Exercise Against Anxiety

Anxiety is not my favorite subject to talk about. I kind of avoid it. If you’ve had anxiety or panic attacks and have been debilitated by them, then you know – anxiety is terrible.

In 2017, I struggled with anxiety big time. When I wasn’t giving into the “flight” response, I would use some fighting tactics like reaching out to others for prayer, taking medication, seeing a therapist, and private journaling to cope.

Over the next year, my anxiety weakened as I clawed towards full-recovery. I had to return to “normal!” The process was back-and-forth; my anxiousness flared up at random times. At best, anxiety would hover in the background like a buzzing wasp ready to sting. I couldn’t ever fully shake it.

But finally, there’s been a big improvement in my life. I think there were two changes that made the difference.

Less sweet and more sweat!


Sugar

It started back in December. After Thanksgiving last year, I had a bad recurrence of anxiety that sent me back to my therapist. I also saw my doctor and discussed my diet, which was suspect. There seems to be a direct link between gut-health and the brain.

So I decided to reduce sugar in my diet, which was huge for me! And my biggest daily intake (addiction) was – coffee! – with cream and sugar. But I didn’t know how I would pull this off. I figured I could survive for one week and see what happens. I’d drink coffee as usual but not add any sugar.

And you know what? Somehow I made it that first week. So I tried a second week. Then I also limited my overall sugar intake. One week led to another. And to this day, 3 months later, I still do not add any sugar to my coffee!

How does this help make a difference in my anxiety levels? I think it improves my gut-health because I no longer have those sugar highs followed by crashes. And the result is that my up and down mood swings are mostly gone! Feeling less grumpy at times, less negative, I also feel less anxious.


Exercise

There’s also been one other big change in my life recently. In January I rejoined my karate class! I had been out of practice for over a year (initially due to the anxiety). So I quickly began to exercise and train for an upcoming test to rank up a belt. Part of that test is vigorous physical exercise to push you to your limits. Naturally, this impelled me to get my sedentary butt into shape – fast!

As you know, exercise just makes you feel better! And it gets you more focused on your physical body and what’s out in front of you rather than staying stuck in your head in a rut of mental rumination with the brain tumor of worry.

Exercise excises anxiety!


Less sweet and more sweat – good for your health! I think that’s been instrumental in reducing the amount of anxiety I deal with on a regular basis. It no longer seems to lurk in the background of my life, waiting to strike like a viper.

Mentally, I have greater fortitude and resilience. The random negative-voice type thoughts that creep into my brain are fewer and farther between, and I’ve been able to cut them off before they can take root.

Now, I’m not doing a victory dance here. I don’t presume to be fully healed or have a changed personality. Anxiety attacks are not that far behind me; I haven’t forgotten how terrible they are. I’m not letting my guard down, lest I be blind-sided by them again. I still sometimes have what you might call mild anxiety-aftershocks or tremors.

I’m simply saying that – surprise – exercise and diet do positively affect one’s mental (not just physical) state! I know there are other factors to consider. I’m not a psychologist and I’m not giving medical advice. This is my anecdotal evidence I guess.

I’m also saying to you that I’ve been there, in anxiety’s death-grip, and I’ve gotten better over time. There really is hope.


Do you struggle with anxiety? What have you tried to help? Comment below or contact me privately. I’d love to hear from you!

Random Thoughts On Routine

Daily life tends to have routine. I’ve been thinking more about the pros and cons of routine lately because mine has been thrown off. And I’ve been trying to roll with it.

Like most people, I normally go to my workplace during the week and then do stuff around the house on weekends. I try to exercise daily, and currently I watch Parks and Rec with my wife at night.

But for the past week, my routine has been tossed up in the air with pieces of it scattered about.

Last Tuesday, my wife started having severe low back muscle spasms that quickly became debilitating. We needed to go to the hospital ER one night to get help.

Our sleep schedule was disrupted. Our planned dinner date for Valentine’s Day got canceled. I’ve been taking a lot of time off work to care for my wife at home. We’ve been visiting doctor’s offices and pharmacies. And her mom came to stay in our house to help us and the kids.

So, yeah, lots of different and difficult things going on. Definitely not our normal routines.


You do the same things at the same time everyday. Routine. Sometimes you end one thing and start another. But mostly you do the same kinds of things over and over again.

To me, routine is often synonymous with boring. Hum-drum, same old thing, mediocre pacing. It’s like living life on repeat. So I seem to notice the negative side of routine more than the positive side.

But since I refocused on physical fitness last month, adding a good exercise regimen to my weekly routine, I found more positive. I am not good at being self-disciplined. So getting a good routine going has been great because of momentum or inertia.

Making myself do hard things, like pushing beyond pain and discomfort to whip my body into shape, is…the opposite of easy. But once I get that first step kick-started and build some momentum into a routine, then it’s much easier to keep going despite mild resistance.

So I am appreciating routine more lately. Especially since mine has been off. Life can get monotonous at times and make you feel stuck in a rut. But life can also throw you a big curve ball and have you wishing to return to “things as usual.”

They say life is an adventure. Just when boredom sets in, a shake up to your routine makes things exciting. Well that’s one way to look at it.

I think sometimes boring isn’t so bad. You know, don’t rock the boat. Keep the peace. Boring may mean quiet or calm. Smooth sailing and all that.

I am reminded that I’m not as much in control of life in general, or even my own life, as I’d like to think. But I’m learning to go with it, make the most of hard stuff, do my best, be thankful for all the good that remains despite the midst of some bad. I’m even remembering that the “bad” can be good in ways. Maybe not comfortable, but good for you. Like eating your vegetables.

That said, I’m eager for getting back to normal. I need my regular exercise routine. Also, I need my wife back to normal! The daily grind would be kinda nice right now.

Maybe we need random to balance routine. Sometimes I think we need our routine thrown off as much as we need to stick to the routine. Kinda makes sense.

Which do you prefer: random or routine?

A Groundhog Tradition

It’s Groundhog Day here in America. Kind of a weird holiday on the calendar when you think about it. But it’s kind of a fun annual event I look forward to.

“That’s right woodchuck-chuckers, it’s Groundhog Day!”

One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. I have a tradition now; every year I watch the movie on or around Groundhog Day. It’s like I’m stuck in a time loop, doing the same thing every year…ironic.

I’ve watched the movie many times, and it truly seems like I get more out of it each time I watch it. It’s like an onion where layers keep peeling back to reveal more inside.

The thing about this movie is that there are no special effects like today’s common superhero movies. There’s no computer generated stuff. Even the setting is pretty much the same scene over and over.

The story, though, is compelling, not to mention humorous. I enjoy watching the main character’s story arc as he slowly does a complete change for the better from start to finish.

I like the existential or philosophical stuff the protagonist demonstrates. Trying to understand his weird situation (no spoilers), he goes through stages like disbelief, denial, and despair. He is selfish and hedonistic.

But after failing at finding meaning in his life in himself, he finally starts to look outside or away from himself towards others. He becomes selfless and then finds true meaning or fulfillment. He learns to love.

Anyways, I don’t mean to go deep on the movie. I just enjoy it and am glad to be watching it again in 2019. Maybe I will find more in the movie that I missed before.

In a way, I think our lives are similar to the movie. We are given many days to live and figure out how to live this life the right way or the best way. Each day may not literally be the exact same, but in general, we encounter the same basic circumstances over and over.

Through these experiences, we learn how to respond slowly over time. Our first reactions to things that are difficult are usually selfish in some way. We’re taught to be better than that, and we kinda figure out how to get along with others most of the time.

I think we should be thankful for the time we’ve been given and realize that whatever lesson we did not learn yesterday will probably come back around over and over until we learn that lesson. We get a lot of chances, and every day is a precious opportunity to learn and grow.

Anyways, not too insightful really, but I hope that helps bring some good perspective to the table.

If you have not seen Groundhog Day, now’s your chance to go watch it!

Karate And Mental Gymnastics

Something happened that I didn’t expect. Looks like for 2019, I’m taking karate again! It happens to be January, a new year, so it’s a good time to start a new thing. Or in this case, renew an old thing.

Last week, my youngest son had his birthday and became old enough to join karate with his 4 older brothers at our local YMCA. My wife is also in the adult class. So my entire family is doing this; I was the odd man out.

I attended last week to watch my boy in his first karate class. But it also meant seeing my old classmates too; and they have advanced!


Let me back up a bit. I joined this Kyokushin Karate class in 2016. I practiced for a year and ranked up a few belts.

But in 2017, stress and anxiety clobbered me. I got on some meds for it and felt my life severely thrown off by anxiety attacks. Homeostasis was not happening.

So I paused my karate attendance (and blogging) to just get myself started on back to ‘normal.’ Weeks turned into months, which rolled over to a year. After a while, I felt I just couldn’t go back to karate.

I improved greatly over time in having less stress and anxiety. But mentally, I was blocked from karate. Defeated by myself, my own mind prevented me from returning. Plus I still had uncertainty about being physically capable of the rigorous exercises with kicking and punching and sparring.


Watching my whole family and my old buddies practice karate last week naturally got me thinking about rejoining. My brain did a bunch of mental gymnastics and decided it was still not a good idea.

But suddenly yesterday, I found myself reconsidering. And I found a spark of interest, a small hidden flame of desire to complete my training (like Skywalker). I want the next belt color: blue!

So I decided to “try again.” Rejoin, I would. I need to stay in shape and be more physically fit. I could at least be another human punching bag for the others.

In the end, I quit the mental gymnastics to rejoin karate! I stopped letting my mind defeat myself. Fear, doubt, worry…these enemies blocked my path.

I think half the battle of practicing martial arts is simply just showing up to class. Just get myself there first. Then the rest should work out.

I’m excited and happy that I am recommitting to the discipline of karate practice. For me, it’s not so much dreaming I will be like Ip Man someday, or my childhood hero Daniel LaRusso.

It’s about sticking with something and finishing what I started no matter the difficult circumstances and imperfect details.

And in my case, the family that fights together, grows together. Let’s have some fun.

Thoughts On Social Media

Some of my thoughts lately have dwelled on Social Media like Facebook. I often re-think my personal use of it, and I also ponder general ideas about the pros and cons of social networks in our culture. These kinds of thoughts are also prevalent in the news and other publications, which fuel my thoughts more.

I deleted several of my social media accounts before for various reasons. And then I’ve rejoined for other reasons. But I’m not contemplating quitting again. I think I may just be reconsidering how much I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you know, just keeping it in check.

Besides social media, I recently deleted a couple apps from my devices: Apple News and Flickr. The apps and services are very good. But I simply found that I have not used them in a long time. I’m too busy enjoying other things like WordPress and Twitter.

Limited Attention Span

My puny 3 pound human brain can only handle so much input and output; it is not a multi-tasking computer like some mistakenly seem to believe. Much of my brain’s processing power is spent at work doing my job of Civil and Structural design. Then it’s managing a daily work/home/life schedule, keeping it all in balance.

Anyways, as I do periodically, I scale back the number of apps on my smartphone and tablet. I step back. I re-evaluate. Re-assess the situation. Slow down. Regroup. Stuff like that. I just get tired from it all, even the enjoyable bits.

So, of course, moderation is good here. Technology in general enables us with so many options for productivity and creativity. One must choose to use tech tools wisely.

And I think most of this is common sense. But it’s easy, and subtle, for common sense to get overlooked because we’re so easily distracted by all the whiz-bang coolness of apps and social media.

Yeah, I know this is nothing new. The thing that is new, however, is how it seems social media problems have become more pronounced and written about in our culture. I’ll point to one article in particular from Cal Newport about Social Media Reform here.

Let me also point out Cal’s new book due to arrive in February called, “Digital Minimalism.” I’ve already pre-ordered my Kindle version!

Minimalism is a good final point on my current thoughts on Social Media. I don’t want to delete altogether but minimize use or exposure, and thereby mitigate any negative effects. I hope the net results will be positive!

What are your thoughts on Social Media? Thanks.

-Jason