This post is by Heather Caliri, regular contributor to The Happiest Home and blogger at A Little Yes. Heather writes about saying “yes” to little things that scare us. You can read all her posts here.
The other day, I panicked. Big time.
What was making me hyperventilate?
(Yeah, I know.)
Bear with me here. We just bought a lovely house. Days before our move, I started cleaning out the kitchen.
I knew the cabinets were old. I was fine with that. What I hadn’t realized before was that the shelves weren’t adjustable like my old kitchen. And from the looks of it, I wouldn’t be able to fit key items where they were most needed.
Note: I like organization to be just so.
I started wondering: would I hate using the kitchen that had seemed full of light and space before? Would these durned shelves rob me of my joy forever?
(Again, I know.)
I knew that I was overstating the problem just the teensiest bit. I knew that cabinets were nothing to fret over. But how do you get off the crazytown carousel once you’ve buckled yourself in for a ride?
I had trouble sleeping that night. I kept telling myself, “This is not worth losing sleep over.” But the hours ticked by regardless.
Does this ever happen to you? A swirl of anxiety about something mundane or completely manageable? The panic doesn’t settle in very often for me: maybe once every few months—but after the worry recedes, I realize a few things:
- The thing I was panicked about seems laughably mundane.
- I feel overwhelmed, even if I know my fear is irrational.
- The elaborate narratives I construct about what might happen have little basis in reality.
- I am tired of feeling like I’ve gotten swept away by insignificant problems.
After this last bout of panic, I decided to prepare. I want to find ways to combat these mental cyclones. I want to say yes to peace in my life.
Here are a few of the strategies I’m stockpiling:
Recognize patterns: I’ve noticed these moments of panic happen when our family is in the midst of change and chaos. A move, a long trip, big schedule changes. They also happen when my hormones are in flux. A friend of mine, also prone to anxiety, has realized that she’s prone to panic if she’s overscheduled. If I know swirls of worry are more likely to happen at a particular time, I can prepare to confront them, or manage my schedule to make them less likely.
Examine my self-talk for lies. Often the messages I’m telling myself are so distorted they don’t even make sense. When I read David Burn’s classic The Feeling Good Handbook, I was surprised to learn that most of our anxious self-dialogue can be classified in just a few wrong messages—negating potential positive outcomes, over-generalizing, or catastrophizing situations, among others. If you learn to recognize those messages and practice responses to them, you can quell off-kilter thoughts in panicky moments.
Go deeper. I usually want to run away or ignore my panic, but Burns counsels doing the opposite. He recounts getting over his own fear of heights in twenty minutes. The cure? Hanging out at the top of a twelve-foot ladder, terrified, until his panic subsided on its own. After that, his phobia was gone forever. Instead of feeling ashamed of my worries and avoiding them, I can write them down, speak them aloud, or tell them to someone safe. Avoiding my fears gives them more power.
Consciously seek peace. Prayer helps me come back to my core beliefs about the world. Meditation, yoga, or stillness works for others I know. Instead of trying to distract myself out of the storm, sitting in the mess and being for a while can quiet my mind. Slow rituals like making a cup of tea, eating mindfully, or going for a walk might work too.
For someone prone to weird panics, I’m pretty calm in actual emergencies. Once I had to take an ambulance to the hospital, and made wan jokes to the EMT on the ride. That calm reminds me that I’m more resilient than I give myself credit for. I want to speak back to the voice of panic and expect that resilience every day. I want to save my energies so that when real problems emerge, I’m helpful, kind and peaceful in the midst of the storm.