Anxiety

The first time it happened I was in Vegas of all places. My husband had a work trip in sin city and I tagged along to enjoy a little getaway from the usual chaos of life with small children. My girlfriend and her husband were there too and we were schmoozing and dining out and partying like a bunch of footloose and fancy free twenty-year-olds. I seriously hadn’t had so much fun in years!

After one particularly late night, my husband and I crashed in our hotel room long after midnight and fell into a deep sleep. Around 3 in the morning I shot up in bed. There was a weird pressure on my chest and I was having a hard time catching my breath. I immediately shook my husband awake and leapt up like a crazy person. “I can’t breathe!” I screamed.

He rolled over and looked at me. Perhaps I have just the teeny tiniest history of freaking out for no good reason – so he took a moment before he jumped to any conclusions. “You seem to be breathing just fine” he said sleepily. But I knew better. I was clammy and shaky and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “I need to go outside” I announced, and I threw on my clothes and made him accompany me to the back of the hotel.

I felt a little better once I had some air, but it took a while for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. My husband slumped on the sidewalk with his head in his hands and watched me pace back and forth on the pavement, as drunken revellers stumbled past us on their way home from the casino.

The next day, I felt better but I was totally freaked out. What if I’d had a heart attack? Or an asthma attack? Or a stroke? Should I call the hotel doctor? My husband checked the price of sending a medical staffer to our room ($500 US!) and decided that I was probably fine. He seemed completely unfazed by the entire situation, but I was really worried.

As soon as we returned home, I made an appointment with my doctor to check things out. He was stymied. My vitals were fine, my lungs looked good and I appeared to be perfectly healthy. “The only thing I can think of is perhaps it was an anxiety attack?” he suggested. I was taken aback. Anxiety!? But I was happy and relaxed. I’d danced and sipped wine and pulled slot machines until the wee hours of the morning. What the heck did I have to be anxious about?

I chalked it up to a freaky random incident (perhaps one too many glasses of wine?) and I put the whole thing out of my mind. Then it happened again.

Months later, I was in the middle of a wonderful 2-day workshop in Toronto. I’d been fortunate enough to be included in a session led by a well-respected expert from the States and I was happily scribbling notes and basking in the experience of being surrounded by friends and mentors. And suddenly, out of nowhere, my heart started beating quickly and my breath caught in my chest. The same damn feeling from Vegas! I didn’t want to make a scene so I beat a path to the bathroom and sat on the floor until I’d composed myself enough to re-enter the class. It was only ten minutes or so but it seemed like forever. I’d actually felt a bit faint this time and that was extra scary.

So back to the doctor I went. He read my chart and listened patiently to my symptoms and then turned to me with kind eyes. “Lori,” he said “I think this is classic anxiety.” Despite an immediate urge to launch an objection, I let his words sink in. And I knew he was right. I felt terribly ashamed of myself.

We chatted for a bit and he tried to comfort me by sharing how common anxiety is and how many things can be done to alleviate the triggers and symptoms. He offered me some literature and suggested I may want to consider possible medical treatments if the frequency of the attacks increased or became more intense. I left his office feeling like a complete failure.

Listen – to be honest, this diagnosis did not come as a complete shock. Anyone who knows me even casually knows that I’m a worrier. My resting face is basically a furrowed brow, and complete strangers have been known to ask me if I’m ok. But “worrier” sounded so much less dramatic than “anxious”. I’d taken things to the next level.

I knew I wanted to get better not only for myself but also for my children. My anxiety was affecting the whole family and I didn’t want it to completely consume my life. So I went to talk to someone. I read as much as I could on worry and anxiety. I began meditating regularly and working out. I practiced paying attention to my thoughts and labelling them without judgement – “Oh that’s a worried thought” “Hey that’s fear.” “Oh hello anger.” Somehow just noting them seemed to alleviate their grip over my mind.

When I opened up to friends, I was amazed by how many people shared similar experiences. It was comforting to trade horror stories of being in the throes of an attack (one friend passed out on the bus!) and to uncover what was working for other people. One girlfriend was trying medicine and seemed to be feeling better. Another was going for hypnosis, and another was working through her issues with a psychologist. Even just saying it out loud seemed to make us all feel better. We cried and laughed and learned from each other. It helped.

It’s been over ten years since the incident in Vegas. Am I cured? Heck no!  In fact, just a few weeks ago I was in a movie theater when my heart began to pound and I felt a familiar tightness creeping across my chest.

But instead of leaping out of my seat and immediately freaking out like I would have done in the past- I try to handle things differently now. “Oh hey anxiety” I said in my head. “Are you trying to tell me something?” Boom, boom, boom – goes my heart. I fight the urge to panic. Breathe in and out Lori. In and out.

My rationale brain starts a familiar back and forth with my reptilian brain – “You are fine” versus “Holy shit – you can’t breathe!”. My meditation teacher suggested that our emotions are like beach balls on the surface of the water. The more we try to shove them down, the harder they’ll spring up in our faces. So I focus on relaxing, breathing and letting the feelings wash over me. It’s a struggle but slowly, I start to relax and the panic passes.

“Geez mom.” my little guy leans over in his seat and snatches a bag of popcorn from my hands. “Why are you making your worried face? This is the part in the movie when the water buffalo has a farting attack. It’s supposed to be funny!”  Leave it to a kid to put life in perspective. It also helps to have a sense of humour about yourself, I’ve learned : )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Pot In The Parking Lot

On December 23rd, after a particularly stressful few weeks, I left a stock pot containing a severed head and limbs in the parking lot of the Burlington Mall. It was haphazardly wrapped in an old grey sheet, and I glanced back only briefly as I drove away and wondered who would be the first person to lift the lid.

When I reflect on the days leading up to that incident – I know several things to be true:

  • I had abandoned all of the practices that traditionally help me stay calm and grounded. No working out, no meditating, no reasonable bedtimes, no decompressing on the couch with a glass of wine or meeting up with girlfriends. I was woman on a mission. Why you ask? Well…..
  • Despite promising myself every year that I won’t go overboard on the holidays-  I inevitably become this harried list-making uber-mom – searching fruitlessly online for “the trendiest gift for a teenager”, “the most thoughtful present for your dad” and “touching homemade gifts for your closest friends.” It starts small and before I know it I’m staring red-eyed at my computer monitor at 1am ordering a $250 curling iron from a website in California.
  • I also took on an obscene amount of work to be completed by Christmas eve.  Justified or not, I still feel a nagging sense of guilt over the years I spent as a stay-at-home mom, and the financial burden that put on my husband. So – the writing assignments kept rolling in and I decided I could tackle them ALL goddammit.
  • It was only after I dug in that I realized what an intense undertaking I’d agreed to. I was burning the midnight oil writing about time traveling zombies and war and violence in 14th century Europe. In once particularly gruesome show, a contract killer was sent into the forest to ambush two members of the royal family. After he’d completed his task, he returned to the local courthouse and dumped a bag containing their heads, hands and feet onto the tiled floor. Many nights I was up until 2 or 3 in the morning rewinding and re-watching these images over and over and inserting appropriate description.

So back to the pot. On December 23rd, I dragged my little guy to the mall to retrieve one last “perfect” present. I knew I was overtired and strung out – but the end was in sight!

After we me made our purchase, we trudged back to through the lot. The first thing I noticed as we hiked back towards the van was that the back door was ajar. Odd. But I figured my son likely hadn’t closed it properly or had wedged a pack of goldfish crackers in the runner.

I opened the door and spotted a lump covered in a wrinkled grey sheet wedged between the back seats. “Buddy – was that sheet here when we left the house?” I asked warily. “No mommy. I’ve never seen that before.” My little guy answered. I nervously peered under the sheet and could see that there was a stainless steel pot underneath. I tried to lift it and found it was unusually heavy. In a flash I knew immediately what it contained – either a severed head or dismembered body parts. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind.

Then the question became what should I do next? I didn’t want to open the pot because I didn’t want the contents to frighten my young son. How would he ever recover from seeing such horror?

So – I did what any rational person would do. I lifted that pot out of my van and set it down in the parking lot. “What are you doing mommy?” My son asked. “You know what – I think this belongs to someone else so I’m going to leave it here and that person will come find it.”

He accepted my answer at face value, I set the pot down in the parking lot and we drove away. By the time we got home – the usual chaos of dinner prep was in full swing and to be honest, as odd as it might sound, I kind of forgot about the whole thing.

The next night I was snuggled up in bed reading with my son when my husband popped his head into the bedroom. “Hey hon – do you know what happened to Lisa’s chili pot?” he asked. “I left it in the van and I can’t seem to find it. It was wrapped in a sheet. Did you see it?”

I felt the blood drain out of my cheeks. Chili?! Chili!? Holy crap! The pot was full of chili. Not a head. Chili. My mind started racing – how was I going to explain what I had done to my husband? He already thinks I’m impulsive and overly anxious. What would he think if I told him the truth? He leaned in a little farther – “Did you see it?” he asked again.

“Mommy left something at the mall.” my son offered helpfully. “It had a sheet on it.” My husband met my eyes. I raced through a few different scenarios in my mind then decided I had to fess up. “You what?!” my husband said incredulously. I was hoping he’d see the humour – perhaps view it as proof of my adorable whimsical nature. But he just shook his head and drove back to the mall to see if the pot was still there.

In the end, he found the it but the lid was smashed and the sheet had blown away.  And a few days later, I had to sheepishly show up to Lisa’s house with her dinged-up pot and explain why the lid and sheet were no longer part of the set. Thankfully she has a forgiving heart and a great sense of humour.

Looking back, I keep trying to figure out why I didn’t just lift that lid. It makes me kind of uneasy that I so quickly jumped to such a rash conclusion and acted so impulsively. It took me a few days of pondering to refocus on what I could learn about myself from this experience.

I learned I need sleep. I need to go easier on myself. I need to stop taking on so freakin’ much. I learned that when I don’t have “time” to do the things that ground me – I absolutely, positively need to make time right that very moment – or chances are good that I will get a little loopy! (or a lot loopy ; )

I learned that when I try to be the perfect mom, the perfect hostess, the perfect writer – I only end up leaving a trail of wreckage in my wake…. and a severed head in a parking lot.

Animal Poison Control

image

My husband was at a work function and I was home with the three kids. As soon as they were happily entertained, I snuck downstairs to do a bit of work. No sooner had I plopped at my desk then my oldest yelled down “Mom – get up here quick! Velma is sick!” I bolted up the stairs two at a time to find our 5-pound shih-tzu retching on the living room rug.

Poor Velma was heaving over a gooey pile of half digested green tomatoes. My husband had unearthed the plants the day before to prepare our garden for the winter and dozens of unripe tomatoes had fallen into the soil. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that the innocent looking pup could ingest her body weight in spoiled fruit.

 The kids were hysterical. “Mom – is she going to die?!” “What are we going to do??” “I wish dad was here!!!”

I desperately wished my husband were home too. While I have perfected the art of the “instant freak-out” – he is famously the calm one in any given situation. The world could literally be crumbling around us and he’d be holding up the house with one hand and the kids in the other while stating “Easy now, I don’t think this is the time to panic…” In fact, in almost 20 years of marriage the only time I’ve seen him visibly shaken was the night Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey. (I won’t harp on the fact that he wept more that night than on our wedding day or at the birth of any of our children. Nope – I’m not bitter about it at all!)

Immediately a rush of anxious feelings overcame me accompanied by a burning stomach, shaky legs, dry mouth and a head reeling with a familiar message- “I can’t handle this! I can’t handle this!”

But the kids had their eyes glued to me and I knew I had to step up. I combed through my brain for any gems of wisdom I’d gleaned over the past 8 weeks at my meditation seminar and one particular piece of advice popped into my head – “Respond don’t react.”

My instructor had recently spent an entire class focused on how many of us live our lives in a purely reactive state. And it really hit home. Instead of taking the time to consider my responses – I frequently rush right to panic mode.

But weeks of faithful meditation with my butt glued to a chair and determined efforts to quiet my busy mind have helped me recognize my conditioned responses and I’m working very hard to reprogram the looped tape stuck on “worry, worry, worry”.

Back to Velma – after about 10 minutes she stopped throwing up and I scooped her up in my arms, took a deep breath and turned to the kids: “Let’s call the vet and find out what we can do.” I spoke to an emergency vet who told me that green tomatoes are in fact poisonous to dogs  – who knew?! And they had me call an Animal Poison control hotline to get protocols for handling the situation. Yes there really is an Animal Poison Control Hotline and I have the number if your pet ever decides to indulge in green tomatoes or another toxic delicacy.

In the end – the puppy was fine and the only real victim was the rug that is now permanently splotched with light green circles.

Afterwards, I saw that the kids were still shaken, so I invited them to tell me how they were feeling. “My stomach hurts,” my youngest said. “I’m shaky,” said my daughter and my oldest admitted that he felt twitchy too. I used it as an opportunity to connect with them and to share some of what I’ve learned- how pausing, taking a deep breath, recognizing your physical symptoms and challenging your thoughts can transform a stressful situation into something much more manageable.

That’s right, ME – the panic queen – was able to turn the entire event into a teachable moment. I showed them a breathing exercise that helps me (breath in on a count of 4, hold for 7, then breath out for 8), I taught them a mantra I frequently use (“I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful”) and we even brainstormed strategies for handling stress and anxiety (ok maybe my youngest suggested that we keep dad home more often – but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)

That night as I was tucking my 15-year old into bed, he met my eyes – “Geez mom – I thought you’d totally freak out today but you actually handled it pretty well.”  Hot damn! Not only do I have the direct line to Animal Poison Control, I’ve also gained a modicum of respect from a teenager. Booyah!

I allowed myself a moment of pride, then I kneeled down, took a deep breath and began scrubbing barf off of the living room rug. I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful…..

 

 

Garlicky Marinara Sauce with White Beans

I think it’s safe to say that most kids adore noodles. Pasta is number one in my house and a staple on the menu at least once a week. If your children are like mine they probably much prefer plain noodles to any fancy tomato or pesto sauces but that leaves a lot lacking in the nutrition department and I always feel bummed out if the kids make a meal of pasta with just butter and cheese.

Throw this sauce together in under an hour and the heavenly aroma of garlic and tomatoes will waft through your house…and trust me it tastes as good as it smells. Aside from my cooked-tomato-averse toddler, the kids really enjoyed this sauce on their pasta. And here’s an extra kid-friendly hint: if your children are opposed to chunks you can always pop the finished product into the blender to smooth it out.

In addition to a whack of veggies, this delicious dish also sneaks in a serving of protein-rich white beans that are barely undetectable in the sea of tomatoey goodness. Like most tomato sauces this one tastes even better the next day and it freezes well so you can save some for your next Italian feast.

You can use any noodle you choose but I served mine over rice fettuccine noodles with a side salad and a baguette for mopping up the extra sauce. Be sure to load up the table with napkins and let the noodle slurping begin!

Marinara Sauce with White Beans

spag sauce in bowl
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup water
¾ cup dry red wine
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup navy beans, drained and rinsed
½ tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried crushed rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 6 oz can tomato paste

Heat oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, mushroom, garlic, red pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

spag sauce in pan

Remove bay leaves and blend if you want a smooth consistency (I always leave mine chunky).
Pour over cooked pasta of choice, top with vegan or regular parmesan and enjoy!

6 Ways to Get Your Kids To Eat More Healthy Foods

I grew up eating a lot of junk food. I mean A LOT. There were a couple of convenience stores close to our house and my sister and I spent a considerable amount of time walking or biking to these treasure troves of candy for our beloved treats- potato chips, jujubes, chocolate bars, chewy big feet, ring pops, garbage pail candies, ice cream bars, hamburger shaped gum, freezies and much, much more. In fact, aside from Archie comic books and stickers, most of our money went directly to candy.

candy 1

And I mean – we are still alive and thriving. We lived to tell the tale. And I’m happy to report that we have both adopted much healthier eating habits. But I will tell you this from my perspective: making that transition was and continues to be really freakin’ hard. Honestly, it’s something that I struggle with almost every single day (if you want to test that theory just put a bag of Doritos in front of me and see how long it takes for them to disappear ; )

So what’s wrong with treating our children with junk food? As parents, we love our kids and we want them to be happy and nothing makes them happier than a gooey caramel chocolate bar right? Well, here’s the rub – the occasional treat might be okay but routinely plying our kids with goodies actually makes it much more difficult to convince them to taste and enjoy healthier foods.

When young children routinely indulge on sugar-laden foods,their taste buds become conditioned to crave sugar, creating unhealthy habits that follow them into adulthood.

Dr. David Sack

It has taken a considerable amount of effort and will-power on my part to reprogram my taste buds to embrace healthy whole foods. And because it has been such an uphill battle for me, I am passionate about instilling healthier eating habits into my own children. Yes they certainly enjoy their treats but I want to make sure that they eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains and nuts. And it’s not simply to establish healthier eating habits but also to safeguard them from the fallout of excessive junk food consumption including; obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and tooth decay. Not to mention the research that suggests sugar may be as addictive as cocaine and other drugs.

Instead of getting overwhelmed or trying to overhaul your whole diet, I recommend making a few simple changes to encourage children to eat more nutritious foods. Here are 6 suggestions:

1. One Chug or One Bite – in our house we have a “one chug” or “one bite” policy on all new foods and drinks. It can take quite a few tries for children’s’ taste buds to adapt to a new veggie, smoothie or tofu stir fry so as long as everyone at least samples something new I don’t force the issue.

2. Be a Supermodel – Do you make negative comments about your own body or eating habits? Are you open and willing to try new foods? Our children are like little sponges and they are much more likely to pay attention to our actions than our words. Instead of lecturing kids about their eating habits, model healthy eating yourself by limiting sugary desserts and processed foods in favour of more nutrient dense choices.

3. Get Cooking – my children are much more likely to try something if they’ve had a hand in preparing it. I encourage them to pick their favourite recipes from my collection of cookbooks and I get them in the kitchen to help with chopping, stirring, blending and simmering.

4. Healthify Your Favs– there are tons of great blogs and websites featuring healthier versions of classic kid-friendly dishes. Think about some of your kids favourites and do a search for equally delicious but more nutritious recipes. Here are a few goodies for Mac and Cheese, Nachos, French Fries, Veggie Burgers and Lasagna.

5. Make It Fun – depending on the age of your children, new foods can become much more appealing if they are cut into fun shapes or given interesting names (“Green Monster Smoothie” or “Power Athlete Chocolate Almond Milk”). I’ve also had good luck with these funky straws and food games like “vote for your favourite colour of grape” or “blindfolded taste tests”.

6. Eat Together – Although our busy schedules do not allow for us to eat together as a family every night of the week, we do try to sit down together for dinner as much as possible. This gives me an opportunity to try out new dishes and to model healthier eating habits for my kiddos. And I try to refrain from making separate “child-friendly” meals because studies have also shown that children who eat the same foods as their parents actually have much healthier diets.

Most importantly of all – don’t get stressed out! There is enough stress in our lives that we don’t need the added burden of monitoring every bite that goes into our children’s mouths. Stock up your fridge and pantry with lots of healthy choices, offer up a variety of nutritious foods at meal times and do your best to embrace healthy eating habits for your children to model.

I keep reminding myself that if I do my best to encourage nutritious foods then perhaps my own children won’t suffer from the same internal strife every time they pass by the chocolate bar display at the drug store or walk through the chip aisle at the grocery store. It’s an uphill battle but I’m winning goddamit! (Curse you all-dressed chips!)

Check Me Out On Tuja Wellness!

The good folks at the online health publication Tuja Wellness ran a Nutrition Rockstar contest back in the summer and I was the lucky winner!  Thanks to the generosity of Meghan Telpner and the Tuja peeps- I have been happily soaking in an abundance of knowledge from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition via their Culinary Nutrition Expert Program.

Another wonderful bonus to winning the contest is that I get the opportunity to write a column for Tuja. How freakin lucky am I?! If you haven’t heard of Tuja then make a beeline for their site and sign up already! It’s an amazing online resource for anyone interested in enjoying a healthy, balanced and happy life.

And of course they only use the most brilliant writers ; ) My first contribution for Tuja went up on their site on Saturday so hop on over and check out my 6 Worry-Free Tricks To Keep Your Family Healthy Through The Holidays”.

I hope you enjoy a wonderful and healthy holiday season! And thank you Tuja Wellness for this early Christmas present.

Stress and Sacrifice in Competitive Sports

Just the other evening as I was kissing my oldest son goodnight he asked if I would sit with him for a minute. “I’m feeling really stressed out mom and I want to talk to you about it” he said.

Of course immediately my brain started racing with worst possible scenarios. I was certain something terrible had happened to him…..bullying, drugs, alcohol, girl problems…..what the heck was he going to say?? Despite my internal freak out, I managed to calmly settle down beside him. “What’s on your mind honey?” I asked a little too casually.

He took a deep breath and confided that he was mostly stressed about sports…. Sports?! Seriously?! I thought. But he went on to confide that his friends had been encouraging him to choose between 2 sports that he loves – soccer which he plays at a competitive level and hockey which he plays in house league. “They say I should choose because I’ve got to think about my future and scholarships and start really focusing on one over the other. And that I should be pushing myself to go to the next level. But I love playing both mom and I don’t really want to give up on one. And I’m not even sure I what I want to do in the future. Plus I still want to have some free time. What should I do?”

And he’s just 13-years-old. All of that pressure and expectation and stress over something that is supposed to be fun!

I’ve thought about writing a post on the pressure of competitive sports on children (and parents) about a million times but I have never figured out how to do it without pissing off the majority of the people I know. Because it seems that everyone in our social circle and beyond is passionate about (and fairly defensive) of competitive endeavours. And just to be clear – I’d include myself in that mix too since my son plays competitive soccer and my daughter does competitive dance.

Thankfully I don’t have to write that article because another author has done it brilliantly. A girlfriend recently forwarded along the compelling piece “The Race To Nowhere in Youth Sports” written by John Sullivan on the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog. It is thoughtfully written and well worth the read.

One thing I would add to John’s article however is that I think we as parents need to be very aware of how much our children long to make us happy and proud. Our kids are acutely aware of how invested we are in their success on the ice or on the field or on the court or on the stage. They observe how keenly we follow their successes and failures and they hear our conversations about the “best” teams and the “best” coaches and the “best” choreography. So instead of pursuing athletics for the sheer joy of it – they start to mold themselves into the athletes they think we want them to become.

Case in point- I overheard a friend of my son’s tell him this past summer “yah well our top-tier soccer team didn’t do too well this season but the important thing is that I’m being seen by the right people.” Seriously?! What 13-year-old generates that little gem? I’m 100% sure that came directly from his well-intentioned parents. But this quest for approval just adds to the overwhelming pressure our children are feeling and robs them of the chance to become their own person with their own ideas and interests and passions.

Not to mention the incredible sacrifices that have to be made by children, parents and other family members for comp sports. Family dinners, family vacations, extracurricular activities and free time hanging out with friends are all prioritized well below practices, rehearsals and extra shooting clinics. Heck, I even had to spend last Family Day weekend in an over-priced hotel with my daughter for some “mandatory” dance workshop when we should have been enjoying the time relaxing with our whole clan. And other teams require participation over Christmas holidays and spring break. It’s madness!

Listen, I certainly don’t have all the answers and I haven’t figured out the best solution. We all want what is best for our children and I know that kids are unique and experience things differently. And I am sure many of you will disagree with John’s article. But at the very least, I think we need to start an open conversation about the current climate of youth competitive sport. If we are honest with ourselves, we know it is stressing us out. And at the end of the day – it’s our children who are paying the price with their childhood.

Basketball on Vacant Basketball Court

http://stevenashyb.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/the-race-to-nowhere-in-youth-sports/