I Quit Drinking for My Mental Illness

I can’t scroll through my newsfeed without seeing posts, ads, or articles on the fun people are having from getting drunk. Despite all the fun and benefits some people claim alcohol has, it is a depressant and can have some very negative impacts on people with any sort of mental illness. Yet using alcohol as a coping mechanism is common among this group of people. I know I’m guilty of this as a woman who has anxiety and is diagnosed as Bipolar.
You can list all of the negative side-effects of drinking but they don’t seem to deter consumption. Sure, it’ll wreck your liver and maybe you’ll suffer from the occasional black out, puking, or hangover. But those negatives didn’t stop me from having “fun”. All my friends were drinking and I wanted to be just like everyone else.
I started drinking at age 18 the summer before heading off to college. I knew there would be parties on campus and I wanted to know what drunk felt like before I embarrassed myself in front of drinking “pros”. I hated the taste of the beer I was drinking, but everyone else was doing it so I continued. Enter college: land of around the world parties and collecting empty bottles as trophies of a night well spent. This is where I had my social life become revolved around alcohol and we kept telling ourselves, “we’re not alcoholics as long as we are in college!”.
Around 24 years old I started to realize I had a “problem” with alcohol. This is about the same time my psychiatrist thinks I was beginning to show symptoms of being Bipolar. It felt like my mind was attacking me every single day and I needed to escape so I began drinking to do just that. But now drunken nights would now end in tears, and as time went on these nights ended in severe panic attacks, and eventually turned into me becoming violent and aggressive.
Doctors urged me to give up booze when I was diagnosed as Bipolar but as a woman in my late 20’s living in NYC that wasn’t an option in my mind. Every social event revolves around drinking and I didn’t think I could have fun without alcohol. Truth be told I had no idea who I was without alcohol.
I’ve tossed around the concept of being sober for 2 years and focused on trying to limit my intake. But even with reduced consumption the drunken panic attacks continued and my Bipolar medication was not able to fully work as long as alcohol was in my system. The night I smashed a mirror on the ground after a night of “light” drinking was the day I decided to give sobriety a chance.
I have now been sober for a couple months, and while I’m still Bipolar I already feel more in control of my mind. The benefits to my mind of going sober were pretty quick to go into effect.
Here are 5 benefits that someone with mental health issues could experience after cutting out the booze:
Better sleep/More energy
After only the first week of sobriety I started sleeping all the way through the night. In the ten years I’ve been drinking I have consistently woken up around five times and I thought this was normal until now. With less interrupted sleep my energy levels throughout the day are significantly better.
Medication works better
For the past two years I was warned that alcohol interferes with my mind medication’s ability to work. I brushed it off but after a short two weeks of sobriety I was able to feel what my doctors were trying to tell me. The depressive episodes, negative thought loops, and generally feeling down about myself all got quieter.
Less general anxiety
I would spend days after a booze binge feeling anxious and like my skin was crawling. Two weeks into being sober I noticed the anxiety and obsessive behaviors reduce. Triggers that would normally make me freak out were now able to be countered with logical thinking and let go of.
More control of moods and reactions
I didn’t stop attending social events where people were drinking when I got sober. Instead I would order a mocktail or drink water. With these drink substitutes I was no longer afraid of what I may say or do, or that someone may see me in a panic attack. Now that my nights are no longer ending in tears and I feel so much more in control of my mind and body. I also learned I can still have fun with my friends while sober.
Smaller waistline and fatter wallet
I’m a very active person and one of the healthiest eaters I know, but I was consuming so much sugar from all of those cocktails. After only 2 weeks of sobriety I lost 5 pounds without changing any other part of my life. I also consider myself pretty frugal but for some reason my wallet would open up freely when it came to drinking. My credit card statements have now slimmed down along with my waist.

How to Stop Your Self-Destructive Behavior while Managing Your Anxiety

When you are anxious or overly stressed what do you do? Do you take extra care of yourself? Or do you turn to unhealthy or even self-sabotaging behaviors?
For years I turned to destructive behaviors. I was in survival mode and anything that took away how uncomfortable I felt quickly was perfect. I picked fights with people to give my anxious thoughts a concrete reason to be there (instead of just residing in my mind). I began to cut myself around 15 years old because the physical pain was a good distraction (WHAT?!?! That sounds so hard to believe and illogical writing it down but that’s the thought process I had). Around 18 (yay college…..) I started drinking myself silly because being the life of the party was a good mask for how I was feeling inside.
Maybe your coping mechanisms aren’t this extreme. Maybe you have your shit together more than I did, and I celebrate that for you! But I want you to honestly ask yourself: is how I am managing my anxiety healthy and working for me OR is it self-destructive in any way?
The problem with anxiety, at least for me, is that it follows me no matter how much progress I make with my mental health. I have searched high and low at all the articles that say how to make it magically disappear only to feel disappointed when I “fail” to make it end. Some people will only experience anxiety for a period of time, others will manage it for the rest of their lives. I have accepted that it will follow me and I need a toolkit and a plan to keep that shit in check. My self-destructive habits are still something I combat to this day.
But here is what works for me: I have a list of things to do when that icky feeling hits me and I remind myself of why the “go-to” habits will hurt me more. I also keep a running list of what my triggers tend to be so I can be on the lookout for anxious thoughts and get one step ahead of it. I keep constant reminders around my home that anxiety hasn’t ever killed me and the feeling will pass.
Let me go more in-depth on my specific lists:
My triggers:
  • Not sleeping enough
  • Staying out too late at night
  • Drinking too much
  • Worrying about money
  • Negative family interactions
  • Being sick
  • Having a bad self-image day/not liking how my body is because I compared it to someone else’s
  • Feeling like a failure/out of control
  • Not feeling wanted by others
  • Feeling like other people should take care of me
  • Feeling like I am taking care of everything and other people should be helping me more
  • Feeling left out (FOMO)
Coping strategies that suck and end up making me feel worse:
  • Binge drinking (or even drinking at all. Drinking makes my mind medication less effective and makes me lose control of my moods and reactions to things. Many night have ended in tears, screaming, or my next coping strategy that sucks all because “it felt good” at first.)
  • Cutting (this is self-explanatory as to why this is bad. The risk of fatally hurting myself, the risk of infection, the scarring, the serious pain this causes those around you. If you practice self-harm go seek help immediately. You need professional support to help you not do this. My therapist and psychiatrist have been instrumental in helping me fight this.)
  • Binge eating (food tastes good and makes us feel good in the moment. But this always makes me feel worse about myself and even about my appearance later.)
  • Yelling and starting fights with other people (the people I love don’t deserve this side of me. I can’t receive the support I desire if they are fearful of being attacked.)
Healthy coping strategies that do work:
  • Yoga (at home or in a group class)
  • Meditating (using a guided meditation when my mind is out of control works best for me)
  • Weight lifting (good at getting anger out and making me feeling stronger than my mind)
  • Meal prepping (the kitchen is my happy place and making meals ahead of time appeases the type A part of my brain)
  • Reading
  • Drinking tea
  • Dancing around to loud music in my apartment
  • Cuddling with my cat child (she’s pretty in tune to my mood swings and anxiety and gives me extra love before I even know I need it)
  • Painting my nails (with 7 free nail polish because I’m a bit of a chemical-free/eco-friendly freak)
  • Coloring in an adult coloring book
  • Cleaning (it helps me see something getting done and feel like I did something productive)
  • Watching a movie (especially horror movies. I’m one of the few people I know that can fall asleep to a gore filled movie no problem).
Now it’s your turn!
Start by looking at what your triggers are. What situations, people, environments, etc. tend to make your mind go haywire?
What are your go-to, unhealthy coping strategies that suck? Also list what the end consequences that make you realize this coping strategy is hurting you in the end instead of helping you. You’ll need this reminder when your habitual self will try to resort to these “easy go-to’s” when you’re anxious.
Make a list you can refer to of HEALTHY coping strategies you can reference when you’re anxious. I have all of these lists on my phone so that no matter where I am I can look at them. You don’t need another thing to think about or another decision to make when your mind is all over the place. Keep some of these items (for ex.: tea, headphones, music, guided meditation apps, coloring book) in a bag with you when you’re out of the house for any period of time. Prepare ahead so that you can easily default to these good coping activities when your mind wants you to be destructive.
Try this method out for yourself and tell me how it works for you.
Hugs and healing,
Kristen Elyse

5 things (that actually work) to take control of your anxiety

Anxiety is a bitch. Plain and simple. I’ve been managing my anxiety since I was 10 ish years old and I’ve tested out A LOT of things to help keep it in check. Not everyone wants therapy or medication (although I will say I utilize both of these tools without any regrets) which is why I’ve created this list. Some of these tips are simple, some take some work, and some can help you out in the midst of a panic attack.
So without further ado, here are 5 things (that actually work) to take control of your anxiety:
Move your body. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before but it’s a game changer for people with anxiety. When you move and take care of your body your mind is able to release tension. Find an exercise that you like so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Explore classes like yoga or Zumba. Play around with weight lifting. Even going for a walk is beneficial. When you move, you feel.
Plan out your meals ahead of time. A lot of people I talk to about anxiety tell me they feel like everything is out of their control. Planning ahead for things and setting things up to be easier during a busier or more stressful time is key in managing anxiety. And just like moving your body, you need to feed your body with lots of nutrition to help your brain function at its best. The mind/body connection is strong, my friends.
Look at your environment and your daily stressors. What is keeping you awake at night and taking over your thoughts? What can you change about it now or what can you start doing now to plan to make a change in this area? Generally the people I work with have anxiety to some degree and it can be directed mostly at one area in their life. A very common trigger is your job. I myself had to quit a corporate job (one that I thought was my dream job) in order to create a life around self-care. Not everyone is this extreme of an example but making a tweak to what area of your life is keeping you awake at night can make a HUGE difference. Take a look at what that is for you and just begin to play with the idea of making a change- don’t let the to-do list stop you from playing around with the idea of making a change!
Square breathing for when shit hits the fan. There will come a time when your anxiety is through the roof and no amount of trying to manage it ahead of time will stop it. Life happens and you can’t plan for everything. But square breathing is an amazing tool to bring you back down and in a calmer mindset quickly. Here’s what you do: inhale for 5, hold for 5, exhale for 5, hold for 5. Repeat this as many times as you need to.
Focusing on your breath works in 2 ways: you are forcing your mind to focus on something besides your anxiety and you are combating your body’s natural tendency to rush through breathing when you are anxious. The breath is my number one tool in getting through a panic attack or even just a mildly stressful event.
Meditate. You’ve heard about the benefits of a regular meditation practice but you probably don’t know how to do it right so you gave up after a couple of tries. I know, I’ve been there too. A lot of people think that the purpose of meditation is to be free of all thoughts and that they are failing if a thought pops into their mind. Or they think that the only way to meditate is to sit in silence for a long period of time, and who has time for that??? If you’re new to the meditation game just start with a guided meditation. I like the free app Insight Timer.

3 Ways to Feel Your Feelings (even when they feel gross)

You did it. You did all of the self-improvement work and now your life is perfect. You love your job. You love life is ideal. You have that car/home/puppy. Everything is perfect and your journey of personal development is over.
Yeah right. I hate to be the bearer of truthiness, but that’s never going to happen. You know why? Life. Bad things happen every day. Our stress limits are tested even on wonderful days. And no matter how good your mediation practice is, you will still feel things. And that’s how it should be.
The goal shouldn’t be happiness 100% of the time. The goal should be self acceptance and a constant desire to do what’s best for you (whatever that may be in that exact point in your life with permission for it to change). A lot of suffering and staying stagnant in your life stems from suppressing your feelings. The more we fight what we are actually feeling the more it will continue to present itself as you move along on your journey. How freeing would it be to just allow yourself to feel?
Need to cry? Go ahead and do it. Something funny? Laugh out loud. Something on your mind? Speak your truth. You give yourself permission to feel and your feelings give you permission to live fully. Here are 3 tips to help you process what you’re feeling instead of shoving those feelings down.
  1. Journal. And not the recite your day kind. My clients know I call my style of journaling the “word vomit” and technique. We censor our thoughts from turning into words for fear of what they may do. By writing down our thoughts we give them life, and ultimately less power over our minds. Sit down with a timer (5-10 minutes is fine) and let a free flow of words go from your mind to the paper. I have clients tell me they go into a trance-like state. I recommend you re read your entry and highlight significant sentences or themes from your dump sesh.
  2. Meditate. But not with the idea of clearing your mind completely. Sit down in quiet, or with some very gentle music on in the background. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Count to 3 on your inhales and 3 on your exhales. After a couple of rounds of breathing like this allow your mind to focus on whatever you are feeling. Return to focusing on your breathing when you it becomes uncomfortable or if your brain gets stuck in a thought loop. Eventually you will either come up with a solution or you will feel at peace with what’s going on. Worried about time? Set a timer and keep returning to this practice as many times as you need to.
  3. Move your damn body. Do some yoga. Lift some weights. Take a spin class. Do something that is physically challenging and makes you sweat. When you move you feel. The movement will make things appear clearer in your mind and your body will be happy too.
I give you full permission to feel anything you need to. Good, bad, amazing, deeply terrible. No matter what you are feeling, no matter how hard something may seem, you got this. And when you need a reminder of how much of a warrior you are, I’ll be here cheering for you and reminding you to let yourself feel it all.

Yin Yoga How-To: Starfish Pose

Starfish pose is a deep shoulder stretch. The shoulders are one of the top places people hold stress and tension. By focusing on high stress areas we can release physical and mental tightness. This pose is one of my personal favorites.
The infographic explains how to do this pose on one side, but you can easily apply these steps to both sides of the body. Have a timer handy next to you- set it for 3-6 minutes. Once the timer is up switch to the other side and reset the timer.
starfish (1)

8 WAYS TO BOUNCE BACK from a grown up meltdown

We are told to “toughen up”, get thicker skin, and not be so emotional. We keep our feelings shoved down until they just can’t be silenced any longer, and then BAM- meltdown time.

You try to keep your cool for so long, but then something happens that is the straw that breaks the emotional camel’s back and you’re in tears. You’re sobbing over the trigger event that just happened as well as every single thing that has ever happened to you. You’re probably drinking too much wine because wine gets you more than people do during this moment.

Now it’s the day after your adult meltdown. You feel like shit. Anxiety is high. You’re mad at yourself for getting so emotional and losing control.

How do you recover from a meltdown? How do you actually heal from this and move forward? How do you take care of yourself so that

Here are 8 things you can do to bounce back quicker from a grown up meltdown:

  1. Make a smoothie for breakfast. Or some other healthy food, if smoothies aren’t your thing. Get something healthy and nourishing into your body so that your mind has some good fuel to think clearly again.
  2. Watch some animal videos on YouTube or scroll through Reddit for some good puppers. Distracting yourself/making yourself laugh will give your mind a needed break.
  3. Go sit in a sauna. Or get a good sweat on at the gym. Not everyone is on board with the idea of sweating releasing toxins, but it does feel pretty damn cleansing just the same.
  4. Make a list of all of things you’ve accomplished and are proud of yourself for this week. This redirects your current thinking patterns and helps you focus on all the ways you really are awesome.
  5. Meditate. Meditating on a regular basis will help you recover quicker and can help prevent a future meltdown. (Don’t know how to meditate? Sign up here to get my FREE Meditation for Beginners email course)
  6. Put on some makeup and/or do your hair. Sometimes giving ourselves an extra boost of confidence on the outside helps us feel better on the inside.
  7. Clean your home. Cleaning even a room can give you a visual sense of accomplishment and less clutter makes it easier to stay calm.
  8. Ask for a hug from a loved one or your pet. Physical contact and affection is one of the most healing things in this world.

No matter what you’ve had a meltdown over, it’s important to forgive yourself and take care of yourself to move forward. Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing amazing. ️

Life Coach Hack: How to Have Your Best Relationship!

Is it your goal to have a better love life? Improve relationships with family or friends? If so, I’m about to blow your mind! Get ready for it… here is how you improve ANY relationship: you need to love yourself first.
Now you are probably thinking one of two things:
  1. I already DO love myself!
  2. But (insert name of other person here) does (insert annoying habit) all the time, so I really just need advice on how to change them!
If you have an abundance of self-love, then I am so very happy and proud of you! Very few people actually do like themselves and you should also spread the message of loving yourself everywhere you go! If you think the real problem in your relationships is the other person/their irritating habits, then please hear me out.
The only person you can control is you. Often when someone else irritates us it is a reflection of something that we dislike about ourselves.
For example, let’s say your significant other leaves cups all over the home. Why can’t they just put them in the sink??? Why can’t they wash the damn cup??? How am I living with such a cup hoarder??? How inconsiderate of them to not wash the cups after using them so that I can have a clean cup waiting for me!
Sound any sort of familiar? Now turn it around. When your partner is done with a cup, do you really think that they are actively thinking of ways to be inconsiderate to YOU? Or is it that your levels of importance of this action is just not matched?
Now you can ask your partner to please stop doing whatever irritating habit they have or to just “help you out” more. That may “help” the situation every once in a while but most likely the level of importance of this task just isn’t there for your partner so they will forget to “help” you. That’s life.
So what do you do if asking for the habit to change isn’t going to 100% fix the irritation you have? You love yourself.
If you are secure with yourself, you will no longer see the cup being left out as a personal offense to you. You will learn to laugh at the fact that you and your partner have incongruent levels of importance for certain items. You will just continue to collect cups from around the house and move on.
This same application goes for feeling insecure. “What if he leaves me? What if he cheats? My life will fall apart!”
So. What. People do not belong to each other. They choose to be with each other. And when you love yourself the outcome and what if’s don’t matter because you are enjoying your time together now. Instead of causing fights out of fear you are able to just be present and enjoy your partners company.

Thanks, 2015!

Instead of making resolutions for a better year in 2016, I am/asking you all to stop. Take a minute and practice gratitude for all the wonderful things that happened this year. 

Here is my 2015 gratitude list:

  • Anthony and I moved into a beautiful two bedroom apartment. Such an upgrade and I am so in love with the place I call home. 
  • I have had the opportunity to travel so much and see my family more in one year than I did for years living away from the east coast. I’ve gone to CT, MD, NJ, and MA. But I’ve also had the means to fly to MN to see my parents and to MI to visit Anthony. 
  • My beautiful college roommate is getting married and asked me to be in her wedding. I had so much fun reuniting with her to pick out the bridesmaid dresses. 
  • I found a wonderful job working with the best team. And the views of Times Square from 41 floors up are stunning!
  • I have made some wonderful friendships. One beautiful, new friendship took me on a trip to the Dominican Republic!
  • I gained the strength to ask for help. I am now on antidepressants and seeing a therapist. I am finally feeling at peace and ridding myself of constant anxiety.
  • I have begun a consistent mediation practice and have embraced my inner peace seeker. That is me. I’m not a party animal. I’m surprisingly an introvert and I’m okay with that. 
  • My parents are alive and well. I am beyond thankful for their presence and overwhelming love. 
  • And finally, while I don’t normally talk about our relationship too deeply, I’m thankful for another year with my partner. Anthony has continued to push me to be my best self and only encourages me to go for what makes me happy. And it also appears that Audrey has finally accepted Anthony! 

  
Focus on the positives. Acknowledge the negatives, then let them go. 

Cheers, everybody!

Adventures of going “Poo-Free”

Shampoo free that is! Anthony is telling me I’ve been embracing my “inner hippie” more and more these days, so why not try to give up shampoo??

If you haven’t head (which would seriously surprise me), the no-poo hair washing method is about giving up traditional shampoos and conditioners completely. Most people use the baking soda followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse method, but I’ve also learned there is a water only method and natural bar shampoos that can be used as well. 

Day 1-

 
Don’t mind the no makeup selfie… This picture was taken 12/20, my first “no poo” shower. I rubbed baking soda into a paste and massaged it into my scalp, then rinsed with water. I filled a mason jar with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, some lavender essential oil (acv stinks, yo!), and filled the rest of the jar with water. This was my “conditioner rinse”. I used a bit of coconut oil in my hair after the shower since I typically use some sort of oil product in my hair post-shower. 

My hair doesn’t look too bad, but it’s not as squeaky clean as the bottled shampoo gets it. 

12/22- I used the same method mentioned above.

12/25- I’m visiting Anthony’s family in Michigan this day. Crap, no baking soda… Time to test out the water only method!

At this point I am now experiencing the “adjustment period” I have read about. My hair is greasy. It looks gross. Ponytails, braids, and buns are my only hope right now. 

12/27- baking soda paste and acv rinse again. Looks much better than after the water only rinse!

I have now discovered that baking soda can be extremely drying and shouldn’t be used on such a regular basis… Oops. So I bought a shampoo bar

12/29-

  
This is me pre shower. The roots are still transitioning/greasy, but the ends feel super soft. HOWEVER, my scalp itches and I’m flaky… 🙁  I decided to do a water rinse today. 
I’m told this transition/grease ball period can take anywhere from several weeks to months. Months?!?!? 

But I’m also told that the payout at the end is super worth it in the form of beyond soft, low maintenance, fast growing, not greasy hair. Until then you’ll find me with my hair in a bun, braid, or pony tail…

Stay tuned, my friends.