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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Scary Air

by Christy Gualtieri

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Do one thing that scares you,” a popular – and somewhat useful – nudge designed to move you out of your comfort zone. Doing things that scare you, or even things that make you uncomfortable help give you confidence, trust in your own abilities, and spur you onward into even greater things.

I know all these to be true, my friends, because just the other day I also did something that scared me: I put air in my car tires.

Putting air in your car tires seems to be the kind of thing that 99% of car owners would probably not bat an eye at, probably because it’s one of the most simple ways to take care of your car.  But while I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, there’s a surprising (at least to me) number of “simple” things that I struggle to do. Jello, for example. I can’t make jello.  I’ve burned spaghetti (which you are supposed to boil).  I have been that person at the gas pump who has sprayed gasoline all over her pants during a six-hour drive across the state.  (In my defense, I learned how to drive in New Jersey, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, so I didn’t learn how to until I was solidly ten years behind every other American driver my age not from New Jersey.) So you’ll understand why I was nervous about pumping air into my tires.  It just seemed hard.  There’s the little cap you have to screw off, and what if I lost it? And what if I put too much air in, causing the tire to explode right in my face? What if I couldn’t do it, and everyone would see what a failure I was?

But it’s the autumn, the time of year when the cooler weather necessitates a trip to put air in my tires. And while I am very lucky to be married to an extremely capable man who is more than willing to do things like this for me, I was determined this year to learn the skill for myself. So I drove up to the air pump at the local station, read the instructions, and got to work. I put in the amount of air pressure I wanted, hooked up the pump to my tire (after screwing off the little cap), and it worked! The machine beeped when it was full, and I replaced the cap and moved on to the next tire. No tires exploded in my face, and when I was finished, I replaced the air pump hose back to the machine with total satisfaction.

I was downright ecstatic…until I found out it didn’t work. When I got back in my car to drive away, my tire pressure numbers hadn’t inflated. I was so annoyed! What did I do wrong? What was wrong with me? Would I ever learn to fill my own tires? I drove the short distance home, hoping the numbers would readjust, but they stayed put. I asked my husband what it could be and he told me that he’d show me a few days later when we went out for church, but I wanted to figure it out for myself, today.

And so I did. A couple of hours later, I returned to the same gas station and the man there said the air pump was broken; they’d just hadn’t had a chance to put up a sign.  So off I went to another station down the street with an air pump, absolutely determined to get this right. I put in the pressure numbers, hooked up the pump, and…success! I managed to fully and properly inflate all four car tires by myself. I drove away just as pumped as my tires!

I fully understand how ridiculous this all sounds, especially from a grown woman, but it really was something that scared me and it was something I was able to gain a lot of confidence from. I learned that I was able to persevere and figure out what I wanted and needed to do, and I did it. It’s probably the smallest example in the world, but those are the best kind, because everyone can do them. Even you!

So choose something that scares you today – or at least makes you a little nervous. It can be anything: a hard conversation with a friend, base jumping off the Grand Canyon, whatever. Even putting air in your car tires. But give it a try. Because even if you don’t succeed at it, like I didn’t the first time I tried, you’ll know you got that far, you’re still alive, and you can always try again.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

A Time of Transition

by Christy Gualtieri

I don’t know if you remember the commercial or not, but years ago there used to be an ad on TV for back-to-school shopping.  It featured a parent literally dancing in the aisles as they threw notebooks, paper, and pencils in a shopping cart, kids trudging behind, as the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played.

I love that commercial because I identify with it.  It is a wonderful time! When school starts, my kids actually get to learn things instead of spending hours on end bickering over toys or throwing dirt in each other’s faces! They’re happy hanging out with friends during recess instead of crying because their sibling pulled their hair or grabbed their toy or – and this is my personal favorite – their sibling’s foot has moved two inches onto their own couch cushion, and how can I be calm and well-behaved  because THEIR FOOT IS ON MY SPAAAAAAAAACE! MOOOOOOMMM!

It’s been a long summer.

But it’s over now, and the kids are in school, and cue the dancing! The twirling in the store aisles! And…the screaming? The tears over a changed routine? The afternoon meltdowns because things are different and it’s hard to get used to?

Yes, to all of them.  And no, it wasn’t my kids doing that.  It was me.

I had such a hard time transitioning into a new school year this year! New grades, new after school activities, new expectations for homework, new preschool for my daughter, and tons of paperwork sent me nearly into hot, frustrated tears every day.  How in the the world was I going to adjust? My kids seemed fine with it, but me? I was the mess. And then I realized why.

I’ve always had a hard time with transitions: moving to a new neighborhood, starting a new school, starting college, starting pretty much anything.  A new job would start a new world of worrying about my performance; a new addition to my routine would be really unsettling. And I’d get upset about the something new until I got used to it, which I eventually would.

But this year, I wasn’t as upset for as long as usual, and I figured out why.  Because I let myself feel it. I acknowledged that the first couple weeks of this new academic year were going to be tumultuous, and new, and went with that.  I let myself feel unhappy about it and did my best to power through, and here we are: about three weeks in, and I feel settled. I leaned into it, didn’t make myself “get over it faster,” and when I was able to breathe comfortably, I did.

If you’ve had children naturally, you’re familiar with the term “transition,” that short bit of time between the completely agonizing period of labor and the time when you’re ready to push that baby out.  It’s not the longest time of the labor process, but it’s the most painful. That in-between. If you’re in an in-between point in your life right now and you’re feeling that pain, know that something better is coming.  You will overcome whatever it is that you’re transitioning from and moving to a place you can – and will – get comfortable in. Lean into it as best you can, and when you’re able to, take a deep breath.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

To A Kid

by Christy Gualtieri

I had a very curious relationship with myself as a kid. (I need to preface this by saying that I was raised by two exceptionally loving parents and a wonderful family.  I can in all honesty say that I have been loved every day of my life.) But as a kid, I didn’t necessarily understand it the way I do now. I didn’t outwardly dislike myself; I was content in my own world of reading and writing, and I liked school and watching TV and spending time with my cousins and friends. But maybe it was because I had two younger brothers, one of whom was (and still is) very charismatic and loved the spotlight, that I found myself wanting to – no, needing to change in order to be someone worth knowing. I needed, somehow, more attention. I wanted the world – which is very difficult to navigate as an elementary schooler – to know who I was. So I tried.

I’ll give you some examples. One of the kids in my second grade class had glasses, and he was popular, so I squinted and begged and lied about having headaches in the classroom because I couldn’t see what the teacher had written on the board. He had glasses, so I needed them, too. (And although I didn’t get them then I did eventually need them…in middle school, and if anything they made me less popular.) One of the pretty girls in class had Type 1 diabetes and had to test her blood sugar by pricking her finger with a needle every day, and so I would draw a colored-in circle on my index finger with a red pen before I got on the school bus to show that I, too, needed special treatment for something because I was special, too. (I am acutely aware now, as an adult, of how messed up it sounds to pretend to have Type 1 Diabetes just to get attention, by the way.  It just made sense to me at the time.) And one day, in the middle of the school year, I insisted to everyone on the school bus that my real name wasn’t the plain one I wrote on my papers and teachers called me by. My real name is much more exotic. Veronica. And I wouldn’t answer to anything else. (…It’s a lovely name, but my name was never Veronica. It’s always been Christy.)

For all of the things I liked about myself, there were so many things I wanted to change. I always felt a step or two behind, always off-trend, always missing what everyone else seemed to intrinsically know. And I needed that validation, I guess. Parents and teachers always were ready with praises, but it was the recognition from my peers that meant the most to me. The only trouble was, it was the one I lacked the most. It also didn’t help that my ultra-charismatic brother, who went to the same school, was the class favorite. He always had an invite to the party, a large group of friends around, and he always knew what to say. I was always a bit chubby in middle school, and straight up ballooned in size well through high school and college, adding to my depression. I found it harder and harder to fight through all of the comments about my weight and the comparing I’d do to the other girls at school, but it was pretty plain to me that there wasn’t a whole lot about myself that I liked.

My parents would try to help, give me little pep talks and try to cheer me up, but not much clicked until college. That’s when I really found out who I was, and was able to surround myself with friends who I had so much in common with – and found out I could be my true self around. Because of them, I grew into a (mostly) confident adult who (sometimes) struggles with anxiety but who genuinely, in all honesty, today can say that she loves herself. It’s been a long process, but I’m really glad of it, because it’s made me into the person I am today.

My oldest child is starting elementary school this year, and I’ve already seen him comparing himself to his peers, pointing out to me where he doesn’t measure up. It breaks my heart, but I remember what it felt like for me to be his age. So I give him an extra hug, give him those extra moments of encouragement and send him on his way, ready with a pep talk of my own for when he gets off the school bus at the end of the day. He might not appreciate it now, but maybe he’ll get it, the way I once did, when I became a grown up.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

“Thanks, but…”

by Christy Gualtieri

How do you take compliments? It doesn’t have to be anything big; it can be a small comment someone makes to you about an outfit you’re wearing, or how your hair looks, or noticing a good job you’ve done on a project at work.  What’s your first instinct? Do you listen and thank the person? Or do you do what I do, which is completely downplay it while thinking they’re absolutely crazy?

Here’s what I mean.  I was at the pharmacy a few weeks ago, trying to pick up a prescription that was taking a while.  There was some miscommunication about the medicine and as I was trying to talk it over with the pharmacist, my young kids were…well, being young kids.  After many attempts to calm them down, including threats of taking away every toy that has graced our household over the past six years (and there were many; we have very generous family and friends), I sat them down on a nearby bench and noisily opened a bag of pretzels we’d just bought.  They sat there, quiet for the first time in hours, nibbling; and an older woman walked by. She looked down at them and then up at me, and complimented them on how good they were being.

“Yep, they’re good now,” I agreed.  “But you should have seen them just a few minutes ago.”

See what I mean? I could have smiled and thanked her and affirmed them, because they really are generally well behaved.  And I’m not a toddler anymore, but the thought of standing at a pharmacy for a very long time trying to iron out an issue over medication also makes me want to throw fits, so I understand where they’re coming from.  But I did what I normally do when I receive a compliment: I downplayed it. If someone pays me a compliment these days, my initial reaction is “Really? You should have seen me just a few minutes ago, or a day ago, or last week, when I…”  And the list goes on and on.

Why do I do this? I’m pretty sure it has to do with self-esteem.  For those of us who are lacking in that department, it takes work to believe that there are things about us worth praising.  It’s much easier for me to downplay compliments and reinforce those negative thoughts about myself. But if I do that, what am I achieving? What message does that send? It would do me well to remember that there is an endless supply of compliments in the world.  If someone gives me one, it’s not like it’s being wasted and someone else on the planet won’t get one. And it’s helpful for my kids to watch and learn how to receive compliments gracefully, because it helps them remember that they are worthy of praise, too.

I’m going to try, the next time someone says something nice about something I wore or did or achieved, to smile, thank them, and embrace it.  If you struggle with this too, let’s try it together!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

The Shape of Fear

by Christy Gualtieri

On a recent episode of NPR’s “TED Radio Hour,” I listened to a man, named Isaac Lidsky – a very successful child actor, Harvard graduate, and law clerk to two Supreme Court justices – give a talk about how he shaped his reality. It’s something we all do; how do we see ourselves, how do we see our lives? The interesting challenge for him is that he suffers from a rare genetic disease that rendered him completely blind in his mid-twenties. Up until the time he lost his eyesight, he had shaped his reality based on what he could see, like most of us do. He did that until he couldn’t…and then he figured out that he had to shape his own reality in other ways. I was drawn to his story by the truth of this one section of his talk:

“Sight is just one way we shape our realities. We create our own realities in many other ways. Let’s take fear as just one example. Your fears distort your reality. Under the warped logic of fear, anything is better than the uncertain. Fear fills the void at all costs, passing off what you dread for what you know, offering up the worst, substituting assumption for reason…fear replaces the unknown with the awful.”

As a chronic worrier and someone who has suffered from anxiety for much of my life, I totally understood what he was saying. I could affirm it all, because I’ve felt it all. Even when things in my life are going well, I sometimes walk on eggshells, looking up, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  If things are going badly, it just affirms my worry, and so it’s conditioned me to keep worrying, since I was “right,” anyway. And when things have been going well for a while, I will create things to worry about, because it’s hard for me to adjust to things going well. (And not that I’ve had this horrible life, at all — I have had, in fact, a wonderful life filled to the brim with countless blessings — but I have so trained my brain to only search for the bad for so long that it honestly can’t always deal with the good. It feels downright uncomfortable!) And if I did have a situation where the outcome was unknown, you can bet that I’d be imagining the worst case scenario.

It’s not the healthiest way to live, but I’m working on it; and with years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to practice, it gets a lot easier with time and with work.

Lidsky provides his solution for dealing with fear, and I found that pretty spot on, too:

“See beyond your fears.  Recognize your assumptions. Harness your internal strength. Silence your internal critic…open your hearts to your bountiful blessings.”

Mr. Lidsky’s talk in its entirety can be watched here, and I highly recommend it.  It’s a brief guide to help you navigate through the fear that might dictate your life – and proof that it’s something that can be overcome with time and hard work. (I also highly recommend working through this process with a licensed therapist, who is specially trained to help you through this experience and can provide a solid sounding board to help you work through fears and anxieties.)

Until next time, be well!
Christy