The Rule of Three

By Claire Golden

It’s no secret to anybody who knows me, even in passing, that I don’t like change. Whether it’s something big like moving, or something small like not having Thai food for dinner as planned, change feels disruptive and sudden to me. This is exacerbated by severe anxiety, which is notoriously triggered by disruptions to routine.

However, change is unavoidable, and it isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a change for the better. If I hadn’t come to Portland State University, I never would have seen Little Cow Pigeon. (Yes, I will take any opportunity to use a picture of Little Cow Pigeon.) If I hadn’t started working at my new job, I never would have met my fiancé. Starting therapy was terrifying, but it changed my life for the better. Life doesn’t stay the same forever, whether or not you want it to, so I’ve had to learn coping mechanisms. One of the most useful techniques is what I call the Rule of Three.

I developed this rule during college, when I had to change classes every term. It was difficult getting used to a new classroom, subject and teacher every ten weeks when it felt like I had just gotten used to the last term. However, I always ended up settling in and feeling more comfortable…it just took me a couple of weeks. So I learned to give it three weeks before deciding the class was a lost cause.

Sometimes the change is smaller — a restaurant I was planning on going to for lunch is unexpectedly closed. This used to ruin my day. But there’s always an alternative, and sometimes that ends up being just as good as the original plan. I learned to pause and take three minutes to process my disappointment and consider the new options. That’s usually all it takes to I feel a lot better about things.

Same thing if someone asks me out of the blue if I want to go on an outing with them — say, a hike in the park or a trip to a food cart. My initial reaction is always to say “no.” I started wondering why that was, because I’m not a negative person. In fact, I’m generally rather optimistic. I figured out it was my anxiety getting in the way, because anxiety does not like spontaneity. Now I ask the person to give me a few minutes to think about it. More often than not, after I have three minutes to consider the question, I end up wanting to go out after all.

What if the change is massive? I moved twice during my childhood — I’m originally from Michigan — before moving to Ohio and then to Oregon. Those were huge changes. In this case, the rule of three had to be three months. That was how long it took me to adjust to my new home, city, neighborhood and friends. 

The Rule of Three has worked well for me when it comes to adjusting to change. Perhaps it will be useful for you, as well, if you also struggle with new things. I’m always trying to remember that just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s bad. It might be scary at first, but more often than not, it’s a change for the better. And that gives me the courage to power through.

“Fake It Till You Make It”

By Claire Golden

One of the best pieces of advice my mom ever gave me occurred when I was worrying about something — my first day of college, driving a car for the first time — the exact situation doesn’t matter. I worried aloud to her that I didn’t feel ready. Her response? “Fake it till you make it.” This advice has helped me through many a scary event. 

I’ve pretty much never felt ready for something scary. When I went to my first day of college, I felt like a little kid pretending to be an adult. I felt that I wasn’t smart enough for college. Everyone would know that I was just a fraud. So I just faked it. I wanted to be perceived as a competent, friendly, smart person, so I did my best to act that way. I’m not saying to pretend to be somebody you’re not — I’m saying to act like you’re confident, and eventually you’ll start to feel that way.

Carrie Fisher put it much better than I ever could in this quote that I think about often.

Image Description: Quote from Carrie Fisher that says “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it, and eventually the confidence will follow.”

I’ve since learned that many other people felt this way, too. The truth is that most of us are just faking it, because most of us don’t know what we’re doing. We’re all figuring it out as we go along. So act as if, and the confidence will show up. Even if it’s just a tiny bit of confidence, and even if it takes a long time to show up, one day the scary thing will be a tiny bit less scary. 

If I had waited to be confident before I attempted something, I would still be waiting. So don’t wait. Do it even though you’re scared, and one day you will be less afraid.

The Banish-Anxiety Box

By Claire Golden

Admittedly, this title is an exaggeration, because I know of no way to banish anxiety completely. However, in my last post about anxiety disorders I promised to share one of my favorite techniques for coping with anxiety. So here it is!

Since anxiety tends to focus on either fretting over the past or worrying about the future, one of the best ways to cope is by grounding yourself in the present moment. To do this, it’s useful to engage your five senses. I put together a box with tools for each sense. When I’m anxious, I reach for this box and play with the things inside until I feel a little less on edge. It’s important to put these resources together ahead of time because it’s difficult to function in the moment. In the same way that you don’t wait to pack until five minutes before you leave for the airport, you shouldn’t wait unil the moment of an anxiety attack to put together your kit. It’s a great way to care for your future self and take a little bit of control back from anxiety.

My anxiety box is actually a drawer in my desk. It used to be a physical box that sat next to my computer. When I commuted daily to college, I had a small zippered pouch that I used instead of a large box and contained a miniature version of this kit. Below is a picture of a small box I use as well as some of my crochet, which helps me a lot with anxiety.

Sight

  • Pictures of cute animals and loved ones
  • Memes
  • “Satisfying” videos of slime or kinetic sand
  • Watch videos of relaxing things like ocean waves
  • Read a book
  • Make a wall of your favorite quotes that you find encouraging, so you can look at it when the world feels especially scary

Sound

  • Meditation or relaxation videos (YouTube has lots of relaxing ASMR videos)
  • Listen to music — and maybe dance to it
  • Listen to nature sounds (I love falling rain)
  • Draw or color something, paying attention to the sound of your writing

Smell

  • Lotion
  • Candles
  • Go seek out your favorite smell. For me, it’s cracking open a book — I love the papery smell.
  • Take a bath with some fancy bubbles or soap

Touch

  • Fidget toys (I love Tangles)
  • Craft such as crochet, knitting, embroidery, origami
  • Play-Doh or Silly Putty — my favorite is Dave’s Thinking Putty which is so fun to play with and comes in all sorts of awesome colors
  • Stress ball
  • Use a peel-off face mask or something else for self-care
  • Hug a family member, friend, pet, or stuffed animal (pictured is my dog, Maisie, who is always happy to oblige)
  • Give yourself a hand, foot, or shoulder massage complete with lotion – put a massage tool or small container of lotion in your box

Taste

  • Lollipops
  • Gum
  • Sour candy
  • Include a favorite recipe to bake your favorite treat —- this works for smell, too!
  • A warm cup of tea (peppermint helps calm me down)

I hope this list can be of some use to you like it has been for me. What is your go-to trick for stress relief? What would you add to this list?

When You Just Can’t Stop Worrying

By Claire Golden

It’s normal to be nervous from time to time, and some anxiety can be helpful. For instance, if you’re nervous about giving a speech, those feelings can encourage you to prepare and practice. But there’s a difference between being anxious sometimes and having an anxiety disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 19% of adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder…almost one in five people! So what is the difference? And how can you tell if you’re one of the more than 40 million people who has one?

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There are five main types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety. I have a few of these myself and sometimes refer to this as my “alphabet soup” because of all the abbreviations. GAD is the most common and is usually what people mean when they talk about “having anxiety.” Put simply, in order to have GAD, you have an overwhelming sense of worry and being out of control most days for at least six months. This is extremely different from situational anxiety, like before a date or the first day of classes.

In my experience, the hard thing about anxiety is that there often isn’t anything concrete that you’re worried about. You’re just worried. Sometimes I’ll say to my boyfriend, “I’m nervous.” He’ll respond, “Do you know what you’re nervous about?” And I’ll say, “No, I don’t!” (Usually followed by a hug or him bringing me the cat to cuddle.) It’s frustrating, because if there was something specific that was worrying me, I could deal with that problem and the anxiety would go away. But I just feel like something bad is going to happen without knowing what. It’s like suspenseful music playing in a horror movie, where you know something is about to jump out at you.

The distinction between just being worried and actually having an anxiety disorder is one that our society doesn’t recognize, but is important to understand. People who don’t have a disorder, can find it hard to understand why an anxious person is so worried. They might want to fix the situation when there’s no concrete problem to fix. But it just doesn’t work that way..

If this resonates with you, consider contacting your doctor or make an appointment at SHAC to receive a diagnosis and discuss next steps and treatment. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve learned a lot in the course of understanding my own anxiety. In my next post, I’ll be sharing some coping techniques that have helped me immensely. I was diagnosed with GAD when I was six years old, so I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I used to be too scared to tell people about it for fear of the stigma, but it’s become my mission to break down some of the walls around mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and whatever your brain may tell you, you’re not alone.

Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.