There’s lots to worry about right now and if we aren’t careful those worries will swallow us up. The run on toilet paper got me thinking about humans’ thinking process. I have toilet paper. Not a stockpile, the leftovers from my last purchase several weeks ago. But now, I WANT toilet paper. I feel the fear settling in, “Oh my gosh there’s no toilet paper! Will we run out?” and I want more toilet paper. I want to be sure I don’t end up without it. If I let this scarcity/panic side of my brain take over I will become animalistic in my search for toilet paper. I really don’t want to sink to that level. I have paid far too much money for therapy to literally flush it down the toilet. So what do we do? For starters, recognize your thoughts and walk yourself through the following thought and emotion processing technique:
- What are you thinking?
- What are the accompanying emotions?
- Identify your thoughts that are based in reality and those that are based on a created story.
- Throw out anything that isn’t beyond-a-shadow-of-reasonable-doubt true.
- Now what do you feel? Acknowledge the emotion for a few minutes.
- Take a few deep breath cycles, look at nature, and let the emotion go or just know it’s there but not let it capture all of your attention.
- Regarding the situation, where do you have control that is healthy, legal and wise?
- Do what you can.
- Get in some good, healthy, legal and wise self-care.
For my toilet paper scenario, here’s what I did (and am doing as it tends to crop up now and then…this isn’t a once and done practice, it’s a rinse and repeat practice):
- I’m thinking I don’t have enough toilet paper because there’s none on the store shelves and everyone is talking about a toilet paper shortage.
- I feel anxiety about not having enough toilet paper and confusion about why this is happening…where did all the toilet paper go?
- The true and real thoughts are: There’s no toilet paper at the stores I have been to or online. Even the horrible but eco-friendly Who Gives A Crap toilet paper is gone. (I bought a case of that awhile ago. I’m so sorry. I really want to be good to the environment but that is the worst toilet paper ever!). The made up, not true, future-tripping, created story thoughts are: I’m going to run out of toilet paper. I don’t really know this will happen. It could happen but hasn’t and likely won’t for a few weeks. If it does happen we can figure something out.
- I don’t need to focus on the coulds because they aren’t in the present and it’s not going to help me at all to focus on this particular could. I’m throwing those thoughts away – figuratively of course!
- Now I feel a little nervous about toilet paper but not panicky.
- I’m breathing in “It’s going to be ok” and breathing out “Let it go” (the toilet-paper-fear that is)!
- My healthy, legal and wise control is to use our toilet paper responsibly, let go of the toilet paper panic, don’t get caught in the herd mentality, stay aware of my thoughts and keep shushing the crazy-making toilet paper voice.
- I’m doing it right now, #7 that is.
- I’m going for my daily walk as soon as I finish this post.
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Change can be beneficial. Really. Just because you have always done things a certain way does not mean it has to stay that way. This is true especially around the holidays. Think about the areas in your life where you have stress. Is it possible to change something up that will result in less stress? Usually our first answer is, “No!” But stop and ponder the idea for a bit. What would happen if you did things differently? The obvious answer is things wouldn’t be the same but is “same” always good/best/helpful/beneficial?
A stagnant body of water with no fluidity, no change, no movement of water coming in and moving out is a breeding ground for all manner of parasites and bacteria. When I looked this up the first bit of information said it’s a breeding ground for dengue and malaria. I do not want my life to be like a breeding ground for nasty parasites and bacteria. I want to be open to changing. Whether that is related to how I prepare for and celebrate the holidays or how I function in relationships, take care of myself, approach my work or faith.
How about you? What areas in your life need some fresh, clean water running in and clearing out the old stagnant parasite breeding ground? Let this holiday season and your entire life embrace and thrive with change 🙂
Not happy about current circumstances and want to navigate well? You don’t have to just wallow in your misery, you can do something productive. First, clearly identify what you are feeling (anger, sadness, fear…) and the thoughts that are dictating the emotions. Emotions don’t just show up all on their own. They are linked to cognitive thought: you have a thought and an emotion will follow. We sometimes notice the emotion and not the dictating thought so it’s super important to get back to, “Where did this feeling come from?” The reason? If the thought isn’t based in reality, it’s not worth entertaining and neither is the accompanying the emotion. We often feel these not-based-in-reality emotions anyway and develop incredibly unhealthy neural pathways that become ingrained in our brain and feel like a reflex when in fact they are an unhealthy learned behavior that we keep feeding.
For instance: “With this new President-elect, our country is going down the tubes, freedom will be lost, this is horrible!” What is true at this moment that you know for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt? We have a new President-elect. That’s it. We don’t actually know what he will do. We know what he said he will do, but nothing has actually been done yet. Breathe. Remind yourself of what you know for sure. Let go of all the places your mind is going with the “what ifs”. They are crazy-making and completely unhelpful. You can mourn the loss of your candidate if you did not vote for Trump. You can celebrate that your candidate won if you voted for Trump. That’s it. Nothing more. Don’t get too puffed up about all that is going to happen or too depressed about all that is going to happen because–none of it has happened yet. Stay with the here and now and breathe deeply and slowly.
Next, after feeling the emotions based in reality, take a deep breath, splash some water on your face and ask yourself, “Where do I have control? Is there anything I can do about the situation that is healthy, legal and wise?” At the very least, we always have the ability to choose how we are going to react, what kind of attitude we are going to have, if we want to smile and find the joy in our life. Always! Viktor Frankl learned this in a Nazi-run concentration camp during World War II. If he learned this concept in the very worst of circumstances then we can surely do this in our circumstances. I know, if you are reading this, you already have way more freedom and more to find joy in than a concentration camp prisoner.
Now, move on. Surely you have something you need to be doing or could be doing that is productive. Maybe it’s time for a good dose of self-care (something you can do that fills you up in a good way–healthy, legal and wise!). Go for a walk, pet your dog/cat, talk to a friend, listen to music, feel the sun/fresh air, read a book, knit, play piano, write…the list could go on and on. Be good to your body and your mind. Fill up and restore so you can reset. You will deal with whatever happens when it happens and until then, you can take care of yourself, anchor to the present and bring joy into this world in your own unique way 🙂
I had dental work done last week. I generally don’t like going to the dentist. I don’t like poking, scraping, prodding or pain. After the dreaded shot of novocain, the back of my throat felt like it was swelling to the point where I thought I couldn’t breathe. I was not having an allergic reaction but my mind was telling me to panic. I could feel it starting to take over. Then I remembered to think this through. If I didn’t focus on the swelling sensation, I could take a deep breath through my nose. I put my hand on my stomach and began to take slow, easy, relaxing breaths. I told myself, “You can breathe. You are OK.” The swelling sensation was still there but as long as I kept my focus on “You are OK” then I was OK.
Our mind is so powerful but we don’t often spend time thinking about how much control we actually have over it. It’s a potent weapon that, when unchecked, can cause devastating damage; however, when we learn how to manage its potency we become Jedi masters (not like we can make things move with our mind but you get the reference!). We can stop intrusive, unhealthy thoughts. We can shift our focus from grumbling to appreciation. We can recognize and live out our own freedom. Life is full and rich and satisfying when we use our brain’s influence for us, not against!
Notre Dame in Paris, France with David (my husband), Anna (my daughter) and Sebastian (Norwegian son)
I have returned from my European adventure. I did not want to come home I enjoyed it so much! The irony here is that before I went I did not want to go. That sounds snobbish to me…countless people would love to have the opportunity I had and I was whining about it. I had an attitude problem and it was rooted in fear. Traveling away from home is scary for me. It isn’t paralyzing fear because I go but before I leave I think of all the reasons I shouldn’t be going. I think of better uses for that money, I think I shouldn’t leave my clients for long, I think I shouldn’t give up the chance to make money (when I don’t see clients, I don’t get paid – the pros and cons of the self-employed), I think I shouldn’t put myself in harm’s way, I think I should just stay home and play it safe. Oh my! As one friend recently said, “There’s a lot of crazy in here!”
I believe the crazy thoughts have only as much power as I choose to give them. I got on the plane bogged down with anxiety. The moment I settled into my seat for the long journey over the Atlantic I was at peace and noticed excitement taking root in every cell. I began to think of all the sites we would see, food we eat and people we would meet. The fear vanished and was replaced with the anticipation of a fresh experience canvas being filled in.
Living in the fearful should/shouldn’t zone is life-quenching. It brings with it those nasty bindweeds that strangle joy and freedom. Recognize this when it’s happening to you. Name it for what it is then reclaim your freedom. Remind yourself that life is meant to be lived with depth and richness, with experience and risk, with freedom and joy!