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Hello anxiety, my old friend
Q: What message are your emotions trying to convey?
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Sometimes it can just seem to appear out of nowhere. For weeks I have been cruising along watching my inner talk, practicing my self-care and then one day all of a sudden my anxiety decides to reappear. My immediate reaction is to fall back on my old patterns of handling negative emotions. But this week I tried a different approach and noticed a shift that I thought would be helpful to share.
Focusing on the present vs looking back - In the past whenever I would notice a change in my mood I would start to analyze and look back to see what had happened to shift things. This time I focused on the present. In my meditation practice I asked myself to name the sensations in my body now. Doing a body scan and asking myself - “What is happening inside me right now? Can I be with this?” Noticing a sensation and finding a word to describe the experience like tightness or ache, heat, pressure. For me that was noticing a tightness in the right side of my neck and shoulder and describing it as a long smooth metal six inch rod. Then I moved to naming the emotions and feelings that were present in my body and mind - anxiety, fear. Identifying my body sensations and emotions with words allowed me to acknowledge them with a non-judging mindfulness.
Accepting vs judging - Another tendency I have when I look back into the past is to judge myself for my past actions. I start blaming myself for overdoing things or not holding my boundaries. “I shouldnt have agreed to so many meetings with G. Why did I sign up to take the kids out tonight when I am tired?” By focusing on the present and acknowledging what I was feeling in my body and the emotions that were arising, I noticed that I was more accepting of those feelings. When I don't acknowledge my feelings and shove them away, they tend to become bigger and loom like a monster under the bed. When I accept the feelings and treat them with kindness, they start to lose their power over me.I repeat to myself - “Thank you [emotion] for showing up. [Emotion] is not the message, it is the messenger.”
Action vs distraction - I often get scared of the emotions arising inside me and try to avoid them. Or in the process of analyzing the past, the thoughts start to spin in my head and I get overwhelmed by my mind. To stop the thoughts or distract myself from the thinking, I end up engaging in mindless activities like watching or reading frivolous content or shutting myself down. This time I reminded myself to create “forward motion” through energy gaining activities. Instead of neglecting my self care habits, I forced myself to engage in simple daily routines that can connect me back to my life force. Phil Stutz, a famous Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, describes the three important relationships that one can invest in -
Body - This is about exercise, diet and sleep. For me this can be small things like a 10 min yoga class on Youtube. Or a 20 min walk around the block. Doing a 30 min strength training class. Eating healthy nourishing foods instead of skipping meals. Taking my supplements in the morning. Going to bed early.
People - Reaching out and connecting with people. When I am in a negative state, I can easily shut down and avoid external interactions by telling myself that I need to conserve my energy. But I know that 1:1 time with friends and family is actually energy gaining for me. So I become intentional about reaching out to the few people that can keep me connected to humanity.
Self - Journaling has been the best way for me to invest in my relationship with myself. Writing and reflecting and putting pen to paper brings out my thoughts and shines a light on my unconscious. What I journal is not important. What is important is to prioritize the time to connect with myself.
Doing these things brought me back into a more neutral state within a matter of 7 days. I am proud of myself for not falling back into my bad patterns and habits. For pushing myself to do the things that have been proven to work for me. I know that life is about dealing with the positive and the negative emotions. Moments of adversity like these give me an opportunity to practice my tools. And it is the process of dealing with reality through these tools that makes me happy. I am the hero standing up to the villain that is trying to keep me stuck and prevent me from growing.
I am sure these moments will show up again. Whether it's the time of the year - holiday season and end of year anxiety - or macro economic conditions - recession, layoffs - all of us will be in situations that are outside of our control. I hope that these practices can continue to help me return to myself - the one thing I do have control over - and help me face my emotions with courage. As we head into Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the messages I have found in my emotions.
Note: I highly recommend taking the time to watch this documentary on Netflix - Stutz. It goes over many of the tools that have been used by Phil Stutz and I found that many of my practices are explained well by him in this film.