Last week a friend was telling me that she’d been feeling stressed and anxious and was fearful the she couldn’t calm herself down.
Often when we have these feelings our thinking mind tries to help by attempting to work out why we’re feeling like this and how to change it.
It can easily move into blame and resentment of yourself or others: I should be doing better, they shouldn’t have done that, that’s so unfair… Usually, all this inner criticism only serves to make us feel worse and drive a wedge between ourselves and others.
Our minds want to create stories about why things are happening so that we can make sense of how we feel. But they’re often not very friendly stories.
It’s also often very hard for anyone to know why they feel a certain emotion at a certain time. It could be because of something a bully said to you when you were six years old and affected you ever since, it could be because of your relationship with your mother, it could be because of your hormones. So not only does trying to work out why you’re feeling what you’re feeling often make you feel worse, it’s often not possible to find the answer, which can mean that you endlessly turn it over in your mind.
It is often helpful to notice what the sensations are in your body, and see if you can be ok with them. Is there tension in your chest, shoulders, belly or throat? Is your breathing shallow? Can you allow those feelings to be there and not try to get rid of them? Maybe even bring an attitude of kindness or care to the feelings?
Another thing that can help is to follow through to the worst case scenario of what you’re worrying about. In this case my friend was fearful about not being able to calm down.
What happens if you can’t calm down? I asked.
Well, although it’s never happened before, I might hyperventilate.
What happens if you hyperventilate?
I might pass out.
What happens if you pass out?
At this point she started laughing. “I’ll come round again.” She’d realised that even if it got so bad that she K.O.ed, she’d still be fine! And that made the whole situation seems much less of a big deal.
So next time you find yourself getting stressed about being late, a job interview or money worries, see if you can be with the physical sensations that are coming up, with kindness, and ask yourself, if the worst case scenario does happen, what then?
The fact is, most of us aren’t at risk of being eaten by a tiger, or starving to death. At worst, we’ll feel embarrassed to have got ourselves into a bit of a mess, and someone will help us out of it. And then we’ll get over it.
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