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.

Physically-Induced Relaxation

The greatest proof in my life of the mind/body connection occurs whenever I have a break from work. As always, when I anticipate a block of free time on the horizon, I begin making a list of aspirations: work on my novel, exercise daily, revamp all my course plans, design jewelry, finish a painting, socialize more, clean and organize the house, read twelve books, watch movies, discover a new TV series, enter an Instagram contest, etc., etc. Inevitably, the first day of my vacation I wake up sick. This time it was with a sore throat and fever, not sick enough to annihilate my day, but sick enough to slow down my motivation train and face the stark reality that I am a human. Somewhere inside me is an internal regulator that actually knows what’s best for me. Like a doctor who orders a medically-induced coma, this regulator forces me to rest.

There is actually a term for this: “leisure sickness,” coined by a psychologist in the Netherlands. Apparently, when our work pressures us with deadlines and must-attend meetings, our immune systems ramps up. When those external pressures are removed, the immune system relaxes, letting those latent germs play out. My job is to rest and repair.  This is just one of my many #firstworldproblems.

Fostering a Positive Mindset

The father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, recommends that individuals keep a reflective journal of three things that went well in their day to help create a more positive mindset. We do a modified version of this around the dinner table where we each discuss what our favorite part of the day was. My favorite part, of course, is hearing my little ones detail the moments that stood out to them the most. Today it was swimming at the lake, picking up a pizza, and going in the pool.