Data mining, anxiety-style

As some of you know, I’ve been tracking some personal data for a few years now. I do this because it helps me detect patterns with anxiety and potential triggers and also keep on top of other symptoms like headaches. I usually do this on paper because I also keep a gratitude journal, and this way I can keep all of my data in the back. This does mean that looking back at data gets a little messy, because the charts aren’t all in order and I can’t filter it to see if there are any correlations. I’ve started using the Tally app so that I can actually analyze my data. I’m still in the process of inputting, but I’ll share when I’m done, and so far I’m loving it. For now, though, here are some things that this process is teaching me.

DISCLAIMER: I’m about to get talk about physical stuff, so if you’re not into that, this is your heads up.

One of the things I’ve known for a while is that I tend to experience anxiety when I’m stressed and/or not sleeping well, which makes total sense – sleep helps heal and restore a lot of things, it gives us a break from ruminating, etc, so if I’m not sleeping well then I’m not getting the benefits, and that leads to anxiety. I also discovered a while ago that it’s pretty common to get headaches with anxiety, too, and that kind of blew my mind. I’ve been having headaches and migraines for years, and thinking about those two occurring together just clicked for me. My migraines and anxiety both started around the same time. When I was in 8th grade we moved from the city where I had grown up: where I had finally found friends that I felt accepted me, where I had a lot of opportunity to explore the creative things I was interested in. Not that I couldn’t do that after we moved – there was a choir and a yearly play at my new school and I was heavily involved in both, but that was it. My real creative experiences happened because I got to go to an amazing arts camp every summer. I also definitely struggled to fit in after we moved. It was a very small town and everyone had known each other since kindergarten, they all played sports(I did not), and only a few of the kids were into reading and the arts to the extent that I was. It was a tough transition in a lot of ways, and that’s definitely the starting point for anxiety. (Quick shout out to McD, my high school music teacher, and Merry, my high school best friend. I would have had very few moments of joy without the two of them.)

But a new thing for me is understanding that all of that is tied to PMS. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t really get PMS, and I didn’t when I was younger. But boy am I wrong. After I had been tracking my data for a few years, I started to see a pattern: every month around the same time, I get a headache, my sleep starts to worsen, and my anxiety spikes. I don’t know why it took me so long to notice, but I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it. I also started getting cramps pretty reliably and experience other symptoms of PMS like a change in bathroom stuff, zits, etc., and this is what initially helped me start to notice the pattern.

I’ve always viewed anxiety as this unpredictable thing, and so I need to keep doing things to manage it every day (it can be, and I do, but more on that later). But the more I track my data and look at it, the more I realize: I can predict it with way more accuracy than I ever thought I could. That doesn’t mean I see it coming every time – far from it – but at least I can see the signs. When I went to input my data a few weeks ago, I looked at the marker on the bottom of each thing I’m tracking that tells me how long it’s been since I’ve done that thing. And it dawned on me: I hadn’t done yoga in a week, the dude was traveling for work so my routine was different, I had 150 essays to grade, and test make ups most days after school that week. All of which means I had no idea if and when yoga – my primary method for managing anxiety which I honestly don’t have much time for – was happening. Of course I felt anxious the next day. Any scientist looking at my past data would be surprised if I wasn’t, frankly. I just kind of had this moment that was like holy shit, if I just paid attention I could be so much better about managing this instead of being surprisedLike, hello, what are you doing all of this tracking for if you’re not using the data to help you make predictions?

I’m in a similar situation now, and Lenny is right on time. See, in years past, I could count on being able to do yoga 5-6 days per week. But I can’t anymore. I can maybe – maybe – count on 3 days per week, 1-2 if it’s a bad one. And here’s my problem: I’m still operating under the 5-6 days per week mentality, so if I feel like taking a nap instead, I tell myself that’s ok. If I don’t do yoga and instead spend some time with the dude, I tell myself that’s ok. I’m not say those things aren’t important – it IS ok to not to yoga and to do another thing I need/want in its place – but what’s happening is that I’m ALWAYS doing that. And while that’s great for my job or my relationship or whatever, it’s not great for me. I have this conversation with my students all the time: your choices are cumulative, and they have consequences. So when you keep making the same choice, over time the consequence of that choice is going to grow. Usually I’m talking to them about being on their phone during class or not handing in their work, but honestly, I kinda need Teacher Me to come tell me like it is. This year is not like years past: I have 3x as much work and 1/3 of the time to do it in. This year’s 9th graders are … outgoing and it takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to manage that. The dude is traveling more. My PMS is worse. I’ve got some other health stuff happening (not serious, I’m fine). I can’t continue operating under the assumption that I can just do yoga tomorrow, because odds are between the grading and the planning and the everything, I probably can’t. And I’m really having trouble remembering that because I’m pretty burnt out and a nap is all I really want.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m in a rough spot and need to get some encouragement from somewhere. I know I always feel better when I work out, but it is so hard to convince myself to hit the mat when my head is pounding or I have a ton of work to do. I know I need to try to make exercise a priority, and I know I need to really sit and think about what that looks like since this year is so different. If you’re in a tough spot right now – maybe you’re trying to figure out scheduling like me or you don’t know what’s going on or whatever it is – you’re not alone. I’m right there with you, and we’ll figure this out together.

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