Your feelings are not the problem

Sometimes I try to tell myself that my feelings aren’t real.

That if I just do x, y, and z, they will go away. I often think of sadness, hurt, or pain as something that is made up in my head and needs to leave, immediately. Like an unwanted guest.

There is a reason we have emotions. Our emotions are there to communicate something to us or to someone else. Our emotions are there to motivate us to act. When you experience fear, anger, or happiness there is a corresponding physiological response that occurs in your body. This is what leads me to believe that my feelings are real. Sometimes my thoughts influence my emotions. And often times, I have a lot of thoughts or beliefs about my emotions. (I’m not allowed to be sad. If I’m sad around people it will bring them down. My feelings are a burden to other people.) But my feelings are not the problem.

Growing up, I felt like my feelings were a liability. If I felt hurt or upset by how someone behaved, I thought that my emotions were the problem, not their behavior. But I’m learning that my feelings are not wrong. They just are. And sometimes they are there to tell me something. If I never felt hurt by other people – I may never learn to set boundaries. I might let people walk all over me. Etc.

This being human is a guest house - rumi quote

I often want to “fix” my feelings.

Last week I was feeling really sad. I felt tired, drained, like there was a grey cloud over my head. I didn’t want to interact with people. I tried really hard to fix this feeling. I tried running. I tried meetings. I tried being of service. I prayed. I went to church. I talked to friends. I practiced gratitude. I did all the things I’m supposed to do to feel good, right?! Cmon peace and serenity! Where are you?!

It wasn’t until someone gave me permission to just allow my feelings to exist that I found some peace.

I called my sponsor to ask for help. I wanted her to give me specific directions about how to make the depressive fog go away. I wanted her to tell me that if I do x, y, and z, I will feel better. But she didn’t do that. She told me that it was okay to have these feelings. That there wasn’t anything WRONG with me. That I should be gentle with myself. At first, I felt really irritated by this response. Because it feels better to have some concrete action to take than it does to just sit and let your feelings happen (scary!!!).

I took her advice. What did I have to lose? I let myself cry. I allowed myself to feel. I gave myself permission to lay around and not be busy. I just let the feelings come. When I gave myself permission to just let myself have the feelings, they seemed to take care of themselves. The next day, I felt a little bit better. And the day after that even better.

When I am in that dark funk, it’s easy to feel like “this is never going to go away”. But something I know for certain is that feelings come and go. You will not feel the way you feel right now forever. Sooner or later, your emotions will shift and you will experience a different emotion.

This isn’t one of those lessons that I learn and then put into action everyday. I have to remind myself of this lesson time and time again. Because accepting my emotions exactly as they are IS FUCKING HARD. And it’s uncomfortable. And I don’t like feeling uncomfortable.

What would happen if you gave yourself permission to just have your feelings and not try to FIX them?

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Daily Habits

Quote: We become what we repeatedly do Aristotle

Since my period of unemployment began, I’ve paid a lot more attention to the things that I do on a daily basis. I currently have the ability to mold my schedule however I want with only a few non-negotiable time blocks. I love the freedom to create a schedule that I love. Although, I often get sidetracked by the internet, email, social media, ruminating about my crazy landlord, etc.

I believe daily habits are sooooooooo important. Maintaining helpful daily habits is like adding a couple bucks to your savings account everyday and accruing interest on that money. 5 years from now, you’re going to have a lot of fucking money!

Here are some of the things that I find important to (try to) do on a daily basis.
  1. Prayer: I try to center myself on a daily basis by praying. My prayers look a little different each day- sometimes it’s a personalized prayer. Sometimes it’s the Serenity Prayer or the Prayer of St. Francis. Other days it is saying “Thank You” to the universe. Prayer helps me take one small step away from my ego.
  2. Exercise: Like prayer, this can look different, depending on the day. Some days I run. Some days I hike. Some days I do some yoga. Some days all I do is go on a walk. Some days I go to the gym. Some days I create my own personal boot camp in my house. Some days I do a mixture of those things. When I exercise, I feel calm. The incessant mental chatter slows down. I am less agitated and irritated. Maybe it’s endorphins. I don’t know. I do know I feel 1000% better when I exercise.
  3. Gratitude: Each day I try to reflect on something I am grateful for. Today I went on a walk around my parent’s neighborhood. Down the street there is this stunning cherry tree. I paused as I walked by it, taking in the beauty. I thought about how it must be a magical fairy tree because I’ve never seen another tree so awe-inspiring. I believe that when we express our gratitude to the universe or “God” or friends, we will inevitably find even more things to feel grateful for.
  4. Meditation: Maybe I should rephrase this to say “sit quietly for a period of time” since when I do this I’m not always “meditating” or focusing on something. I struggle to do meditation regularly. But when I do it (which ideally would be every day), I am more calm and present throughout my entire day.
  5. To-Do Lists: Okay it’s no secret I love to-do lists. I recently having been going through a bunch of old boxes at my parent’s house (they are moving and want me to get all my random shit out). I literally have found ten to twenty little notebooks that I have written to do lists in over the years.  When I was in school, I’d be really obsessive about these things with like date due, level of importance, etc. Today, a simple 3 item to-do list each morning helps keep me focused on what I need to accomplish for that day. If I write down more than 3, it’s easy for me to lose focus.
  6. One Small Step: Just as much as I love to-do lists, I love goal-setting too. Within my to-do list, I try to write down (AND ACTUALLY DO) one small thing that will get me closer to my goals. When trying to find a job – one small step is to find one job and apply for it (or maybe that’s two steps, I dunno).
  7. Talk to a Friend: Whether it is through call, text, email, or in person, it’s important for me to connect with someone throughout the day. Lately I’ve been spending a lot more time at home and am coming to appreciate human interaction so much more. This daily habit also helps maintain relationships.

If you like the idea of the daily habit list, Click Here For a Free PDF Daily Habits Checklist where you can enter in your own habits.  (If you’d like me to customize this for you – let me know).

Here’s a few other ideas for daily habits:
  • Do one nice thing for someone
  • Compliment someone
  • Read
  • Reflect on my day
  • Drink 100 oz of water a day
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Go for a walk
  • Take vitamins
  • Journal
  • Write

In the past, I’ve created little spreadsheets to help me track my daily habits. Here’s one from quite a while ago.

Habits Checklist

At the end of each day, I would put a check mark next to the ones that I had accomplished and tally them up at the end of the week. I really should have invested in gold stars instead of check marks.

Here’s another one I created when I was newly sober.

Habits List

What are some of the daily habits that are most important in your life? What have I left out? I’d love to hear what you think!

Mountain

10 Things You Learn to Appreciate When Backpacking

This post was inspired by Bill Bryson’s Book A Walk in the Woods about hiking the Appalachian Trail (Thanks for the book sister!)

10 Things You Learn to Appreciate When Backpacking (In no particular order)

1. Fresh Food (And Anything That Requires Refrigeration): When you’re on the trail, you eat a lot of things that don’t require refrigeration and don’t spoil easily. Which means a lot of trail mix, oatmeal, and mountain houses (yawn). When I get off the trail, I am like dying for a burger and milkshake. And oh my gosh pineapple after a backpacking trip!

2. Toilets: Okay really, I can be grateful for this one when I go on a day hike or a long run. But man, backpacking really reminds me to appreciate a good old toilet, whether it smells or not. Seriously. After squatting in the woods for nights on end, SITTING on a toilet is amazing.

3. Hot Drinks: When I don’t have the convenience of a Keurig or a microwave or tea kettle, I’m reminded to be grateful for that cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea that I have to work to make. Plus they taste like the most amazing thing ever when you’re on the mountain. Added bonus if you’re cold and it warms you up.

4. Gatorade/Powerade: In August, I hiked a section of the PCT with some friends. On one day, it was blazing hot and I was wiped. When my friends caught up to me on the trail (I was laying on the ground wanting to give up) they gave me some of this magic elixir (Powerade). Five minutes later I was flying on the trail! It was like a red bull commercial, except it was Powerade that gave me wings. I will never forget the magic of electrolytes+sugar again.

5. Company: So as you likely have already gathered, I am a bit of an introvert. I cherish my alone time. But when you are hiking for 15 miles in the middle of the woods by yourself with no cell phone service, those little interactions with other humans are amazing. Added bonus if you actually like the company! Additional bonus if they tell you epic stories.

6. Sitting: In my everyday life, I get very sick of sitting. My lower back starts to hurt and my legs get antsy. When I have to sit in my car to drive home after sitting at a desk all day, I tend to get very AGITATED. However, go on a backpacking trip and you will be amazed how great it sounds to just sit. On the dirt. On a rock. On a bridge. On sleeping pad. Anywhere really. Because your feet are tired. Your legs ache. And sitting feels like a little slice of heaven.

7. Water: Streams, creeks, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, the stuff in your nalgene. Whatever form it comes in! When the stuff doesn’t magically pour out of a faucet and you have to pump water from a nice little swamp in order to make sure you have enough water to not die, you learn to love this stuff. When your hiking in 90 degree weather, sweating with your 40 pound pack on your back, dipping in to that water is AMAZING. I also found that the glacier water was like an ice bath for my tired, sore feet.

8. Your Quads & Hammys: Those bad boys have propelled me up giant mountains and across miles and miles of distance. Lets be grateful for those amazing legs that permit you to do these things!

9. A Tent Mate: I went on a solo overnight trip on the PCT over the summer. I saw bears (among other things). I heard large animals outside my tent at night. I had to set up the tent, boil water, make dinner, pump water, etc. all by myself. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go solo backpacking. But when you have another HUMAN in your tent, those large beast sniffing noises outside your tent aren’t quite so scary. And the fear of running into a murderous psychopath – not there. You can split up camp duties like setting up the tent, boiling water, and pumping water. Or one night you can be ready to fall over and die and your tent mate can help roll your in your sleeping bag.

10. Toilet Paper. Do I even need to elaborate here?

Just Show Up

Screw Perfectionism – Just Show Up

I have always been terrified of failure. Growing up, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as close to perfect as I could. When I got a 3.95 GPA in high school, all I could think about was that one A- that prevented me from getting a 4.0. When I scored points in a basketball game or got a steal, I always thought about the shot I missed, the steal I should have gotten.

Over the years, this perfectionist tendency has led me to avoid a lot of things, out of fear of failure. Somewhere along the road, I consumed the message that if I’m not perfect, I’m failing. Since 99% of things you do will not be perfect, it’s hard to feel good about yourself if 99% of the time you feel like a failure.

Recently, I’ve tried on a new attitude. It goes like this

Just show up and see what happens.

Simple, don’t you think? I used to only do something if I thought I’d be good at it. I rarely tried something just to challenge myself. I didn’t do uncomfortable or hard things. Because I wasn’t willing to risk the possibility that I might fail.

Last year when I made the decision to start doing uncomfortable shit I was forced to set my perfectionism down for a moment. I decided to try this glacier climbing course thing. One of my good friends had gone through the course the year before and she was beaming every time she talked about her experience. I didn’t know if I’d be any good at climbing mountains. I didn’t know if I’d even like it. But I decided I’d just try it out and see what happened. Worst case scenario? I don’t like it and I lose $100 that I spent on signing up for the course. I decided that was worth the risk.

Okay actually there are a lot more risks involved in mountaineering than that, but at the time, I was more terrified of failing or not being good enough than I was of falling into a crevasse, breaking an ankle, altitude sickness, or any other PHYSICAL worst case scenarios. I’ve never been all that scared of the realistic shit. When it comes down to it, my biggest fear is my emotions.

So I acknowledged my fear and allowed myself the possibility that I wouldn’t be an amazing mountaineer. I might not even like it. But I wanted to try something.

So I just showed up.

I used the same attitude when I took up running. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually like it. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of running 13 miles consecutively (is that even physically possible?!). I wasn’t sure if my knee would be up to the challenge. The farthest I had ever run was maybe 5 miles.

But after talking to my boyfriend for a bit, I realized my worst case scenario (aka biggest fear) was not being able to run the whole 13 miles and having to walk part of it. Which seems really silly when I reflect on it now. “Oh my god, you might actually have to walk part of your first half marathon ever. There’s probably a million people who have done exactly that.” It sounds sort of egocentric.

Like with mountaineering, I wasn’t really afraid that I’d injure myself. I was afraid I’d “fail.”

When I actually look at what the biggest fear or worst-case-scenario is FOR ME, I can see how unreasonable my fear really is. Just writing it down takes some of the power out of it.

For the half marathon, my boyfriend offered to pay for me to enter the race, meaning I wouldn’t be losing any money if I didn’t complete it.  So in my head Option A: TRY to run a half marathon and just see what happens. Worst case scenario: have to walk part of it. or Option B: Don’t try to run a half marathon. Stay in my comfort zone. Continue to wonder if it’s possible. Doubt myself. Continue to think “I could never do that.”

It’s pretty clear to me that every time I just show up and see what happens, things work out pretty well. When I set my perfectionist tendencies to the side, I can allow myself to just try something and see how it goes.

So I completed that half-marathon. I just showed up and did what I could. My goal was to run the whole thing without walking. And the back up goal was just completing it (walking if necessary). I maintained a very nice slow pace and was able to complete the half-marathon, running the entire course.

With running – the fear of failing (not being able to complete a half marathon without walking) paralyzed me from ever even trying to run. I’ve learned that doing SOMETHING is better than doing NOTHING.

Because done is better than perfect

What would happen if you chose to just show up and see what happens? Let the universe propel you in the right direction? What if you let go of your fear of failure for a minute? What kind of things could be possible if you set your irrational fears aside? Maybe you’d feel uncomfortable, but is feeling uncomfortable really the worst case scenario?

Push It! (Push your comfort zone that is…)

The beloved comfort zone.

My comfort zone involves lying in my bed on my laptop scrolling through the internet (typically reading articles or scrolling through social media). Additionally: playing solitaire on my phone in bed. I tend to have a very narrow comfort zone. These are the places where I feel most at ease. Maybe your comfort zone looks a little different than my introverted one.

So wtf is the comfort zone really?

Well, your comfort zone is a psychological state where you feel at ease and are unlikely to experience a whole lot of stress or anxiety. It provides a certain sense of security – you know what to expect. For me it’s a place where I feel in control. Its good to return to our comfort zone from time to time so we can recharge our batteries. Not so good to exist in our comfort zones 24/7.

3 years ago, the only place I lived was in this comfort zone. Any attempt to tip-toe outside of my comfort zone resulted in anxiety, panic, and terror. It felt scary to go to the grocery store because “Ah! People!”. Generally doing anything beyond a conversation with my ex-live-in-boyfriend and two dogs was off limits, and I had to have a really good reason to do so. The amount of energy required to propel myself in the direction of human interaction was enormous.

I guess I’ve learned that when you only do things inside of your comfort zone, it’s really fucking terrifying to do anything outside of your comfort zone (Mind blowing revelation, right?).

Over a year ago, I made the conscious decision to start doing more things out of my comfort zone. I signed up for a glacier climbing course which propelled me in the direction of doing uncomfortable things. It forced me to do so many new, scary things. I had to interact with humans. A lot. I had to try things I had never done before (flinging myself down a mountain in order to practice ice axe arrest, being dropped into a crevasse, etc.).

Crevasse

When I climbed Mt. Rainier last year, I had moments of terror and moments of absolute exhilaration.  And there was this one moment where my comfort zone was stretched so far that I wasn’t sure I could make it.

We were at 10,000 feet heading to the summit from Camp Schurman. It was completely dark outside with the exception of the little twinkling lights making their way up the mountain and the spectacular array of stars overhead. After trudging along in the freezing cold for a while, at a pace that wouldn’t allow my body to warm up, I started to doubt myself. I thought “my toes are freezing and this is absolutely fucking miserable” “why am I even doing this?” I started to think, “I can’t do this. I should turn around.” I imagined the warmth of my sleeping bag back at camp. I wanted to quit.

But I was attached by a rope to two other ladies, traveling in a group with 11 other people. Turning around wasn’t really an option. Also, I have this utter inability to speak up when I am struggling because *gasp* it might show weakness. So I sat with this feeling (figuratively speaking – I was actually hiking up a giant mountain).

I’d learned some tools throughout my training to help me get through these mental tough spots. Count steps. Repeat a prayer. Recall my last success. None of these things seemed to help. So I called on something bigger to support me. I imagined my family there with me. I imagined my grandfather who had passed away several years prior. I recalled memories with my grandpa. I thought about the time when my dog was a puppy and jumped on my grandpa’s lap and started pulling his handkerchief out of his shirt pocket.  I asked him to help me climb this mountain.

After reflecting on this memory for some time, there was this still inner voice that awoken. It told me I could do this. And the truth is – I totally could.  Physically speaking, I was more than prepared to climb the mountain. I was in the best shape I had been in since  high school. But I had entered one of those mental tough spots. Where things SEEM so hard that you can’t possibly go on.

That’s the thing about your comfort zone – sometimes when you step out of it, your mind snaps shut and says “no, this is too hard.” And yes stepping out of the comfort zone IS HARD. But it’s not “too hard.” That’s just what your mind tells you.

So what happened? Well, I climbed that mountain. One step at a time. I looked at giant crevasses to the left and right of me and thought “Yes this is absolutely terrifying. But I can do this.” I allowed myself to sit in the uncomfortable feelings and realize that feeling uncomfortable wasn’t going to kill me. When I reached the summit, I was so excited that I started reeling my tent mate in. We embraced in a hug and began crying. “We did it!!!!!”

Mt. Rainier Summit

For me, the thing that has made the BIGGEST difference in my personal growth has been stepping out of my comfort zone. Doing things that feel so uncomfortable that I’m ready to squirm out of my own skin. I have realized that I don’t feel GOOD about myself when I sit in my comfort zone. My confidence or self-esteem doesn’t get any better. But when I so something uncomfortable and challenging – I feel fucking proud!

And I don’t have to go climb mountains in order to push the limits of my comfort zone. I can do it in small ways. Like calling someone I’ve been meaning to call for a while (because oh my god, actually TALKING is so much scarier than text). I can address an uncomfortable situation with a friend. I can help out a friend. I can drive a different route home. I can try a new activity- painting, rock climbing, running, knitting, whatever! Just do some small thing out of your comfort zone and see how you feel afterwards.

How are you going to push yourself out of your comfort zone today? In the next 30 days?

I’m curious, for those of you that may be more extroverted – does your comfort zone involve being around people? I would love to hear your thoughts. 

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