Worrying can become just one more thing to worry about. Most of us have a running tally of our bad habits, things to work on, things we should do, and people we want to be. Being an anxious person is not part of that ideal and so it’s added to our to-do list: item #37 Stop worrying. That’s a nice goal but worrying about our worrying just creates more stress.
Instead, give yourself some credit. Know that anxiety is a natural human emotion. Like our other emotions, it’s functional- helping us prepare for tasks and respond to threats. Accept that worry is normal and healthy and try to catch yourself from automatically jumping to self-judgement. Telling ourselves our worrying is out of hand and that there’s something wrong with us does not stop the worry. In fact, it increases it.
Being a worrier isn’t a flaw. Our anxiety can be in hyperdrive which is definitely unpleasant but that doesn’t make you a freak of nature. Increased worry usually has to do with increased stress. Ask yourself if there is something to worry about. Be compassionate toward yourself. Think of your worry as a voice trying to get your attention. You wouldn’t just shut it down if that voice came from a friend voicing a concern. You would notice: “oh they seem stressed”, check what’s bothering them “what’s wrong?”, and show some empathy and validate: “I’m sorry, that sounds rough”. You can do this to yourself.
Validate your own emotions. This can be a simple as reminding yourself that you’re a human and humans have emotions. You don’t have to understand it or feel the worry is justified to accept that it’s happening and be nice to yourself about it. When you notice it: Oh, I’m worrying again, I wonder what’s wrong. Maybe you get to the root of it, maybe not. Either way, don’t forget the most important step which is to validate your feeling and figure out how to take care of yourself in this time of stress: I guess I’m stressed today, it happens, I’m going to be easier on myself and focus on self-care.
Accepting your worry isn’t the only solution, but it is the best place to start. We are inclined to be self-critical and reject our feelings but unfortunately this does not aid our efforts to be happy, healthy, and productive. Being hard on yourself does not motivate you or make you feel calm, it only increases your negative emotions. Acceptance isn’t saying you enjoy worrying or that you’d like to encourage more worry in the future. Accepting is saying to yourself that worry is happening and it’s okay because you’re a human (I’m assuming) and sometimes humans worry.
April 28, 2017
Self-care sounds great, healthy, beautiful even. Think of Instagram-worthy photos of baths with floating flowers, meditating in the most zen-looking meditation space, a super-sweet yoga practice also in an amazingly calming yoga space, lounging on a tropical beach, journaling in the most inspiring sunny window seat, and taking in the outdoors with a 4-star vacation view. It can be soothing to just look at picture or daydream of such self-care, relaxation ideals.
Depending on your mood. Sometimes the idea of self-care can stress you out even more than just going with the chaotic flow of your everyday hectic life. There have been times when I deleted my Instagram app altogether because I could not take another minute of such irritating inspiration and beauty. My nervous system would go haywire with buzz and restlessness with all the lovely pictures and motivational quotes. My mind and body did not like the disconnect between the lovely pictures of what I thought I should be doing and what my life was actually like.
So self-care sounds good…sometimes…for others. But self-care for oneself can be hard. There are so many hurdles to actually taking care of ourselves. There’s the constant busyness of life, of course, the ways we try to relax that don’t work, and our own self-criticism that won’t be quiet long enough for us to actually relax. We all have plenty of things to do, places to go, to-do lists to obsess over, but as busy and exhausted as you may be you’re still probably finding time to check-out and try to relax. We usually chose zone-out types of relaxation like social media, tv, podcasts, online shopping, etc. These are ways we can get a break from the busyness of our lives and the constant noise in our brains. We also choose to check-out with substances- self-medicating or self-soothing with booze, drugs, and food.
Popular author, professor, researcher, and social worker Brene Brown says in her TED Talk that “we are the most in-debit, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history”. We really seem to love these means of self-care. But of course we know they’re not good for us and we know they aren’t working. Brene Brown describes these bad habits as avoidance. When we relax by shutting down, blocking everything out, and numbing ourselves we are avoiding everything- life, thoughts, feelings.
Avoidance is not great. Now, if you know me you can guess that this is my segue into a lengthy mindfulness presentation. Mindfulness is the answer to avoidance. It’s the best, it works. Mindfulness is the key to great self-care. But often we don’t have the time or energy or resources to be doing self-care the exact right way—the Instagram’d, photo-shopped, magical, inspirational kinds of self-care that we really do want. However, these are not the only ways to be mindful. I recommend finding ways to be more present and attentive in little ways throughout your daily life. Zoning in instead of zoning out. Possibly enjoying your tea or coffee or meals not just plowing through them. And actually experiencing how your bath or shower feels instead of multitasking or doing mental to-do list gymnastics. Being in the moment with your pet, family, friends, or nature. Even for just a few seconds. This is one of my best mindfulness/yoga pro-tips. But I don’t want to ignore the avoidance issue.
Again, avoidance is not great. But it’s probably the way you’ve been doing relaxation for a long time now. It’s become a staple in our lives and culture. So it’s a major oversight to just say ‘don’t do that’ and redirect you to those shiny self-care ideals that always seem out of reach. It would be irresponsible for me to curse you with the Instagram haywire buzz that I myself deal with as I fight with the should’s of self-care versus real life. So my solution is balance. No surprise there, I’m guessing. But I’m not talking about 50/50 balance, the type of balance that has ideal percentages and you’re always left guilting yourself for not being more. I’m talking about loosey-goosey balance where you try to add in mindfulness when/where you can but you also let yourself use avoidance to relax with media, distraction, or responsible use of substances as long as it’s all in a healthy range for you. And avoid mindfully, could you? For real, can you? Can you? I’m being silly but what I mean is be self-aware and beware of hurdle number that three I mentioned earlier. The hurdle of not letting yourself relax.
If you’re going to Netflix and chill then really chill, ok? Be intentional and give yourself permission to relax and have down-time. Relaxation is healthy and vital to keeping up your busy and productive life. But you can’t multitask relaxation. Even though it’s impossible to be truly mindful while you’re being avoidant, apply the mindfulness skill of attention to your avoidance. If you are going to watch crappy tv or stare too long at your phone then commit to it. Let yourself focus on it and enjoy it without the inner monologue lecture of how you should be doing something else or being more productive or what are you doing with your whole life anyway?!!! Being self-aware (a mindfulness skill!) helps you catch yourself if you fall into this judgement and negative thinking and allows you to set and monitor boundaries you set for your relaxation time such as stop times.
Self-care is not only about relaxation but we often have a large disconnect between how we should be taking care of ourselves and how we really spend our time. Zoning out with avoidance isn’t some secret bad habit that we should feel guilt or shame about, it’s a sign that we need and want a break- a chance to be calm and recharge. It’s an attempt at self-care, maybe not in the best, most mindful, serene, healthy, and productive way but there’s nothing wrong with that. Real life isn’t often that pretty. You’d need a pretty good filter on photos of my real-life self-care to make them seem beautiful. So take your rest and self-care time where/when/how you can get it. Please still pursue your big, fancy self-care goals, whatever they may be. Along the way don’t forget to squeeze in self-care in the small and not-so fancy ways too- whether that’s being mindful as you enjoy the first nice days of spring or letting yourself relax and enjoy a long string of YouTube videos. Either way, take care of yourself.
March 21, 2017