32 and still growing up: what I know so far

32

 

Yesterday, I celebrated my thirty-second birthday, and reflecting on the past 365 days has reminded me what a crazy good/bad year it's been. I faced a big-time break-up last August. I moved to a new apartment in November. I attended my first meditation retreat in January. I learned about loving without expectation. My book was published in March, which was a lifetime dream come true.  I underwent surgery in July. I had some serious disappointments and some majorly uplifting moments. It's been a year of big change, of feeling like a grown-up and also feeling like I don't know when I'm ever going to be an adult. The ups and downs of my thirty-second year tie in quite perfectly with one my favorite songs, Taylor Swift's "Innocent":

It's alright, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not what you've been
You're still an innocent
It's okay, life is a tough crowd
32 and still growin' up now
Who you are is not what you did
You're still an innocent

Since that song debuted (back in 2010!), I've always felt a connection to those lyrics, wondering where I would be and how I would feel when I turned 32. While those were written about Kanye West and his infamous interruption of Taylor's acceptance speech, I've always felt connected with that notion that, even in my thirties, I wouldn't feel like a grown-up. I would have some regrets, yet I would still be an innocent in many ways. And that's pretty much exactly how I feel. 

Listening to the song on repeat lately as inspired me to think about what I've learned over the past 32 years. So many ups and downs in this crazy thing called life, and the good and the bad have taught me so much about myself and the world. I know I've still got so much to learn, but today I've drafted a list of what I know so far...

 

1. YOUR DEFINITIONS WILL CHANGE. (Thanks, J, for inspiring this one!) I've learned that what you think of big concept words (like "love" and "career") will change over time, and will constantly keep changing. What the word "love" means to you at 20 isn't what it will mean to you at 30. 

2. GRATITUDE IS EVERYTHING. It might sound cliche, but gratitude is emphasized often for a reason. The more you focus on what you have, the harder it is to waste energy on what you don't have. Every time I've focused on feeling grateful, my attitude (and life) has changed for the better. 

3. SLEEP IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL. I've always been a big believer of sticking to a bedtime (even in college, when the word "bedtime" has lost all meaning for most students), but the less I sleep, the less positive I'm able to stay. I also feel like I learn a lot from my dreams, too, and you can't have those without sleep! 

4. IT'S OKAY TO ACT LIKE A KID. Having a childlike sense of wonder is, sadly, something a lot of adults lose as they get older. I've tried to hang on to mine as much as I can, indulging in as many kid-like activities as I can get away with. Being a kid is fun and it doesn't have to stop when you're a grown-up. 

5. BEING ALONE CAN BE GREAT. As an introvert, I've never had trouble being alone. In fact, alone-time is necessary for me to recharge after spending time with others. I used to feel like time spent alone wasn't quality time when I was younger, but I've learned to embrace the moments of solitude.
 

6. CLOSE FRIENDS > LOTS OF FRIENDS. I've found that it's more important to have fewer close relationships than to have lots of superficial friendships. This might not be the formula for everyone, but, for me, connecting on a deep level with people is rewarding, and it means focusing attention on the most important relationships. 

7. IF YOU'RE UNSURE, IT'S A NO. Though I'm still working on mastering this one, I have noticed a pattern: when I'm not sure about something (a situation, a relationship, etc.), it's usually because there's something that's not right about it. Doubt is there for a reason and it's important to listen to it. 

8. PUT THE PHONE DOWN. Another one I'm still working on is putting my phone down more often. Whenever I have my phone tucked away, I have more fun, better conversations, and more meaningful interactions. It's hard to step away from technology sometimes, but it's the only way to really embrace the tangible, IRL moments. 

9. IF YOU'RE UNHAPPY, LEAVE. I've been in many relationships and friendships in which I was unhappy and I just stayed where I was because it was more comfortable than changing. This is not a good plan. If you're not happy for a long period of time and for good reasons, leave. Life is too short to waste it in unhappy relationships. 

10. IT'S OKAY TO SAY NO... Never one to shy away from stating how I feel, I generally don't have trouble saying no when I need to, but there have been some situations in my life when I said yes and I should have said no in an attempt to please others. Don't do this. Saying no is saying yes to yourself. 

11. ... BUT SOMETIMES SAY YES. However, on the flip side, I've said no to a lot of invitations because they would've put me out of my comfort zone. I've learned to be more open-minded and to say yes to invitations even when it would be easier to say no. Sometimes you have to push yourself a little. 

12. YOU KNOW THE ANSWER. One of the most important lessons I've learned is to trust myself. Deep down, I always know what's best for me. A lot of the time I ignore that voice that has the answer and do what feels good in the moment and that doesn't always go so well. Trust — and listen to — yourself. 

13. YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU LOVE... I've been so fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living. As a writer and designer, I spend my days creating content and (hopefully!) inspiring others, which is what I've always wanted to do. No matter what your dream is, you can do it (if you're willing to put in the work). 

14. ... BUT DREAMS WILL COST YOU. Working for myself is hard. There are challenges I never anticipated. There are highs and lows (like any job), but these are closely tied to my whole life, not just a day at the office. I had to (and continue to) sacrifice a lot to do what I love. It's worth it, but it's work. 
 

15. TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY. You deserve the same respect and careful consideration that you'd offer to others. This is your one life, I've learned, and it's up to you to take it seriously and make the most of it. This isn't to say you shouldn't have fun, but it's important to take yourself (and your future) seriously. 

16. YOU CAN'T CONTROL IT ALL. No matter how many times life has taught me this lesson, I think I'll always struggle with it. I enjoy being in control, but there's a lot of life that is out of our hands. We cannot control it all. Learning to let go of control is the best way to handle life's unexpected ups and downs.  

17. YOU'RE BRAVER THAN YOU THINK. This year in particular, I've learned that I'm stronger and braver than I thought I was. When faced with difficult situations, you'll be surprised at how brave you're able to be. Courage comes out when you need it, and it can be surprising sometimes. Embrace that bravery.
 

18. IGNORE YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Whenever I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I've either learned something important about myself or had a really wonderful time. It's still hard to do this sometimes (I love my comfort zone!), but the older I get, the more I realize how much I can benefit by stepping out of my routines. 

19. NOTHING IS FOREVER. This might sound depressing, but it's actually inspiring. The good times don't last forever so you better enjoy them. And the bad times don't last forever so you know you'll get through them. Sometimes I want things to stay as they are, but this lesson is one of the greatest things I've tried to learn.
 

20. FORGIVENESS BRINGS PEACE. If someone has hurt you, it can be so hard to forgive, but I've learned that forgiveness is the key to peace. The sooner you forgive, the more peace you'll have. In a related lesson: forgiveness doesn't equal acceptance. It's about freeing yourself, not others. 
 

21. EMBRACE WHAT YOU LOVE. Who cares if your favorite day is Halloween or you want to fall asleep to the sounds of 30 Rock each night? Embrace what you love, even if others don't get it. When I like something, I tend to really like it. Some people think this is silly, but I've chosen to embrace my enthusiasm rather than try to stifle it. 

22. AVOID NEGATIVE PEOPLE. It took me a surprisingly long time to learn this one (perhaps because for so long I was pretty negative myself), but it's so, so important. Avoiding negative people (or limiting the amount of interactions with them) can change your life in the most amazing ways. Life should not be wasted on those that bring you down. 

23. GO OUTSIDE MORE OFTEN. I'm not what you'd call an outdoorsy girl, but I do love nature. Too often, I enjoy nature from the other side of a computer screen, but I've learned that I benefit a lot from going outside (even if it's just for a little bit!). Real life nature cannot be replicated and it's so inspiring.

24. YOU CAN CHANGE. For so long, I was set in my ways. I never thought I could change the things that made me unhappy, and for that I suffered. When I opened up my mind to the possibility that maybe I could change, that was when good things started to happen. Changing is hard, but it's always possible if you believe in yourself. 

25. DOGS ARE LIFE-SAVERS. Dogs have literally saved my life on more than one occasion. I cannot imagine my life without them. Not everyone is a dog-lover, I know, but those who are know just how healing and important they can be in your life. They are so good at staying present, too, which is always so inspiring. 

26. TRY TO STAY IN THE NOW. The desire to stay present is one of the reasons I started Positively Present in the first place, and it's still a challenge for me. I know how important it is, but it's hard to stop my mind from wandering to the past or the future. But the point is: I keep trying. It's hard work, staying present, but I've learned how important it is and I keep at it. 

27. MISTAKES WILL BE MADE. Like all of us, I've made mistakes. Some I still shudder to think about, but that's a part of life, isn't it? We all do things we're not super proud of, but it's important to accept these mistakes, try to learn from them, and do the best we can not to make them again. There are no erasers in life, but we can change what we write in the future. 

28. YOU WILL GET OVER IT. No matter how terrible the loss or heartbreak, you will get over it. Time truly does heal all wounds. Sometimes it takes a long, long time, but one day you look up and the pain isn't so clear anymore. Day by day, it fades a little bit. It's important to remember this when times are tough. 

29. MAGIC IS FOR REAL. There are things that happen in life that are truly magical. You never know when these moments will happen, but when they do, it's pretty amazing. Shooting stars. First kisses. Unexpected rainbows. Little bits of magic happen all the time, and I've learned to keep an eye out for them.

30. BE AWARE OF YOUR THOUGHTS. I've learned that what you think about is what your life becomes. Your thoughts make up your world, which is why it's so important to be aware of them. I've learned to pay attention closely — and to choose to redirect my thoughts to a more positive path when necessary. 

31. KEEP AN OPEN MIND. One of my most popular blog posts is this one, and I think it's for good reason. Having an open mind is very beneficial. It changes you — and the way you see the world — for the better. It can be challenging to do at times (especially with long-held beliefs), but I've learned that it's always worth the effort. 

32. FALL IN LOVE WITH YOURSELF. This is perhaps the most important lesson I've learned over the past 32 years: self-love is the foundation for all of your relationships. If you don't love yourself, it's impossible to love someone else. Self-love means respecting and caring for yourself. Doing these things (always!) will improve every aspect of your life. 

  

 

Finding-Self-Cover

Want to spend some time thinking about what you've learned in your life so far? Start your own soul-searching experience with the Finding Yourself workbook. Discover more about yourself, and uncover what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


word of the month : refresh

Refresh
 

This article is part of the 2015 Word of the Month series, based on the monthly theme featured in the Every Day Matters 2015 Diary I designed for Watkins Publishing. In the planner, each month has a theme highlighted in the weekly illustrations, quotes, and activities. This month's theme is REFRESH. (Pre-order your 2016 Diary here!) 


We're now more than halfway through the year, making August a great time to slow down a bit and refresh our minds and bodies. Where I live, August is hot and humid; just a short walk outside can be energy-draining. This makes it the perfect time to think about refreshment, about quenching the body and mind's thirst for something invigorating.

Doing things that refresh the mind and body is a great way to counteract the lethargy that sometimes comes with the long, hot summer days. I've certainly been in need of refreshment myself so I've rounded up some of the best ways to refresh the mind and body. 

  

REFRESH YOUR BODY

 

REFRESH YOUR MIND

 

These are just some of the great ways you can find refreshment this month. (The best thing about them is that they often work for both body and mind!) Do you have more ideas I haven't thought of or mentioned here? Be sure to share them in the comments section below!

  

 

Finding-Self-Cover

A great way to refresh your mind is by uncovering more insights about yourself. Start your own soul-searching experience with the Finding Yourself workbook. Discover more about yourself, and uncover what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


12 post-surgery life lessons : part II

Relax copy
 
 
A few weeks ago, I had surgery for the first time and last week I wrote about some of the life lessons I gained from the unsettling and unpleasant experience of undergoing surgery and facing some of my biggest fears — namely, anything related to doctors or medicine! (Check out PART I here.) It's been a challenge to get back to the point where I'm able to do work and write again, but I'm so happy to be getting better day by day. Keep reading to discover some of the lessons I learned from having surgery and spending weeks recovering from it...
 

7. VERY FEW THINGS ARE AS URGENT AS THEY SEEM. 
 
Before surgery, I never would have dreamed of taking a week to respond to an email or asking to push off a deadline for a month. When it comes to work (and even to simple things like text messages), everything always seemed urgent to me. I had to respond as soon as I could. I had to complete a task before it was due. I had to text back right away. But now — after rearranging my workload, getting back to people when I felt up to it — I've realized that there is very little in this world that's urgent. Almost everything can (and does!) wait if you allow it to. That's not to say I will be putting things off (that goes against my Type A nature!), but I'm hoping I'll learn to chill out a bit more now that I've seen first-hand that not everything needs to be taken care of ASAP. 
 
 
8. BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU READ. 
 
When I'm faced with an unknown situation, my first instinct is to gather all of the information I can about it. Having a better understanding of a subject makes me feel more secure and prepared. So, of course, when I found out about my condition and the surgery I'd be having, I began Googling like a madwoman, gathering all the data I could so I'd know what my doctor was talking about and, more importantly, I'd know what to expect. This was both good and bad. On the bad side of things, I read some horror stories that made me more anxious than necessary. But on the good side, I got some great post-surgery tips that really helped (and that my doctor failed to mention) and I had some idea of what to expect. For example, I knew that there was a good chance I would have to have more than one surgery so, when I met with my doctor for my post-op checkup, I wasn't surprised (or upset) when he told me another surgery would be necessary. Information is powerful (in a good and bad way) so be mindful of what you read. 
 
 
9. YOU WILL LEARN AS YOU GO. 
 
Surgery has taught me that you'll learn things you never thought you would need to learn (like how to pull up your pants when you can't properly bend your legs!). You'll learn how to do very unpleasant pre-op prep. You'll learn how to follow post-op instructions from your doctor. You'll re-learn how to do basic things, like showering and sleeping. And you'll learn to do things you'd never heard of before — and you'll become good at doing these things. One of the great things about humans is how amazingly well we adapt to new circumstances. Things that seemed really difficult right after surgery are now second nature to me. Things I once thought of as gross don't even faze me now. I've learned, in a very short time, how to take care of myself in new ways and it's shown me that, no matter what we're facing, we can and will adapt. 
 
 
10. JUST TAKE EVERYTHING 10 SECONDS AT A TIME. 
 
If you're an avid Positively Present reader, you probably know how much I love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (read my post about it here), and the show taught me a very important life lesson that proved invaluable in the face of pain and fear: take it 10 seconds at a time. In the show, Kimmy gets through difficult situations by telling herself that she can get through the next 10 seconds...and the next 10...and the next 10. This little trick can be a lifesaver when you're in pain (emotionally or physically). When faced with pain that feels as if it will never end, it's so helpful to break it down to 10 second bits of time. You can do anything for 10 seconds, and when you think about it only as surviving through that short period, whatever pain you're facing becomes more bearable. 
 
 
11. LITTLE VICTORIES SHOULD BE CELEBRATED. 
 
Who knew that simply taking a shower could be considered a major accomplishment? After surgery, I quickly learned that it was important to celebrate the little victories — no matter how small. Even the act of getting out of bed was something I could be proud of! Instead of focusing on what you can't do (as I often found myself wanting to do since I felt immobile and unproductive), celebrating the little things you can do is a way to shift the focus away from complaints and toward gratitude. While there was a lot I wasn't able to do, I was still able to do somethings and, as I recovered, I was able to do more and more things. Celebrating this little victories — even if it was just with a "Look at you! Good work!" — helped me feel as if I was making progress. 
 
 
12. DO WHAT YOU CAN WHERE YOU ARE. 
 
The most important lesson I learned while recovering from surgery was this: do what you can while you can. Throughout my recovery, I was very frustrated by the things I couldn't do, but I tried to transform that frustration by finding things I could do. For example, I was able to get a lot of reading done, which I loved. Due to the beauty of my iPhone, I was able to respond to emails while lying in bed and even draft this post! I downloaded some apps for my phone to keep me busy (like Colorfy and Boggle) and allowed myself to do some research for future work projects. I wasn't able to do much, but I did the best I could to fill up my time with what I could do and this served two important purposes: (1) it distracted me from my pain at times and (2) it gave me a feeling of productivity. While I'm not saying we should always be doing something, I was glad to learn that, even when stuck in bed, there are ways to make the most of your time. 
 
 
Whether you're going through a situation like mine or just looking for some inspiration, I hope theses lessons have inspired you in some way. I'll leave you with one final thought that helped me get through recovery: try to envision yourself healthy again. As I was stuck in bed, I sometimes found my mind wandering to a negative place, thinking thoughts like, "I'm going to be in this situation forever." or "I'm never going to be well again."
 
Of course, those kinds of thoughts are immensely unhelpful when it comes to recovery and I knew it. So whenever I started to think this way, I'd remind myself to calm down, focus on the moment, and keep in mind that this was just one chapter of my life. As a greeting card I got from a friend said, "This is but a crappy chapter in your amazing life story." When I focused on that thought — reminding myself that I would get better, eventually — I found it much easier to cope with the pain and frustration.
 
So if you ever find yourself in a tough spot in life, remember those words: This is but a crappy chapter in your amazing life story. It really does help to remind you that one day you'll be in a another chapter and whatever you're struggling with right now will be nothing but a memory.  

 

 
PPGTL-Get-the-BookWant to explore how to have a more positive, present life? Pick up your very own copy of my book, The Positively Present Guide to Life. The book is all about how to stay positive and present in various areas of life including: at home, at work, in love, in relationships, and during change. I've turned back to it often this year as I've gone through major changes and it's been tremendously helpful. The book is filled with inspiring images that make it even easier to stay positive and present. You can learn more about the book and find out where to buy a copy here. (You can also get a sneak peek at the book, access a free download, and watch the book trailer!)


12 post-surgery life lessons : part I

Take-Care
 
 
About two weeks ago, I had surgery and I'm finally feeling a bit like my old self. I still have a while until I'm 100% back to where I was before (and I have the joy of another surgery to look forward to as well. ugh.), but I'm happy to say that I'm here and I'm writing again. YAY! 
 
As you can imagine, I've learned a lot over the past few weeks — about myself, about facing fears, about staying positive and present even when it's really difficult to do so, and, importantly, about what it's like to face a situation in which I was forced to spend days and days in bed, recovering and taking care of myself. 
 
It wasn't easy, focusing on taking care of myself. I felt completely and utterly unproductive. I felt bored and useless. And, of course, I felt the oh-so-unpleasant pinches of physical pain. But, as challenging as it's been, I have to say it's been a great eye-opener in terms of life lessons on self-care. I've learned so much from facing my fears (though I didn't really have a say in the matter, as surgery was my only option!) and about managing my (often negatively-skewed) mindset. 
 
As I was lying in bed for days on end, ideas and lessons came to mind and, as they arrived, I'd type them into the Notes app on my phone so I could recall them later. (Because, I'll be honest — those pain meds can do a number on your brain!) Some of these lessons relate specifically to life after surgery, but most of them can apply to any difficult situation. 
 
 
 
1. A BREAK IN ROUTINE CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU. 
 
I'm a huge fan of routine. I love creating patterns and sticking to them. It gives me a sense of peace and order in a sometimes chaotic world. However, when a health issue presents itself and there's no other option that to have a surgery that involves a six week recovery, routines pretty much get thrown out the window. Like it or not, you have to adapt. And I've discovered that this can actually be a very good thing. Breaking my routines helped me to come up with new ideas and solutions to problems I'd been having. Changing things up forced me, in little ways, to change myself. 
 
 
2. ACCEPT THE MOMENT MAKES IT MUCH EASIER. 
 
Nothing is worse than being in a situation you don't want to be in. A couple of weeks ago, I experienced one of my worst fears — having an IV put in. In the past, I'd thought to myself, If I ever need an IV for any reason, I'm just going to run away. I don't need medicine. I'll be fine so long as I don't have to have a needle that stays in my handEven now, thinking about it, I feel a little shiver of fear run down my spine. But I had no choice but to be in that moment, to experience one of the things I'd most feared. (And, as it often happens, what I feared that most really wasn't all that bad!) Staying in moments like that one was difficult, but the more I focused on acceptance, the easier it was to cope. 
 
 
3. THERE IS ALWAYS GOOD IN A BAD SITUATION. 
 
Having surgery is no walk in the park. It's not fun and it's hard to make it seem fun — but! there are some small joys to be found, even in the most unpleasant of situations. For example, I got to spend a lot of time resting and reading. Reading is one of my favorite things to do and I can't remember a time before now that I felt completely guiltless spending an entire day just reading (other than when I was on vacation, which was always prime reading time!). Instead of focusing on what I couldn't do — work, for example — I tried to enjoy the down time, to embrace all the words I got to read, and do be incredibly thankful for wonderful parents who took care of me day in and day out. 
 
 
4. SOMETIMES THERE ARE GREAT LESSONS IN PAIN. 
 
While I was resting, I started daydreaming about how I would spend my time once I was back on my feet. I'd go running! I'd take my dog on walks in the woods! I'd have more dance parties! I'd go on more adventures! All of these grand (and active!) plans were very un-me, but after lying around for so long, all I wanted to do was get up and move. I realized that this new desire to move around, to hunt down adventure, might be a lesson.  I'd been spending a lot of time on my couch, watching Netflix and reading. Back when I was well, I'd been spending a lot of down time on my couch by choice. But when I was forced to be on the couch and it wasn't a choice anymore, I realized how much I'd been wasting my health lying horizontally on the sofa. Surgery taught me this lesson in a way I might not have learned otherwise. 
 
 
5. A NEW SITUATION CAN BE AN OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE. 
 
Health has never been a huge priority for me. Exercise is something I'd rather not do (though I did get into a lovely habit of yoga, which I hope to resume as soon as I'm better). Eating healthy always seems to take too much effort. And caffeine and I have become soulmates over the years. But when I was forced to change — to spend my time focusing on my health and recovering — I managed to make some great changes. I started eating healthier, incorporating vegetables and fruit into most of my meals. I cut my caffeine intake way down. (What did I need caffeine for if I was just going to be lying on my bed reading?) This unfortunate situation was the kick in the pants I needed to change some of my bad habits. 
 
 
6. TRUE COLORS SHINE IN TIMES OF TROUBLE. 
 
Wow, did I learn a lot about the people in my life when I went through this tough time! People I hadn't spoken to in years reached out to me; people I see on a weekly basis said nothing. Some people sent gifts and texts and checked up on me. Others rarely inquired about how I was doing. When you're going through a tough time, you learn a ton about the people around you — and some of that knowledge will be really surprising. Sometimes it will hurt. Sometimes it will erupt in unexpected joy. It's an incredible way to see the people around you for who they really are. Those who are there for you are the ones you should devote your attention to; those who are not should not receive much of your time and energy. I will never forget the way people treated me during this time and it will forever shape how I view the character of others. 
  
 
 
Thinking of these lessons and trying to find the positive in a negative situation was extremely helpful for me while I was going through this. And, to be honest, I'm not sure if I would have been as focused on having a positive, present mindset if it weren't for the knowledge that there are people out there like you, reading what I write and seeking inspiration from my words. You might not realize it, but just by reading Positively Present, you've inspired me to be more positive and more present. So, thank you. Thank you for inspiring me to write these words and thank you for reading. 
 
Stay tuned for PART II of this post next week! Once it's been published, you can read it here.

 

 

 
PPGTL-Get-the-BookWant to explore how to have a more positive, present life? Pick up your very own copy of my book, The Positively Present Guide to Life. The book is all about how to stay positive and present in various areas of life including: at home, at work, in love, in relationships, and during change. I've turned back to it often this year as I've gone through major changes and it's been tremendously helpful. The book is filled with inspiring images that make it even easier to stay positive and present. You can learn more about the book and find out where to buy a copy here. (You can also get a sneak peek at the book, access a free download, and watch the book trailer!)


6 steps for coping with fear

Fearful

 

Last week I wrote about how to find the positive when you're not feeling well, something I've been struggling a lot with recently. After having had two minor surgeries over the past week (one of which was very unexpected!), I'm actually feeling better than I have in quite some time. However, though my physical pain has subsided somewhat, my emotional distress has increased immensely over the past week due to the more serious, under-anesthesia surgery I'm scheduled to have this week. Having never had "real" surgery before — and also being very iatrophobic — I've been struggling a lot with staying positive and present in the face of fear. 

I've never encountered a fear like this before. I've faced my share of fears, but they've always been more abstract and emotional — fear of not succeeding or having my heart broken or taking a big career risk — and much easier to overcome. This fear is incredibly tangible and forceful. It's physical and has a deadline with a very specific date and time. It's doing its best to trample my attempts at staying positively present.

But, scared as I am, I'm determined not to let it take over. I'm trying as best I can to make the most of the time I have between now and my surgery date without letting fear rule my life. I know I won't be able to completely eradicate the fear, but I can learn to cope with it. Here are some of the steps I've been taking to cope with my fear. (Note: Though these are highlighted by my specific upcoming-surgery experience, these six steps apply to coping any kind of fear!)

 

Step 1: Recognize that you're afraid

The first — and maybe most important — step when it comes to fear is realizing you're afraid. Fear can manifest itself in all sorts of forms that may make it seem like something it's not. Personally, I've found that a lot of the time when I seem angry or annoyed, I'm actually afraid. It's not always easy to identify the source of fear, but if you spend time thinking about it (much you as might not want to!), usually the root cause of the fear will be made clear. Also, fear is something we usually want to avoid so sometimes we ignore it or downplay it in order to convince ourselves (or others) that we're brave. Remind yourself that being afraid isn't a weakness, and the sooner you recognize the fear, the sooner you can discover ways to cope with it (and hopefully move past it).  

 

Step 2: Get to the heart of the fear

After you've identified what you're afraid of — for example, for me, I'm afraid of having surgery — it's time to dig a little deeper and define why you're afraid. For me, the fear of surgery is actually due to fears of (1) not being in control, (2) not knowing exactly how I'll feel when I wake up, and (3) not having experienced anything like this before (aka, fear of the unknown). When trying to get to the root cause of fear, it's helpful to ask these questions:

  • Have I ever been afraid of this before?
  • What are you really afraid of?
  • What makes you feel more afraid of it? Less afraid? 
  • How do you feel when you're afraid? (Physically and mentally)
  • When are you most likely to feel afraid? 
  • Does your fear have a purpose? 

Recognizing what causes the fear, when you experience it most, and what's at the heart of it will help with the coping process. Also, sometimes simply understanding why you're experiencing something can make it a bit easier to manage, making the coping process a bit easier. 

 

Step 3: See fear as an opportunity

Fear is no fun to experience, but it's often presented to you as an opportunity to take on a challenge, overcome a difficult situation, or grow stronger and braver. (Cliche, I know, but I swear it's true!) In the midst of fear, it can be difficult to find the opportunities there, but it's worth considering what they might be, especially because this is an excellent exercise in striving to find the good in a bad situation. For example, in my situation, I've spent my entire life being iatrophobic, terrified of doctors, needles, any sort of medical procedure. Though I'm currently still quite scared, I'm hoping this experience will make me braver and make it easier to cope with any medical situation I encounter in the future. I also know for a fact that this situation has made me so grateful for my health and once this is all over with I'll have grown more appreciative of what it means to be healthy. 

 

Step 4: Focus on your body

The way your body reacts to situations and thoughts can give you a lot of clues about how you're feeling, especially when it comes to fear. For example, you might tense up when hearing unpleasant news before you've even actually processed what it means. Or your heart might start racing when you think about an upcoming presentation. Our bodies give us so much information about our emotions, and we can use that information to our advantage. For example, if your palms start sweating and your mind starts racing when you start thinking of something you're afraid of, it might be a good time to try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Or if you find your heart beating really fast, you might want to try progressive muscle relaxation. Paying attention to the body's reaction to fear is useful because you can then counteract those reactions with more positive ones (deep breaths, relaxing muscles, etc.). 

 

Step 5: Distract yourself from the fear

Last week, I wrote a little bit about distraction in my post about finding sunshine when you're under the weather, but I'm bringing it up again now because it's been a lifesaver for me lately. Seriously, if I didn't have a ton of great distractions, I'd probably be curled up in a ball shaking in fear for the next few days! Fear and anxiety can spiral out of control very quickly if they're allowed free reign in the mind,  and one of the best ways to keep it under control is to focus on something other than the fear. Over the past week, I've become a master at distraction, doing anything I can to focus on anything other than my upcoming surgery. Here are some of my favorite distractions: reading, writing, watching movies (especially old favorites), grown-up coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and being around other people. When I'm distracted, fear doesn't completely dissipate, but coping with it is much easier. 

 

Step 6: Visualize the best case scenario

One of the most scary things about my upcoming surgery is that I don't know exactly what kind of surgery I'm having until the surgeon begins the procedure. There are a variety of situations that could happen, ranging from not-too-bad to ugh-whyyyyy. My mind has, unfortunately, been wandering toward the negative side of things, imagining what will happen if I have to have the more complex surgery (that often involves additional surgery), but thinking this way is doing me no good. What I need to be doing is focusing on the best case scenario and visualizing that as my outcome. I read this quote recently and it's so true: "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want." Instead of focusing on what's the worst that could happen, it's much better to take a look at your fear and ask yourself this, "What would it be like if everything goes perfectly?"

 

Though I'm admittedly still battling a lot of fear about my upcoming surgery, these six steps have really helped me to better cope with my fear. If you're facing any kind of fear or change in your life, I hope these steps will help you too!

I'm not sure exactly how long I'll be in recovery so if you don't see posts from me in the next couple of weeks, don't worry — I'll be back as soon as I can sit up and write again! In the meantime, I'll probably still be posting over on Instagram (@positivelypresent) so follow along over there for some daily bits of positivity. :)

 
  

 

Finding-Self-Cover

Facing fears can offer up a great opportunity to reconnect with yourself. Start some soul-searching with the Finding Yourself workbook. Discover more about yourself, and uncover what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own soul-searching copy here.