Menial habits save lives. Or at least, they save days.
I woke up this morning feeling a lot of anticipatory anxiety. That’s not quite true, actually- I woke up this morning feeling fine, and then somehow, between climbing the ladder down from my bed and finishing breakfast, weighed myself down with many thoughts filled with anticipatory anxiety. I then took ownership of those thoughts, and found it hard to release them. I felt vertiginous, scattered, and fairly run-of-the-mill freaked out.
What set all this off?
A small thing, really. I live with my sister, and she’s leaving this afternoon to go home for a couple of nights. It’s by no means a big deal, but it leaves me alone in the apartment while she’s gone, and that brings up a lot of old, reflexive doubts and fears about my own capacity to handle solitude, mental and physical habits that I hope to outgrow. The second I knew she was leaving, I immediately started “trying to make life easier for myself”. I imagined that I would feel a lot of anxiety leaving the house while she’s away, so I started giving myself ways out of my Tuesday and Wednesday commitments. I could not show up to classes for a day, I told myself; or maybe I could show up to just one, or take cabs both ways instead of the bus. These are old habits, vestigial attempts to protect myself from my old fear: functioning alone in the world with anxiety. The constant planning I was using to ‘conquer’ it, though, masquerading as useful mental preparedness, is actually a feeder for anxiety and the antithesis of mindfulness. By anticipating a negative future for myself for the next couple of days, I’m assuming a worst-case scenario, and causing myself suffering and stress in the meantime. In other words, allowing oneself to wallow in dread can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s definitely what I was doing.
It’s amazing how hard it can be to accept the simplest of propositions:
Out thoughts only control us when we allow them to. Or, more accurately:
We choose which thoughts we allow to control us. Often, succeeding feels as scary as failing. We feel out of keeping with our usual selves, our old fears, the limitations we normally have. This feeling is necessary for growth; otherwise we’d all just stay the same. That doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, or easy. It also is completely worthwhile. If nothing else, remember that last bit.
All this mindfulness business is great in theory, but what are we to do on the days where staying present and non-judgmentally self-aware feels impossible (or just very, very hard?)
Step one is to meditate, and do some yoga or physical activity if you feel up to it. But if even that doesn’t feel right, as was the case for me this morning, or if you don’t have the luxury of lots of space or time, just start doing something. The more boring and routine, the better. For me, today, this ‘something’ was folding laundry. Which progressed to doing another load of laundry, which turned into needing to go to the ATM down the block for cash, which got me out of the house and allowed me to buy bananas. That became #My5MinuteWalk for the day, and led to me generating enough bravery for a trip to the grocery store a few more blocks away later. This cascade effect of small successes got my day going, and though I still don’t feel wonderful, I’m finding moments of presence and productivity where I can, which is important progress.
Now I’m going to bake something nice for myself, another small but useful accomplishment. Yum.
We are all works in progress. This is both a big responsibility and a beautiful thing. Blame is unproductive. Do what you can, no more, no less, and then congratulate yourself for it.
How do you deal with days you’d rather not face? Let me know in the comments ❤