Cupcakes are Nice

It's like a lifestyle blog except my lifestyle is anxiety

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But what is self care?

“Self care” is an especially popular phrase in the context of mental health. Self care is supposed to help me cope with my mental health issues. Some people even go as far to suggest that mental health issues are the result of a lack of self care (and to them, I say shove it).

But for as much as we want to throw out the phrase self care, what exactly is it? Is it doing yoga? Is it using products that will make my face and hair soft? Is it going to the gym every day? Is it cooking meals at home and eating less processed food? Is it allowing myself to indulge in treats? Maybe it’s all of those things, and maybe it’s none of those things.

My first two therapists, who were ultimately not good fits for me, both suggested I take “luxurious bubble baths” as a form of self care. I think that’s pretty comical looking back, not only because I didn’t go to therapy to be told to take a bath but also because I lived in the dorms at that time and there were zeroes of tubs there. That being said, I can see how taking the time for a bath would be a welcome and important break for some people. If you’re on your feet all day and don’t get alone time, that luxury time would be key.

Exercise is thrown out a lot as self care, too. I mean, I get it. It feels good to get those endorphins going, and I know exercise is good for heart health. However, when it comes to the point where going to the gym feels like a chore and not something I enjoy, then it’s not self care for me. CrossFit was huge for me during at a very dark time in my life, and it was my self care. It’s not anymore. It served its purpose, but I moved on.

These days, self care is more of a mindset for me than it is a planned activity that I have to do. Self care is stepping back when I’m overwhelmed and giving myself permission to breathe. Self care is allowing myself to cry and telling myself it’s okay to feel how I feel. Self care is giving myself permission to set boundaries and reminding myself that I don’t have to fix everything.

I think that ultimately, self care is finding the patterns in my life that aren’t serving me and taking moments to break away from those patterns.

And when all else fails, I can eat cake.

My yoga playlist – Bringing up memories

Music is powerful. There are certain songs I associate with certain eras of my life, and I have strong memories associated with those eras. I wanted to bring up certain memories and feelings in this short yoga playlist. I don’t know why I felt the need to bring up those memories and feelings. Maybe I need to let go of my attachment of those times? Maybe I need to connect with those times? I’m not sure. I’ll work it out on the mat.

This playlist is only 26 minutes, but if I’m doing a morning practice at home, that’s as long as I’ll be practicing before I’m snuggling the pups and eating breakfast.

How I got roped into a gong meditation (and why I keep going back)

I’m a band and orchestra nerd at heart, so I’ve always thought gongs are super cool. Gongs aren’t used a ton in western orchestral pieces, but every time I played a piece with an ensemble that involved a gong, I was just enchanted with it’s roaring tinny vibrations. However, when yoga studios in Northwest Arkansas started offering “gong meditation” or “gong baths,” it didn’t really speak to me, mainly because I didn’t get what it was supposed to be.

The reason I showed up for a gong meditation in the first place is because 1. I had been covering a lot of classes at the yoga studio I teach at and the owner paid for my first session 2. One of my friends said she had been to a session and really enjoyed it.

So what exactly is gong meditation? Basically, for a set period of time – usually 45 minutes or so – you get to close your eyes, rest on your yoga mat, blankets, and props, and just relax while someone plays one or multiple gongs. Gongs are atonal, so the brain is not going to be latching onto a tune to get stuck in the head. At its heart, gong meditation just letting those gong vibrations run through your body and letting your body respond to those vibrations as they see fit.

I went to my first session open minded because I did’t really know what to expect. Before class began, our gong player, Pat, explained some of the things that people have said they’ve experienced during gong meditation. She said some people see colors. She said some people hear voices. She said some people have noticed injured parts of their body with some intensity. Some experience intense emotions. She told us those things not so we’d have an expectation of what “should” happen, but just so we would be aware of what *could* happen.

Zero of those things she talked about happened to me. The first session didn’t really “do” a whole lot for me other than give me an opportunity to get out of my head and to listen to the music (the gongs sound SUPER cool by the way). Other people in the meditation session said they did, which I believe, because the brain is such a funny creature, and all those gong vibrations were sending new “information” to the brain that it hadn’t experienced before.

However, I went to another gong meditation session the next month, an old memory that I hadn’t thought of in YEARS popped into my brain. It happened to be a memory that had bothered me and I thought I had moved on from. As it turned out, I had just buried that memory deep inside me and I had never been able to let it go. When the memory popped up, I didn’t feel upset or bothered. I just thought to myself “Oh, this painful memory is still a thing. I’ve never let go of it.” And so I gave myself permission to release the pain.

Each session I have been to since then, something has popped up for me that I need to let go of. I’ve been letting go of things that I didn’t even know I was holding onto. I don’t think it’s “yoga woo woo,” as my teacher calls it, that’s making it happen. I really do believe there is science behind sound and its effects on the brain. That being said, even if it’s a placebo effect, I’ve gotten some good out of it.

I keep going back to gong meditation because I know there’s a lot more I need to let go of. I don’t think gong meditation is a magic pill. However, it’s something that has worked for me. At the very least, I get to listen to some really awesome gong sounds. Oh, and Pat makes us tea at the end of every session. That’s nice, too.

YogaGypsy offers gong meditation the last Wednesday of every month.

My yoga playlist – Getting out of my brain, feeling less tangled

So for my other playlists, I wanted to invoke certain emotions. I wanted to do the opposite here. I’d had a week of being inside my brain, being overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, and feeling tangled but disconnected. I didn’t want to be in a state of avoidance when it came to these emotions and thoughts, but I wanted to just be able to sit, meditate, and not feel so tangled. I plugged in these binaural beats for the chakras and just relaxed on the couch with my dogs. That was my yoga.

Living in the “in between”

I started writing about my struggles with anxiety because I needed an outlet, I wanted to reach out to other people with anxiety and I wanted to educate the non-anxious about anxiety. I hope I have helped someone in some way. At the same time, I find it getting harder and harder to communicate what it’s like to live day to day with anxiety.

Writing about the “bad” stuff that happens is the easy part. I can articulate what’s going on in my body. I can articulate the thoughts I’m having. I can tell you how I’m being irrational, even though I can’t always control my body and brain when it comes to responding to irrationality.

Writing about the “good” stuff is easy, too. I want to share when I’m happy. I want everyone to know that I’m thriving and that my body chemistry doesn’t define me.

Writing about the not-so-bad stuff is hard. It’s when I’m between this place of “I AM FALLING TO PIECES AND THE WORLD IS CRASHING DOWN AROUND ME” and the place of “EVERYTHING IS SO GREAT I FEEL LIKE I AM THE ALIVEST PERSON EVER” that it’s hard to articulate what life is like, and most of the time, I live in between those two places.

And that’s true for most people to some extent. The peaks and valleys may peak higher or valley lower for each person, but most of our lives take place in the “in between.” It’s easy for us to attach ourselves to those highs and lows. Those tend to be the moments that define us or stand out the most in our minds.

But if we’re spending most of our time in the “in between,” doesn’t that make it the most important part of our lives? Shouldn’t we be taking the time to pay attention to what happens in those moments?

I want to be an active participant in my own life. I want to walk through life aware and not just pay attention in the margins.

Maybe that will be the key to living a fruitful and fulfilling life with anxiety – not just clutching onto the good moments for dear life, but embracing and remembering the okay moments as well.

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