I am heading to Denver, Colorado in the next few weeks to visit my oldest son. Three days in downtown Denver and three days in Estes Park, which we are being told is simply breath-taking. I am super excited to hug on my boy! Yes, he’s twenty-five, but always my baby boy. Yet, there is this little pest named Anxiety that keeps popping its head up to remind me how terrified I am of heights, that there is a possibility of altitude sickness, and I am not a fan of being far from home and my “safe space” along with a whole checklist of long-ago created avoidance behaviors.
However, I am bound and determined to enjoy every waking moment soaking up all the positive Colorado has to offer. I live in Ohio. The heart of the Midwest. I have never traveled further west than Illinois. For those of you who may be geographically-challenged, that is two states west of Ohio. Not even to the Mississippi River. When we have traveled south into Tennessee, I have closed my eyes as we drove over the Great Smoky Mountains. Yeah. Jelico, Tennessee on I-75 has been known to trigger a full blown panic attack.
Flying results in similar panic-induced responses – sweaty palms, flipping stomach, racing thoughts, and other overwhelming body sensations.
So, how do I bring myself back into a state of calm once the anticipatory anxiety has been triggered? Here is my personal go-to list. Please keep in mind I created this plan on a trial and error basis. I have loaded my coping skills toolbox with exercises, fidgets, courses, books, therapy suggestions, and techniques discovered through personal research. Following are my top seven strategies, however, please note that I have a much larger bag-o-tricks I pull from if needed.
- Calming Stones
Whenever I travel, I pack a backpack and fill it with my favorite calming aids. These two stones are always included in that collection of soothing strategies.
There is something settling about the weight of the stones in my hand and the silky smooth surface as I move my thumb and fingers over them. A transition happens, as well, as they move from icy cold to radiating heat as my energy transfers into them.
I purchased mine through a local store which carries various crystals and stones. However, you can find them online, as well.
- Calming Coloring Books
Another one of my favorites, especially when flying, is to lose myself in the intricate designs of my coloring books. As with my calming stones, I find soothing comfort in the process of creating bursts of color on the white pages. This is very much a mindfulness practice as it brings me into the now, into this present moment. I forget whatever past trauma may be attempting to surface and I lose all worry of future what-ifs. I merely focus on staying in the lines as my gel pens glide along, enjoying the right-here-right-now moment.
I have purchased these at craft stores, my local grocery store, put them on my birthday wish list, and even won one as part of a writing contest prize. These, too, can be purchased online. My favorite is The Mindfulness Coloring Book which is smaller in size and easy to transport.
- Gel Pens
Coinciding with my coloring book calming strategy is my use of gel pens as I color and practice mindfulness. Again, there is something peaceful about converting the page from white with black squiggly lines into a vibrant work of art.
I have tried using colored pencils, Sharpies, and markers from my daughter’s school supply collection, but my preference is most assuredly gel pens. Particularly the pack of 120 pens I have found at Target. There are glitter, neon, swirl, pastel and more in the pack. A bundle of fun! Of course, they are available online, as well.
all photos copyright Teri Wellbrock
As you can tell by my collection of photos, I am drawn to the beauty that can be found in “the now”. From breathtaking sunbeams to dew-soaked spiderwebs, insects scurrying about their days, a seal basking in a meditative moment in the sunlight, from muddy hikes to rain-soaked blossoms, there is wonder all around us.
I use my Samsung phone to capture these moments, although if I remember to grab my Nikon D3300 camera before heading out the door, I will snap higher quality pics on that. But, most moments I simply stop, take in a slow deep breath and savor.
We live near a nature preserve (four minutes from our driveway to be exact!) and I find myself and lose myself all at once on those trails. The sounds of water rushing through the creeks as they sing along with the symphony of birds. The scents, oh how I wish I could record the scents for playback at a later time, sometimes stop me in my tracks. Again, I pause to close my eyes and breath in renewal into my soul.
However, I can find nature in my office as a lady bug appears on my desk as if she just stopped by to check in and chat or during a dinner date downtown Cincinnati as I smile at the muddy Ohio River carrying the paddle boats upstream or even as I step into the parking lot of my local grocery store only to be greeted by God, waving to me via sunbeams peeking from dark clouds.
What a gift I have found in being cognizant of the beauty in the now.
- Angels, Faith, and Prayer
Growing up Catholic . . . my dad was a Jesuit brother for eight years from age sixteen to twenty-four and my mom wanted to be a nun but they wouldn’t allow her in due to her partying tendencies, a.k.a. alcoholism . . . was both restrictive and comforting. It wasn’t until I was in my forties and started my healing journey that I found my faith truly blossoming beyond the dogma of the Catholic Church. I started to embrace other faiths and found myself experiencing a higher power, God, universe, whatever label you would like to apply, outside of the walls of a church.
I pray throughout my day. But not The Lord’s Prayer and formal prayers. I throw out prayers of gratitude and pleas of compassion and requests for guidance. My faith is now weaved into my breath. It is merely a part of who I am, not how often I attend mass or donate to a charity.
I am my prayer. A living, breathing, loving prayer.
Angels surround me. Literally. In statue form and spirit form. I have had three different mediums approach me and say the exact same thing . . . I have never met anyone surrounded by as many angels as you are. Pretty cool! And makes me feel quite blessed and comforted. I have always been drawn to them. I have angel paintings, calendars, statues, and books surrounding me as I type this.
They are most definitely a go-to as a calming strategy. Prayer and conversations with my angels bring me right back here to the present moment.
- Finding Hearts
The majority of the time I am not purposefully searching for hearts. They just come across my radar. I was recently hiking with a friend when I paused to catch my breath as we trudged up a hill. I told myself to “stop and smell the flowers” and upon turning my head, right there next to me on the path, was a leaf which had an insect-eaten heart hole in it. I couldn’t help by laugh out loud. Of all of the places to pause and of all of the leaves surrounding me in that forest, I happened to find a tiny little heart eaten out of a leaf. I laughed because it happens every single day. As in every . . . single . . . day. Without fail.
As a matter of fact, I wrote an e-book about it, filling it with heart pics I have snapped along with photos friends have taken and gifted to me. I even have a page on my website dedicated to those hearts (although it is just a small sampling of my collection).
Again, I find comfort in the reminder that I am loved, surrounded by love signs, and helping me be present in the moment.
- Sammie Doodle – Therapy Dog
Oh, this sweet, sweet dog. Sammie is our labradoodle. She is the kindest soul I have ever met. She loves everyone and everything. Except pigs. I took her to a farm once and a pig snorted at her through a fence and she ran away terrified.
Wow, does she adore kids. We are a registered therapy dog team through Pet Partners and we volunteer at schools, visiting with kiddos in order to help them with feelings of anxiety or struggles with bullying or offering comfort after traumatic events. She just knows. She is drawn to those most needing love and dog snuggles.
The perk is that she is a member of our family outside of her therapy dog gig. And due to the fact that I have a history with panic attacks and heightened anxiety, this sweet pup is always by my side. She is my snuggle buddy, hiking pal, comforter, and best friend. She listens without judgment and offers stinky-breath kisses in support.
I love hearing back from others about calming strategies and coping skills used to bring oneself back into the now. Please feel free to reach out and share your experiences.
I wish you tranquility and joy along your healing journey.