Coping Strategy #3: Lumosity games!

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My aha! moment – the first time I played a memory game on Lumosity while trying to be conscious of my anxiety.

I’ve been playing Lumosity games for the last year or so on my iPhone. The premise of the games on the app is to improve your cognitive functioning through games. 

I’m not big on app games, but I gave Lumosity a shot and ended up sticking with it. Only recently did I realize that I could use it as a tool to monitor my anxiety and maybe even to calm myself down – all while improving my memory/attention/problem solving skills, etc.

I will try to describe a few of the ways this works for me, but you may want to try it out for yourself.

First – anxiety is known to impair memory: http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/symptoms/memory-problems

Well, my weakest area of thinking has definitely and consistently been memory.

Lumosity games can be pretty addictive, and you are encouraged to play daily. So play I did, and I began to grab for it in the morning before getting out of bed. I’ve absolutely noticed my memory score drop as anxiety was increased. My score dropping with increased anxiety I believe happened to some extent across all areas (attention, speed, memory, problem solving, flexibility). Some days, scattered panicky musings on what exactly I was feeling that prevented me emerging from my lair became clear – my memory score has reached rock bottom and this game is making me supremely twitchy. I realized that my anxiety was through the roof. So, perhaps the gym, a nap, a snack or meditation was in order.

Can Lumosity actually improve anxiety? Research by the Human Cognition Project, that is, human brain research using data collected by Lumosity from its users’ usage of their games, suggests that it can, among other emotional disorders.
Lumosity training holds promise for emotional regulation

I researched this because I found a quick-and-dirty way to calm myself a bit. I play one of these games, and as I begin to panic, I practice slowing down my speedy fingers, allowing myself to be sure before clicking on an answer (in the case of Memory Matrix, before shading in a square. Allowing myself that extra split second that I need (and then trusting my gut instead of my tricksy, doubt-prone anxiety which tells me, “you’re never right! And you’re going too slow!”) for me, is a great relief.

Every strategy to improve mood is a tool in your toolbox, therapists will tell you.

I’ll take it.

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Coping Strategy #1:To-Do!

Hey there!

I’ve been thinking, and thinking, and doing it as my life takes a tentative turn for the better!

I’ve been getting to know myself a little bit better through my most recent rough patch with anxiety. Through much-needed therapy and my own attempts to help myself, I’ve found some neat new coping strategies. I get a little shiver of delight thinking about them because – they mean – there is hope! There is something I can do and it will help and sooner than later, I will feel better!

Without further ado, here is my first in the series of anxiety coping strategies – the To-Do list!

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling panicky…I simply remember there’s something I can do, anything at all, anything that isn’t sitting here flipping my marbles
And then I write it down. And then I write more things down, all that seem like manageable tasks. Finally, I get to work doing them.

I’ve often heard, get the most difficult thing you need to do done, and everything after that will seem easy-peasy. This strategy has become counter intuitively very difficult when my anxiety worsened. Anxiety has the bad habit of making everything extremely difficult. Focusing on the biggest, most intimidating task on your mental to-do may just have the effect of scaring you so badly that everything seems insurmountable, even getting out of bed. This can drag on for hour, days, weeks, months, as everything around you becomes larger, scarier, more seemingly dangerous.

It happened to me.

Looking at your ‘easy tasks’ to-do list, you might notice something. These tasks are small, even as they may be part of a bigger, more complex plan of yours. Practice doing small tasks will be an amazing lesson for when you do eventually get to that big “insurmountable” project. We all know that every big task is really just a series of small manageable tasks, but especially if we have anxiety, we may not know how to put that theory into practice.

To sum up, the next time you’re stuck in panicky paralysis, try this:
1) Write down some stuff you could do write now
2) Make they are really easy, really defined little tasks. Think, “Go to kitchen. Take out milk and cereal. Pour and eat. Wash dish and spoon.”
3) Cross tasks off as you go

You might find:
1) Writing and doing these small tasks may calm you down
2) Even if you’re not doing the BIG thing you think you should be doing, you’re getting more accomplished than by sitting and panicking
3) The practice of doing small tasks to eventually accomplish something bigger may carry on into a big project. Next time you try to tackle one, you may find it easier to break it down into small steps!

Here is a TEDxClaremontColleges talk by David Allen that reminded me of this strategy.

Some stellar quotes from it:
“The more it’s on your mind, the more it’s not happening. The more you’re inappropriately engaging with it.”
“More time is not what you need. You need psychic bandwidth. You need space to think.”

“Psychic bandwidth” is exactly what I’ve been losing to anxious thinking, and what I am working to recover and keep.

Enjoy!

Magical Me

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Magic as mysterious as Gilderoy Lockheart’s in Year With the Yeti?

There are many, many times that I’ve overcome a huge amount of anxiety in my life. When I look back at those times, I often don’t comprehend how it happened, feeling like it was a different person who did those things – wrote that paper, faced down that scary person – not me. I’ve looked back on what I’ve done and instead of feeling empowered, felt even more hopeless because…I didn’t remember how I’d done it, how would I ever do it again? How do you repeat an out of body experience?!?! 

Well. I don’t always see myself as a strong person, a capable person, a kind, intelligent person worthy of love, even though I am. So many people doubt themselves even though they are. So how am I typing this today, why am I not still curled up under the covers?

It isn’t magic. 

I have anxiety and this means anxious thoughts and anxious feelings. Oftentimes anxious feelings kick in before I can articulate anxious thoughts. This is for the best actually! Anxious thoughts are nasty little critters that call their other anxious little friends over with the express purpose of driving me BANANAS. Kind of like the giant, horrifying carpenter ants that recently invaded my sketchy little apartment..die, ants, DIE. Knowing what the first stirrings of anxiety are is important – for me it is tightness in my chest, queasy tightness in my belly, back aches, shallow breathing.

There is a place in my brain, my therapist told me. It’s called the amygdala. It processes danger. It is strongly connected to the very old part of my brain, and reeeeally weakly connected to the rational, wrinkly part of my brain, the part that makes me human. So the amygdala is ancient, and its structure is shared with most other animals. Like sheep. And dogs. And squirrels. It’s not designed to handle the complex pressures we face today. It’s designed to handle things like food, shelter, and not getting trampled by buffalo.

The part of my brain that is driving me bananas makes about as much sense as a runty squirrel and treats every life situation as a herd of buffalo bee-lining towards me.

Well, I could have told you that…haha.

The main point is that I can’t rely on my feelings the way that I thought. Mid anxiety attack is not the time to ‘follow my gut’ because frankly, my ‘gut’ was not engineered for this s****.  It’s the time to let that part of myself go, let it rest instead of engaging it in making my decision on how to act. It’s the time to instead engage my rational, wrinkly, human part, because it already knows that what I’m trying to do is achievable.

Like just now, I finally checked my email for the first time in a week. I am really anxious about it, I always feel like I’ll get terrible news over email. But I did it, and I feel better, and it wasn’t magic.

I didn’t follow my gut, I followed my wrinkly, delightfully human brains.

– C.