How to love someone who has anxiety

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"What should I say?"

I get this question a lot. It almost always comes up when I do speaking events at colleges and conferences. During the Q&A, an incredibly kind and thoughtful person stands up and says, "I don't have anxiety, but my partner/friend/parent/kid does. How do I help them?"

I first tell them they are pretty much an angel walking around among us. They care so much that they came to a talk about someone else's issue just so they could learn to help. I hope that a million blessings fall on their heads.

Then I say that I don't have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can tell them what helps me when I'm in the middle of an anxiety spiral:

Ask if there is anything you can do 

99% percent of the time, I'm going to say there is nothing you can do. But it's going to make me feel loved and supported that you asked. And on the occasion that I really do need something (Can you bring over dinner? Meet me at the gym for a workout? Get me out of this social obligation?) I'll know you actually mean it.

Understand that I don't need you to fix anything

Most of the time, I just need to explain what is in my head and have someone hold my hand and say something like, "ugh, I'm sorry, that sucks." Please know there is zero pressure on you to fix whatever is going on. And you definitely don't need to fix me. I'm not broken. I'm just a girl with some anxiety.

Let me cry

Crying is good for me - it's a release valve. Trying to shove those emotions down is much worse than just crying it out for a little while. If you can just sit with me through the uncomfortable ugly cry and maybe get me another Kleenex, that is incredibly meaningful.

Tell me you get it, that you've been here (if you really mean it)

This is a controversial one. I frequently see the advice that you shouldn't tell a struggling person your own stories of struggle or say that you know how it feels. But personally, I love it when someone does that. It makes me feel less alone to know that other people have had to deal with this shit, too. It reminds me that things won't always feel this hard. So use your own judgment with this one. But always make sure that you are listening first, and sharing your experience as a distant second.

Be silly with me

Lightening things up always helps me put things in perspective. Not in dismissive "it could be worse, you could be a Rohingya refugee" kind of way -- but let me know we can laugh together and it's not always about my anxiety.  Cute animal memes or cuddling up together for an Arrested Development marathon might seem frivolous, but it can help to stop the Doom Spiral.

Text to check in the next day

The "Just thinking of you and sending a hug"  text is a wonderful thing. A well-timed heart emoji has been known to turn my entire day around. For many of us with anxiety, we worry that people will decide that we're annoying or overreacting or just too much to handle. A quick check-in lets me know that you're still here, that my anxiety didn't freak you out, that you love me for who I am, which is so much bigger than the anxiety. (And you know that phone anxiety is a legit thing for some of us, right? So yeah, a text is better than a call.)

It's not easy to love someone with anxiety. So to all those friends and family members who care to learn and support us -- thank you. We're grateful from the bottom of our anxious little hearts.

**Want to read more from me about anxiety and depression? I wrote a whole book on the topic -- Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird. **

Have additional ideas that have been useful to you? Please leave them in the comments!

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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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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!

 

Upcoming event in NY!

Hey, New Yorkers! I'll be doing a public event at Mohawk College in Utica on October 27th and I'd love to see you there. I'll be talking about my experience with mood disorders and the tools that help make life a little easier as an introvert who struggles with anxiety, depression, and a panic disorder.

But it's gonna be FUN, I promise!

You can get tickets here.

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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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Mostly I write but sometimes I say the words out loud

Hey all, I wanted to share this clip from a talk I did in June - all about anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Even though I don't entirely love living with these things - I love talking about this stuff. It makes me feel less alone, it reduces the social stigma around mental health and above all, it reminds me that healing is possible when we can connect and laugh and say to each other oh my God, I totally know what you mean.

Hope you enjoy this short clip. (I have been doing more talks lately, so I should have more clips to share soon.) And if you're interested in having me come talk at your school, organization or conference - you can see my speaking kit here!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilcjT2Sbbnc&amp]

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

 

Why I will do yoga until the day I die

IMG_0922 Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter's wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It's made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I've always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It's not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I'd really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you - I don't want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine, so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don't mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn't get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn't do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms - ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn't instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

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But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don't understand. It's about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It's about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that's good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it's still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being "good"  - it doesn't matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types - new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you - check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

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Happy freaking holidays: a guide to surviving December

This is a stressful time of year.

Sure, it’s joyous and whatever too, but let's not candy-cane-coat this. Many people are feeling a time crunch, family pressures, and money stress. Those of us who struggle with anxiety and/or depression tend to have a hard time, thanks to ridiculous holiday expectations.

But we can do this.

Here are some things that help me this time of year.

Leave

Walking (especially with the dog) is a sacred time for me. Even a few minutes of fresh air helps clear my head, get me grounded, reconnected to the natural world and focused on what really matters. And anything that makes Grace or Olive happy, makes me happy.

Give

I always feel better when I am able to stop obsessing about my own life and help someone else. Volunteering or just doing something for others (baking cookies for the mail carrier or simply telling someone how important they are to me) brings an abrupt end to my pity party.

Downdog

I am a yoga fanatic; I think the benefits are endless for mind, body and spirit. I love that it can be done at home without fancy equipment and is accessible to everyone, even those with a severe lack of physical grace, like myself. I start my day with some simple Sun Salutations (which are great for beginners) and tend to unroll my mat whenever I'm feeling stressed. Yoga with Adriene offers free Youtube videos that are perfect for newbies and experienced yogis alike.

Write

Writing is my outlet. I have written angry diatribes, compete with outlandish accusations and the inventive usage of profanity. Once I write it out, I usually realize how silly it was and can let it go. And watching all that self-imposed drama go through the shredder is immensely satisfying.

"No"

"No" is a complete sentence. Setting boundaries is important any time of year, but it's integral to maintaining my sanity at the holidays. I am an http://lisajakub.net/2015/03/23/how-to-care-for-your-introvert-a-helpful-guide/introvert with social anxiety, and parties tend to be really difficult for me. When my husband is with me, it's a little easier, but there are events that I need to attend without him. Even though carpooling with friends might be more efficient, I almost always drive myself so I don't feel trapped and I can leave if I start to feel a panic attack coming on. Knowing that I have an immediate out allows me to relax and actually have some fun. But even with those accommodations, there are times I need to decline an invitation and stay home with the couch and a book. And that's okay, too.

Sit

Meditation has been an incredibly effective way of dealing with my anxiety. Like everyone else, I always thought that my mind was just too busy to meditate -- but something significant changes when you take a few moments to breathe and become aware of the present moment. (I have recorded a short guided meditation for people who think they can't meditate - hear it here.) Meditation is not easy, but it's so worth it.  If you are interested in trying mindfulness, just sit in a quiet place, set a timer (start with just three minutes and work up to more) and count each inhale up to ten, and then back down to one again. Your mind will wander - constantly - but don't get frustrated. Simply come back to focus on the breath, no matter how many times you start thinking about that witty comeback you didn't say when your friend was being so judgy over lunch last week...

Here are some of my favorite books on meditation:

10% Happier - Dan Harris (For the meditation skeptic)

Wherever You Go There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn (For simple directions on mindful living)

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program - Sharon Salzberg (For those looking for audio guided meditation)

You can also check out the rest of my favorite books on Goodreads.

Most of all -- don't get caught up in silly holiday propaganda and think that everyone else is perfectly merry with their perfect families and perfect homemade hot cocoa you are the only one getting stressed out.

Remember the profound words of Ellen Griswold --

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je4rgaSBO2g]

 

So, let's just take a deep breath and we'll all make it through this joyous season in one piece. Happy holidays, everyone.

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Farewell to Robin Williams: a thank you note

  robin

 

Robin Williams died today.

It seems surreal to write that.

But since writing is the way I process the incomprehensible -- I find myself writing.

Everyone is tweeting and facebooking and calling into radio shows about what a great talent Robin was.

Yeah. He was. But that wasn't what I adored about him. It was the fact that he was an incredibly kind human being.

When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy. My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a "non-traditional" student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.

It's devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject. When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and shortly after that, he handed me a letter that he had written to my school. He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.

When I told him I still didn't think they would take me back, he said, "It's kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth."

The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal's office. But they didn't invite me to return to school.

But here's what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.

I know I said thank you at the time and I'm sure I wrote one of those stiff thank you notes that 14-year-olds write with slanting lines and spelling mistakes. But that all seems so insufficient now.

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life. It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

None of us really know what fights Robin was battling* but I know his struggles were not uncommon. It's estimated that 16 million people in the US have struggled with depression - and I include myself in that statistic. It's real and it's not shameful and there is help available.

You can bring it to the light, you can tell the truth, you can go to a meeting, you can reach out to a friend.

None of us are alone.

And if you have someone in your life who you are grateful for -- someone to whom you want to write another heartfelt, slanted, misspelled thank you note - do it. Tell them they made you feel loved and supported. That they made you feel like you belonged somewhere and that you were not a freak.

Tell them all of that.

Tell them today.

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The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

*ETA - Since I wrote this article, Robin's wife publicly discussed his other health issues. Obviously, I don't know the reasons for his decision but I do know that he had struggled with depression, regardless of whether it was a factor here. Depression was something that he and I talked about. I'm not intending to diagnose anyone - just sharing a story about someone I loved.


Here is the letter:

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