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How to Stop Negative Thinking

Slim Chance Welcome to “Slim Chance,” a twice-monthly series in which author Amber Petty documents the happiness and crappiness of losing weight.

Weight: 230.2 pounds

Lost in 2 Weeks: 2.8 pounds

Total Lost: 22.8 pounds

I took a nap, and I was still tired. I went to bed at 9 p.m… still tired. I let myself sleep in, and shock of all shocks, still tired.

Last week started with this unending sleepiness, thanks to the onset of the sort-of flu. I call it the “sort-of flu” because I was dizzy, achy, tired, and hot but didn’t actually have a fever or the debilitating symptoms that usually come with the full-on flu. Still, it wasn’t fun.

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But I tried to be positive. You’re sick—it happens to everyone. Use this as an opportunity to rest, I thought to myself in a soothing voice. This style of optimism doesn’t come easily to me: I tend to be an all-or-nothing sort of person who wants to work all the time, and until about six months ago, when I heard the words “work-life balance,” the phrase sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher in my brain. Add to that mentality years of “the show must go on” indoctrination from my theater days, and you have yourself a woman who doesn’t exactly rest easily.

Still, my positive-mindset training seems to be working.

I let myself sleep more, reduced my workload, and slowly started to feel better. “This will all be over by Monday, and I can be my productive self again,” I said in Delilah-like tones.

With my rare week of rest and recuperation complete, I expected to wake up on Monday like I was born anew. Oh, the energy and joy I’ll bring to this world. Thank you, work-life balance, and thank you, self-care, for rejuvenating my spirit and making me feel whole again!

But a week later, I wake up and I’m tired. Later, I take a nap. Still tired. Go to bed at 9 p.m. STILL TIRED!

But then it hit: The whole day, I felt like I had rocks in my stomach, my chest was tight, and the blood that flowed around my ribcage felt like acid. I might have still been a little sick, but this wasn’t the sort-of flu—it was anxiety. I woke up instantly anxious and couldn’t shake it for the rest of the day.

Why was I filled with anxiety? Yes, I had work to do, but it wasn’t a huge amount. And the work I had was mostly stuff I liked doing! But my rational mind did not deter the army of anxious ants that decided to crawl around my body all day.

OK, stay positive. You had an off day. Just get some rest and tomorrow will be better, I thought. So I got some rest, went to bed early, and woke up… feeling exactly the same. Now, I was pissed.

At this point, I’d had an entire week off (sure, I had to do some work on all of those days, but it’s not like I was in the coal mines), an anxious day, and I still couldn’t get my crap together. You know what?! Screw positivity, I thought. Let me go back to my self-bullying, super-negative ways.

So for the rest of the week, I stewed in a mixture of anxiety and self-criticism. Honestly, I was incredibly mad at myself for being so delicate: What do I possibly have to be so anxious about? Why can’t I just get over it? Why do I have to be a lazy, stupid idiot?

As you might guess, my “don’t be a lazy, stupid idiot” pep talk did not help things.

The reality is, I have anxiety, and sometimes it just comes out to play. Do I hate that I can have these attacks that lead to lying in a dark room under the covers for half a day? Yes. I really hate it. It makes me feel weak and incapable. But it happens, and I know for a fact that getting pissy with myself doesn’t help anything.

After a few anxious days, I slowly started checking things off my to-do list, which helped relax my mind and got me back into a positive mindset. I mean, it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns, but at least I was trying.

And as I meditated, I listened to the Buddhist parable of the two arrows.

To paraphrase, the parable says that sometimes you get hit with an arrow. That arrow is a pain you can’t control, like sickness (check), losing a job (check), or finally finding the pumpkin pie Halo Top ice cream, buying it, then realizing it’s not gluten-free and watching in sadness as your husband eats it (check). You know, the real, horrible pains of life.

The first arrow will cause you pain, and it’s unavoidable. We’ll all have these pains. But then we essentially shoot ourselves with another arrow: the mental anguish we add to the pain. For instance, getting mad at myself for getting sick and needing time off. Instead of feeling the pain of a normal sickness, rolling with it, and moving on once it was over, I stewed in it and made everything worse.

Now, if you’re a Buddhist scholar, please forgive my version of the story. I’m sure it’s far more beautiful than what I retold. But the idea of it rang so true for me! Even though I’ve worked hard on not stress-eating or using food to ease my pains, I still have so many harsh, critical voices running through my head, shooting arrows right at me. I’ve got to learn to let myself feel that first arrow, then get out of the way of my negative archers. Self-bullying can only lead to more stress.

This week, a combo of sickness and anxiety got me down. I didn’t go on my walks every night and wasn’t as active. But I didn’t use food to feel better AT ALL. When I was sick, I didn’t have a whole bunch of frozen macaroni and cheese (were you unaware of the healing power of mac and cheese?). I ate well—the whole time—and I’m very proud of that.

Also, my anxiety has receded for the moment. I know it’ll come back, but hopefully, I’ll be slightly more prepared. And in the meantime, I’ll try to be a little nicer to myself and work on my near-constant stress.

Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing a Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @ambernpetty.

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