Sometimes, this boiling down takes lots of thought. This year, though, the choice was easy for me. It comes down to a mantra and a word.
Because I am so bone-tired of the never-ending anxiety and permeating worry that fills my head every damn day.
I need rest. So, this.
My mantra: I will not hold tightly to specific outcomes, for things large or small. Instead, I will concentrate on learning what it is life is trying to teach me.
The word for the year: surrender.
This sounds easy. But it represents a lifetime of struggle. Literally every fiber of my anxiety is wrapped up in holding too tightly to specific outcomes.
It was when I heard this quote that the door began to open for me:
“When the resistance is gone, the demons are gone.” Pema Chodron
When I read that, it just stopped me in my tracks. She’s so wise, is Pema.
If I stop resisting, the fight stops. The panic subsides, a bit. The endless stream of fear-filled thoughts back off. Over time.
Helpful, right? But how? How do you just stop resisting?
I couldn’t figure it out because the resistance, the anxiety, is so a part of my very being that I didn’t know how to just stop. THERE IS NO “STOP WORRYING” LIGHT SWITCH, people. Trust me, I’ve spent all of my 42 years looking for it.
I needed a plan of action.
And to find that, I needed to go deeper into what I was resisting. After innumerable hours of thought, I realized that every single anxious thought I had was caused by my holding onto specific outcomes. Every single worried, or even just irritated, thought.
I constantly have a vision in my mind about how something should look, or how a day should turn out, or how someone should act or how my children should behave or how clean my house should be.
But, what if I decided to let go of every specific outcome and instead just do what I could toward the result I wanted and then resolve, from there, to just learn what it is that life is trying to teach me? What would that look like?
Turns out, it’s fucking mind-blowing, in big AND small ways. Turns out, surrender is (almost) better than sex.
The key is to have a plan of action to deal with each anxious thought.
Here’s an example.
Anxiety-Producing Scenario: What If My Son Gets the Stomach Flu During a Busy Work Week?
This one crops up a lot when you have littles, for any mom, but especially when you have a job that is outside the home. I’ll pick Jackson up at daycare on, say, a Tuesday afternoon. His daycare provider will let me know that some other kid has just come down with the stomach flu and she’s heard that kid’s siblings have it too; it’s a doozy of a stomach bug.
Armed with that information, my instinct is to go into an anxiety spiral. What will I do if Jackson gets sick suddenly? I have big meetings this week. Huge ones! I can’t miss work this week! What if I get sick, too? What if we’re both sick at the same time and I’m trying to care for him while I’m puking, too. And I’m missing work! AAAAAAAHHHHH.
I’ll then worry about this for a minimum of 72 hours, just waiting for Jackson or me to start the pukes. 90% of the time, it doesn’t happen. But now I’ve wasted 3 days thinking about it. Rehearsing disaster.
Solution: Now, instead of spiralling, I go through my plan of action thought process.
Here’s what I do:
1) I ask myself “what specific outcome are you holding so tightly onto? In this case, it’s how my week was going to go. My specific outcome was that I’d work all week and Jackson would be healthy and all the items on my To Do List would be accomplished in the time I’d set for them.
2) Then I ask myself, what if I let go of that specific outcome? What if, instead, my week is not supposed to go like that? What if it’s actually supposed to include me being home with a sick kid?
3) Next question: what are the upsides of that new outcome, the one I’d not considered before? Well, I’d have a chance to show Jackson how much I love him by providing loving care when he needs it most. I’d actually be able to further build my relationship with him and underscore that he can trust me to be there for him when he needs me.
And, by having to reschedule big meetings at work, I’d have a chance to be vulnerable to my staff and my partners, honestly letting them know that, this week, though I’d planned it differently, I need to be Mom, not CEO. This underscores my values to the people who mean so much to me. They’ll know that, when they need to make the same choice, it’s ok. I’m modelling that I truly believe in work/life balance. It’s not just talk.
4) Now, we run through the Plan B that will be necessary to zig when life zags. This is a KEY part of this coping strategy for us Penelopes. In this scenario, I quickly think through what would have to be done if I have to be out sick for me or Jackson. I run through which meetings would need to be rescheduled and which activities cancelled. I also think through stuff like “do I have Gatorade and crackers and the other stuff for recovering tummies?” If I don’t, I make a plan to get them, if I do, I move on to the final part of this strategy.
5) I then take in one (very) deep breath, and while I do that, I say my mantra in my mind. “I will not hold onto specific outcomes, I will instead be open to learning what life has to teach me.” I breathe out and imagine the stress of this particular situation leaving my physical body.
All of these steps take less than a minute. Probably more like 30 seconds.
The beauty of this process is that you can use it any time an anxious (or irritated) thought enters your mind. For everything from “what if my neighbor comes by when my house is less than perfect” to ” what if that weird mole is something serious?” (This last one plagues me often because of my Panic Anxiety Disorder with a Delightful Concentration in Health Anxiety.)
It takes practice, because I’m trying to wear a new groove in my brain, but I’ve found that this strategy is helping me string together hours at a time that are free from anxiety spirals.
Notice I didn’t say it cures anxiety. Nope.
But it surely is helping me to loosen it’s grip.
And for that, I’m grateful.
Happy Surrendering in 2016, Penelopes.