Performance Anxiety Redux

wpid-20150526_080944.jpgAll right. This is not an apology, this is an explanation. There’s a reason I have been so flaky lately with my posts . . . well, this whole entire month, specifically.

Last year, when I tried to crochet Christmas presents, I didn’t start working until like October or even November, and of course didn’t get finished in time. I have a large family. So this year I began in January. So far I have two granny square blankets crocheted. I just have to put them together. I’m working on my third (pictured above) which looks like snowflakes! I have 30 out of 88 squares done.

Anyway, we’re here to talk about performance anxiety, and the causes and helps for it. The three main causes of PA are:

  • Mild social anxiety.
  • Inexperience in public.
  • Strong distaste for failure

As with most anxiety problems, it’s hard to know the exact cause, but performance anxiety is also self-sustaining, because it creates a mindset that focuses only on mistakes and seeing others as judging you. One small mistake, even if no one notices, or one person in the audience that looks unhappy and all of your fears are reinforced, causing more performance anxiety to happen later. No matter the effects of anxiety, there is no denying that anxiety itself can create more anxiety. The more you are worried about your performance, the more your performance suffers.

Some strategies which can help in overcoming performance anxiety are:

  • Pre- and Post- Presentation Positive Writing Exercises – Since anxiety is a problem with negative thinking, one way to combat anxiety is to force yourself to think positively. An example of this type of exercise includes writing out 10 or 20 genuinely positive thoughts about how you performed or will perform. It’s not perfect, but it will stop you from focusing only on the negative.
  • Positive Support – You also need support from others. It’s easy to think about the negatives when you mess up – or when you have the possibility of messing up. But if you can find people in your life that are always supportive, you won’t care as much about any mistakes because others in your life will make things easier. Positive support is very helpful for this type of anxiety.
  • Happy Distractions – Much of performance anxiety is not what happens at the time of the event, but what occurs before and after it. This is when the mind can wander into negative thoughts. Keeping yourself mentally active and busy prevents the mind from focusing on the negatives, especially if you can focus on more positive activities like going outdoors and spending fun time with friends.
  • Practicing Under Pressure – It is often hard to practice under pressure, because practice itself rarely has that much pressure. But if you can get used to being under pressure situations, then when you actually face some type of pressure it won’t cause as much anxiety. For example, if you are giving a speech, do it in front of smaller crowds and work your way up to the bigger ones. If you are playing sports, practice playing where people challenge you with noise and energy – just like you would experience in a big game. This will help you get used to some of the components of pressure situations, even if it doesn’t resemble it completely.

 

Fino a domani, I miei amici! Mwah!

 

Positive Psychology

comic-positive-psychologyTo prepare for this blog post, I read Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness in two days. It was a pretty major feat for me, since I’m usually a slow reader, especially when it comes to nonfiction material. This book, minus the index pages, notes, and acknowledgements, came to 260 pp. But I was excited about it, especially since my sister had recently begun therapy again with someone who used only positive psychology techniques. She had recommended this book to Carol, and when I tried to get two copies at B&N, they only had one, so I read it as fast as I could.

I have a few criticisms, mostly that it’s so non-measurable. Positive psychology believes in emphasizing a person’s signature strengths, rather than focusing on weaknesses, and I can get behind that for sure. There are 24 signature strengths, but if you take the test, which you can, at the Authentic Happiness website, you’ll find 250 separate questions. It takes some time, but be as honest as you can. When you are all done, it will spit back your strengths to you. For instance, mine are: appreciation of beauty and excellence, kindness and generosity, creativity, ingenuity, and originality, humor and playfulness, and forgiveness and mercy. My top strength is appreciation of beauty, so I’m supposed to use that as much as I can, but all of them really.

“Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting.” — Martin Seligman

What I really didn’t like was the chapter on love. It was all about romantic love. Now, honestly, I’m not against romantic love, truly, I’m all for that, you know? But there are other kinds of love that deserve mentioning. What about familial love? What about mother daughter love? Or Father son love? What about friendship?

And Seligman seems to believe the bedrock of all this is some sort of faith. Sorry, but faith and I parted ways a while ago. I’ve been Roman Catholic, then Protestant by way of Presbyterian and lastly Southern Baptist. I haven’t been to any church at all in years. I don’t even think I remember how to pray. If I have any faith at all, it’s in nature, that the sun will rise every morning and set every night.

According to Seligman, we can’t blame our past for the fact that we are on welfare, or that we have become unemployed, alcoholic, or whatever. If we were abused, or our parents divorced, it’s history. What we make of our lives today is on us. 

In the end, I think we could all do with a little more positivity in our lives. I’ve been to too many therapists where the first question out of their mouths was, “What can you tell me about your childhood?” AAAUUUGGHH!

Have a great and productive day!

Ciao Bella.

Exposure Is Like A Four-Letter Word

exposureOr at least, it should be, and that’s the word fear. In the book I’m reading about social anxiety disorder, Dying of Embarrassment, there is lots of talk about exposure as the main solution to dealing with most anxious and troubling situations.

The first part of the book helps one figure out what exactly is distressing and anxiety provoking. It’s all very individual, of course. Then we’re supposed to put it in a hierarchy, like from least anxiety-provoking, to moderately anxiety-provoking to severely anxiety-provoking. I’m just reading this book to read it for now. When I sit down to really look at situations and make a list it’s going to take me a while, because my knee-jerk reaction is always “It’s all severely anxiety-provoking! What do you think got me into this mess?!”

Exposure therapy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_therapy) as a form of torture began in the 1950s. It’s also known as flooding. Of course, I’m kidding about the torture part (a little). I only say that because I’m actually considering it and I’m afraid. The next section of the book (I forgot the part about the coping skills and changing cognitive distortions) is actually doing it. Exposures take two forms: in vivo (real life) and imaginal (in the imagination). Before we do an actual in vivo exposure, we’re supposed to take ourselves through a few imaginal exposures.

In imaginal exposures, everything is imagined as detailed as possible. All the smells, the sounds, are people sweating, etc., get as detailed as possible. Then go through the situation and let your anxiety rise as you sit through it. Go through the anxiety and stay with it because it will go down again the longer you stay with it, as you remember your breathing exercises and so on.  You might imagine absolute success or you might imagine marginal failure and how you would come at your cognitive distortions in the imaginal exposure.

In in vivo exposures everything is real. The book never mentions this, but to me it is like taking someone who is afraid of snakes and throwing them into a pit of vipers! Of course, it’s not that dramatic, because there’s the hierarchy list; the list of lesser anxiety-provokers and higher anxiety-provokers. So it’s much more within the control of the person with social anxiety disorder. For example, let’s say you’re afraid of public speaking. You might start with saying hello to your neighbor when you’re both working in your backyards. Then a medium task might be giving a talk at the high school. A severe task would be giving the baccalaureate speech for your daughter’s friend’s graduation.

If you read this far, God bless you, Geshundheit, please place your trays in their upright positions, and thank you for not smoking.

coffee

Just Relax

RelaxThere must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. ~Chinese proverb

Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at other times move forward with it. ~Ray Bradbury

It seems like everywhere I go people are talking about relaxation these days. My therapist asks me about my stress level, like it’s something that can be quantified, measured on a daily basis. lying down

I probably mentioned already that I’m participating in an study for bipolar disordered people on a site called Optimism. I love the name, but the site is both complicated and ambiguous.

The site tracks your mood every day, how well you coped, hours slept, quality of sleep, whether or not you exercised, and took medications, if relevant (here’s where I find some ambiguity. It doesn’t ask if your meds make you feel like you’re on auto-pilot, or so thirsty you could drink a gallon of water and it wouldn’t be enough, so tired you’d just run a marathon…only you hadn’t). It then goes into three different categories: stay well strategies, triggers, and symptoms. 

Relaxation fits under the Stay well strategies, along with adequate sleep, plenty of water, and routine, just to name a few. I use a relaxation cd daily. One of the choices on the cd is A Walk on the Beach. The narrator uses the elevator technique to take me deeper down, until I’m so relaxed I’m actually somewhere way in the basement. Ha ha ha

If only it would stay. Not minutes after that, I checked my email, and there was something from an editor or promoter of a book I’ve signed up to read on Netgalley. Now, I love reading more than anything, and I just finished my third book for them. I have three more books in the queue before the book this promoter spoke of. All the relaxation I’d just had given to me went right out the window. I had no idea what to say to this person, so I took my usual route. Say nothing, and keep plodding along. My dog, Lucy, would have peed on the email and gone on her happy way. 😀 We should all be so lucky.

dog

Gambling on Goals

goalsGoals are so crazy popular, aren’t they? I mean, I went looking for one quote on goals for this post, just one, and they were all so contradictory. Some said set your goals high and don’t stop ’til you achieve them. Others said it starts with the spirit, and if that wasn’t true, forget about it. Then there’s the one who says to set small goals and build upon them. So even the meaning of the word goal is somewhat sketchy.

I know of a famous, at least famous on my terms, writing website, which has a whole board (forum) dedicated to the topic of goals and the achievement (or not) thereof. I belonged to it at one time. I did find it somewhat useful, but mostly I felt bad about myself for not achieving the goals I’d set out for the week. I might or might not have been the only person who felt that way, but it’s interesting to note, don’t you think? dont-worry-about-goals

Now, I know I could be feeling this way because I’m still coming off a manic phase and it’s hard for me to focus on any one thing. At Goodreads I’m reading five books at a time still, one of which is a book I’m reviewing for Netgalley. If you haven’t checked out Netgalley, you really should. And then there is Optimism, and the six month’s study I voluntarily upped for. Don’t forget the origami cranes. 😀 My brain also recently lit on zentangle, because it’s supposed to be so good for stress. I bought books and everything. I’ve only made one so far, but my mind is studying and learning (which I think is the opposite of what it’s supposed to do). How is a brain like that supposed to do anything except make it through the day? LOL strongest

With the above thought in mind, I took myself to the gym yesterday morning at 4:00 a.m. I just did it. My goal was to get in there, to buy a pair of headphones, sit on a cycle, and ride for at least fifteen minutes. My biggest worry about achieving the goal was, of course, the stares I might get. But–surprisingly–people didn’t even look at  me; even when the gentleman behind the counter had a hard time getting the cash register to work and it took what seemed like an eternity. No one stared at me while I fumbled with the outer packaging of the headphones, or while I figured out how exactly the cycle worked. In fact no one seemed quite otherwise occupied. Such a monumental surprise for the fat girl who expected finger points and taunts.

I had planned on going later that day (6-7 was a great time, because people were eating dinner) and every day after that. Then I got sick. Really suddenly, like wham, you had enough fun, no more fun for you. I know my thinking is distorted because I’m sick, so I’ll try not to take that too seriously.

Here’s my point. In between setting goals, life happens. So we need to become as flexible as a Gumby toy. Things can change in an instant. So, what am I saying, that I’m not going to the gym anymore? Heck no! But I couldn’t go today, and my body feels like I got hit by a Mack truck (Say, did you know there’s a r/l thing as a Mack truck? I saw one when I was driving a while back!). I’m saying sometimes it may be two steps forward one step back, but there’s always that one step forward.

Don’t forget to loveyourself intensely during this process. It’s hard. You’ll want to rail against everything. But don’t. You’ll be okay. Hang in there, and trust God. Trust your friends.

Peace out. xxlifer

Putting On That Other Pair Of Shoes

forgivingGentle readers,

I’ve been trying and trying to write this blog, wanting it to be gentle and light, to bring you good vibes so you’ll come back and keep reading. But my mind and heart are heavy with all the colossal blunders I’m making that I keep wanting to slough off onto my illness. A mixed episode of bipolar disorder is nothing to laugh about. It’s like a modern version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. My loved ones never know who they’re going to be speaking to from one minute to the next.

Until I got into Al-Anon, I used to get so mad at my sister when she wold blame her absurd or borderline abusive drunken behavior on her disease. Even after becoming a regular around the tables, it took me a long time to get that being a drunk is a disease and not a choice. I know, ridiculous right? Who in their right mind would choose the humiliation and shame attached with being an alcoholic? She is responsible for any fallout, and she has to try to amend as much as she truly can, but she has to love herself first and foremost. That’s why it’s called a selfish program.

I wish there was such a thing as a teleporter, so I could teleport myself to a tiny, solitary island far, far away from any living people until I Get Better. Until then, I keep apologizing, then praying and trying again. I’ve started taking my Flexeril (20mg per pill, a muscle relaxant), which I had a WHOLE bunch left over from when I initially hurt my back years ago along with 3x daily dose of Xanax. It makes me sleepy, and a little loopy, which is a weird trip to be on with all the racing thoughts and flighty ideas in my brain. But it makes me a little less prone to blurt out the first thing I’m thinking—I would do anything to not hurt my mom or my sister. Go ahead. Let me have it. Tell me I’m using, that I’ll become a drug addict. I’m already addicted to prescribed Xanax, what’s a little Flexeril thrown in?

I better stop now, because I’m very tired, and I know I’m not making sense. I guess the take-away from this is: be very careful when we go to judge or feel resentful of someone else. We never know when we’re going to be the one struggling with a problem which can easily be judged and resented. But only when we accept ourselves and love ourselves where we are can true change begin to happen.

When I talk to my sister now, and I hear her go into “beat up on Carol” mode, I try to jump in and get real logical with her. She did the best she could at that time with the information that she had. Now she knows better, she can do better.

This is my first ever dysphoric mania episode. I feel so lost at sea. And it’s super hard to take that same advice and apply it to myself. All I keep thinking is “Idiot. Stupid. Mean. Jerk. Way to go, jackass.” It is probably the reason that I still have suicidal ideation and that many with this type of mania attempt suicide.

Argh. I’m blabbing and I’m getting totally incoherent. Please be gentle with yourselves today, no matter where you are on your journeys.

Peace out. xx better