Monday, 30 September 2013

Guidepost #8 Cultivating Calm and Stillness

When faced with overwhelming anxiety that caused dizzy spells, Brene Brown went to her psychiatrist to find out how to better handle her increasing anxiety.  Her story is much like mine, but  I knew what was coming or what could come, because I had been there before.  It's a bit like losing control of your car in the snow, tires unable to grip now matter how to you turn the wheel.  Another car looms in front of you.  You can see it coming. You windmill the wheel the other way. Your arms lock, extended, bracing yourself for impact. I had been here before. I had also temporarily evaded a couple of near misses with therapy, so I thought I would give it another try. Unfortunately, it was  too much, too fast and the Ka-BOOM lurked around every corner.  Each day I was more conscious of my heart thudding faster as my world slid in and out of focus, my hands or voice often quivering with anger and bottled up words I could not say without likely getting fired.

 In a last ditch effort, I called my naturopath and booked an appointment.  I called my therapist through work that I had seen before and started sessions (on my lunch hour so as not to impact my work day or my mom duties after work since my the Spouse was so often away).  I can even now feel the tension creeping into my muscles, my chest tightening, the nerves dancing with electricity across my flanks.  Oh yeah....I saw it coming.

 

Like Brown, I wanted to find ways to better manage my increasing anxieyt--which was rapidly impacting my physical health---cold after cold, asthma, chest infection, antibiotics, effects of antibiotics (you ladies will know what I men), more pills, nebulizer, prednisone, prednisone again and then a nasty nerve reaction where I could not sit or lie comfortably ---feeling much like shingles.

Unlike Brene Brown my therapist helped fuel my anxiety and anger by sympathizing with me over some of my perceived slights at work, which only made me more angry.  If he could see how dysfunctional my work world was, why didn't anyone DO anything about it!

In all fairness though, he did identify that I had abandoned any social activity (not that there was any, I had abandoned all my friendships, except long distance ones, many years ago) and that I clearly didn't see myself as important enough to take some time for lunch AND to see him.  I also arrived in "work mode"  ---professionally dressed, articulating my concerns in an emotionless laundry list as I had to return to work after my session. It seemed I was prepared to intellectually discuss what was going on without acknowledging the feelings I was having.  The day of my naturopath appointment was the day I went to the emergency room and checked into the hospital for almost 3 weeks. 

In this chapter, Brown recognized herself, in one of those pregnant pauses used by therapist to allow you to fill in your own answer (which is so annoying when you are on the other end of one!) Iinstead of trying to find strategies to manage the increasing anxiety, she should be looking for ways to be less anxious.

Her research revealed that people living wholeheartedly were not anxiety free---but instead, anxiety

aware.  Everyone will experience anxiety, but by developing and maintaining strategies around cultivating calm and stillness, anxiety becomes just one part of your life, not the commanding diva it once was. 

Brown defines calm as:
...creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity. 

Things can happen that cause anxiety, but people who live wholeheartedly can bring some objectivity to their lives and embrace their emotions, moving through them,  reacting with an appropriately emotional response that is not focused on exaggerated fear or anger.

For me, calmness will take practice.  I am quick to take offense at others who don't or can't keep up with me at work.  I have been extremely frustrated with new workflow processes that make my department's success dependent on others.  And the worst part is, I often share my frustration.  While venting may seem like a good thing---anger, fear and frustration can explode into an uncontrollable wildfire that spreads from person to person, gobbling up your day as it spreads among trusted colleagues. 

Alternatively, calm breeds calm.  Have you ever been outraged at something and then have the
 person you share it with carefully consider what you have said, pause and then offer you a subtle look of understanding and sympathy?  Ka-POW!! They might have well as dumped a bucket of water over your head.  It is your choice if you want to flare up again like that guy from Fantastic Four  ("FLAME ON') and seek out others who will help keep the fire alive, or allow yourself the chance to move through the frustration and anger and readjust your reaction.

In class, we have been practicing breathing.  Deep breaths from the stomach that can immediately bring you back into your body and make you aware of everything going on in it.  This is a good strategy while you sort through your feelings and ask yourself---is what I am doing helping me right now?  Is there another way I can look at this issue? Like me, you may need several long breaths and you may want to find a space where you can do this --even the bathroom stall after a particularly rough encounter. 

Stillness is another commodity that is hard to come by in my life.  I often feel like if I am not moving or doing then I am wasting time.  That one is hardwired into me so I am trying to be soft and forgiving if I am having some trouble letting go of that one.  Even just last week I wanted to listen to the TEDTalk on Play by Stuart Brown and I just couldn't see myself sitting down doing "nothing" while it played for 26 minutes.  So I set my phone in the bathroom and listened while showering (occasionally peeking out to see why the audience was laughing).  I am still justifying my time for personal development .....

I like Brene Brown's definition of stillness:

Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing.  It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.

I think this is why stillness freaks out a lot of people.  Stillness allows for reflection. Reflection allows for emotion. And emotion is a big one that generates tidal waves of fear.   I keep myself very busy and often am doing two or more things at once (see above with shower multitasking)  Creating a clearing in my mind allows for reflection on who I am, where I am going, how I feel about my life, what I wish was different all things I may not like the answers to.  So I shut them down by heading for the kitchen to make another batch of muffins; to the grocery store, to the garden, to the television, to the Internet.  I try to stay busy ----to avoid feelings---and the one thing I am trying to reduce, is all the busy-ness in my life. 

If stress, sleeplessness and anxiety are offered up as badges of success in this world, I now better understand why I only wanted to see my therapist during work hour. Not only did I not have to go deep into why I was so miserable, I was not "wasting" time, I was skipping lunch to fit in something "more valuable".  It will have to be a personal choice to put stillness and calm up there with hard work and parenting.  I "get it", I really do.  Now can I live it....that is the key!

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