Confidence, Comparison and Community

Mental Health

Three seemingly unrelated concepts yet unrecognizably intertwined. First let’s talk confidence. As a 22 year old girl I would be lying if I said It’s not something I have struggled with, continue to struggle with and will likely have to battle the remainder of my time here on earth. In high school (wow, that was another lifetime) I would say confidence was the largest mental battle I fought on a daily basis. I had this weird feeling that everyone was always watching me, judging my every move and just waiting for me to do something….wrong. I mean, this is pretty normal for high school girls right? Trying so hard to fit in, walk the walk, talk the talk, all the while make it appear as effortless as possible. Every time I stood up in class, answered a question, or walked across the room I was careful. All of this stemmed from insecurity of course. My self talk at the time was so negative, I would look in the mirror and pick at every little thing. I would leave a conversation and think of all the things I said wrong. I worried about my hair, makeup, clothes (way too much), voice, the way I walked, I mean just everything. I worried about my face getting too red and THEN I worried about worrying. Needless to say, the list goes on.

Flashforward four years and I’m a freshman in college. This was an interesting time and a little tricky to dissect. I came to this big state school, got involved in greek life, and boy did the comparison game consume my thoughts with a vengeance. EVERYONE, and I mean everyone was gorgeous, skinny, personable, smart just the whole package (or at least I thought). And as a result I held myself to these standards (because I guess I didn’t think I possessed these qualities…mistake #1). This is a story for another time, but I started changing little things about myself try to meet the standards I felt I had to live up to. I stopped eating carbs, sugar, and anything “bad.” I studied for 9+ hours a day, worked out for AT LEAST two hours every morning and partied on the weekends. That’s what college is about, right? Ehhhh, not so much. This image-seeking lifestyle left as quickly as it came. I soon realized the amazing opportunities standing right in front of me. I’m on my own (relatively speaking), living away from home with all the freedom I could ask for, at a major institution with knowledge and new information pouring out of every classroom, and in a town with 30,000 other people my age. This is the last place I should be worried about my ~image~ because I can LITERALLY be anything I want.

So….that’s what I’ve done. I started a blog, created a lifestyle/fitness/food instagram, dove into studying with enthusiasm, started saying yes to things I want to do and no to things I don’t, and for the first time in my life started speaking my mind. I think it takes a “click.” A switch in your head that goes off and says “you are wonderfully and beautifully made, you ARE enough, and you can be whoever or whatever you want.” I’m entitled to my beliefs, my values and my own personal interests. That might not look the same as the majority of people my age, and that’s okay with me.

I don’t enjoy going out all weekend every weekend, I don’t have an interest in partying in Vegas, or drinking on the beach. I enjoy learning, spending my mornings at the gym, and my evenings cooking with a glass of wine, feeling accomplished after a long day. I’m not saying my way is “right,” I’m just saying it’s ME. The second you say yes to something because everyone’s doing it or miss out on an opportunity because it’s not “cool” you’re compromising your self-value and YOUR identity. That might not make some people happy, and you know what? That’s fine, I’ve genuinely accepted the fact that not everyone has to like me. I rather be MYSELF than conform and tirelessly try to go with “the flow.” It’s not about being loved by everyone, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being YOU.

So where do I stand now? Well, that’s where comparison and community come in. I think I’ve about conquered the battle on confidence (a never ending process I will admit, but I have made monumental steps) however I still find myself playing the comparison game a little too often. I’m in an extremely competitive major in which your worst enemy is your neighbor, I’m on a social media platform in which it feels as though everyone is trying to one-up each other and be the next biggest influencer, and I spend an hour in a gym every morning filled with 100 fit 20-25 year old girls. Bottom line: there’s a devil on my shoulder everyday screaming “COMPARE YOURSELF!” It’s not easy, and as I’ve said it’s something I struggle with but am taking steps to eliminate (or at least control). A lack of comparison comes with confidence, in a sense but sometimes it’s subtle and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. We take in a plethora of sensory stimuli everyday and as humans we mirror the images of others. If we see someone or something we admire we (consciously or not) change our actions to fit theirs. Sometimes this can be good, for instance maybe in the case of studying, but other times it can be draining and damaging to who YOU are. An attitude of acceptance and self-love comes into play here. As I find myself comparing I try to change my thoughts, focus on what I do have and remind myself of the acceptance and love I have for myself. Two things I’ve found to help in my quest for self-love- dancing and looking at myself in the mirror and physically saying “I love you.” Weird, I know but try it and eventually you actually start to internalize it.

Community is vital to…well life. Who do you surround yourself with? Do they lift you up, tell you how much you’re worth, and put your insecurities to rest? Do they challenge you to be better and reassure you when you feel down? Filling your life with meaningful relationships is one of the best things you can do for your mental health (and confidence). If you don’t feel supported, uplifted and worthy in your relationships it’s time to make a change. Building this community for myself has been vital in navigating this chapter of my life. Freshman year, I tried to fill voids. I hung out with people I thought were “cool” and “attractive.” I didn’t look for friends who supported me or even really cared about me, it was about the image. This is so wrong, and so unfulfilling. I have majorly shrunk my circle but I am 100000x happier. Quality not quantity. My relationships are intimate, and deep. They are built on trust, compassion and TRUE care (unfortunately that’s not always easy to find these days). The way people treat you, show you affection, and communicate with you has a major bearing on your self-worth whether you recognize it or not. Choose wisely.

Living in this age of instant gratification, constant connection, and an abundance of technology is not easy to say the least. We can sit here and dream of simpler times, and wish it wasn’t this complicated or we can make changes. We can change our thoughts, change the way we react to unrealistic image expectations, and take this life as an opportunity to grow into our best selves, with the best people by our sides.

Take the High Road

Mental Health, Stress

Take the high road. My stomach is churning, my hands are shaking, I want to shout at the top of my lungs in a raging fit. But I will take the high road. You’ve angered me, displeased me, infuriated me. You’ve hurt me, but I will take the high road. I will not succumb to this, this destructive, heinous, conniving way of thinking and living. I feel the rage, the fury, I feel it in full force as if fire-filled blood is rushing through my veins. It’s not fair, it’s not gratifying, it’s not positive or happy and at the moment it doesn’t even feel bearable. But it’s life. This is what we must go through, this is what God has in store for us as we tread through this wearisome life on earth. This is a test, a test of our faith, a test of our character, values and righteousness. Will we succumb to these feelings, these injustices lashed upon us? We say all the right things; “think positive thoughts,” “let the feelings pass,” “spread love, positivity, and cheer,” “be the bigger person.” But in the moment it is SO hard. It feels as though no ounce of my emotion is in my favor. It’s easy. It’s easy to fight back, to yell at the top of my lungs, to dig deeper until I feel that I have conquered. But while easy it is not right. It’s not right to fight back, it’s not right to get the last word, or any combative word for that matter. This is the time, this is when I must use what God has taught me, what I have been practicing, and what I preach to others. This is the time to face the fire head on and fight it with the light, my light, God’s light. So no, I will not fight back. I will not let the burning heat of rage and fury expose itself, and one day I will not let allow this grotesque anger a space in my heart in the first place. But for now, I will learn to cope, I will learn to lead with love, and compassion. I will be the bigger person, not for the gratification of being the bigger person but for the gratification of God, for it is he who is the real judge. I will love until there is nothing left to love, and I will give until I have nothing left to give. I will look you in the eyes and smile, showering you in my thoughtful compassion. Because you deserve it. You deserve to be loved, you deserve to feel important, you deserve my empathy. We all do, no matter how wrong, how nefarious, or atrabilious you are, you deserve respect. So it is respect I will give, and love I will show. I wish the world would be a better place, I wish there were no anger, no combative thoughts, no jealousy. But who am I to wish these discrepancies away? I do not have the power to do so, however, I do have power. I have the power to make my corner of the world a better place, to surround those who wrong me with my utmost respect and patience. To change the tone, change the vibe, and cultivate a space of kindness. I give you my love, I give you my blessing and I hope that one day you can feel the burden lifted off your shoulders, and peace that I have felt in coming to terms with letting go of this anger.

Face Your Fears

Stress

As Halloween quickly approaches we find ourselves surrounded by eerie stories, haunted houses, and some seriously menacing decorations. There is one purpose, one common thread branding this anticipated eve, and that is fear.

Fear.

It’s that feeling you you get when you turn off the lights and run upstairs, the pounding in your chest when you wake up from a horrific nightmare, the racing thoughts in your mind when you get that phone call.

It is all around us yet we are constantly trying to mask it and shove it in a corner to be dealt with at a later time. For some of us it is more than a mini heart attack, or a wave of goosebumps. It engulfs our lives prohibiting us from existing to our full potential. It leads us to second guess every decision, every occurrence, fostering insecurity and a lack of motivation. We find ourselves out of touch with the now and lost in a repetitive cycle of worry. For others it’s the little fears that sneak up and hinder our success. A lot of us fear rejection, failure, and embarrassment. We fear that we are not good enough, that no matter the effort we will never live up to our expectations or reach our goals. Why do we as human beings allow these feelings to manifest in our lives? Is it simply human nature or is it the result of an ill mannered society?

It could be a little bit of both.

There are two types of fears: innate and learned. Innate fears encompass those of which we are born with. These include the fear of falling, and the fear of loud noises. Yes, these are the only two, which means every other fear is acquired from our experiences. As children we are extremely susceptible to new knowledge and behaviors. We have nothing in the way of experience in the world and that means that every occurrence has some sort of impact on our mind. Parents play a major role in this development. Seemingly insignificant events such as scolding, negative talk, and threats instill the first traces of fear in young children. Now this is not to say that parents who reprimand their children are poor parents. It is natural to lead children down the right path and astray from improper behaviors, but it is important to be aware of the emotional future they are being set up for. Moving on from childhood and into adulthood fears continue to manifest through negative experiences. When we encounter events that stimulate troublesome emotions, our mind holds onto that feeling and associates it with the specific event. This way when we are reminded of the event or faced with a similar situation the same feeling of pain is triggered, leading us into fear. Fear then becomes a survival mechanism. The fight or flight response is activated and we search for a way to avoid the discomfort we anticipate. These feelings are natural, and play out in the lives of all human beings, the true test is wether or not we are able to conquer them.

Overcoming fear is a huge and daunting task, seemingly impossible for many. Fortunately, there is a way around it. When we encounter fear we often tell ourselves to simply get over it and move on. We reassure ourselves that we are not afraid, and believe that somehow if we continue the fear will magically disappear. Hate to break it to you but it doesn’t work that way. Conquering fear is similar to learning to walk, or ride a bike. It can not be done in one simple step, it requires a series of learned strategies and tactics in order to achieve the goal.

Here are a few proactive steps you can take to move toward letting go of fear:

  • Become Aware-the first step in restraining fear is to full heartedly accept it. Bring yourself to terms with the fact that you are afraid and consciously recognize what it is that you are afraid of. Remind yourself that you are not your fears.
  • Find the Roots-one of the most important aspects is looking into what causes you to manifest these fearful feelings. What are you thinking when you find yourself feeling scared? Which thoughts trigger the fear? Once we are able to locate the source of fear we can then look into ways of addressing it.
  • Work With Your Imagination-our subconscious mind is unable to see the difference between imagination and reality. Buddha once said “what we think we become.” Picture yourself repeatedly overcoming your fear. Use all of your power to make the experience feel as real as possible. Eventually, this will flow over into your subconscious mind.
  • The Power of the Present-focus your thoughts on the present moment, do not dwell on the future or past. Center yourself. Take a deep breath and immerse your mind in the moment at hand.
  • Put it in Perspective-Avoid looking at your fears through tunnel vision. We often focus too much on the negative and fail to think of all the possibilities for success.
  •  Focus on the Positive-Everyone has had failures. It is human nature. Instead of dwelling on failed moments think about your success. Recognize your ability to be successful and cultivate a sense of confidence.
  • Prayer and Spirituality-seek refuge and comfort in your religion. Consider your belief system and address your fears in a spiritual way.
  • Take Action-Take a step in the positive direction. Do something productive and worth your while, avoid sitting around and letting negativity engulf your life. Think of everything you have to be grateful for, read a book, watch an insightful documentary, release your mind of tension.
  • Plan-this one can be a little difficult. Some of us are planners, we plan every minute of our lives down to the second. Others go with the flow and avoid preparation at all costs. If that’s you, ignore this one as it will do you no good. For all the planners out there, use it to your advantage to precisely work through your fears. Plan out the steps you are going to take to address your insecurities. Make a list and check each item off as you complete it.
  • Just Breathe-The breath is a powerful tool. It is the key to freedom and relaxation of the mind. When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed bring yourself back to the basics of the breath. Focus on each individual inhale and exhale, and allow your mind to find peace.

Surmounting fear takes time. Do not rush into conquering your biggest fears in a short span. It is about learning to cope with fear that will lead you to relief. Listen to yourself, focus on methods that work for you, and take action necessary to move forward in your journey.

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