I’ve been thinking some about mental health. Our family has been going through a lot of big transitions these last couple weeks as my kids have all started back to school. My oldest son is getting ready to head off to Montana for a year, my oldest daughter is home for a quick visit after her summer in Alaska and then she heads back to Alaska for another year.
Trying to adjust to a new schedule, new routines, new family dynamics, has been exhausting. My body’s response to lots of stress and change is to kick in the insomnia. So, lately, somewhere around 3am, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep for hours. I think I probably could go back to sleep easier if my thoughts would just stop. Racing thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Little worries that quickly turn into life-threatening tragedies. And I’m laying there just wishing my brain would shut up and go to sleep.
I have been fighting anxiety and panic attacks since I was nineteen years old. I’ve learned some things over the years. When I’m in a full-blown panic attack I find that reciting my Creed of Beliefs out loud helps things to calm down. Writing down all the things I’m afraid of and then writing on top of those things scriptures where God has promised to take care of these particular worries is also a big thing I can do. But usually my anxiety doesn’t reach those levels. Usually I can keep it under control.
It was only this week that I connected some dots with my behavior. I suddenly realized that some of my life-long habits are actually ways of controlling anxiety. This week I have been carrying around a book of Sudoku puzzles (very fun math puzzles!). When I’m sitting in a room with all my kids clamoring around me, telling me about their days at school, playing with each other, asking for me to watch them do a trick or look at this picture they colored, I sit there and work on my Sudoku puzzles. Whenever they want my attention I look up and give it to them, but as soon as they’ve moved on, I go back to my puzzle. So, this week, I suddenly realized that when I’m doing Sudoku all my racing thoughts go on pause. It’s like, somehow, doing Sudoku uses enough brain power that it distracts those thoughts, but I can still listen to the conversations around me.
After this major AH-HAH moment, I started wondering what else I do that has the same effect. Playing the piano definitely does that, though it takes too much brain power to be able to still listen to other people in the room. But playing Bach is kind of like pouring soothing oil on a raw wound. It creates order out of chaos.
Reading books is also a huge one. I have been a bookworm since I was in Second Grade. But, I can read a book in the room with my family and still hear what’s going on around me, and stop reading and engage and then go back to reading.
Then there are the times when I can’t do these activities because I’m driving or in a meeting or some other place where those things would be frowned upon. Well, then I usually have some story that I’m creating in my head and I run the story in my mind, kind of like a movie, making it up as I go along.
I’ve always thought I was a little weird. Why do I do these things? I have to admit, realizing that these habits are actually ways that I manage anxiety is actually a bit of a relief. I feel like instead of being a bit weird and anti-social, I have actually just stumbled on ways of being a bit more mentally healthy. And it didn’t involve any illegal substances or harmful practices. Yay!
Of course, it would be nice if those racing thoughts would just stop. And I find that I engage less in my Habits when I’m doing well spiritually, physically, mentally. But, I’ve also discovered that I can’t control everything that happens in life. Sometimes I have lots of time and energy to focus on being healthy. But other times life starts throwing a bunch of curve balls and instead of “living victoriously” it’s more like holding on to the roller coaster with an icy grip and just waiting for those big flips and turns to be over before you hit another straight stretch.
I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to soar high, living the Great Life. And I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to just hang on and survive when life is hard. And I’m thankful for the coping mechanisms he’s helped me to find without my even realizing it.