE TERROR OF THE PANIC ATTACK PASSES AND I CAN KEEP GOING. LEARNING TO RIDE IT OUT; TO BE PATIENT AND WAIT FOR IT TO PASS WILL BE A BIG KEY TO GETTING WELL.


I learned a lot in a short amount of time–mostly about myself…

TAKE AWAY #4: MINDFULNESS. LEARNING TO HAVE THE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS THAT COME, WITHOUT JUDGING, IS VITAL TO WELLNESS. THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ARE WHAT THEY ARE. THE ONLY SIGNIFICANCE THEY HAVE IS THE SIGNIFICANCE I (WE) GIVE THEM. LEARN NOT TO JUDGE AND ANALYZE EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT AND FEELING.

TAKE AWAY #5: FILTERS. LIFE AND REALITY AREN’T ALWAYS PLEASANT. THINGS HAPPEN, EVENTS TAKE PLACE THAT CAN SIGNIFICANTLY IMPACT OUR LIVES. BUT, HOW WE REACT TO THEM DEPEND LARGELY ON HOW I (WE) FILTER THEM THROUGH MY (OUR) OWN THOUGHTS AND BELIEFS ABOUT MYSELF (OURSELVES). THE THINGS I (WE) TELL MYSELF (OURSELVES) ABOUT MYSELF (OURSELVES) PLAY A HUGE ROLE IN HOW I (WE) REACT. CHANGING THAT FILTER IS WHERE WELLNESS BEGINS.

There is room for change in every area (except reality), but before thoughts, emotions, symptoms, or reactions change, we MUST change the filter. We can’t continue to believe the same things about ourselves and expect change anywhere else!

TAKE AWAY #6: FEARS. HUMANS COME INTO THE WORLD WITH ONLY TWO FEARS–FALLING AND LOUD NOISES. ALL OF THE REST OF THEM ARE LEARNED


The whole truth and nothing but…

It’s only week one. I’m not going to boast about breakthroughs because, as yet, there hasn’t been what I’d consider a breakthrough. But, I have learned some important things, mostly about myself. The theme for week one: I STAYED.

I’m going to try a couple of more “adventures” — you know, like going to Wal-Mart and not bolting out after ten minutes — this weekend. I’ll post about those on Instagram. Do you follow me there? You should….I am unclenobody (don’t ask, I don’t remember why…click the name and then click “follow”).


As always…

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!

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

The Last Day: How My Students Taught Me the Most Important Lesson of the Year

Last days at any job are weird. You sit around all day asking yourself, “What should I be doing?” You could be a good employee and diligently perform the duties of your job up until the very last minute of your last shift, but who would you be kidding? You have no real investment in it, so why?

Last days for teachers are, usually, not so fraught with ambivalence and indecision. Most last days for teachers involve administering and grading final exams, or various other administrative tasks that must be handled prior to leaving. Even still, there is that one last-day wild card for school teachers–students.

My last day of school at my most recent district was set up to be fairly easy. The exams for that day were 4th period, my conference period, and 5th period, my seniors in Business English who’d taken their exams the week before. I had all of my exams graded, the grades posted and verified. All of my technology had been turned in; my 75-cent lunch room charge (I bought a Diet Coke on “credit” one day) had been paid; all of my personal belongings had been boxed up. All I had to do was wait for the bell to ring, turn in my keys, and I was done.

But, the wild card…

My kids and me! Well…the top of my bald head, mostly!!

My students knew I wasn’t coming back next year, but they’re high school students, so most of them wouldn’t have had me on their schedule again anyway. Unbeknownst to me, however, some of them were disappointed that I wouldn’t be a face they saw everyday as they walked the halls.

Several students stopped by throughout the day to say their good-byes. They’d already asked if they could connect with me on social media since I wouldn’t be their teacher anymore, and I’d told them yes, with the warning that they’d likely be rather un-enthralled by my posts. A few of them brought me gifts…mostly Nacho Cheese Doritos, Diet Cokes, and Snickers–they knew those were my favorites.

But, I was surprised at the reactions of a few students who, until that day, I’d not seen much from in the way of acknowledging some appreciation for my efforts during the year. One girl, with whom I’d actually had a few minor “run in’s” over tardies and other discipline issues, came to me with tears in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said, her chin quivering slightly, “for putting up with me this year. I know I wasn’t always the easiest to deal with, but I really did love your class.”

A young man who was in my largest and rowdiest class said, “I never have liked English very much, but you made it fun.”

Still another said, “Mr. Walker, I’m going to miss you!” And wrapped her arms around my neck before I could reply.

A anonymous note I found tacked to the bulletin board behind my desk a few days before school was out this year.

Perhaps the most moving reaction of all came in the form of a Facebook message the morning after the last day of school. It was from a good student who always did well in my class, but one who didn’t usually say much, which is part of the reason I was so surprised to hear from him. His message read, in part:

I’m not sure if it is appropriate to message you. But I am going to anyways. I would like to thank you for being, to me, one of the greatest English teachers I have ever had. Your great amount of humor with the class was what us as students need to be comfortable…

…There may have been days where I just didn’t want to go to English class because I felt like I did not belong with the other academically smart students. But you helped me feel like I belonged and helped me realize that I’m just as smart as the other kids. It is hard for a teacher to connect with their students. But you made it seem so easy.

To say I was bowled over would be a historically big understatement. I had no idea, until the moment I read that, that he felt that way. But, I’m so grateful that something I did, or something I said (I have no idea what), made him feel like he belonged.

He did belong. He does belong. They all belong!

I’ve learned in my very short time as an educator that we don’t always get to know the impact we have on our students. Oh, to be sure, we see progress in whatever subject matter we teach, but it’s not often at all that we learn the bigger things; the more important things; the things that keep us coming back year after year despite the many reasons not to.

I suppose I’m counting myself as one of the lucky ones this year. My last day turned out to be the day I got to see at least a little peek into those important things. More importantly for me, however, it renewed my commitment to the belief that we are meant to educate the whole person, not just the reader, the writer, the mathematician, the scientist, etc. The responsibility we have as educators is enormous because, though we may not always know it, for many of our students, we hold their very BELONGING in our hands.

God help me to never, ever forget that!