If you’ve fallen into habits of running yourself ragged, taking care of everyone else around you, and putting yourself last on your own list, stress has probably become a major issue in your life. Maybe you don’t even notice that you’re stressed out, because you’ve found ways of calming yourself down and taking the edge off of your anxiety.

How Do You Take the Edge off of Your Stress?

But you could be overeating, chain smoking, overspending, drinking, overmedicating or spending too much time binge-watching Netflix or hanging out on Facebook. These are all examples of ways that people relax themselves.

Food has always been my drug of choice especially whenever life gets crazy. Being raised in an alcoholic and abusive family, from the time I was a child I learned to remain vigilant; always stay alert and never let my guard down. I became really good at spinning a lot of plates in the air, taking care of others and handling it all and making it all look effortless.

Stuffing my emotions with food has always been my way of self-soothing and giving myself all the love and affection I didn’t get from my family. But in spite of all their limitations, I love my family and I’m loyal to the core. I’ve always prided myself on being a caregiver.

Yearning for connection with my emotionally detached mother, brother and father, I naturally fell into the role of being the family fixer. Every time they needed me, I was there. There was never really any acknowledgment or appreciation from them, just an unspoken agreement between us all that I would take care of all of them, forever. And it cost me dearly.

Their lives were filled with drama and insanity. As the co-dependent I was then, I made the mistake thinking I could fix them all. Adopting the problems of 3 grown adults, my life became a circus of drama.

Two years ago my family life was going to hell in a hand basket. Both my kids had moved out, my precious cat, Owie passed away, and my marriage was on the rocks. And I was still reeling from the anguish of being estranged from my father. From my perspective, my life sucked.

The first year after the crazy bomb dropped, I was pretty much good for nothing, consumed with how miserable I felt and why I felt so rejected, and why nobody loved me. Showering and dressing each day was a huge effort. I grieved and I cried, and I cried and I grieved. I cried those really ugly cries with the snot dripping from your nose and your mouth hanging open. It wasn’t pretty. I spent a lot of time hiding and pushing everyone away. Poor little victim, Andrea.

The following year I flew down to Florida to spend some time caring for my mother. Seeing her life and all its drama up close was the turning point I needed to pull myself out of my own sad and pathetic rut.

In my family there’s a history of mental illness and depression. I just always saw that fact as “out there” and not something I needed to worry about until that visit to mom.

The reality of it all came crashing in when I saw how debilitated she had become over a few short years and compared that to how my own depression had been affecting me.

Watching her struggle with her own mental incapacity, and seeing how dementia had her acting like a child made me realize that I never wanted to take the path of aging, walking in her shoes.

I vowed that I would do everything I could to pull myself out of the dumps so I could get healthy and start living my life.

The first change I made even before leaving for Florida was to start to meditate every day. I knew I had to get my  mind right. I like to think of meditation as my friend Z described it, taking a “Brain break.”

At first it felt like a life/death struggle to shut down my constant never-ending chattering monkey mind. But I persisted, and kept on meditating each day, completely believing that I needed to change my thoughts in order to change my life.

I realized that I had gotten myself into the situation with my family willingly because a part of me accepted that as being my role in life. I had taken care of everyone and everything for so long, I didn’t know any other way of living.

Getting myself into the middle of a big argument between my mother and Yale her boyfriend, who’s now her husband, was the hidden blessing that rattled me into reality.  I realized that my way of functioning to drop everything and run to save my family was costing me everything. Not only was I losing my precious husband and kids, but I was losing myself and my sanity.

A Year Later

Meditating each day has given me a lot of insights into myself and I’ve realized that I allowed my old victim role to identify me.

Without a doubt, meditation has saved my sanity. I love the calm, peaceful feeling that I get every day. As I’ve made meditation and self-care a greater priority for myself, it’s become crystal clear that I can’t “save” my family and it’s not even my responsibility to do that. My first responsibility is to care for myself.

Over the past year, the more I’ve meditated, the more I’ve come to accept the things I can not change. Other people’s choices are not my responsibility and their opinions are not my business, and that goes double for family members.

As a result of taking a much needed break from all my family’s drama, I’m a lot happier and the increased distance from my kids has given me an opportunity to rediscover my marriage and fall back in love with my husband.

My 23 year old daughter, Cara thrives on her independence. My 28 year old son, PT, not so much. PT came back home to roost. I have mixed feelings about that, and we often lock horns and argue, but I realize in the same way that I created my mother, father and brother’s dependence on me, I did the same with PT.

From the time around 3 years old, when he was classified as learning disabled and speech delayed, I’ve done everything I could to protect and shelter him. He’s long since been declassified, but I’ve held onto the habit of identifying him in my mind as being more needful. I can definitely see how my over protectiveness hindered his ability to believe in himself.  That left him with a seething feeling of bitterness and resentment toward me. I’m not proud of it, but I’m aware and take full responsibility for clipping his wings. I’m proud that he’s working hard to be more independent. But in the meanwhile as long as he lives here, this time together has given us more opportunities to reconnect and become closer. I’ve taught PT how to meditate and he loves it. From the first moment when he tried it and noticed that it completely calmed his facing thoughts, he’s been hooked on the feeling of calm stillness. We often sit each day and meditate together.

Meditation Calms My Anxiety

As I become more cognizant of how I feel, I realize I have a tendency to get anxious and worry. I never thought twice about it because I would just find something to eat and the anxiety would disappear.

Now I don’t automatically pop food in my mouth when I feel anxious. I pay attention to that feeling and look at it as a warning telling me that something is making me uncomfortable. I don’t necessarily have to bulldoze my way through to doing something that scares me. I can chip away at it a bit at a time. Change is scary.

I often use meditation as a way of stopping old habits like being negative, worrying, being afraid, and other emotions that feel too intense for me. It can be super stressful living with 2 alpha males, my husband and my son.

I use meditation because I know it helps me stay calm and peaceful, so I can be more resilient and resourceful. Sometimes when life really knocks me off my feet, I’ll meditate twice or more that day or for whatever length of time is needed. On the rare occasion, I don’t meditate, I notice myself getting edgy, easily stressed and taking everything personally.

Several months ago I was at the post office standing on line and happened to look at my reflection in a full-length mirror in front of me. For a moment, I was shocked and horrified by what I saw.

My old inner critic started to beat up on me and tell me how terrible I looked. As I stole a second glance, I could see how the capris I was wearing emphasized my heavy calves showing how overweight I was.

My memory flashed to 20 years earlier when I would glam myself up to go everywhere. I just don’t do that anymore because I’m so much more comfortable with myself. But in my mind that day, it was official–I looked pretty awful.

Years ago seeing myself as fatter than I imagined, would have been enough of a trigger for me to have an enormous binge that would last a month or more.

I’m pretty proud of the way things wrapped up. My inner critic only got a few seconds of air time before I realized that I was beating up on myself as I used to do.

Once that became clear to me, a more compassionate and loving part of me came to my rescue and rushed to my defense, saying, “Andrea, Sweetie, it’s okay that you don’t look as great as you’d like. And you’ve gained weight over the past year. It’s no big deal. It’s okay. You’re okay. After that little chat with my inner nurturer I felt so much better.

The rest of the day went smoothly and by the time I got home, I was fine. The next morning I looked in the mirror again and saw the same reflection; a bigger me. I realize it’s going to take some time to get back to the level of health where I used to be, and I’m proud to say that I’m worth every minute of it. The good news is that I’ve taken the biggest step by clearing out all the drama and taking 100% responsibility for my life and my happiness. I credit much of my success in letting go of my insecurities to meditation. It’s enabled me to see things from a bigger perspective.

Meditation: My Way

Today I meditate every day without fail. I’m a morning person so I usually do it as soon as I tumble out of bed, anytime between 5:00 – 7:00 a.m. Eastern. My way of meditating is to just sit down quietly on a comfortable sofa in my house or office, close my eyes, and  just let my mind rest. No mantras for me. I just listen to my breath and watch my thoughts go by. I set my phone’s timer for 20 minutes, or whatever amount of time I decide that I need in that moment. The only goal that I hold in my mind is to just slow down.

Whenever upsetting thoughts or emotions bubble up and they do, I just watch them from a distance until they change and disappear. There are often times during meditation or after I finish and open my eyes, when I notice that I feel sad and want to cry, so I just let the tears run down my cheeks. If I’m meditating, I continue to let the tears fall as I think about watching myself from an observer’s perspective. Pretty soon the tears stop and I feel so much better.

I want to say from my own experience that meditation is great. But sometimes it will stir up thoughts and emotions that make you feel uncomfortable in the moment. As long as you stick with it, and watch them as an observer, they will dissipate and you’ll see them from a fresh, more empowered perspective.

So no matter what you decide to do, it’s so important to slow down your thoughts and ground yourself every day in the belief that you can handle whatever gets thrown at you. My sanity saver is meditation, what’s yours?

Thoughts racing, feeling frustrated and anxious about your changing, aging body? Don’t beat up on yourself. Join my Facebook group, “30 Days to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” and get a fresh perspective. Because seriously your body is not the problem, but hating yourself is. Let me teach you how to use self-compassion and stress-relief to be kinder to yourself from the inside-out.