MENTAL HEALTH

The Doctor Will See You Now

Finding insight and healing in writing

We can attend to our inner wounds through self-reflective writing.

The boy sat staring at the blank page in front him, while his fourth grade peers wrote with gusto.

One word came to mind as I took in the 9-year-old with gripped pencil in hand:

fear

Writing as a Vehicle

The students were filling in their journals, writing about their family members. Kids were smiling as they wrote about their parents, siblings, and cousins. The giddiness in the room was palpable.

Writing about ourselves is a powerful vehicle for self-discovery.

Still, the 9-year-old-boy with the gripped pencil remained staring at the untouched page.

Me: You okay?

Student: I don’t know if my dad is a family member. My mom said, I can’t see my dad anymore and that he’s no longer my dad. So, do I include my dad?

Ouch. 

Sometimes, the vehicle of writing brings some rough terrain.

Fostering Self-Discovery

Education is all about offering tools to empower. Writing is one of those foundational tools. Our world is literally built on words; it is the machinery that drives innovation and self-awareness.

The young student’s question offered an opportunity for him to self-reflect and find the answer within.

Me: That depends. What do you think? Do you think your father is still your father?

Student: Yes.

Me: Then that’s your answer.

Writing LightBulb Moments

Immediately I saw the boy’s eyes light up, his pencil no longer gripped with fear, but instead, moving with great energy in the no-longer empty journal.

When we lean into the painful questions through writing, sans judgement, aha moments abound.

Writing puts us in the driver’s seat of our life. It offers an opportunity for us to slow down and consider what we think, not what the cacophonous world at large says to think.

When we go within to write, we literally slow down our brain waves and decrease anxiety. Slowed down, we find space to explore problems from a greater creative perspective.

Writing as Therapy

The 9-year-old student was eager to share his family tree and some of their personality traits with the rest of the group. The once anxious face he carried was now emanating pure joy.

Writing offers us the opportunity to go within for counsel.

I never told the young student what to think of his father. The power to perceive his father as his father is his choice. 

Writing allows us to take the reins of our perception.

It doesn’t matter whether we are 9 or 99 years old — our perceptions are ours alone. 

Metacognition, the act of understanding one’s own thoughts and perceptions, only grows stronger with self-reflective writing.

 When we write, we are no different than a radio dial, tuning into what we think about the world around us.

Writing as a Doctor

When we write reflectively, we are taking care of ourselves. We are nurturing our brain waves and self-esteem.

When we take the time to write reflectively, we are subconsciously sending a message to our psyche: what I think and how I feel matters.

Writing reflectively opens the door to the best doctor for you to visit with: your Highest Self. Stress hormones lower, sadness is articulated and addressed. Emotions — in all of their colors — are addressed. Self-compassion and self-awareness are cultivated.

I Just Overdosed

On too much well-meaning advice

Ah, friends and family. Those well-meaning people in our lives who offer advice like candy on Halloween.

The problem?

 Taking in others’ advice is like sampling from an apothecary.

Opinions and Asses: Everyone’s Got One

Whether it’s when to leave a career or how to best file income taxes, opinions abound. We are not talking about those rare issues that offer very little gray area.

Nope. We are talking about those hem and haw mental challenges where we just aren’t certain what to do. Situations like:

  • whether to take a Gap Year after high school or head straight to university
  • plan a huge wedding or get married on the beach with only your immediate family and friends
  • have another child
  • change careers midlife

The Stealthy Side Effects of Advice

My issue was dealing with someone who was regularly hell-bent on making my life miserable. 

When we are in a painful or anxious place, we are more vulnerable to other’s well-meaning advice.

Everyone who cared about me offered up their opinions:

“Fight them in court.”

“Whatever you do, don’t go through the legal system. Only the lawyers win in court.”

“Ignore ‘em.”

“You need to see a therapist.”

“You don’t need a therapist. You need to go for a massage.”

“You need to keep busy and not think about it.”

The side effect of all of this mental and contradictory advice: my heart and head felt incapable of processing.

Here’s the danger of heeding others’ advice: the more you listen to others’ mental medicine, the less you can hear your own inner wisdom.

Word Drugs

It’s one thing to hear what another person has to say; it’s quite another to take in that advice.

Some of us are sensitive and not aligned (at the time — this too can always change) with our inner compass, so that even hearing the advice isn’t healthy for us.

When I’m not feeling centered, all I have to do is read the side effect warnings of a drug and the placebo effects begins.

But when we heed the opinions and suggestions of others, we are reneging our intuition to someone else. 

Accepting the opinions of others as your own is a form of mental ingestion. Digest enough of those varied words as yours and you’ve just mentally overdosed.

The Best Prescription

The best prescription when you feel uncertain about your next move is the one that arrives from within.

I’m not suggesting to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich (besides, that would be me giving you advice;-).

The best prescription is tuning into you. 

Maybe that means going for a walk or baking or meditating. Maybe it means drawing or taking a siesta for a couple of hours.

When we tune inwards for guidance, we find balance; we are better equipped to then hear the opinions of others without ingesting them.

Snowflake Humans

Humans are like snowflakes. Each of us is unique. And just like a snowflake, each of us is going to offer a perspective that is a one-of-a-kind-by-product from the alchemy of our environment and genetics:

Because a snowflake’s shape evolves as it journeys through the air, no two will ever be the same. Even two flakes floating side by side will each be blown through different levels of humidity and vapor to create a shape that is truly unique.-BBC

So, centered, it doesn’t surprise me that my friend who was, at one point, a victim of an abuser, gave me the advice to “Fight ’em in court.”

A family member who thankfully cannot relate to my situation but is perpetually burning the midnight oil, suggested I just “get a massage” and “don’t think about it.”

Everyone’s advice came from a loving place. But the verbal drugs they were offering were created in the lab of their own perspective.

Overdosing on others’ advice made me both fatigued and anxious. Without realizing it, “swallowing” their advice pills, I lost my way.

It wasn’t until I got quiet (lots of walks and naps:) that I realized what I needed to do — for me.

Signs of a Potential Overdose

Wondering what a potential Advice Overdose looks like? Here are some that I encountered:

  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • mental fatigue
  • upset stomach

Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

Joking — don’t take two of anything from me. (I’m not a doctor, though I play one on TV;-)

Be kind to yourself. Journal. Reflect. Take deep breaths. Do whatever you can to slow down and honor that voice always residing within you.

Our feelings offer a powerful guide in this life. When we slow down, we are more likely to pay attention and notice what feelings are coming up. Acknowledging them is the first step in finding the best self-prescription.

Oreo Cookie Thinking

The anxiety-driven thought process that isn’t good for anyone.

Oreo Cookie Thinking only feeds anxiety.

The homework assignment was easy enough: multiply each number by two.

My niece: I got this, Mom! I don’t need your help.

So, my sister left her daughter to work solo.

When the Problem Isn’t the Problem

My niece had completed the assignment correctly, multiplying each number as directed. But she had also added up each number — something that wasn’t part of the assignment.

When my sister pointed this out, all hell broke loose.

Forget it! I’m bad at math. I hate math. 

The problem wasn’t the math itself or my niece’s ability to do math. The real issue: all or nothing thinking.

It didn’t matter that:

  • my sister had pointed out what a great job her daughter did on the math homework.
  • my niece had, in fact, gotten all of the multiplication correct 

All my niece “heard” was the all-or-nothing inner dialogue waging war on her self-esteem:

  • I’m horrible at math.
  • I hate math.
  • The issue must be me, but instead of acknowledging this, I will hide behind hating math itself.

Oreo Cookies Are Only Good for Eating

Black or white thinking is a form of cognitive distortion that we all have to some extent. Believing that things are all good or bad, right or wrong. 

If we think of black-or-white thinking as an Oreo cookie, it helps us catch ourselves when we fall into the mental quicksand of dualistic thinking.

Oreo cookies are delicious to eat, but we don’t want to dwell in a black-or-white mindset.

When we keep Oreos in our kitchen pantries and not in our minds, we offer ourselves, and the world around us, greater compassion. 

The Skittles Life

Taste the rainbow of wonderful possibility with Skittles Thinking.

You know those high-fructose corn syrup rainbow candies? Now that’s the mental candy lifestyle that fosters a more flexible mindset.

Accepting our inner and outer world as colorful, ever changing, and perfectly imperfect allows us to grow more empathic to ourselves and others.

Life starts to look a lot more forgiving and wonderful when we see through the lens of kindness.

Oreo Thinking vs. Skittles Thinking

Oreo Thinking sounds like this:

  • I didn’t get chosen for the play because I have no talent.
  • He didn’t call because I’m unloveable.
  • I failed the test because I’m stupid.

Skittles Thinking sounds like this:

  • While it’s disappointing I didn’t get into the play, I look forward to joining the crew.
  • I miss talking to him; I’ll send him a text to say hello.
  • I know the material but allowed my nerves to get the best of me. I’ll speak to the teacher and ask if there’s a way for me to demonstrate my understanding of the material.

Fun with Food

Cognitive distortion sounds so serious, so off-putting to kids (and adults). The analogy of food makes cultivating awareness of cognitive errors much more palatable (and downright fun:-)

So, the next time you find yourself growing anxious about something, ask yourself:

Am I entering into Oreo Cooking Thinking?

Chances are, if you are feeling stressed or upset about something, there’s a strong likelihood you’ve entered into the all-or-nothing quicksand.

No worries — it’s never too late to put down that mental Oreo. 

And the great news: if you are flying high and in an easy-peasy mood, it’s likely you’ve picked up a mental bag of Skittles.

The choice is always in our cognitive hands.

What’s the Big Deal with Meditation?

Meditation is about giving the fractured parts of us a space to commune.

Last night, the rain slammed against the windows of my home and woke me up, thunder making sure I stayed awake. I tossed and turned, not quite asleep but not awake either, as the light bled into the bedroom with the dawn.

A couple of years ago, a storm like that would have easily rendered me hitting my pillow, counting, and recounting the hours of sleep I was missing. A couple of years ago, I perceived life coming at me more than coming through me. A couple of years ago, I saw my brain’s worst-case-scenario game as something belonging to me instead of a mere function of that organ warehoused in my body.

My external life hasn’t changed much in these past couple of years. There’s still bills to pay, traffic to maneuver through, personal challenges to face — you name it, life stressors continue.

So, what’s changed? What’s given me the gift of inner peace, the ability to both strive and surrender, to relish experience over destination, to trust that everything is always working out — even at those times when my brain is telling me a very different story?

Meditation. I love it and cannot recommend it enough.

The prefix medi is Latin for middle. When we meditate, we are putting ourselves into this middle space between waking and dreaming. We are both in our physical bodies and beyond them.

In the middle, we are able to watch our thoughts without judgment or censorship. Meditation allows us to go from a micro to macro perspective. The late and great, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote powerfully about this in his book, The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning:

“Becoming the observer (step back) you begin to live in process, trusting where our source is taking you. You begin to detach from the outcome. That detachment allows you to stop fighting and allows things to just come to you…You get to a place where you begin to be guided by something greater than yourself.” -Dr. Wayne Dyer

The gift of meditation grows over time. Each time I take those 10–15 minutes in the morning to meditate, my spiritual muscles are stronger than the day before. If I find myself in what I perceive to be a stressful situation, I am able to catch myself that much sooner and breathe through any unpleasant feelings that arise, “welcoming the unwelcome” (Pema Chodron), knowing as the pithy goes, “This too shall pass.”

There is no wrong way to meditate. Go for a walk, listen to the air conditioning as you sit comfortably on a chair, fold laundry, paying attention to the sensations of the fabrics your fingers touch.

Meditation is about giving the fractured parts of us a space to commune. It’s an opportunity to slow down and observe, to watch without fixing, to feel without concealing, to allow our sheer being to just…be. Over time, you learn to trust both the Universe and your inner knowing (which, in my book, are one in the same).

“People can tell you all kinds of wrong directions, lead you around any corner. You can’t trust any of that. You can’t even trust me. What do they say in car adverts? About the navigation system? Comes as standard. Everything you need to know about right and wrong is already there. It comes as standard. It’s like music. You just have to listen.” How to Stop Time (author, Matt Haig).

Meditation is the portal to listening and by extension, knowing ourselves.

What’s the big deal about meditation?

In my opinion, everything. Cultivating our inner compass is where the real magic happens.

Got Anxiety? (It’s Not You)

The heart-racing-sweaty-brow unpleasant-sensations are byproducts that aren’t you!

There’s this organ that can wreak havoc on our body and spirit — if we permit it. It’s a clever organ with the best of good intentions, like a toddler who decides to surprise their parents with a “homemade breakfast.” You know that kitchen is going to look like a disaster area when that two-year old is finished making your special meal.

So, what’s this organ that behaves like a toddler? The brain.

The brain does everything to protect you if it senses the slightest danger. Sometimes, as in the case of a fire or a robbery, it does exactly what it’s meant to do, acting quickly on our behalf — no different than that thoughtful toddler who brings home a necklace for you out of Fruit-loops’ cereal. Beautiful intention and outcome align.

But sometimes, our well-meaning brain works against us, offering up a mess of what-if scenarios we don’t need. Anxiety creeps in, all of the cortisol activity from our fight-or-flight manifesting in anything from panic attacks to irrational fears.

When anxiety takes the driver’s seat, we can’t seem to steer our way out of fear. Reason seems miles away.

What can we do when anxiety is driving our lives?

Here are three powerful tools to put YOU back into the driver’s seat and dispel anxiety:

1. Depersonalize anxiety: When your well-meaning toddler made you breakfast, they left several cracked and sticky eggshells all over the kitchen floor, syrup spilling at the edge of the counter, and caked flour stuck on the fridge door. The room is amess! But do you get mad at that toddler? Of course not.

Your well-meaning brain is only doing what it knows how to do. You can give that overworking-well-intentioned organ a heartfelt thank you and not take the mess of thoughts they create personally.

2. Objectify anxiety: We tend to see anxiety as a part of us, but it is nothing more than emotion passing through us. When the weather is stormy with skies the color of slate, we don’t say “Oh no, I must have done something terrible.” We know that the state of weather is not a reflection of us.

Our anxiety is no different from the weather. Anxiety is an emotion that is no different than any other emotion. When we see it as something separate from us, passing through us, we remember that we are whole and happen to experience this particular emotion that is not us.

3. Welcome anxiety: I know, I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but it works! When we lean into the very thing we fear, the fear dissipates. We are no longer fighting what feels like an uphill battle. Our brains want to fight something to help us; when we surrender to those unpleasant feelings, they ironically, pass through us that much faster.

As the late French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Anxiety, like everything else in life, is moving through you. Anxiety is an experience created by our active, well-meaning brains. But we are not our brains. We are spiritual beings. When we observe without attaching, we can enjoy the ride even more.

The Most Important Bank Account

The most important bank account has nothing to do with your 401K.

            It’s not the number of stocks or annuities in your retirement portfolio, nor the percent of interest accruing in your money market account. It isn’t the bonus received or expected from work or the amount of dollars in your checking and savings.

            The most important bank account isn’t measured in cryptocurrency, gold, or one’s investment in semi-conductors. Those values, like everything else fiscally measured, will rise and fall. Just peruse renowned investor’s Ray Dalio’s recent books, Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail to discover the cyclical nature of economic abundance and poverty.

            After our most basic needs are met—thank you Maslow (air, water, food, shelter, sleep), our spiritual bank accounts require our attention.

            Only we humans possess an affinity to avoid pain and discomfort. We flee from hurt, instead of looking at it directly. We hide behind schedules or alcohol, or addiction to numb our pain.

            Avoiding the pain, denying what we are feeling creates two potential outcomes over time:

  1. Mountain-out-of-a-molehill behavior 
  2. Illness in the body and mind

Author and speaker, Brene Brown (Atlas of the Heart), refers to this tendency to be triggered over something seemingly insignificant as “chandeliering.” 

We see this triggered behavior all over the world and in our own backyards: 

-the “Karen” ready to attack someone for having a different opinion

-the road rage against a total stranger on the highway

-the friend who starts cursing up a storm when their iPad won’t charge

In all of these examples, the anger lashing out is not about what appears to be the source of their anger. The anger is a symptom of an inner pain that is going unaddressed.

The anger is misplaced, unexamined pain and a symptom of a depleted spiritual bank account.

Then there is the manifestation of pain in our body:

-the back pain that worsens in traffic

-the chest pain that “comes out of nowhere”

-the panic attacks 

-the frequent malaise

Brene Brown refers to our tendency to swallow our pain, pushing it down, so it can’t see the light of day as “stockpiling.” These are the folks who say everything is fine, like a spiritual Unikitty (Lego movie) when things are feeling far from fine.

If we are in denial like a super-charged positive Unikitty, ignoring our wounds, they will fester. And if we aren’t “chandeliering,” we are likely to “stockpile” our negative emotion until they show up in our bodies.

It’s human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. But there’s a real danger in denial, in running from our negative emotion or swallowing it and swimming like a duck through life—graceful on the surface but fighting for our lives below.

Unexamined and untended to pain that remains hidden will fester, affecting either others (when we lash out) or our own bodies negatively.

When we take time to look our wounds directly in the eye, something wonderful happens: the wound itself begins to heal.

Our spiritual bank accounts fill when we honor our journey and respect the emotions we experience along the way. Emotions, like the weather, change; it’s only when we deny their existence or demand that certain ones stay that our bank account falters.

The Ghost and Ghosted

There’s another side to ghosting that is often overlooked but needing our attention.

*Jackie liked her date the way you appreciate a jacket on a cold day: He was comfortable but not someone she saw herself with. However, by the end of their dinner, he expressed he was “smitten” with her.

Despite knowing her attraction to him held a verbal equivalent of “meh,” she felt—what many of us feel at times—an inexplicable pressure to give him another chance.

On the second date, the distance between Jackie’s lack of attraction and her date’s attraction for Jackie had grown. 

“When can I see you again?”

Jackie could feel her throat tighten, unable to find the ability to say the words aching to form:

Look, there is not going to be another date for us. I think of you like a brother. End of story.

Well, that’s what Jackie wanted to say. Instead, she said:

“Yeah, let me look at my calendar.”

She dodged a kiss with a yawn.

Jackie is a divorced mom with 3 daughters who works full time as a neonatal nurse. She barely has time to date, but the time she spends dating is nothing compared to the physical and mental hours wasted, pretending there is potential with someone. 

A people pleaser, Jackie decided to text Mr. Smitten and tell him she met someone (a lie).

            “I thought that way, I could enjoy a potential friendship with him.”

            Mr. Smitten called her immediately, his voice sounding like someone losing a limb. “Oh man, did you really meet someone else? Oh man. That hurts. But can we be friends? I mean, I’m really attracted to you, but I promise to stay in my zone.”

            Again, Jackie could feel the tightening in her throat. She wanted to say:

What is the point of us developing a friendship when we both know you want more? 

            Instead, Jackie agreed to meet Mr. Smitten for lunch the next day.

            When we try to live for others, altering our lives to satiate others, we are doing two detrimental things:

  1. Telling ourselves (and the world) that we don’t matter.
  2. Hurting the very people we are trying to “protect.”

If Jackie allowed her truth to come out, it would be kind to both parties. Something simple yet direct like:

You seem like a great person, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that x factor that is so important in a potential romantic relationship. I wish you only the best.

There’s often this unspoken sense in the digital world that the words we use don’t have an effect on people looking on the other end of the screen. Perhaps this is a common reason people in the dating world (and otherwise) “ghost” someone. But people pleasers are just as likely to ghost someone—not wanting to face the potential disappointment they will cause the other party.

Jackie didn’t ghost Mr. Smitten. She lied to him and herself, hiding behind a story to prevent dealing with the potential fallout of truth. In a way, she became a ghost to herself, rejecting the idea that she mattered.

Mr. Smitten deserved to know there was no romantic potential, so he could move on and meet someone who felt about him the way he once did about Jackie.

We humans are wired to avoid pain and discomfort, so it’s no surprise that ghosting offers a “quick fix” to avoid dealing with the potential anxiety that comes with confrontation. But there’s that other, more clandestine side of ghosting we need to watch for as well: lying to ourselves and by extension, the other person in the dating equation. It’s better to rip off that emotional Band-aid now than string someone along, hurting two people in the long run. 

Each of us matters. When we remember this, we stop lying to ourselves and others. The desire for truth eclipses fear of confrontation—the real ghostbuster;-)

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Our Brain’s Mad Lib

Ironically, knowing our brains’ tendency to focus on the negative is the key to a happier life.

            He was cute—really cute. A mop of dark hair with the sweetest brown eyes. For weeks, my friend talked about her new coworker, the one who asked if she wanted to meet after work sometime.

            The date was set for a Friday on a Tuesday. From Tuesday on, *Samantha could barely sleep or eat. 

            “I’m so nervous. What do I wear? What if he only meant for us to get together as friends? What do I say? What if he changes his mind and isn’t attracted to me?”

            The day finally arrived. I assumed I wouldn’t hear from Samantha until later that night. But Samantha called me before the sun even set.

            “You okay?”

            “Yeah,” Samantha said. Her voice made me think of tires losing air. “I’m not attracted to him.”

            Say what??

            “He’s not much of a conversationalist. I tried to engage him. He was so boring.”

            “Back it up sister, you thought he was so cute. What happened?”

            “He took off his mask.”

            Well then.

            We may not be in Samantha’s shoes, but we have certainly all experienced what psychologists refer to as negative bias. Our brains receive external information and literally wire the positive and negative input into different hemispheres.

            “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking…information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them-than happy ones.” (Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass)

            So, while Samantha was thrilled that the cute guy at her office asked her on a date, her brain was flooded with its Mad Libs’ tendency to fill-in-the-blank what ifs with worst case scenarios. Her brain’s negative bias created a rush of worrisome thoughts that manifested in difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite.

            I had my own negative bias: when Samantha called me when she was meant to be on the date, my brain did its own Mad Libs negative bias: Did “cute guy” stand her up? Did he do something inappropriate? Is she in danger?

            The idea that Samantha just might have decided to end the date early didn’t occur to my brain. 

            But what about how “really cute” Samantha’s coworker was? There’s negative bias there, too. Afterall, a good portion of her worry stemmed from a fear that “really cute” guy wouldn’t find her attractive. So, her brain took the meager view one third of a man’s face and made him a Greek god, out of her league, aesthetically “above” her. 

            It’s important to realize that it was Samantha’s brain creating the Mad Libs in the genre of a horror movie. It’s also important to remember the brain is an organ—no different than the lungs or kidneys. The brain has specific functions just as our bodies’ other organs, but it need not define us.

            So, knowing our brain is wired toward the mental gymnastics of negative bias, what can we do? The Buddhist monk, Henepola Gunarantana suggests a compassionate reckoning of sorts with yourself:

            “Somewhere in this process [self-analysis], you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking gibbering madhouse on wheels, barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The real difference is that you have confronted the situation they have not.”

            Becoming mindful, cultivating self-awareness—including our brain’s hardwired tendency to focus on the negative, is actually the key to mental freedom. The challenge isn’t our negative thoughts; the challenge is remembering that we can choose not to believe them; the challenge is remembering we are not our thoughts.

            Source: https://skillpath.com/blog/positive-fight-natural-tendency-focus-negative

Want to Face Your Fear?

Most modern-day anxiety is a by-product of our ancient brains. Like the whac-a-mole game, the mind’s alarm system is doing what it’s designed to do. Discover what happens when you don’t play the game.

There are countless tips and tricks to consider when it comes to overcoming a fear. Everything from imaging exposure to the big “F” to taking it on the anxiety-producing source in increments.

Let’s say you have a fear of elevators. You might imagine pressing the button to the elevator, hearing the doors swoosh open, and stepping inside the machine, all while you remain at home. Or perhaps you stand in front of the elevator one day and the next, press the button to go on, observing any anxiety that shows up (i.e., a racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.) with each increased exposure.

Whatever tactic you choose, there are two things worth noting:

  1. You have to SIT WITH any discomfort to overcome said fear.
  2. The fear isn’t real.

Fear is generated by the thoughts we think based on the experiences we have. Fear is your mind playing tricks on you in order, (so the mind falsely, well thinks) to protect and help you survive.

There are those who love a scary horror flick and loathe the idea of public speaking. Yet both activities manifest some kind of adrenaline. It is the mind’s interpretation of each event that makes all the difference, determining which you perceive as fun and which as frightening.

The brain is an organ, no different than the heart or kidneys. It has a job. It thinks. Our ancestors depended on the mind to protect us, flooding us with flight-or-fight catecholamine activity to help us survive a grizzly bear heading toward us. 

But we are no longer living as our ancestors did. There are no wild beasts coming after us as we sleep in a field. Our brains, however, have not adopted to our modern-day world of indoor plumbing and central air. 

Our brains aren’t cruel. They are like puppies with a new chew toy. As Dr. Amy Johnson writes (author of Just a Thought):

Our minds are “a very smart machine that isn’t always wise, but it loves you.”

Fear can’t sit still when you face it. It changes form. The emotion we feel is real, but the thought behind it can change. You can talk to your busy mind as you would an overtired child whose had too much sugar:

“I know you [mind] think I’m in danger, but it’s really okay. I got this.”

If you sit long enough with the fear, the fear will morph into something new. The fear of touching an elevator button will change to the fear of getting on the elevator to the fear of allowing the elevator doors to close. Your mind will continue to generate new ways to protect you since that’s what a mind does.

Discomfort shows us “psychological experience is being mistaken for something solid, personal, and true…. When we get lost in our mind’s narrative and temporarily forget who-we-are, which we often do, we feel discomfort. Discomfort is the built-in alarm that alerts us to our misidentification.” Dr. Amy Johnson

Take comfort in the discomfort; allow your beautiful mind do what it is meant to do, knowing it is manufacturing worst-case-scenarios to unnecessarily protect you. Watch it compare, compete, create negative bias, warn, exaggerate, and sit with any negative sensations that may arise within your body. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you notice new fears pop up. Just like the original fear, your higher self knows they are all illusions.

*Source: Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind

Did You Hear Yourself?

Something as simple as paying attention to the words we frequently use can potentially alter our psychological and even physical states for the better.

Next week, my aunt will take a plane trip with her adorable eight-pound dog. For the past few months, the “meat” of our conversations has involved her dog:

“I’m so nervous. I’m not sure the dose is enough to make her [the Maltipoo] sleepy for the plane, but I don’t want to give her too much.”

“I’m worried she [Maltipoo] will get sick on the plane.”

“I’m scared TSA is going to change their ruling and say she [Maltipoo] weighs too much, and then they’ll make her go in with the luggage.”

My sweet aunt’s focus on her adorable canine is understandable. Yet, I wonder if she ever noticed the Robin’s egg blue of the sky in late August or the turning of the leaves in October. Chances are, her tapestry of fear and worry prevented her from enjoying the giggles of her grandkids, or the aroma and taste of her morning java.

Last week, I counted the number of times my aunt used words connoting fear around her dog. This was a 10-minute conversation. How many times did she utter fear-based language? 8. Here were her words: scared, anxious, anxiety, concerned, and worried. These were highlighted and interchanged with qualifiers like awfully, terrible, worst, and horrible.

My aunt is a kind woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. She cares, often so much so, that she loses sight of her own wellbeing. She literally loses her mind to the things we can’t control (i.e., the upcoming plane trip with her Maltipoo).

When we focus externally on the world around us, without taking stock of how we interpret it, we can lose our way. Hyper-focusing on the what ifs in our external world prevents us from appreciating where we dwell in the present.

Scientists have long written of our inability to multitask:

“We’re really wired to be mono-taskers, meaning that our brains can only focus on one task at a time….When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing 

two things at once, but instead, we’re doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching.” Dr. Cynthia Kubu

So, my aunt may look like she’s washing the dishes, or playing with her grandchildren, but she’s really not there. She is distracted by the what ifs, focusing on the very thing that is neither here nor in her control.

The topic of my aunt’s hyper-focus of what ifs is currently her dog, but the subject has changed over the years: a friend’s cancer diagnosis, the pandemic, the presidential race, personal finances—you name it, she’s articulated it in detail and at length.

Regardless of the topic, it is one steeped with those fear-connoted words above. The effect of those words on her psyche is powerful and ranges from insomnia to overeating.

There is a power we all possess in the way we interpret the world around us and the words we use. Even if my aunt doesn’t believe it, a simple shift in mindfulness, in focusing on what is literally in front of her, can help stave off her what if Doomsday scenarios. Since we can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, wouldn’t it be better to notice the sound of the rain outside your window than the idea of something terrible happening in a future that hasn’t arrived?

Mindfulness helps us slow down and recognize the words we use both aloud and silently. Here’s a quick exercise to see mindfulness in action:

While you’re reading these words, become aware of your forehead. Is it tense or relaxed? Notice your shoulders, are they back or rolled forward, loose or tight? Take a moment to breathe into your forehead, your shoulders—even your jaw. 

How do you feel? Chances are, while you were focused on the activity above, you didn’t worry about feeding the dog, responding to an email, or second-guessing what you said to a colleague yesterday. You were blissfully present.

When we are present, we appreciate more, we slow down, we become aware of the words we and others use. Listening to ourselves and other—not just hearing but truly listening—is a powerful honing device for the soul.

 Source: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/science-clear-multitasking-doesnt-work/