You don’t mean to, you try and avoid it but chances are pretty good you get tangled up heaps of anxiety these days. If you’re lucky, not so often; but you’re probably not so lucky sometimes.
You’re not alone.
I wish I could tell you I’ve never seen the underbelly of anxiety up close and personal. I wish I could tell you that I only saw it once many years ago and that it’s such a distant memory at this point that I can barely remember it. But that’s not the case.
I’ve had times in my life when I’ve sat bolt upright in the middle of the night with my heart pounding so loudly I could literally hear it. I’ve had anxiety grab me by the throat and squeeze so tight I could barely breath. You too? Or some iteration thereof? Anxiety wears many outfits.
I’ve had a ring side seat to my own life and those of the many clients I’ve worked with since I opened my doors for business in 1986 and here’s what I know…
The national trend is that our anxiety is getting worse—much worse. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that our ability to deal with it is decreasing.
Not a good combo.
Basically we’ve got weaker anxiety-coping muscles to lift heavier loads of anxiety. Result?
More anxiety about the anxiety we can’t deal with in the first place.
So here’s what we do…
- We binge watch Netflix…
- We pour ourselves one, two, three glasses of wine…
- We check our Facebook likes…
- We check our email…
- We log into our Instagram account…
- We eat a vat of ice cream and throw in some cookies for good measure…
Oh the things we do!
And here’s the really lousy catch—these things we do, when we do them in a desperate/let’s squash all these feelings down kind of way, make things worse. Much worse.
We go from frazzled to frazzlerer to frazzlelest (which sounds kind of like there’s less but really there’s more).
Our neuropathways are frizzled and fried.
Our neuroscience can’t evolve fast enough to catch up with the onslaught and so we’re perpetually at some full or low grade version of “here comes a tiger that might eat me”.
Most of us don’t even know why we feel anxious. We just do.
And to add insult to injury, we’re the sensitive ones. You’re sensitive. I’m sensitive. We’re already programmed to take in things that aren’t ours and keep them. We don’t mean to but we do. (Read Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child for a good overview of how this all got started in you in the first place if you’re interested.)
You soak up energy like sponge.
Managing your anxiety and managing the stream of incoming “stuff” that feeds your anxiety isn’t optional. Your self care in this department is imperative.
Self care for the sensitive soul that you are is non negotiable.
The biggest mistake I’ve seen my clients make over the years (and yup, I’ve tried this route many times and it doesn’t work any better for me than it does for them) is they have a really strong realization at some point of how much stress they’re under; how much anxiety is flowing through and around them a lot of the time. It’s sort of like going out of town on vacation to a lakeside and realizing “wow, it’s actually quiet”. Maybe loud frogs and buzzing insects, but not the ongoing perpetual drone of traffic that’s been right below their awareness.
So…. There’s this realization of how this is all affecting them and they can see clearly how radically different their lives would be if they were managing that low drone anxiety and then they come up with a strategy that is basically like rebuilding the whole house in a day.
Well, you know how that works out.
Bug on the windshield. So much for less anxiety. Now there’s even more!
Real change—the kind that really lasts—takes time. It’s cultivated. Nurtured. Coaxed. It’s supported with habits.
And so it is with clearing up your attachment to social media or rum raisin ice cream or 3 evening glasses of wine.
- Start small. In fact, the smaller, the better. The easier you make it on yourself, the more likely you’ll be that it’ll stick. And anything that sticks can be built on.
- Bundle it. The second trick that works really well for my clients is to bundle it. Attach it to something you’re already doing like clockwork. Let’s say you’ve decided to take 3 deep breaths before you start your day. One place you might put that is right after you brush your teeth. You already brush your teeth every morning, you don’t even have to think about it, you just do it. Adding your 3 deep breaths to your teeth brushing is more likely to happen than if you just randomly hope you’ll do it some time during the day.
- Make it so easy it’s hard not to do it. This 3rd trick is from Shawn Achor of the Happiness Advantage. Make it so easy that it’s actually harder not to do it. He uses an example in his book of placing his guitar in a place where he can’t help but play it. I think he even puts it in a place where he actually has to physically move it in order to sit down. So, the guitar’s already in his hands… So, he plays it.
Attach a note to your toothbrush—“3 breaths”. And you’re off.
You see it the next morning when you brush your teeth. You do your 3 breaths. It turns out it’s easier to just put the note back on the tooth brush rather than rewrite one. Well, now you’re seeing it every time you brush your teeth. It’s not a big jump to add 3 deep breaths every time you brush your teeth.
It’s been a few days. The 3 deep breaths is actually feeling pretty good. You get the idea you might like to do some yoga stretches with your 3 breaths. So… you move your yoga mat near your toothbrush. It’s waiting for you in the morning.
Now, you before you brush your teeth, you take the note off the toothbrush and do your 3 deep breaths. The yoga mat is waiting. You brush your teeth, roll out your mat and set a timer for 5 minutes. You do 5 minutes of yoga.
A few weeks go by. You’re starting to feel a little calmer around the edges. You like this new practice, it feels grounding.
You decide you’re going to add a no electronic window to your morning.
So now, you have your deep breathing… your 5 minutes of yoga (which you’re starting to think you might want to extend to 10)… and your computer doesn’t get turned on until after breakfast. And actually, now that you’re thinking of it, you think you might want to add a little morning meditation to the routine.
And that’s how it works. It doesn’t have to be this exact scenario by any means.
The smaller your start. The easier you make it for yourself. The more likely it is that this will take and grow some really deep roots. Once it’s rooted, it becomes like brushing your teeth. It’s just something you do.
The best habits are developed and grown.
What soothing, centering, calming routine would you love to start or start again or increase? Leave a comment; your idea just might inspire someone.