Are You One of the 9 to 11% of Americans Who…?

…would report feeling “daily worry and stress without a lot of happiness and enjoyment” in your life? Because according to the long-standing Gallup “U.S. Mood” Poll, 9 to 11 percent of Americans feel that way. Apparently and not surprisingly, the numbers were even higher immediately following the 2016 election, reaching a four-year high of 13.1%.

Personally, I fall into that depressing bucket now. But I’m also dealing with a lot of stress – fights with my boyfriend, anxiety about my career not moving forward fast enough (I’m 35), drinking too much to deal with the stress of uncertainty, and the general fear of Trump and losing access to Obamacare.

I used to be a lot more excited about life and my career in my twenties. The upside of the fact that I’m less happy now is that the happiness in my twenties made me somewhat dreamy and complacent, and so I wasn’t working as hard as I should have at my writing. Now, the fire is lit under my a** and I have been writing a ton more to deal with the anger at myself for not being further ahead.

While I don’t always experience daily stress and worries, because I do have amazing days where I feel recharged and refreshed, I do think I’d put myself in the 9 – 11% bucket of Americans who are struggling to find fulfillment.

So, what do you do if, like me, you realize that you would put yourself in that bucket?

Well, for me it’s all about testing variables to improve. Experimenting with your life. Making small changes and tweaks to see if you feel happier or more fulfilled from them.

Here are some things I’ve done and/or plan to do in the future:

  • Really analyzing my interactions with people to see if they uplift me
  • Trying natural anxiety relief supplements, like Omega 3 pills (heavy on the EPA and less on DHA)
  • Spending less time staring at my phone in public places
  • Writing EVERY DAY to push my career forward
  • Exercising at least once a week (wasn’t doing that before, d’oh!)

Would you put yourself in the 9-11% bucket, and if so, how do you plan to change it?

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Fear of Loss in Relationships

When it comes to sustaining peaceful romantic relationships, I’m not the best. I try really hard, but I have bad anxiety, and that makes me fear the worst. My brain can get caught in a negative thought loop pretty quickly — “Will this last?” “Does he love me enough?” “What if he learns more about me and doesn’t want to be with me anymore?” Or worst, I place too much emphasis on the micro-moments of the relationship (like, what does it mean that he normally texts me around this time, but today he didn’t?) that I forget about to be present.  GAH! It’s enough to drive anyone insane.

So, basically, I’m terrified of losing, to the point where I may self-sabotage myself to subconsciously have the relationship end. Stupid, right?

I’m not sure how to get rid of this nagging feeling, other than the normal things, like going to therapy and obsessively googling self-help websites for fixes. I’ve read a lot of Buddhist teachings about how you need to recognize that you can’t be attached to anything forever. And by truly accepting that, you won’t suffer. But still, it’s hard to not feel deep attachment to someone you love.

I just know that I can’t act from that place of fear – from the fear of the relationship ending at any point. I have to remind myself that acting out of fear is destined to cause problems in any relationship I may have, because I’m not present.

One mind trick that helps me when I’m feeling anxious about my relationship is to think about the absolute worst case scenario. And when I think about how it’s not life or death, I know I will be okay.

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To Have Resolutions or Not?

Happy New Year, everyone! Are you still feeling that spark of fresh excitement at the prospect of new possibilities? I am. While I had a rough January 1st, the days since have been really good. I feel refreshed and stronger.

During the final weeks of 2016, I was having a ridiculous amount of anxiety which culminated in my first full-blown panic attack. I thought I’d had panic attacks before, but this was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I got weak, my eyesight started blurring, and my heart raced. I thought I was going to pass out. I ended up going to urgent care that day because I didn’t want to pass out alone in my studio apartment. It was terrifying and scary, and I realized I never wanted to go back to that place again.

Over the holidays, I realized that I needed to make changes in my life. Specifically, I needed to carve out more alone time and spend more time writing my scripts (the process of which I’ve now termed “taking my medicine”). Since 2017 started, I’ve spent time writing every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. But that consistency is powerful. I will keep it up.

So, while I didn’t really make official ‘resolutions’ this year, I did realize that something had to change from the path I had been on. I had to lower my anxiety by focusing on my work – my writing. The anxiety was telling me that I was wasting away when I wasn’t writing.

In lieu of resolutions, I really like the idea of simply having a word or mantra for the year. For me, in 2017, my word is “warrior.” Warrior for myself and for my needs. Because the most important relationship that any of us will ever have is with ourselves.

To a beautiful New Year.

When Self-Care Doesn’t Work

Last week for about the whole week, I had really, really bad anxiety. Like ‘a bubble bath and bottle of wine’ isn’t gonna help this kind of anxiety. It was strong and I didn’t feel like myself – this icky feeling possessed my brain (not Exorcist style in my body though, thank God!) in what felt like an unshakeable way. I’m not sure exactly what sparked it, but probably lots of little things that kind of exploded into a ball of overwhelm.

I tried everything. Watching my shows on Netflix, eating ridiculous amounts of pizza, drinking wine, reading cheesy magazines and books, taking walks – but nothing worked. My brain kept circling the same thoughts over and over again. Why didn’t I have more plans on Labor Day weekend? Am I going to live in this tiny studio apartment my whole life? Will I get get married and have kids? 

Those thoughts just kept repeating and repeating in my head, and I couldn’t shut them down.

I started getting angry at the idea of ‘self-care’ because it sure didn’t seem to be working for me.

So what do you do in these situations? Obviously, there’s medication, which I believe can be very helpful if you need it. But aside from that, what’s the biggest way to deal with moments like this? Now that I’m a little out of the anxiety fugue state, there’s one thing I know that works.

Riding it out. Accept that your (anxiety/loneliness/depression/fear/anger) may be PART of your life experience, but it’s not ALL of your life experience. It will pass.

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Social Media and sometimes FOMO in your Thirties

I have a love/dislike (hate is too strong a word) relationship with Social Media. There are many reasons for this, some simply to do with concentrating on better ways to spend my time. But the biggest reason for my discomfort with social media is that it can occasionally make me feel really bad about myself.

The badness I feel from social media is a strange type of vexation- it comes and goes. When I go through social media ‘feel good’ periods, I can actually remain in a peaceful fun stretch for quite awhile. I understand the points of connection and sharing that are at the core of Facebook or Snapchat. I even feel connected. I feel looped in. I enjoy sharing. I enjoy commenting. I feel like An Important Part of Something Big. And I actually really like social media at these times.

But then there are the FOMO periods. These periods can happen at two very opposite times for me: 1.During times when I’m using social media a lot. 2. During times when I’m using social media not a lot ..but am thinking about it.

FOMO, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, stands for Fear of Missing Out, and I think social media taps into this inner fear more than anything else I’ve ever known. FOMO occurs from social media because people are sharing the polished, highlight reels of their lives and not necessarily what’s actually happening- so everything looks pretty good from an outsiders view. People rarely share worries about their relationships, career fears, family drama, fallouts with friends, financial struggles and the like. Social Media is full of platitudes, photos of cute kids, congratulations on new jobs, sunny visits to the beach, diamond engagement rings, delicious food with friends, and more happy times.

Honestly, that’s okay. That’s what social media is here to do for the most part- enable people to share great parts of their lives. Super depressing happenings usually come off as weird on a news feed and people understand that. I don’t necessarily want to read about tons of negative happenings either.

Yet, even being aware of the highlight reel nature of the beast can’t stop FOMO from coming. There’s a certain discouragement I can feel when scrolling a Facebook feed, especially if I’m already feeling not so great. I can get extra down on myself. Why am I not as happy as I can be right now? My friends seem so happy. Everyone is so busy doing social things- they’re all together- am I being antisocial? Oh god, I don’t use Snapchat enough. Everyone is having fun. Why can’t I get into Instagram? Why don’t I have 6 pack abs? I need to take gym selfies or no one will know I went to the gym! I need to use social media or no one will know I exist!! IF I DONT WRITE ABOUT IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA, DID IT EVEN REALLY HAPPEN??

Even though my mind knows most of these thoughts are extremely silly, the feelings come anyway. I’m bombarded with feels as I’m bombarded with feeds. Some of these thoughts are a mild exaggeration, but you may recognize others in yourself.

Some people don’t go through FOMO at all- I have a few extremely extroverted friends who remain in love with their Snapchat stories and Facebook feeds, and never seem jealous or sad about the whole thing. But this post is for the people who do have this kind of anxiety, or even occasionally do. You’re not alone. And you’re not missing out either.

I don’t have an answer for social media induced FOMO except to take breaks from the newsfeed and stories from time to time. But in my moments of greatest clarity I know that the only fear of missing out I should have is of the present moment. And the most important place to be, no matter what others are up to, is always where I am now.

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How Tracking Money Is Like Weighing Yourself

Recently, I’ve gotten in the habit of tracking every single dollar I spend. Jane, in her last money post, Saving Money Like You’re In the Depression Era, just wrote about tracking all of her money, bit by bit. As we’ve always suspected, Jane and I must have a psychic connection because I had just started doing the same thing with my money.

The reason it’s amazing that we both started tracking money at the same time is because we have been adamant about NOT tracking money in the past. It made both of us extremely nervous to track money- we always felt like we were frugal enough and that tracking every dollar stopped us from enjoying the tiny indulgences in life.

I began tracking money because I realized that my dollars were disappearing faster than I’d like. I’m an extremely frugal person, so money mysteriously disappearing irritated me greatly. Since I don’t make a budget from month to month, I rely on my frugality alone to keep me in check. Since that didn’t seem to be working anymore, I went over my credit card statements and was amazed to see that so many little tiny $4.00 or $6.00 purchases had added up. In some cases tiny purchases had added up to hundreds of dollars!

I had attempted to track my spending a few times in the past (giving up after maybe 2 days) and those times I’d used pen and paper to write down whenever I bought something. That wasn’t the best option for me because I’d lose the paper I wrote the expenditures on, so this time I downloaded two money tracking apps- things are easier to keep control of electronically. After playing with both apps, I really started using and enjoying this one called Goodbudget. It’s free in the App Store (and probably the Android Google Play store too). The app is great because it’s simple and it allows me to make categories of spending so I can see where I’m spending the bulk of my money. Whenever I buy something that doesn’t fit into my previous categories, I simply add a new category.

With my trusty new money tracking app, Goodbudget, I’ve succeeded in tracking every dollar of my money for a few weeks now. That’s a record for me! And what’s really interesting is that I spend less money because I’m more aware of my money being spent..and it kind of bothers me to see the amount of money I’m spending go up uncomfortably high right in front of my face. So I question some tiny purchases (a latte here or there, a new shirt, however affordable), that I would’ve otherwise barely thought twice about if I hadn’t been keeping my monthly expenditure right in front of me. Now I know how quickly small costs can add up.

I always hated weighing myself too, because the scale made me nervous and anxious in the past, but I’ve found that it really does help me to have a number in front of my face to keep me accountable.

If you haven’t tried budgeting apps- even if just to write down all your purchases the way I have- I recommend giving one of them (such as Goodbudget) a try. Even if you’re frugal, you may be spending more money than you realize. And when you stop spending money mindlessly on things, you’ll have more of it to spend on the tiny luxuries you actually love.

 

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Working Easy In Your Thirties

Working Easy In Your Thirties

Everyone talks about working hard, but wouldn’t it be better to work easy?

I hate the idea that anything worth doing is hard to do- I think it puts us in the wrong state of mind to get great things done. The hard work mindset is based in tension and negativity. When I do ‘hard work’ I tense up and ‘buckle down.’ The anxiety that comes from this kind of work hard mindset is palpable.

Sometimes, when I allow myself to stay loose and take it easy, I actually get the most done. Occasionally, I will take a day off from my to do list, and plan nothing. It took effort to let go of my tension filled mile long to do list, but I managed somehow. I was talking to Jane about this a little while back and I remember telling her, “It’s crazy. On these ‘days off’ where I’ve made no plans except to relax, I end up getting a ridiculous amount done anyway. It’s weird- it’s almost effortless.” She then asked me how that happened and I didn’t know at the time.

But I know now.

It’s “working easy” – starting from a relaxed place and allowing things instead of forcing them.

Don’t get me wrong, “working hard” will also produce results. That’s why the idea of hard work is so prevalent. We feel we need to stress out and tense up and do difficult work in order to get things done. But what if we could get all the same things done anyway while not working hard at all? Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s not just nice, it’s doable. We don’t have to stress out and exert so much painful effort in order to get things done. I promise. Start from an easy place. Let go of hard work. Go from there. And magic will occur.

I’m practicing this in Japan right now. I barely have an itinerary- I’ve just decided to relax and see what I see. And I’ve seen so much more than I could have planned, without much effort. I could be anxious and still see things, but it’s not necessary to stress out in order to see the world. It even works with this blog- I’m blissfully writing on the train from Kyoto to Osaka right now. It’s pretty chill. But it could have also been a tension filled item to check off my list.

Give it a try. Work easy. And see what happens.

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How to Travel Into the Unknown World In Your Thirties

I’m writing this from Tokyo. It’s officially 2:30 am here.

I say “officially” because I just came in on a flight (two flights) from New York, and in my mind it’s 1:30 pm, so things are a little messed up right now. I was able to sleep on the flight for 8 hours (amazingly), but I can probably still sleep again now, even though my body thinks it’s the afternoon. I’m pretty adaptable like that.

So I’ll keep this brief.

This trip is something I’ve been planning for a few months now, and I kind of can’t believe I’m here. Literally, my mind doesn’t feel like my body is here. It’s a flaw that I have that when good things happen to me, I sometimes can’t accept them. I’m working on that. Also, technology is so advanced now that I can connect to anyone through my computer in milliseconds and not be so far away. Well, I am far away, but it doesn’t FEEL like it. Of course, there’s that whole language barrier thing, but I didn’t have to deal with it much at the airport today- I’ll encounter that way more tomorrow when I journey outside into the unknown in daylight- so it doesn’t yet feel like language is an issue. The flight to Tokyo from Chicago was 13 hours, so I know I’m not in Kansas anymore, but sleeping through most of the trip made Tokyo feel like a hop, skip and jump away.

I spent the past few months kind of unsure about getting here. I’ve never been to Asia, and I haven’t gone on a big international trip for more than 6 years. And I certainly haven’t gone on a solo international trip before. It’s funny, the whole point of this trip was to go to this completely foreign country all alone and explore with no plan, and be free. But then, a bit before I left, I began to feel anxious about going alone and having no particular plan. I mean, I know where I’m staying and have a trip outline, and I’m meeting some people here and there, but I haven’t filled my days full of manic activity- I just kind of want to be solo in a foreign world.

However, even though I fly more than 50 times a year and I still felt mildly anxious leading up to this particular trip- so I know travel fear can happen to anyone. I think this kind of fear stems from fear of the unknown. I like feeling prepared, and my plan to let go of things and remain less planned out caused me anxiety. Worries popped up in my head about about not bringing the right items and forgetting something Very Important and not knowing the language and missing some Very Important Sightseeing Places. I worried about feeling judged for not seeing things that were Absolute Must Sees.

But you know what? None of that matters. I’m here. I made it. I took a 13 hour flight, plus a 2 hour one plus a layover. And no one who matters is judging me…except for myself- the harshest judge of all, of course. And all that ever mattered to me was to stay open and loving and in flow. I just wanted to let go and let life come in. So I’m damn well going to do that as best I can. And of course I’ll probably feel afraid again, and things might be weird and foreign sometimes. But I have to remember that it’s not about the plans or the places. It’s not about the Perfect Itinerary or the Perfect Day. It’s not about the Must Sees or Must Dos. It’s about being in this very different place at this very particular point in my life right this second. It’s about breathing the foreign Tokyo air into my lungs and seeing how it feels. It’s about going. It’s about staying. It’s about the new. It’s about this moment.

So don’t be afraid to travel. Don’t be afraid at all.  You may feel fear but it’s okay. Go anyway. Grab the moment. And let go of everything else.

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I have no idea what this subway sign means. But I like it.

Unwinding During the Busiest Times In Your Thirties

I’m just coming off of the busiest and most hectic time of year in my line of work. The auto show season has come to a close and many tradeshows I work with are popping up and winding down. Yet my mind still whirls. It’s hard to come down from both the highs and the lows of being extremely busy and mildly crazed.

I remember one tactic I used to have to handle work stress when I felt like I had no time to calm down was to try to find a small amount of time in the middle of the day- sometimes just 10 minutes- and let my mind go completely blank and peaceful. This wasn’t part of the standard meditations I do- it was a separate time or two during the day sometimes during a quick work break. I’d just take a “vacation” in the midst of the busyness. My mind would let go.

This practice has been too long forgotten from my days, but I thought of it again when I was having an anxious moment at the airport yesterday. I was thinking about all the tasks I had yet to do, even though there were less than usual. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and an annoying negative loop was playing in my head. And then I suddenly remembered my 10 minute “vacation” practice of thinking about nothing in the midst of stressful times. So I stared around the airport and said ‘screw all these tasks i’m thinking about. Screw them all.’ And I simply smiled and observed the terminal.

Nothing happened. The world didn’t end. I slept on the flight. The tasks happened later and it was no big deal. When you find yourself needing to feel tense and busy out of habit, try taking a ‘vacation’ from wherever you are. Say ‘screw it’ to all the tasks and worries in your mind for at least a few minutes and try to smile and simply go blank. Just observe.

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Don’t let the habit of feeling busy become a need. You never need to feel tense. Just let go.  It’ll get easier every time.

What Are You Waiting For In Your Thirties?

Sorry for the long post delay. I feel like I’ve waited way too long- which is the theme of this post.

Do you ever feel like you’re waiting around for that day when your life will get much better? For that moment you are finally in the shape of your life? For the year you can quit your job and retire? For that future time period when you can travel the world? And then you can be happy?

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Sometimes I catch myself waiting in this way. But what I’ve learned this year is that it’s almost impossible to be happy later if you can’t be happy now. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life worrying- it’s my go to habit. I can feel myself clenching up sometimes, preparing for the worst. I guess I’ve always felt like somehow my anxiety helps me to get things done.

However, lately, when I focus on manually taking down my anxiety levels and allowing myself to be happy now, I still get things done. I don’t fall into a valley of hedonism like I’ve been afraid of doing. Nothing falls apart because- god forbid- I haven’t worried about it today. My anxiety hasn’t seemed to be necessary to have a productive day.

This lack-of-waiting-to- be-happy mentality brought up thoughts of another trip with Jane. We haven’t taken a trip together just for fun in over seven years. Last time we went to Austin, so this time we picked the equally bizarre city of Portland, and it was wonderful.

At first it felt weird planning a trip purely for fun, but why wait?And why not? We just got back yesterday night, and we were so happy we’d made the leap, took the trip, and didn’t wait for some ‘better time’ in the future.

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First night in Portland!

You are allowed to enjoy life right now. Choose happiness right this moment. Of course you will feel sad and anxious sometimes, and that’s absolutely okay and actually good and normal. But anxiety doesn’t need to be the status quo. You can feel all the feels. But you don’t have to stay miserable..or anxiously await a better time.The future is uncertain. Choose to be happy now. What are you waiting for?

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Blue Star Donuts!

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Voodoo!

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Portland Love!

Can You Get More Introverted As You Get Older?

I just got back from my theater company’s writers workshop and I feel seriously drained. To be fair, I’m already running on less than adequate sleep, but my energy is super low when it’s usually super high after an awesome and creative theater meeting.

Part of me feels like I haven’t fully recovered from working a major auto show in Chicago- I returned from the show a full week ago- last Monday- but it kind of seems like yesterday. My days back in New York have flown by. I spent a good amount of my time back home working on taxes and projects that needed to get done, and other days catching up with people I really wanted to see.

For whatever reason, I just want to crawl up and be alone and do nothing all day for the next few days (don’t we all, sometimes, especially us introverts?) but I have to travel out of town again tomorrow for another show. And the sensation of wanting to be alone and do nothing for days and days in order to recharge is stronger than ever.

So I just googled ‘does introversion increase with age?’ and found mixed opinions. I know that it’s my introverted nature that makes me need alone time to recharge, but I usually love socializing, especially one on one, and don’t feel as drained as I do now by not getting enough time alone. The google search results were a mixed bag, generally not stating that introversion increases with age, but a ton of people had also asked this question, making me think that it’s common even if undiagnosed.

If introversion doesn’t actually increase with age, perhaps we’re just more aware of it as we get into our thirties- we’re more aware of what we want and who we really are. I know that I’m less willing to push myself to the point of burnout, and am much more conscious of my feelings and opinions. So this newfound awareness of how I feel and where my limits are may make me feel like I’m getting more introverted  as I get older when in fact I’m just more aware of what I need.

Actually, writing this is making me feel better. I’m playing classical music and I just made tea and am gonna take a hot shower and I’m writing to you guys and you guys are great. And I’m blissfully, blissfully alone. Le sigh…

But a good le sigh.

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The Bowling Ball Leaning Dilemma, or Trying to Control the Uncontrollable

It’s been awhile since I’ve last gone bowling, but it’s been barely any time since I’ve worried about something. Both of these things are connected by a bad habit.

You see, I have a ridiculously useless habit when I go bowling. I throw the ball down the lane (and I seriously mean throw, as I have no technique. I only go bowling for fun or birthday parties). Once I’ve thrown the ball, I watch its trajectory down the lane, and then, very predictably, I lean my entire body in the direction I want the ball to go.

This crazy-looking full body lean is sometimes accompanied by arm waving, pushing an imaginary force that connects me to the ball and will accomplish a strike by telepathy. Astonishingly, my leaning telepathy has zero effectiveness in getting the ball to change course. All the leaning does is scratch my itch to DO something.

Lately, I’ve decided to pay attention to the hum of worry that naturally clouds my mind from the moment I wake up. I vaguely worry that I’ll do something wrong and wind up with people mad at me, or lose friends. I worry that I’ll forget all of the tasks I must do later that day or “some day soon.” I worry that when I’m happy for no reason I’m not being ‘reasonable’ or ‘down to earth enough.’ I worry about being happy in general, because if I’m happy now, then I must have settled.

Take a look at your own life- is there a sheen of mild to medium worry coursing through your moments? Worry might have become so habitual in your life that you barely notice it anymore. Maybe you feel like worry  helps you accomplish something by keeping tasks in the forefront of your mind. On the contrary, think of worry as the equivalent of that bowling lean, where your best effort will always be completely useless. Sometimes when you feel like something is helping, your instincts are actually fooling you.

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The More Time and Less Time of Stopping

I recently went through a period where I had trouble feeling grateful for things. I wrote about some of my struggles in What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty – I came to a point where I realized I was having difficulties accessing any feelings at all, never mind grateful, peaceful ones.

I’ve started to come out of that funk, at least for awhile, and I think the return of some peace in my life has a lot to do with having gone through the emptiness in the first place, acknowledged it, and just stopped.

Stopped. Cold.

Instead of trying to push through the empty feeling and just get it out of my life by sheer force, I sat with it. I stopped what I was doing- the things I could stop anyway- the busyness and busy rituals that I felt I needed to do but actually didn’t. The emptiness was trying to tell me something and I needed to listen. Jane talks about sitting with feelings of sadness in her last post The Solstice and Acknowledging the Harder Parts of the Holidays. I think you can sit with any feeling, including an empty lack of feeling.

I turned the non-feelings over in my head. I wrote about them here. And then, slowly, painstakingly at first, the feelings changed. And I changed what I was doing. Tiny, experimental changes. I starting a new morning ritual instead of my beloved meditating. I exercised in a different way. I started seeing more friends and changed my work habits a bit. I read a different book.

I didn’t make major changes. Just small ones that felt a bit better. And then I started to feel a bit better.

I didn’t have any more time in my life to sit with my thoughts or change my routines or stop what I was doing. But time is a funny thing. It’ll expand when something is important to you.

Even though the holidays are busy and stressful sometimes, give yourself the gift of your own time for awhile. Peace will come.

And isn’t that what the holidays are all about anyway?

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What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty?

I guess it can happen when you least expect it.

At the end of a very productive week, after sweeping through almost everything on my to do list and checking it all off, and getting a crazy amount accomplished and even feeling quite together and on top of things, I started to feel empty inside.

I wouldn’t usually write about things like this, because I don’t know if hearing about emptiness is helpful to people. Also, I’m usually an extremely positive and driven person, so it’s kind of hard to talk about feeling suddenly empty in the middle of an upswing for no determinable reason.

However, I was thinking that if I’m feeling this way now, I’m sure there are others who are feeling this way too, and maybe it’ll help to talk about it.

Emptiness is a weird feeling, and completely annoying, because when you try to shake it, it only clings on harder. It came upon me this week after meditating almost every day, and feeling pretty good about things, so it was pretty random seeming. I guess it can come from anywhere at any time. It just felt hard to feel, if that makes any sense. It was hard to feel grateful and hard to feel peaceful for sure.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the empty feeling slathered all over me, like an unsettling grey cloud. It led to almost immediate fear thoughts about how even when I’m on top of things and feeling quite good, I can still feel this horrible lack. Just writing about this now kind of brings the fear thoughts back. Since I don’t exactly know the answer to how to proceed with feelings like this, I will only state some theories I have:

  • Feelings of emptiness come and go. There’s probably something I should pay attention to, instead of just pushing the feelings away.
  • Although I’m afraid of the feeling of emptiness, or not being able to feel peace and gratefulness, I think I’m afraid because I feel like no matter how hard I work, my feelings might not always be peaceful, and I can’t accept that.
  • I need to accept that my feelings won’t always be peaceful, and that sometimes I will feel empty and afraid. I won’t always feel this way, but it doesn’t help to pretend that I never feel this way.
  • The empty feelings and fear feelings that pass through me don’t define who I am.
  • Those same “bad” feelings (which I’m going to take the “bad” label away from now) can be present even while I forge ahead with my life. Their presence doesn’t need to set me back, though I always feel that if I feel empty and fearful, it must mean I’ve backtracked.

This has a lot to do with what I wrote about in the post It Hurts, So What? Sometimes I’m afraid to do something because I know it will hurt. For example, in that post I talked about being afraid to speak up because I knew the outcome probably would be painful anyway…but I needed to speak up. And I did, and it was very painful..but that was okay. Because so what? Sometimes things will be painful. It’s uncomfortable but it’s alright.

So perhaps I’m relearning the lesson of ‘It hurts. So what?” again and again. It’s okay to be afraid of the empty feeling, at the same time that it’s okay to be afraid of being afraid. It’s not a about being ‘beyond’ those feelings. It’s about letting them happen..because so what? Those feelings aren’t who I am.

Here are some articles I read about the empty feeling that made me feel a bit better and a bit less alone:

The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness (And What to Do About It- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/inner-emptiness_b_869421.html

‘I Feel Empty’: How to Overcome Feelings of Emptiness- http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/i-feel-empty-how-to-overcome-feelings-of-emptiness-1112145

Allowing things to

arise: http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble19.htm

Hope this helps someone out there. Remember, feel free to reach out to us if you feel sad or empty. You’re not alone!

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The Trouble With Thankfulness In Your Thirties

So Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we’re still here, facing the possible Black Friday carnage, and the insane cyber Monday heading directly our way.

We may have felt sincerely grateful on Thanksgiving for our situations and our families and our friends, but now holiday shopping is upon us, and work is crazier than ever, and it’s hard to remember the peace we may have felt for a second or two last Thursday.

I was talking to a friend about this the other day- how gratefulness slips through our fingers so easily, especially with years of built up stress and to-do-list habits. I can be grateful for a moment for one second, and then suddenly my mind will be racing with worry about something I don’t have or what I have yet to get done.

It’s extremely difficult to let go of the sometimes very painful old-feeling moments in life- those moments where we’re hit with a sad situation, or when we screw something up or feel guilty about something, or someone hurts us, and those same-old-feelings come up once again. It’s very hard to be thankful for all we have, when seemingly large problems are hitting us with 30-plus years of habitual worry once again.

However, I feel like it’s possible and actually quite necessary to feel thankful in my thirties way more than I have before. Every day I try to start again. It’s like brushing your teeth- you have to keep doing it- it doesn’t just last.

There have been some stressful work situations going on in my life lately where I’ve been angry and feeling wronged and hurt. Sometimes I’ve stewed in those emotions and sometimes I’ve expressed them and tried to be clear about what was wrong. All of that action had its place, and I think that it was good to express the problems and my feelings about them. However, after awhile, it became impossible to stew in the negative feelings anymore. I was causing myself unhappiness and grief. There was nothing to do but to concentrate on things that were still good- and there were many things to be thankful for.

I started feeling thankful for people who smiled at me when they walked by. For children who were adorable and quiet and sweet. For the cool breeze I felt as I walked to work. For the beautiful park I was able to run around in the morning. For coworkers who made funny jokes. For hot showers. For beautiful texts from my family and friends. For delicious hummus. For my Spotify playlist.

And I started to feel better.

We have so much and we forget. I think that forgetting is normal and natural. The habit of not thinking about the small stuff has been a survival tool that’s gotten us through more than thirty years of life. We want more and more- which can be great. We’re in our thirties- we have big dreams. We want an amazing career and an amazing marriage and maybe a family and a creative empire and a wonderful home and creative control and financial freedom.

And those big dreams are extremely important. Huge, in fact.

But we’ll never appreciate them if we can’t be thankful for what we have today.

Each moment is a win. Each day is jam packed with small and beautiful things. Don’t be afraid to appreciate them again and again and again- Thanksgiving is every day.

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Beautiful terrace view on Thanksgiving in Los Angeles 

Thirty-Something and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Mood

Earlier this week I woke up on worse than the wrong side of the bed. I woke up on the wrong side of the planet.

A black sticky cloud had descended upon my usually happy-go-lucky outlook. My eyes went dark and my blood turned ice. The outside world had become bleak and unfriendly. My favorite things felt traitorous. My favorite activities felt lifeless. Everything sucked. There seemed to be no turning back.

There’s been some tumult in my life lately that could’ve caused this blackness to fall upon my days. A big change recently happened with my job that left me horribly upset. Someone said a few things to me recently that shook my trust in people. I’ve been a bit overtired. However, I’ve been through way worse things before, and I don’t usually get this moody.

Sometimes the perfect storm occurs in your life, and no matter how good you’ve been feeling in your thirties or how good things are going, your mood will drop into the negative range. It’s normal and it’s okay.

I’m just starting to shake this feeling, but I’ve come to a few conclusions about it. Here they are.

  1. Sometimes you’re in a black mood. It’s okay. Feel it and don’t beat yourself up.

Really feel the bad mood- give yourself permission to not be okay. You don’t have to always be okay. Try not to explode angrily at other people, but otherwise go ahead and live with the feelings for now. They will pass. When I just pretend to be positive and push away my mood, it usually prolongs the badness and makes me more upset.

2. Sometimes it’ll take a bit of time

Just because you don’t feel better the next day, or the next week, doesn’t mean you’ll always feel off. Give yourself time and don’t freak out or go down a rabbit hole of thinking “everything will be bad forever”….it won’t. I have a bad habit of going down that rabbit hole when I get upset- fearing that I’ve backtracked from all the progress I’ve made in my life. It’s really a terrible habit- but I have to remember that the progress I’ve made is real and won’t just go away because of a bad period. It’s hard to remember.

3. See if you can trace the bad mood.

Sometimes there’s a root cause to the negativity that you can actually work on. Sometimes you’re moody because you need to take action. When I realized that part of my bad mood was due to my job, I started talking about it. Talking things out is sometimes really helpful for me. I also have been attempting to brainstorm baby steps to work on the job issue. We shall see.

4. Be gentle with yourself

Give yourself permission to sleep extra hours if you can grab them. Take a long bath. Watch a movie you want to watch. Walk in nature. Read a book you like. Treat yourself the way you’d treat a friend who’s down. I recently went for a walk in the gardens of the Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina. It was calming to see such amazing beauty in nature.

5. Help someone else

Jane recently was talking to me about something sad going on in her life, and I attempted to cheer her up. While cheering her up, I remembered something that always made me feel better. I had forgotten about what made me feel better in the past- or rather, my bad mood had blocked me from it.

6. Your bad mood isn’t the real you

I’m gonna say something weird now. It’s gonna sound new-agey- but I’d appreciate you bearing with me for a sec. Here goes:

Something I’ve learned in the past few years is that the real you is always love.

I know that sounds weird and hippie-ish and is hard to make sense of, even for me right now. But believe it or not, I think love is what everything really is. Love is given to and received from you all the time, no matter what. Even when you’re at your most horrible, the real you is love. Even when people around you are total douches, their real selves are sending you love. Really.

Isn’t that sort of nice to think about?

Because there are so many blocks to feeling this love. So many. Like apathy. And boredom. And fear. And those darn bad moods. But the love is still there anyway. It’s crazy.

The blocks make it so hard to remember that they’re not what’s real- they’re just blocks to what’s actually real. I don’t know why there are these blocks, and why it’s so hard to get through them. But I guess life has always been mysterious.

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