As I prepare next weeks Super Kids of Optimal Living lesson on facing the challenges of worry, I am reminded of the fact that children learn to process concerns much like they learn to process any other challenge in life. They learn by our trusted example. So, I thought I’d share some quick worry-blasting tips mined from research in the field of Positive Psychology. I’ve found these practices helpful both in calming my own monkey momma mind and in assisting my kids to do the same.
There’s a pithy little saying that we like to repeat in our home: You don’t have to believe everything you think.
Seems obvious, and yet strangely most of us allow poorly stitched thoughts to run unchecked through our minds every day. When that happens, normal solution-oriented concerns can quickly spiral into disempowering WORRY.
Being able to recognize when we’ve slipped from concern to worry is critical for peace of mind and positive life outcomes. Heartfelt concern is a powerful place. Worry (no matter how normal it may feel as a parent) is not. The haunting anxiety that results can be debilitating, internally toxic and inhibitive to good quality solutions.
Worrisome thoughts can steal the present moment and cast useless shadows over events yet to come. Meanwhile, it can feel like a dimmer switch is flipped on absolutely everything else that is important to us. In short, you begin feeling victimized by your own emotional state.
Author, Florence Scovel Shinn described worry in her widely acclaimed book, The Game of Life and How to Play It, as “inverted faith”. It’s faith in that which we fear.
Whether we WANT or mean to worship at that alter or not, our emotions indicate to us when we’ve set up camp within a disempowering projection of things yet to come. If we’re worried, then we are engaged in feeding the fear.
My kids (and their mother) learn best in short memorable steps. So, I’ve organized some quick steps to shaking off the worry when it creeps in. I introduced these ideas by way of storytelling to the kids, and I’d like to share them with you now in hopes that it may become useful when the unknown future leaves you feeling unsettled.
When anxiety knocks, here’s how to respond in 3 EASY STEPS!
STEP ONE: Just add gratitude!
Gratitude and angst can not coexist. Take a moment, and try to feel grateful and fretful at the same time over any situation. You can’t, right? At best you might end up in a strange and irritating middle space experiencing other fear-based emotions, such as: confusion, trepidation. indecision, and the like.
Appreciation and worry are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. So, even though, for example, you may, in fact, be grateful about an opportunity to speak publicly on a heartfelt topic and also worried about delivering the speech, you can only feel one of those emotions at a time. The one you feed with your attention will win.
This is true even for the very best multitasking mommas in the world. In your crazy makingest moments, the speed of vacillation between two opposing feelings may have your head spinning. One moment you’re proud of your sixteen-year-old daughter as she pulls out of the driveway alone for the first time. In the very next moment you’re gripped by the fear of what might happen when she reaches the interstate. Just remember, though, when it comes to appreciation and any fear-based emotion, you will only ever be in one thought space at a time. So, flood your thoughts with that which brings power to the situation.
Knowing all of this may not be enough to relieve you in a worrisome moment, though. It can be tough to see the light of gratitude through a thick fog of worry. So, start small. All of us have a long list of reasons for which to be grateful, even if it’s just for the privilege of taking new breath each morning, the use of hands and feet, or being able to drink clean water when we’re thirsty.
You can use small points of appreciation as rungs on a ladder, each one taking you to a higher place of clarity. When you can find gratitude in the very circumstances that once triggered fear and anxiety, you will be free.
Not only will an attitude of gratitude shift you out of a fretful mindset, but according to research by Robert Emmons, UC Davis psychologist, and Author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, the practice of gratitude journaling can significantly improve wellbeing and general life satisfaction.
But don’t just think it. Write it! When you’re feeling worried, grab a journal and write a detailed list of five things for which you’re grateful. Detail is key.
For example, instead of: I am grateful for our kids
I wrote: I am grateful for the way our kids excitedly jump in bed with us each morning to snuggle, wriggling under the covers with glee. I am grateful to wake up to the sound of their laughter and the feel of the beautiful chaos of their puppy play.
You may choose to continue writing about the topic of your concern after you’ve finished gratitude journaling. If you do, you’ll notice that you’re writing will become clearer, more empowered and more solutions-oriented.
STEP TWO: Talk yourself out of it!
Science has identified one powerful way that humans can cultivate faith in the unseen. It’s called autosuggestion. Autosuggestion involves repeating your preferred state of being with belief and conviction. In other words, use affirmations. This self-reprogramming can be applied in a pinch any time yucky feelings creep in. And it really works!
Born in the 1800’s, French psychologist, Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie, was famous for showing the miraculous effects of optimistic autosuggestion. The Coué method involved the ritualistic repetition of this mantra: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”, and it produced miraculous effects in his patients. You can read more about it in his book, Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion, available for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27203
Many people find it helpful to send affirmative words up in prayer, the benefits of which deserve their own post. But whether by repeated prayer or affirmation, the exercise of confidently repeating a short position statement from our most desired state of mind will strengthen our belief muscles, allowing fear and worry to exit our experience.
To set the belief in your own abilities, it can be powerful to take a page from author, Susan Jeffers book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and just repeat to yourself confidently, “I can handle it!” Because whatever life throws at you, the experience is rarely ever as scary as your worry says it will be.
One caveat: words alone are not enough. You must come to the corresponding feeling place of the words you wish to invoke. The energy behind what you say is always important. So, dig deep and put some heart into it.
STEP THREE: Trigger excitement!
If worry has any redeeming quality it is this. The fight or flight reactions that emerge as a result of worry are gloriously similar to those of excitement.
So, the moment you feel worry slithering back in, hit the emergency release button. Take those clammy hands, accelerating heart rate and shallow breathing and flip them to work for you, instead of against you.
Use the powerful practice of visualization. Close your eyes, and envision the best case scenario in full HD detail. Then celebrate as though the matter is done. To really seal the deal, you can even commit to celebrating with your body. Using the power of gratitude and autosuggestion at once, jump up and down and yell, “I’m so excited!”
Sure, you might seem a little nutty to everyone around you. But, remember, worry is a nutty state of mind too. It just feels a whole heck of a lot worse than self-initiated excitement. So, choose your freak flag wisely, and raise it high!
Now that you’ve shaken things up a bit in your recovering fret factory, you’re more powerfully positioned to do what you can about the situation at hand. You’ve moved from worry back to concern.
Of course, we must always do what we responsibly can to seek resolution when our peace is rocked. But worry never inspires better action than clear-headed concern.
It’s much wiser, then, to act from our most optimally minded thinking space, especially when the stakes are high. So, unless you’re being chased by a predator, that means silencing the voices of worry…first. And then deciding whether it is wiser to take action or just be.
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