Stop It Right There

Don't even think about it.

I’ve joked or hinted about this before, but I don’t think I’ve ever really laid it out there: I struggle with anxiety. Like, a lot.

I spent quite a bit of time last winter being anxious about all sorts of things. While I was happy in my new marriage, everything else felt a little off. I was unhappy with my job. I was worried about an enlarged lymph node in my groin. I wasn’t getting a period. I was drinking way too much and eating too little. And because I was too skinny for my body type, I felt uncomfortably cold all the time. So what did I do about all of that? I threw my energy into calorie counting to make sure I maintained my slim physique. Naturally. It seemed logical at the time. I basically focused on that one thing and let all of those other concerns grow into big, giant monsters. I was the epitome of passive.

Then I don’t know what happened. There was no ah-ha moment, no light shining down from the sky, but one day I decided that enough was enough. I called a therapist and set up an appointment, I visited an acupuncturist and I made a vow to go to yoga more often. I got a biopsy of the questionable lymph node (it turned out fine). I saw a specialist about the missing period. I took charge of my life again. Phew.

But what scares me is how quick I got to that bad place and how hard it was to leave. Anxiety totally had me pinned and hog tied before I even realized something was amiss. Anxiety is a sneak. All it takes is one unchecked thought to start a spiral of badness.

Which is why I must be vigilant. I need to stop the anxious thoughts before they get out of control. There’s many ways I attempt to do this. Sometimes it’s as simple as visualizing a stop sign when the first thought creeps in. Sometimes I read a book. Or go to yoga. Or snuggle with my dogs. I’ve by no means perfected this nip-it-in-the-bud technique, but I’m getting better. Because I’m not going back to the place where I was last winter. I refuse. There is too much wonderful life to live.

So here’s my question to you. What do you do to stay calm when things feel overwhelming? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? I could always use a few more in my arsenal.

Who’s Afraid of Needles?

Not Me. Not anymore.

I get pricked with dozens of needles each week (willingly) at this place:

Philadelphia Community Acupuncture. It’s up the road from my house and it’s awesome.

But real quick, a little acupuncture 101. Here’s what goes down: an acupuncturist sticks super-thin (and I mean thin, like hair thin) needles into various points in your skin. This is supposed to improve circulation, as well as release endorphins and serotonin into your brain. All of this allegedly makes you feel like a rock star and cures a variety of ailments.

In the US, acupuncture is usually performed in cubicles or other sectioned-off spaces, but this place treats everyone in the same room, in recliner chairs. They say this is more in line with traditional practices in Asia. Something about creating a collective energetic field and blah, blah, blah. You can choose to sit in a fancy modern mesh recliner or an old-school plush lazy boy with a blanket over it. I always go for the lazy boy.

Sound weird? It is, a little, at first. But the treatment room is in a huge old firehouse with brick walls and high ceilings. Light filters through big windows, making everything look warm and soft. There’s usually soothing music playing on low in the background and everyone talks in whispers. It’s very calming. Plus, the style of acupuncture they use only inserts needles on your arms up to your elbow, your legs up to you knees, and your head. So it’s not like you have to strip down or lift up your shirt or anything. Because that would be weird.

Does it hurt? Nah, not really. The needles are so thin and they don’t go very deep. Once in a while, they’ll put one in a tough spot, like the side of my foot or the web between my thumb and index finger, and that will hurt. But usually only for a second.

Here’s the cool part. After the acupuncturist finishes inserting the needles, covers me with blankets and tells me to have a good rest, something happens. I close my eyes and, bam, I get a rush. My body feels light and heavy at the same time. I feel instantly relaxed. After a few minutes, I find that I can’t really open my eyes, even if I wanted to. And, sometimes, I fall asleep.

I fall asleep.

I do not take naps. Ever. My mind is constantly humming with all sorts of anxious-making thoughts. I am mentally wired, always. So the fact that I can fall asleep in a room that is not my bedroom, surrounded by dozens of people, in the middle of the day, is a small miracle.

I originally started going to Philadelphia Community Acupuncture to treat carpal tunnel and irregular periods. My carpal tunnel, which had been bothering me for a couple of years, was gone within a month. Poof. The irregular periods? Well, that’s just taking a little longer, I suppose.

Regardless of what acupuncture cures or doesn’t cure for me, every time I get up from that recliner, I feel rested, relaxed and calm. To me, that is worth a million bucks. And then some.