On a Personal Note: Dealing with My Fear & Anxiety

On a Personal Note

A new series on my blog, On a Personal Note, will be taking a more relaxed and intimate approach to discussing the varying factors of mental health that can affect life on a day-to-day basis for those who deal with mental illness. I’ll be sharing my own experiences with bipolar, anxiety, and depression, and the ways that they continue to shape my personal life and outlook.


As you’ve probably noticed, Hugs + Hexes has been conspicuously lacking new posts over the last three months, and like any writer my excuses have been plentiful: I’ll write when I have more time, I’m not feeling it today, I’m so busy with school, I just don’t have the time to commit right now… All of which, of course, are 99% bullshit. I can write a fifteen page research paper in 24 hours, but not a 600 word blog post? Okay then. 

Yeah sure okay

The harsh truth? I’ve been too scared. I have post ideas, I outline them, I make the graphics for them, I start to draft them… and then I decide that they’re actually terrible and trash them. In the back of my mind there’s always this nagging voice that says, who are you to tell other people how to help themselves when you live on seven different kinds of medication just to not be crazy on a daily basis? I’m just a messed up girl with a 4.0 GPA, a royally screwed up sleep schedule, and what feels like every emotional issue under the sun. But I’m trying.

Here are some of the lies I tell myself (maybe you’ll find them familiar, too):

  • If you write it and it’s not perfect, it’s worthless and you should destroy it.
  • If your creative projects aren’t going to be masterpieces, they aren’t worth creating.
  • Your mental illness discredits everything you say or do.
  • Anything less than 98-100% is failing and you should be ashamed.
  • Why would anyone care what a depressive bipolar millennial has to say?
  • It is better to stay inside your comfort zone where it’s safe than to experience new things. New things are scary.
  • If you don’t micromanage your entire life you will lose control of everything.
  • People won’t like you once they find out that you’re bipolar/deal with anxiety/used to self-injure/etc.

But despite all of these things, I’m trying my best to make a healthy and productive life for myself. I finished my first semester back at school with straight A’s, I accepted a job working as an English tutor on campus, I’m keeping up with my meds and keeping track of my mental, physical, and emotional health with an entirely-too-in-depth Excel spreadsheet (as is my style).

Note: I edited a basic habit spreadsheet that I had found online, and modeled the tabs that I added after my own bullet journal layouts, figuring that it’s less time consuming to just copy and paste a few tabs in an Excel sheet than to hand draw a month’s worth of new pages every few weeks (and isn’t that the truth!)

If my Habit/Health spreadsheet looks like something you’d like to use for yourself or might help you organize your life, you can download a free copy here (and edit it as much as you’d like to to fit your own life and needs!)


Sometimes it seems all too easy to let my fear and anxiety talk me out of doing even the things I love to do– for instance, recently I’ve also been hired as a paid intern to write for a local magazine, and for the last week I’ve been asking myself if I truly want to do it. And really, that’s a stupid question: of course I want to do it. What I was honestly trying to ask myself was, am I brave enough to do it? Because I can’t lie, writing professionally and seeing my name in print would make me prouder than anything I’ve ever done before in my life– but the idea of conducting interviews for articles and attending events and meeting a lot of new people absolutely terrifies me. Like, it makes my anxiety skyrocket just thinking about it.

So yeah, it’s easy to let my anxiety whisper in my ear and tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t go out and try these new things: they’re scary, you might fail, you might disappoint people, you might embarrass yourself, people might not like you… But just like taking the (similarly terrifying-yet-exciting) jump into being a student again, sometimes I just need to tell my anxiety to shove it and try those new things anyway– after all, I walked away from my first semester with straight A’s and a solid 4.0, so I must not be entirely hopeless.. right?

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There are a few things I’m working to do to help myself conquer my fears and anxieties for certain situations (such as writing, and meeting new people):

  • Let go of my perfectionist attitude. This causes me so much more stress than I need, and it’s never worth it. Did I tell you about the time a few weeks ago that I cried when I got a 98.4% on my English final? I felt so sure that I was going to get 100%, and when I missed two questions (two! freaking! questions!) I was utterly devastated. It was ridiculous, and my best friends rightfully laughed at me when I told them.
  • Stop assuming the worst of people. This isn’t to say that I think everyone I meet is a cannibalistic axe-murderer, but I am often more wary of meeting new people than I should be, to the point where sometimes I’ll go out of my way to avoid it entirely. It has less to do with them, and more to do with my own insecurities; I’ll worry that they’re judging the way I dress or the way I talk or insert-other-unrealistic-reason-here. I think I need to just let myself smile and have a conversation without worrying so much about what someone else may or (most likely) may not be thinking.
  • Get out of my comfort zone more often. For me, this can mean anything from taking a chance on a tv show I’ve never watched before, to eating a food I’ve never tried before, to visiting a city I’ve never been before. All too often, I get caught up in my comfortable little safe haven where I watch the same shows and go to the same places and eat the same foods, and it doesn’t usually bother me because I like all of those things– but I’m probably missing out on a lot of other things that I would also like because I’m not giving them a chance.
  • Set aside time to be creative & do craft projects. Last semester, possibly because it was my first time being a student in ten years, I had a slightly manic attitude of “COME HELL OR HIGH WATER I WILL FINISH THIS PAPER I DON’T CARE IF IT TAKES UNTIL 4AM I WILL NOT SLEEP OR EAT OR MOVE OR BLINK UNTIL THE LAST WORD IS WRITTEN” ….. And while I pulled through with great grades, it’s maybe not so surprising that I’ve crashed hard into a depressive state over the last three weeks since Summer semester ended. Remember what I said that one time about my tendency to be ultra-motivated and then crash? It was sort of like that; without the constant influx of assignments and due dates, I suddenly felt purposeless and I collapsed like a marionette with no strings. Okay, what does this have to do with being creative, exactly? Last semester I was all work and little to no play, and what free time I did have I didn’t allow myself to enjoy because I was too busy stressing over assignments and obsessively refreshing my grades on Moodle. This semester, I’m striving for balance. Over the last two days I’ve been digging back through my planner supplies and playing with stamps and stickers and washi tape and it’s the happiest I can remember feeling in weeks. I had forgotten how cathartic crafting is for me, but now that I’ve reminded myself I won’t be forgetting again soon.

Those are a few of the strategies that I’ll be using to help myself manage my anxiety this semester. I still think if I can keep myself from going completely insane by the end of finals week in December, it’s going to be a goddamn miracle. But here’s hoping!

So, in short: try that new thing you’ve always wanted to try, cook something you’ve never made just because it sounds tasty, read books on subjects you know nothing about, introduce yourself to new people without assuming that they already hate you, don’t worry about being perfect, don’t stress out over failing– tell your fears and anxieties to go to hell, because honestly, ain’t nobody got time for that.

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5 Simple Ways to Get Over Creative Burnout

Creative Burnout

Creative burnout is a topic that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately, because I’m currently struggling knee-deep through it. You know that feeling when you go to write, and the words just aren’t there? Or you have too many unfinished things on your to-do list, but no mental energy to do them? The cause of burnout is different for everyone, but I know that my anxiety and depression contribute heavily to mine. Creative and mental burnout is a nasty feeling— you know that you should be doing something, anything, productive, but all you really want to do is burrow under a pile of blankets and hide.

When I’m dealing with burnout, which for me is usually centered around writing, I have ideas and flashes of inspiration, but can’t find the words to make them work. And the more days that go by without publishing a blog post, the more guilt and stress I feel. In the past, I’ve shut down blogs because I had spectacular episodes of burnout and months of guilt and anxiety built up because I just didn’t know what to say.

Having occasional bouts of burnout is normal, especially if you’re a passionate creative who eats, breathes, and sleeps your craft— you can’t put 1000% effort and energy into a project and expect it to be sustainable; eventually you’re going to crash. This has been my modus operandi as a blogger for years: go hard for a few months, crash and burn, maybe survive the wreckage (or maybe not). When a friend of mine offered a piece of conventional wisdom that I’d never considered before, it blew my mind:

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Creative and mental burnout doesn’t have to murder your productivity, and it can even be useful, if you let it. Think of it as a warning bell that you’re getting overloaded and maybe need to step back and recharge, or even just change direction for a while. If you’re feeling paralyzed by burnout, here are a few things you can do to find momentum again:

5 Ways to Get Over Creative Burnout

1. Take small steps every day.

You don’t need to write an entire novel, or finish a whole project in one day. Give yourself time and space to be creative, and pace yourself. If you break things up into manageable pieces, you’ll have a better chance of making progress than when you try to do everything at once. If you’re struggling, give yourself permission to take really small steps— for me, if I even just write fifty words, that’s fifty words I didn’t have written yesterday.

2. Declutter, organize, and rearrange your space.

You’ll be amazed at what a bright, clean, organized work space can do for you mentally. Whenever my head is a mess, my living space usually follows, so taking a few minutes to clean up and organize is essential to getting back to my best creative headspace. Also, sometimes you just need a change; has your desk been in the same corner for the last three years? Has that lamp always been in that same spot? Change things up, move things around. Sometimes having a fresh feeling space makes all the difference.

3. Do something productive but unrelated.

If your brain is feeling stuck on one particular project and you just can’t seem to make progress, go tackle something else on your to do list. Go grocery shopping, do laundry, go out for a walk; give your brain a chance to breathe and regroup for a bit. Or take a few hours to read a book or watch a movie, get out of your own head for a while. I speak from experience when I say that trying to force the ideas onto the page usually doesn’t work out (and just results in a headache.)

4. Make a plan, write an outline, brainstorm.

Mind-mapping is great for those times when you have ideas but have no idea what to do with them. Put everything down on paper, don’t worry about getting things in the right order or even getting complete thoughts out— that jumble of random words might spark the exact brainwave you need later. I know that it always makes me feel better to have a plan (even if I’m 100% aware that I probably won’t end up following it), so take a few minutes and plan your next steps. What do you want to accomplish? How can you get there? Even if your plan just involves making a to do list for the next few days, that’s a perfect start.

5. Talk things out with your friends or community.

Whenever I’m feeling stuck creatively, I usually call my best friend. He’s a fellow writer, and without a doubt the person I trust most to bounce my half-formed ideas off of. We’ll usually spend a couple of hours on the phone or over Skype, and he’ll help to pick my ideas apart— not coming from a critical place, but in a way that helps me to shape and focus and expand them. I always leave our conversations feeling like I could sit down and write a 500 page novel right this instant. If you don’t already have people like this in your life, find them. If you do, utilize them (and thank them.) When our ideas are only in our own heads, we can get stuck in the same feedback loop over and over again; sharing ideas with someone else and asking for their input gives us an entirely new perspective (which can make all the difference.)

Creative burnout, or any kind of burnout, sucks— there’s no way around that. But it doesn’t have to be the ledge where your goals and ideas go to die. If you’re dealing with burnout as a result of depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Reach out to other people who have had similar struggles, and find your community.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Are you dealing with burnout lately, or have you struggled with it recently? Tell your story below in the comments, or chat with me on Twitter (@hugsandhexes).

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5 Simple Self Care Ideas to Refresh Your Mood

5 Simple Self Care Ideas to Refresh Your Mood | Hugs + Hexes

Have you ever had one of those days where no matter how hard you’re trying to manage everything, life just feels a bit overwhelming? It happens to the best of us, and it can feel like a real downer to suddenly lose all energy and momentum when you’re working so hard to accomplish your goals. Sometimes we all just need to take a day to recharge.

Self care is one of those things that, for whatever reason, often gets overlooked (especially when our lives are busy and hectic) but it’s an essential part of being happy, healthy, and successful. Let’s jump on the really-lame-analogy train for a second and compare it to the gas in your car: without that fuel, you’re not going anywhere. Sometimes we neglect our self care because we feel like we’re too busy, or that we should be devoting all of our time and attention to things outside of us (work, family, friends). Sometimes the idea of taking a few hours to ourselves to sip wine in the bath tub sounds at best, unproductive, and at worst, just plain selfish. But guess what: it isn’t. 

Knowing when to take a step back and focus on yourself can make all the difference between going strong and crashing and burning— you know that feeling when you have deadlines and obligations, but you’re so mentally fried that meeting them seems next to impossible? That’s a sign that you need some self care, ASAP. It’s not selfish to make your own mental health and well-being a priority. (Now say it again louder for the people in the back.)

It's not selfish to make your own mental health and well-being a priority. via @hugsandhexes

The great thing about self care is that it doesn’t have to be elaborate, time-consuming, or expensive (which basically cuts out any excuse you could dig up for not doing it.) Self care doesn’t mean taking a lavish two week vacation to the beach to get away from your life (although wouldn’t that be great)— usually it’s as simple as taking a few minutes to relax, refresh, and refocus.

5 Simple Self Care Ideas

1. Take care of yourself physically.

This one’s pretty self explanatory: the better you feel physically, the easier it will be to make it through the day. Taking the time to care for yourself involves getting the right amount of sleep, staying hydrated, eating when you need to, etc. Sometimes when you’re having an off day, a cup of your favorite coffee or tea followed by a hot shower can make a world of difference in how you feel. Power naps are also a quick and easy way to boost your mood (although these can be tricky, because I know that usually when that twenty minutes is up I just want to roll over and go back to sleep!)

The most important thing to remember here, and something that has personally taken me forever to figure out, is that self sabotage is not the same thing as self care. When I’m having an especially shitty day, sometimes all I want to do is drown my stress in excessive amounts of Taco Bell and Red Bull— this is not self care. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for you, and I think I’m mostly trying to talk to myself with this one. Too often I fall into the trap of self-medicating with things that feel good in the moment (fifteen hours of sleep, eating an entire pizza, spending my bank account dry) but are actually terrible ideas in the long run. This is not self care. Drink some water, eat a granola bar, go for a walk, soak in the bath— do something for yourself that not only boosts your mood in the moment, but that you’ll also feel good about later.

2. Take care of yourself mentally.

This is my favorite form of self care. Read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a documentary, take a class. Learn something new just for the hell of it, or brush up your skills on a subject you love. Challenge yourself to try something new, learn to cook or cross-stitch or code websites or whatever else makes you feel engaged, passionate, and curious. There’s nothing quite like that energized, invigorating feel of spending a few hours falling down the rabbit hole of research and learning more about the stuff you love (but I’m also a mega nerd who still reads my old college textbooks for fun, so..)

3. Take care of yourself emotionally.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Frustrated? Emotionally exhausted? Do whatever you need to do to unwind and recharge yourself. Write it out, vent to your friends, have some quiet alone time, spend time snuggling with your pets (my cats were always the best for this!) Whatever will soothe and re-energize you is the key, here. Personally, my favorite way to de-stress is to curl up in my softest (and also ugliest) pajamas, light my favorite candle or turn on my oil diffuser, and take a few minutes to sit in total silence and just breathe. The older I get, the more I’ve begun to appreciate the rarity of complete silence and stillness, and I cherish every moment of it that I can find in my day.

4. Unplug from the digital world for a bit.

This can be hard, believe me I know. Every time I hear a notification on my phone I immediately want to check it, and sometimes that leads to an hour or more of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Reddit posts. Having an endless source of distraction and entertainment literally in the palm of our hands can be fun, convenient, and totally mind-numbing. Ever looked up from browsing social media or news articles on your phone to see that an hour or more has slipped away without you noticing? It happens to the best of us, and it’s more or less become the norm, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be connected all day, every day. Take a deep breath, gather your courage, and put your phone on silent— I’m not even going to tell you to turn it all the way off, start with baby steps. If you’re crazy like I am, you might feel a bit of separation anxiety at the thought of missing texts or calls or Twitter notifications, but it’s going to be okay. Get lost in that new book you’ve been meaning to start, work on a craft or DIY project, or if you really want to be ambitious you could even go outside for a while (you glorious rebel, you.) 

5. Take some time to figure out your mindset and mental state.

If you’re feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed, the cause might be obvious (exams coming up, big deadline at work, relationship drama, etc.) but it still never hurts to do a bit of self-reflecting and dig into the triggers and causes that maybe aren’t so obvious. Even better, is there a way to recognize when you’re starting to feel overloaded and take a moment to redirect your energy to prevent that burn out? I’ve found that it’s helpful for me to know my own stress triggers and have a mental list of self care “band-aids” that I can turn to when I need them. Taking the time for small acts of self care now can prevent your stress and anxiety from spiraling out of control later (speaking from experience, here.) Focus on your mindset, and find a few simple ways that you can get back to being your best.

6. BONUS: Download your free Self Care Checklist to keep these ideas handy.

Free Printable Self Care Checklist | Hugs + Hexes

As always, I’d love to hear from you. How do you make time for yourself? Share your favorite self care ideas below in the comments (and you can also follow Hugs + Hexes on Twitter and Facebook for more #selfcaresunday posts!)

5 Simple Habits for a Happier + Healthier Life

5 Simple Habits

So I’m not exactly the poster child for being super healthy: I can easily sleep 12-16 hours a day, I’m perpetually broke, I constantly forget to take my meds, and 97% of my diet is made up of iced coffee, Red Bull, and Taco Bell. But despite my dumpster fire of a lifestyle, I’m also a starry-eyed optimist, and I believe that I’ll get the hang of this “responsible adulting” thing eventually.

When it comes to making changes or improvements, or fixing things that you hate aren’t so thrilled with about your life, I’ve learned that starting small is always best. I’ve had those moments when I look at myself and think, “Okay, I’ve got to get my shit together— I’m going to eat healthy and drink kale smoothies and do yoga and save all my money and lose fifteen pounds and write a book and…” Spoiler alert: none of those things ever happen, because trying to change absolutely everything at once just leads to overwhelm, disappointment, and burning out. Plus, let’s be real— kale is disgusting, I don’t care what form it’s in.

Change is good. Sustainable change is better. And sustainable change means starting small. Pick a few things about your life that could use some improvement, and go from there. Set simple, low effort goals to start with, like “I’ll walk for twenty minutes every day” or “I’ll drink three glasses of water every day”— and wording them specifically (i.e. “three glasses of water” instead of just “more water”) takes all the guess work out of how to make it happen.

Start by picking goals where you can track your progress each day or week; those small daily victories will begin to add up over time. If I’m trying to see how long I can go without giving into a craving for Chick-fil-a or Taco Bell, I’m marking off each successful day and before I know it I can’t even remember the last time I had a Triple Layer Nacho (…ugh, yum. Note to self: talking about food just makes me want it more. So stop it.) 

And honestly, I think I’m talking more to myself here when I say this, but please remember to be kind to yourself. New habits take time to build, and setbacks aren’t the same thing as failure. If you have a complete and utter wreck of a day, it sucks and it doesn’t ever feel good, but it’s still only one day. One day isn’t going to make or break anything (cue inspirational Shia LaBeouf rant here). If your entire day goes to hell, start again tomorrow and remember what’s worked so far and what hasn’t.

Okay, now let’s cut the bullshit.

Knowing how to make your life better in theory doesn’t mean a #$%&@ thing if you can’t put it into practice. Historically, I suck at putting it into practice. But I’m here writing this blog because I want to learn how to practice what I preach, and because maybe you suck at making positive changes for yourself too, and we can both be terrible at this together.

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So here are my five simple habits, and I’ll be checking in over the next 30 days to let you know how well (or not) I’m doing with them:

Drink water, tea, and coffee only. No soda, juice, energy drinks, or alcohol.

No fast food. None. Zip. Zero. Stop crying.

No withdrawals out of savings account. Bad touch. Leave it alone.

Take meds every single day. 

No spending money on clothes or makeup. Seriously, stop crying.

I’m going to be working on these for the next thirty days (let’s just say until the end of April; close enough, right?) and we’ll see how well I do with them. I’m not quite sure how I’ll survive without Taco Bell and Red Bull at first (do Hot Pockets count as home cooking?) but by the end of next month I’ll be a whole new girl. Maybe.

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So, I’m dying to know what some of your new habits are going to be. Leave a comment below and tell me all about them, or just help me mourn the impending loss of my favorite nachos. 

Goal Setting 101: Take Inventory of Your Life

Take Inventory

Goals aren’t hard to set. You can pretty much take any old dream or ambition and turn it into a goal, no matter how impractical or nonsensical. My goal is to someday be queen of my own small island and have ninety cats. Um, what?

Goals are easy. It’s setting realistic goals that’s the hard part. I will probably never own a small island, and ninety cats is a stretch even for me. But having realistic, achievable goals is the key to pretty much any kind of change or progress— you just have to know where to start.

When you’re starting at level one with anything you’re trying to do— losing weight, saving money, learning to macramé, whatever— it’s always helpful to have a solid idea of exactly where you stand. In general, taking a life inventory can help you pinpoint where you are currently in an area of your life versus where you would like to be. I like to think of it as a practical vision board: you can see everything at a glance, and start forming actual goals and plans from there.

My Life Inventory Worksheet

Since you’re awesome and I love you, I’ve created a Life Inventory worksheet to help you keep track of everything. You can download and print your own copy of the worksheet, and fill it out as we go along.

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Let’s Break it Down

The Life Inventory worksheet is split up into eight sections, and we’re gonna go over them all (so strap in!) Like any kind of self-reflection, there are no right or wrong answers here; while you’re working through your thoughts, go with your gut and ignore the urge to edit yourself too much. Be open and totally honest with yourself, no sugar coating or glossing over any of the not-so-great parts— you’re building a foundation, and you want it to be rock solid.

Mood

  • How am I feeling lately?
  • How do I want to feel?
  • How can I improve or maintain my current mood?

Health

  • Am I eating right? Getting enough (or any) exercise?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • What small changes can I make to be healthier?

Finances

  • Am I spending my money responsibly?
  • Are there areas that I could be cutting back or saving more?
  • How am I managing my expenses?

Career

  • How can I be more productive?
  • Can I use my time more efficiently?
  • Do I feel valued for the work that I do?

Hobbies

  • What do I love to do in my spare time?
  • Which skills do I want to learn or improve?
  • What relaxes me? What makes me happy?

Relationships

  • Do I make my partner/family/friends feel cared for?
  • Do I spend enough time with my partner/family/friends?
  • Am I a supportive partner/friend?

Self Care

  • Do I take enough time for myself?
  • Am I nice to myself?
  • How can I treat myself better?

Life Goals

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What does my ideal life look like? How do I get there?
  • What small steps can I take today to start working toward my goal?

Yeah, I know— these questions are suuuper generic and probably not mind-blowing. But we’re not out to unlock the secrets of the universe (yet); all we’re trying to do here is find a place to start from. Ask yourself whatever questions you need to have answered, and go from there. Once you’ve figured out both where you’re starting and where you want to end up, the “realistic” part about goal setting suddenly seems a whole lot easier. So go get ’em, tiger. 

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