What does this Monday’s mantra mean to me?
R: I have always been a worrier. My parents recount the story of me as a baby standing in my crib and screaming until every item in my room was in its exact right place, my parents desperately scrambling around to find the askew item, possibly a shoe slightly akilter in my closet. While I am no longer a neat freak, I am still a big worrier. While worry and anxiety afflict both men and women, I have read many studies suggesting that women are impacted at a much higher rate. As an older child and now into adulthood, the bulk of my anxiety has manifested itself as obsessions related to health and illness. I quickly turn noticing an odd bump or lump into hours of obsessing and Googling. I am beginning to practice new habits around these worries. I am working on noticing my worry, examining how pressing and warranted the worry is and then letting it go (not Googling symptoms).
M: I have a very different relationship with worrying and anxiety than my sister. I am normally good at recognizing when I am worried about something, and I am able to see that the worry or stress I am feeling is unhelpful so I can let those thoughts and feelings pass. Where I struggle in this regard is allowing my concern for others’ comfort and happiness cloud my behavior to an unhealthy degree. I am very much a people pleaser. Although I think it is great to try and make people happy and act with kindness, I think I too frequently fail to live my truth out of a desire to protect everyone around me from any negative feelings. I am certainly guilty of choosing to smile and nod rather than speak my mind in order to keep the peace. For me, this week’s mantra isn’t about worrying less about myself, but more about allowing myself to worry less about those around me so that I may speak and act in a more genuine way.
What will be challenging?
R: As a little girl, when I would worry about a symptom or illness I would inform my mother of my symptoms and ask her if I was suffering some major illness. She would always reassure me that I was not. As an adult, I have recognized that chronically turning to my husband or friends to validate that I am not dying, is annoying for them, so I have turned to Google, a trove of conflicting and inflammatory information. Stopping this practice is hard for me because I have not developed the skills necessary to reassure myself. I am having to get into the habit of assessing whether or not my symptoms warrant immediate action. If they do, I am seeking out medical help. If they do not, I am reminding myself not to search my symptoms. I am better off not knowing. I am better off telling myself to wait a few hours, days or weeks and then checking back in. I find this challenging because Googling symptoms is such a habit at this point that I sometimes find myself doing it before I even take a moment to process what I am doing. Thus, I have to be okay with using the mantra at any point in the process. Sometimes I will be already down the rabbit hole and then have to let go of my worry.
M: The challenge for me in practicing this mantra is actually applying it in the moment. My normal reaction to an uncomfortable moment is a knee jerk desire to smooth it over and make everyone feel good. This may mean allowing someone to continue with a false assumption rather than correcting them, or giving my number to a guy when I have no interest in dating him, or allowing someone to get away with an inappropriate comment rather than demanding respect. Often later I will think back on interactions and wish I had taken just a moment to breathe before responding. It’s in that extra moment that I can try to remember this mantra and let go of my anxiety around those uncomfortable social interactions.
How will I stay positive and focused?
R: To stay positive, I work to let go of worry by incorporating various mindfulness and relaxation strategies. Breathing exercises are very helpful when I am trying to refocus my energy. Through my practice of yoga I have learned several useful breathing exercises. Simply breathing in for a count of five, holding for a count of three and breathing out for a count of five can be enough to relax me and give me the moments to reframe my mind. When I am really worked up already, I find that breathing in through one nostril and out through the other can be tremendously helpful. I know also that my anxiety and worry become worse when I am already stressed. Therefore, I am working to be more proactive about finding ways to relax- sleeping in, practicing yoga and skipping the gym when I need a little more me time to just relax. Being proactive is an important strategy to changing my patterns of worry.
M: I think the biggest way that I will stay positive and focused is by reflecting on the result right after an uncomfortable moment where I have stayed true to myself. It is rare that the result is actually that bad, and by recognizing this I will begin to get over my fears. For example, when I actually take a breath and honestly respond to a guy that I’m not interested in dating him, we can both just move forward. This is so much better than when I try and protect his feelings and end up stringing him along for no one’s benefit. By focusing on the positive result of the uncomfortable act of saying “I’m not interested”, I can teach myself that being honest and real is better in the long run than trying to dance around the feelings of those around me.