Free meditations for you -- from my closet

 Insight Timer Meditation

Insight Timer Meditation

Hey lovely people, 

I am beyond thrilled about this. I have teamed up with the Insight Timer app to offer you guided meditations - all for free! Just download the app, and search for my name, or listen online.

There is one beginner-friendly mediation on there now, with more to come. I really do record these in my closet, and I am so grateful that I now have a platform that is free and widely available. 

I am so passionate about meditation as a tool for anxiety and depression. It has been such a game-changer for me. I know there are many misconceptions about what meditation is, and everyone tends to think that their brain is just too busy to meditate. But everyone's brain is busy. That's the job of the brain. Learning to use your breath and awareness of your thoughts can be the key to finding a little bit of stillness in the middle of the chaos.

It is absolutely hard work. And it's absolutely worth it. 

wishing you peace,

~Lisa 

PS. Want to kick your meditation up a notch? Join me on a retreat!


Three upcoming workshops: Wanna hang out?

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I have three writing & yoga workshops coming up! During these workshops, we come together to practice, discuss, create, and connect. (And, no, I will never make you share your writing!)

No experience is necessary, all my workshops are open to beginners to both yoga and writing. And if you have a writing and/or yoga practice already, these workshops will help you take it to a new level.

June 23rd - Oak Island, NC

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I'll be at Rebel Soul Yoga doing a half-day retreat on meditation, yoga, and writing for anxiety. We will explore mindfulness,  yoga philosophy, and journaling prompts. There are only a couple of spots left, so reserve yours here.

September 6 – 9 - Boone, NC

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I will be leading a Writing and Wellness Yoga retreat with the incredible yoga teacher and health coach, Cecily Armstrong.  We'll be covering topics such as the various aspects of emotional and physical wellness, nutrition, journaling as a form of healing, and using yoga as a way to reconnect to your life.  Get more info and sign up at Art of Living Retreat Center.

September 28-30 - Buckingham County, VA

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I will be leading a Yoga and writing for anxiety retreat at Yogaville.  Both Yoga and writing offer ways to tap into the heart of the present moment and see what is true and real in everyday life. The key to more inner peace lies in learning to drop the story and access the serenity of the present moment so we can stop obsessing about the past and future. For those of us with anxiety, that may seem like an impossible task, but there are proven ways to retrain the brain and create healthier habits. Sign-ups are open now!

For more information about my Pose & Pose Workshops, click here.  And feel free to contact me with any questions. Hope to see you at a retreat!

Last chance to apply for Veteran's retreat in Texas!

For the last several years, I've been working with Expedition Balance - a Veteran's non-profit. (Those who have read my book Not Just Me will recognize them from chapter 8!) There is still some space available in this year's retreat. We'll leave from Houston on April 19th and drive a few hours to a ranch in central Texas.

What will we do there? We'll ride horses, hike, stay in a luxurious lodge for three nights, learn about nutrition & meditation, attend gentle yoga classes, and eat great food. I'll be teaching two classes - one on therapeutic writing and one on yoga. (No experience is necessary!) The transportation will be covered, you just need to get to Houston.

And it doesn't cost a dime for Veterans. It just requires effort and intention.

Time to apply is running out, so if you are interested, get your application in now! Applications available here

Let me know if you have any questions - if you are a Vet, and you're ready to connect with other Vets and have a whole lot of fun, I'd love to see you in Texas!

 

Dear Gods of Whatever: a prayer from a highly sensitive person

Dear Gods of Whatever,

This is a prayer to care less.

This is a heartfelt wish to have it not matter.

To be the Queen of Whatevs.

To let it all roll off my back, like a nonchalant duck.

I think there are those people, people who are cool and calm and collected. Who shrug their shoulders and laugh it all off.

The blessed ones.

They can handle the awkward comment, the whining dog, the unanswerable question, the brutal unfairness of the world.

They seem to know they will survive, they will move on. It will all fundamentally be okay.

Why do I move so quickly to life-ruining conclusions? Why does my stomach churn at a mere thought? Why do my eyes tear as I imagine complete devastation?

So I pray to you, Gods of Whatever, to help me to care less.

To be more callous.

Less empathetic.

Please --- just make me a tiny bit more of an asshole.

Amen.

New retreat at Kripalu in Massachusetts: Writing & Yoga for Anxiety

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is an incredibly special place to me. It's where I did my 200-hour yoga certification, where I made some life-long friends, and where I found a new little piece of myself as a teacher.

And now I'm beyond honored to be teaching a workshop there! It's called Embrace Your Weird: Yoga, meditation, and writing to manage anxiety. Join me in Lennox, Massachusetts, March 30 - April 1st for a weekend of creativity, connection, and fun. We'll play with writing exercises and we'll practice some yoga. We'll talk about tangible ways to understand your inner critic, increase compassion for yourself and others, and access the joy within that often feels smothered by stress.

Never done any yoga? Never written anything other than email? No problem. This weekend is totally beginner-friendly.

Click on this link to get more information on the workshop and to sign up. Please contact me if you have any questions. And if you want to come, but you're feeling totally anxious about going to a workshop about anxiety, I'm happy to talk you through that. :)

I'd love to see you at Kripalu!

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Public Speaking Event: Hi, Michigan!

I'll be at Glen Oaks College in Centreville, Michigan this Thursday!

I'll be speaking about my new book Not Just Me, talking about leaving L.A., writing, mental health, yoga and whatever else might be on my mind that day. I'll be signing books and attempting small talk, so come hang out and let's be awkward together!

For more information, click here.

Moms for Mental Health event in Ottawa!

I am so thrilled to be part of this event in my Canadian homeland!

Join me and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa for a lunchtime discussion on mental health on October 18th. I'll be there talking about my new book, Not Just Me, and a member of the YSB Youth Mental Health Counselling team will discuss what counseling looks like for youth and how to encourage a young person to reach out for support.

All proceeds from Moms for Mental Health will support YSB's life-changing mental health programs for youth.

Click here to register!

 

Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat in Boone, NC!

Join me for a Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C. Nov. 2 - 5th, 2017!

You already know me, but you'll also get to know my retreat co-leader, the amazing Cecily Armstrong! Cecily’s trainings span decades and explore all facets of the mind, body, and spirit. She has a Health Coach Certification from the Integrative Institute of Nutrition and is a graduate of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. Cecily has been teaching yoga for twenty years and is a facilitator at the Hero’s Journey.

Join both of us for a fun, restorative and empowering retreat exploring various aspects of emotional and physical wellness.

The retreat will include:

writing exercises to understand anxiety & the inner critic

nutrition talks - examining both physical and emotional nourishment

discussions on purpose, connection, and authentic power

yoga, meditation, and pranayama

healthy Ayurvedic meals (all included in the registration price)

free time at the beautiful retreat center - massage, pottery, hiking

You'll return home with tools to help you live a more happy, healthy, vibrant life. And we'll have a whole bunch of fun, too! This retreat is open to everyone. No writing or yoga experience necessary.

Tuition includes accommodation and meals for 4 days/3 nights:  starting at $677   *$50 off for early birds registering before September 1st!

Get more information and register at: artoflivingretreatcenter.org

And please let me know if you have any questions! Hope to see you in North Carolina!

 

Speaking event in Northern Virginia!

Hey Northern Virginia/DC people! I'll be doing a public event tomorrow night and I'd love to see you there!

May 10th, 7 pm to 9 pm in Clifton, VA. And I heard there might even be wine...

The talk will be about the things that most of us are afraid to talk about - anxiety and depression. I'll share my experiences with those issues and the ways that they have impacted my life. I'll talk about my time working as an actor, and the decisions that led to leaving my career to find something that felt more authentic. We'll look at the causes of anxiety, the latest research on what helps those of us who struggle and we'll laugh a lot --because if we can't laugh at our anxiety, we really are screwed.

We'll have plenty of time for Q&A and I'll have my memoir You Look Like That Girl for purchase and signing.

Please purchase tickets through this link - I'll see you there!

Meditation for People Who Can't Meditate: an audio guide

"Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem."

-Dan Harris, 10% Happierscreen-shot-2016-09-21-at-8-51-33-am.png

People tell me all the time that they can't meditate -- they tried it and their minds are spinning wildly and they can't stop their thoughts.

I’m sorry to break this to you because I'm sure you are an absolutely delightful person: but your brain is not special. It’s not.

That is what everyone’s brain does. It's your brain’s job to always look for problems. That’s how it has kept you alive.

Saying you can't meditate because you can't stop your thoughts is like saying you can't play basketball because you aren't a unicorn. Of course you are not a unicorn and of course you can't stop your thoughts.

Luckily, we're not trying to stop our thoughts when we meditate. We're just trying to shift our relationship with them and realize those manic thoughts don't have to run our whole damn lives.

Meditation was an absolute game-changer for me - it helped me get a handle on my anxiety and depression, and I believe it can help everyone.  It's not woo-woo hippie stuff. It's science.

For me, meditation is like brushing my teeth. It might not be a thrilling activity, but it's vital to my health. And it makes me much more pleasant to be around. Trust me. 

I made a little guided meditation audio for you, dear person who thinks they can't meditate. The mediation part is just five minutes - you can totally handle that. Five minutes. Once a day. Not a BFD.

Happy breathing, everyone.

(And if you're interested in learning more, I write extensively on meditation in my new book Not Just Me: anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBfkjgYg71Q&w=560&h=315]

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Embrace Your Weird event tonight in Virginia

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.31 AM Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be giving a talk tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event is called Embrace Your Weird: from Anxiety to Authenticity and it's based on the new book that I am writing. There is even a whole fancy Power Point thingy.

Many of us are afraid to talk about anxiety, depression and panic attacks – it’s about time we change that. This talk is a deeply personal exploration of mental health, told with compassion and humor. It’s a hopeful, entertaining and enlightening look at the root causes of anxiety, the results of the latest research and ideas for how to manage stress in your own life.

The event is free and open to the public, as part of Retreat Week at Ix Art Park. For more information and to RSVP, please click here. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm feeling very anxious about giving an anxiety talk. But I'm gonna to do it anyway.

with love,

~Lisa

 

The art of stealing: books I loved while writing mine

books Since my book was published, I've been getting a lot of book-ish questions.

I was recently giving a talk to writing students and they asked me what I like to read, and what I think writers should be reading. I found myself saying, "I think it's important to read great work and then steal it."

I quickly backtracked - okay, I'm not encouraging you to 'steal' as in 'plagiarize.' I mean steal like...borrow another author's voice and try it on. See what it looks like with your own spin. A voice is just like a dress, it's not going to look the same on me as it does on Heidi Klum. But learning how writers we admire use words and tone, and then seeing what that looks like when reflected through our own unique lens, can be really beneficial.

This doesn't just apply to writing. Inspiration about how to live well and work better is all around us - it can come from anywhere. We get to observe the world around us and decide what aspects we want (or really don't want) in our own lives.

Here are some books that inspired me while I was writing my book.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris

I love to read anything and everything from this man. I attended his reading once, so it's fantastic to hear his cadence in my head as I read his books and New Yorker articles. His attention to detail and ability to find side-stitching humor in mundane circumstances delights my soul. Because of this book, my book got funnier.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends - Rob Lowe

Hands down the best celebrity memoir I've ever read. He tells great stories and is honest and I loved it. I found it interesting that he was able to stay throughly engaged in the actor's life - something I personally was not able to do. It's the perfect example of people needing to pursue their bliss - whatever that is. Because of this book, my book got more candid.

A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

This one is a classic for me and I reread it often. The characters are what bring me back. They are developed and flawed and confusing. They are real to me. I wonder about how they are doing now. Because of this book, my book got more interesting characters.

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami

This was my first Murakami book and I freaked out over it. It was so strange. I've always been worried about fitting in and being seen as "normal" and this book was wacky and totally okay with it. Such a fun, crazy read. Because of this book, my book got a little weirder.

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

I fell madly in love with this one. The detail of the narrative was exquisite and I felt every detail of that world in all five senses. It was all so vivid to me that I still miss that world, and I have an enduring literary crush on Theo, the main character. Because of this book, my book got more detailed.

Liz Gilbert - TED Talks

"Liz Gilbert is your spirit animal" - my husband.

When I was writing, I read The Signature of All Things, which was beautiful, but it was really her talks that got me. Her TED Talk on creativity broke my world open. I think every writer/artist/creative soul should watch Your elusive creative genius.

Still Writing - Dani Shapiro

A lovely little book about writing, meditation and presence. Some of my favorite things. My writing process got more easeful, as I remembered to breathe through the challenging parts and remember that it's all part of the bigger picture. Because of this book, my book got more spiritually connected.

On Writing - Stephen King

One of my very favorite books about writing. Part practical instruction, part memoir, this book ignites my soul on those days when sitting down in front of the computer feels too painful to even contemplate. Because of this book, my book got done.

We are constantly evolving and changing as human beings, whether you are a writer or a painter or a dental hygienist. It's a wonderful thing to keep reassessing what you want for yourself and your work - because that is always in flux. That's the beautiful thing about life - we get to start over, every day, and decide who we want to be.

Books are an incredible way to explore your options, and the world...and you don't even have to leave your couch.

 

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The curing of a sleepwalker: hypnosis, trust and a pretty fish

The sharp click of the breaker box was what woke me up. As my eyes came into focus, I snatched my hands away from the fuses and looked in horror as I wondered which ones I'd already flipped in my sleepy panic.

I was in my garage. And I was sleepwalking again.

Being a chronic sleepwalker is truly bizarre. Sleepwalking has a distinct undead quality. You wander around in a subconscious fog, unaware of surroundings but somehow functioning, albeit on a low level. Being in this limbo between sleep and wake feels both fascinating and terrifying. If you can get a little distance from it, it's pretty damn funny. It'd be even funnier if it were not an offshoot of my anxiety and panic attacks.

I've been sleepwalking since I was a child. It's something most people grow out of, but I never did. I've walked out of my house, I've wandered around like a creepy little zombie while staying at other people's houses, I've rearranged everything in my kitchen and have written myself desperately important notes - like "salad dressing singing." I walked out of my dorm room when I was studying for a summer at Oxford, franticly stumbling around the ancient halls like the ghost of Percy Shelley.

But eventually, the whole thing became less of an amusing quirk and more like it could lead to my unintentional death. My sleepwalking could be more appropriately called sleep running. Which, thanks to my inherent clumsiness and the fact that I'm not actually conscious, often means that I fall down. Falling down stairs and playing with electricity while in a undead state is just not good.

When my grandmother noticed the bruises on my arm, I explained that I had fallen down the stairs again while sleepwalking. She nodded knowingly; sleepwalking is a family trait. My grandma reported that her twin sisters used to sleepwalk -- together. (Yeah. I thought of The Shining, too.)

"You should try hypnosis," my Grandma said.

I had been to many doctors, who all claimed that sleepwalking is only manageable with drugs. The idea of knocking myself into oblivion every night didn't sound appealing. Also unappealing is the way comedian Mike Birbiglia deals with it, which involves a highly restrictive sleeping bag and wearing mittens so he can't undo the zipper.

But I had never been hypnotized before, and it sounded...out of control. It sounded like handing over my subconscious to be splayed open for judgment and manipulation, while I napped.

My poor, sleep deprived husband was building elaborate structures with chairs and sheets, topped with precariously placed bells, in his attempt to safely cage me in our bedroom. I still escaped every night like a sleepy Houdini. Something needed to change.

I went to a hypnotist who came highly recommended and was not one of those people who had a neon hand flashing in the window. Her office had a large bowl with one of those beautiful Siamese fighting fish in it, something that I found inexplicably comforting. It seemed to indicate permanence. Who would abscond in the night after training my brain to cluck like a chicken at the mention of the word "eggs" - if they had a fancy fish to care for? Fish are not easily transported, and who would leave a nice-looking fish like that to die of starvation?

The fish convinced me.

When I explained my almost-nightly routine, along with the graphic and detailed nightmares that involved violent acts with much blood and torment, she said,

"Okay, this session, we’ll get to know each other, because I can't hypnotise you if you don't trust me. Next time we'll go into deep trace, then we'll have one last clean up session."

"That's it?" I asked. She was so calm and confident and didn't seem unnerved by my 30 years of undead behavior at all.

"Well, trance is difficult and exhausting work. But yes, three sessions ought to take care of it."

Know what else is exhausting? Waking your husband up with your screaming twice a night. That's tiring, too. For a couple of people.

I decided to trust her.

Hypnosis is strange. It feels like being half-awake, like in those moments right before you fall asleep. I remember everything that went on. I never felt out of control or scared. I saw some really wild stuff way down there in my subconscious. Memories and thoughts and images float around. I told stories about things I hadn't thought about in years. I saw scenes play out that and I have no idea what they were. Was it all just my imagination? What is imagination, anyway? She walked me through my own brain, told me to visualize things and categorize them in my mind.

And since my sessions with her, four years ago, I'm pretty much cured. I've had a couple of relapses, which were largely margarita-induced.

Even after all this time, I can't really explain why it worked. Even though I don't run screaming through my house anymore, I still think of myself as a sleepwalker. It's kind of like being an alcoholic, you always hold on to that label of yourself.

It's strange to realize that you don't always know what is going on in your own mind. It's scary to admit that you don't totally understand. But eventually, you might need to surrender a little control and trust someone who is worthy of your trust. Sometimes you can find help in unusual places, and sometimes when you get there, there's a really nice fish.

——–

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Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer's panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie's, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It's lovely.

But I've started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don't see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking. Or an uncomfortable conversation. Or a group of strangers. Or an opportunity that is unnerving. Or a situation we can't control. Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That's the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It's hard. But it's not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me - and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this - I hear my teacher's voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I'm stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath - then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak - the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

"Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I'm a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it's different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time."

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That's what can happen when we don't operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It's not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run - the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we're rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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Don’t just do something - sit there

  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.03.43 AM The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren't prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television -- so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I've had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I'm not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I'm told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this "chanting hippie shit" was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn't fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan't like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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Panic attacks, social anxiety and other perks of being me

 At the age of 13, about to have a panic attack before a press conference for the film "Matinee." 

At the age of 13, about to have a panic attack before a press conference for the film "Matinee." 


Recently, I did an interview and we discussed anxiety disorders. I realized that although I've written about that topic in other places, I've not addressed it much on this blog. (ETA: since I posted this, I wrote an entire book on the topic of mental health - Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

It can be challenging to talk about panic attacks and social anxiety. We've been taught that it's either nerdy (think someone with high-waisted pants, sucking on an inhaler at a party) or it's just regular stress that we should be able to handle.

It's neither of those.

I've had anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid. I've always been described as "sensitive" and "thoughtful" and "a worrier." When I was about 11, my mother would push her thumb into the middle of my palm, calling it my Breathe Button. She'd remind me to take a deep breath as I gasped like a fish and anxiety drained the color from my face.

At a certain point, my inherent shyness and introversion turned into hyperventilating, blacking out, and not being able to leave the house. At its worst, I was having a couple of panic attacks a day. If you don't know what a panic attack feels like, consider this:  it's common for people to end up in the emergency room during their first one because it feels so much like a heart attack.

It feels like you are dying.

And I was doing that twice a day.

That anxiety was complicated in my early 20s by the fact that I was not happy in my life. I felt trapped and scared and not sure what could ever comfort me. I've been carried out of restaurants mid-panic attack, I've made bad choices in a fog of anxiety-ridden self-sabotage. The world had become a very dark place and there were many times that I was not sure how I could ever get out of it.

I've written before about what has helped me. Personally, it's all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation and yoga. I wanted to avoid the drug route - I don't think there is anything wrong with taking drugs that you need - I just wanted to try a different way. Although I have had prescription bottles at the ready, I've always found other ways to manage it.

Even though it's greatly improved, my anxiety has not disappeared completely. Last weekend, I felt some significant panic just thinking about having to leave the house to go to the grocery store. My heartbeat was irregular. My hands went numb. Flickers of light clouded my vision and made me cling to the counter with vertigo. Those are all signals that I'm not breathing well.

The difference now is that have a whole arsenal of tools that I can use to stop that panic before the sobbing-on-the-floor point. I have breathing exercises. I remind myself that this feeling is temporary and will pass. My husband knows what he needs to do, and not do. My friends understand that sometimes I can't come to large social gatherings (large means more than 2 people) and if I do, I always drive myself so I can leave if I start to feel panicy. There are preventive things I do every day to reduce my anxiety so that it no longer runs my life - like yoga and a daily meditation practice.

Whenever I talk about anxiety publicly, I get messages from people who deal with similar things and who are glad that we can talk about it. That sense of connection is the reason that I write words and put them out into the world. Because I hope that someone will find them, read them, and say, hey, I totally get that.

I wish there was one common answer we could all share -- sadly, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. But if you are dealing with this stuff, know that you are not alone. There is no need to feel ashamed. There are people and books and techniques that can help you. Anxiety tends to drive people into isolation, but suffering alone is never the answer. You can take control of your life and your own wellbeing. You can ask for help.

I used to think my panic attacks could be alleviated by some external image of "success." Maybe if I got cast in bigger movies or dated a different boy, I would suddenly be fixed. When I finally realized that I was capable creating some peace for myself, right where I was  - that's when it all started to get better.

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I created a bookshelf of some of my favorite books that helped me with my panic attacks. You can see it on Goodreads. (And while you are there - friend me so we can share books!)

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My Elephant Journal article and meditation book recommendations

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Hello, everyone!

I wanted to share my brand new article which was just published in Elephant Journal - Learning to be Still: Lessons from a Former Child Actor.  I write about my experiences with anxiety, therapy and finally learning to find a little peace.

I've had many people write me to say that they have issues with anxiety, too, and I'd love to offer a little more information about meditation for anyone who might be interested.

First of all, I know that some of you roll your eyes when you hear the word "meditation." Maybe you have zero desire to be a dread-locked hippie, burning pachouli incense and randomly using Sanskrit  - you just want to chill out a little. That's totally fine. Books #1-3 on the list have very little woo-woo shit at all!

But, if you are down with the Dharma, there are some books here that get a little more into the spiritual history of meditation and use words like Sangha and Buddha-nature. You'll get a little more of that in books #3-5.

But all the books here have practical advice in managing panic attacks and anxiety. Most of them sit on my bedside table and have gotten me though some tough times.

Happy reading and most of all, just remember to breathe!

1.    Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D: He's a molecular biologist, you can't get much more straight shooting than that. He's reasonable, logical, and he has an entire center dedicated to the PROVEN medical benefits of meditation (or mindfulness, as he calls it, so that people don't get intimidated).  I like everything the man has written.

2.    The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook - Edmund J. Bourne: This is the first book my therapist started me off with. It has clear directions for anxiety reducing techniques and short writing exercises.

3.    Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation - Sharon Salzberg: I love this because it's a 28 day program that comes with a CD of 15 minute guided meditations.

4.    After the Ecstasy, the Laundry - Jack Kornfield: Besides that it's an awesome title, this book has some great thoughts on waking up to our life.

5.    Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life  - Thich Nhat Hanh: He is a beautiful writer and puts complex ideas into simple to understand concepts.

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