How’s your stress level lately? Many of us are feeling the pace of modern life depleting our energy faster than we can replenish it. Sadly, constant anxiety is starting to be viewed as normal and inescapable.
One day several years ago, I had an “aha” moment that forever changed how I viewed anxiety. It was so powerful that I remember it as though it happened just yesterday. It was the middle of a Thursday afternoon and I was home alone. It had been an extremely rough week. Every day, something bad and out of my control had happened. As the bad news events piled on top of each other, my anxiety had grown to a very uncomfortable level. On this particular afternoon, I felt like a helpless victim with no relief in sight .
Healthy stress relievers like taking a hot bath, going for a walk, journaling and sipping calming tea wouldn’t be enough, I knew, to calm me during this extremely trying week that was quickly spiraling out of control.
So I found myself pacing the living room, with negative thoughts about the events of the week swirling in my head, desperately looking to my usual tension distractions.
“I could eat something”, I thought. But since I had recently lost weight and really, really wanted to keep the weight off, this option got a “No”. I no longer wanted to use food for emotional relief.
“I could call friends and complain about my week”. However, I had learned that telling and retelling my story of woe would likely only increase my anxiety (and theirs as well). So this option got a solid “No”.
“I could drink a glass of wine. “Double NO!!”
Over the years, I had learned that these kinds of actions only served as temporary distractions that often caused more harm than good. One by one, the exit doors that I used to open for anxiety relief had become firmly shut.
It was suddenly and terrifyingly clear to me that nothing on the outside could help me in this moment and with this revelation, panic grew.
It was then that I got the notion to do something different. I could do nothing. After all, with all of my exits closed, this seemed my only option. So I sat in the rocking chair in my living room and shut my eyes. As vulnerable as this made me feel, I decided to just observe the anxiety and watch it. I noticed it was living deeply in my lower abdominal area, like a heavy ball of darkness. This makes sense, I thought, as this is where feelings of danger reside. Since the events of the week were out of my control, it was reasonable that I was feeling my safety threatened. As I just acknowledged it, without hating it or wishing it gone, I witnessed something interesting begin to happen. The ball of anxiety began to move upward. I felt it move into my upper abdomen, then into my rib cage. As it migrated upward, it gained in intensity. When it reached my heart, I felt an almost unbearable tension. Once again, I peacefully acknowledged it and let it ‘be”. It continued to slowly move upward and when it reached my throat, I felt an uncomfortable constriction, took a deep breath and watched it move into my jaw and then into my head. Now the huge mass of anxiety was sitting on top of my head and felt like a volcano ready to erupt. But to my surprise and relief, it very gently, softly and quietly exited through the top of my head and disappeared.
I was left with an amazing sense of calm. My fears and feelings of victimhood completely gone, I sat there for several minutes, savoring the peace and inner quiet.
Since then, I’ve embraced the notion that emotions arise not to torment us, but in order to be acknowledged, healed and released. I’ve also learned to be more proactive with daily stresses, so that the healthy calming strategies have space to be effective.
I’ve been enjoying the book, Taking the Leap, Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, by Pema Chodron. She says that we feel unease because every aspect of life is continually changing and we are always looking for a permanent fixed reference point that doesn’t exist. She says we have lost our tolerance for uncertainty. One of her suggestions is to frequently practice presence by taking a little pause and taking three deep breaths. Program yourself to take a pause throughout the day by using frequent actions as your reminder; While sitting at a red light or looking at your cellphone for example. I’m currently practicing taking a pause whenever I check my email, which gives me a present moment practice several times a day.
This simple technique, which is free and only takes a few seconds, can change your life. Watch your moment of pause grow into more and more moments, gently moving out fear and anxiety.
Wishing you peace,