Of Worry and Wrinkles: How to Move from Stressful Mess to Peace-Whisperer
The other day I had a visit with my Step-father, who has been in my life as a father figure since I was very young. I distinctly remember him telling me, when I was about 8 or so, "Relax your forehead. You are going to have lots of wrinkles at a young age unless you can figure out how to stop worrying so much."
So I confess it: I am a worrier (in recovery).I am a perfectionist (embracing imperfection). I tend to want everything to be lovely and perfect. And when it isn't I have had the tendency to think some variation of the thought: “something is wrong”. Then I feel anxiety in my body, coursing through my veins, contracting my muscles, clenching my belly...In High School I spent ALL DAY every sunday for all 4 years writing and perfecting my school papers to a T for fear of not being “good enough”. I used to startle awake at two in the morning afraid my son was not breathing because he hadn't woken up at all yet, and I couldn't rest until I checked on him. When friends would show up 10 minutes late for dates we had I would imagine that horrible things happened to them. I could always find a reason to worry about something. But things have changed!
During our recent visit, in the last of the autumnal afternoon warmth, my step-father and I chatted about all the big changes that have been happening in my life, and how I seem so steady throughout it all. I said something about how I wasn't very stressed out about it all, and he countered with this: "You have always been a high stress person. But because of that, you have had a lot of practice dealing with “stress” and have learned ways to cope with it, stay calm in the midst of it, and reduce the physical toll of stress. Most people don't learn those skills..." This confirms what others recently have been commenting on about me, and what I have been learning, with some surprise, about myself: one of my gifts in life ( a gift born from a wound or a challenge, as so many of the best gifts are) is to help bring peacefulness into others' lives. Into your life. I am coming to think of myself as an "amygdala whisperer" (the amygdala is the seat of fear and sadness in the brain. Easily over activated in our modern lives, it rules our emotional reactions). He went on to say, "You show others how to be calm and steady in the midst of chaos."
So how did I move from worried mess to steady peace whisperer? I went on a quest and healing mission to learn ways to feel strong, stable and unshakeable through all that life had to throw at me. Had I not had this self-preserving urge I might be really wrinkly by now! I certainly sport a few, but like all great wrinkles, they show my history, perseverance, and are a sign of a life well lived. The best part of all this is that I can now share what I have learned and experienced with you. If you, too, have a tendency toward worry or feelig overwhelmed, or if you label what you go through as anxiety, here are a few tips to get you feeling more serene and confident about what life has to throw at you:
1) Don't believe everything you think. Just because you have a thought doesn't mean it is true. The mind's job is to alert us to possible danger, which is good, but it can be a bit too much like a smoke alalrm when the battery is too low ( beeping all the time not to tell you there is a fire to put out, but to remind you to recharge the battery--good advice!!!). Next time you think a thought that provokes worry or anxiety, simply notice that it is just a thought. See if that lightens the mood slightly.
2) Address stress through the body. Anxiety and worry start in the mind, but they abide in the body. During moments of less stress search out and embrace experiences of deep realxation. Drink them in. This will help you later when you face an anxiety-provoking situation.
3) Breathe! In the heat of the moment or during more mellow times, practice belly breathing and slightly lengthening your exhalation. Great in the car, or at your desk, and especially wonderful before bed to promote a deep sleep.
There is so much more to share with you! And I plan to do so. Look for upcoming programs, workshops, and classes that bring you practices, perspectives, and tools to deliver deep peace and uplift any heaviness of spirit, for the moment and in ways that will be sustained over the long haul. Peruse my website to learn how you can get started now.
I hope to see you, wrinkles or no wrinkles, at one of my classes or events soon!