Unexpected Lessons during a Pandemic Christmas

Merry Christmas! I remember when I was young, how a feeling of melancholy would descend upon me after the hype of Christmas. It’s different now that I am a mother. The end of Christmas means I can finally relax – no more shopping, baking, cleaning, decorating, and wrapping. No more constant anxiety about creating the perfect magical memories. It should have been easier this year, as the pandemic limited what Christmas could be. However, somehow it was worse in terms of my anxiety. Perhaps it was because my classes ended later than usual in December and I had at least one child at home since before Thanksgiving. I channeled all my anxiety into online shopping, which I did not really realize until the children sat among their mountain of presents this morning. It was too much.

Later this afternoon, as I folded laundry, I listened to Tim Ferriss’ podcast interview with Leo Baubata, the author of Zen Habits. I didn’t really consider the depth beyond the message behind the idea of “simplify your life” until he explained that it does no good to begin simplifying without identifying the root of the behavior – whether it be the accumulation of possessions or commitments. Most of it is driven by anxiety, which has been heightened by the pandemic. This really resonated with my Christmas splurges and my increased work commitments. Next semester I added another class and another administrative role to the same schedule I struggled with this fall. Somehow, I have not made the best choices because I feel best when I am “doing” and now I need to ride it out until May. Hopefully, I will learn some lessons along the way and find healthier ways to manage my anxiety. It’s not enough to hope 2020 will be better; we need to make it better.

Taming the Anxious Mind

This week I am learning the limitations of my cognitive powers and how anxiety is a full body experience. No amount of philosophy or mindfulness has been able to stop the stress dreams, the stomachaches, or the clenching of my jaw. I am on a steady diet of high fiber, probiotic foods and meditation, yet still I am struggling. Even when I have successfully shut down my rehashing of events and can recognize no reason for stress, a knot of nerves keeps emitting distress signals. All I can do is ride out the storm and do what seems to bring me the most relief: exercise, time outdoors, and creative expression.

Each day my attention has been divided in multiple directions: work, school volunteering, extracurricular activities, my daughter’s health issues, household management, etc. When I am in the grips of anxiety, it’s easy to get frantic with all that I could be doing, but I am currently not. This is when I need to really turn to my mindfulness and simplify my schedule. I have limitations and that is okay. I cannot fall into the trap of social comparison, measuring myself against those that *seem* to be doing it all flawlessly.

This past weekend, I mixed up the time for my daughter’s last soccer practice and showed up to the fields three hours late. When I realized my mistake, I could not help being swamped with agonizing regret and self-loathing. Who does this? I hate to fail others, and I hate to make mistakes, but no good comes from wallowing in negative feelings. All I will do is keep myself in this cycle of turmoil, bad outcomes, and recovery. Instead, I need to reflect on the cause and work towards a positive course of action to avoid further mix ups.

Writing about this makes me feel marginally better, as if I put medicine on a wound. This weekend I have made concerted efforts to speak my feelings, not hold them in and have them mutate into some other form, such as grumpiness. It’s the advice I give my children – give a name to it, so that we can deal with it. Negative emotions hold less power in the light.