Currently, Mr. Rathroy is wandering around Office Depot alone looking for envelopes. Not just any envelopes – but the only size envelopes that will fit both outside of our RSVP cards and yet inside our invitations. Apparently it’s a complicated measurement.
Why is he alone you ask? Because the case of the poorly sized envelopes has driven me into a near meltdown.
I know. Ridiculous, right? How could something so small create such a shockwave of emotion? To be honest, I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I’ve been teetering on the edge of a panic attack for most of the afternoon.
Unfortunately, the panic attack is an old friend of mine. And by, “friend,” I mean that girl that you’re extra nice to because you’re afraid she’s going to slap you across the face for no reason at any moment. Yeah, we’re besties.
Ever since my surprise case of shingles landed me on a therapist’s couch last May, I’ve been working to control my anxiety in an attempt to live a panic-free lifestyle. So, I figured I might as well compile a list of some of the handy information that I’ve gathered during the process. That way, I can use it as a refresher and it’s like free therapy for everyone else. You’re welcome.
1. The brain is a muscle. You can control it just like you control your bicep, but it needs exercise and discipline. People don’t just start off as Olympic athletes. You have to train your brain like you train your body. Once you have a grasp on the idea that you’re in control of your own mind, your world really opens up and you can begin to see your thoughts as a choice.
2. The Power of Negative Thinking. Negativity is more physiologically powerful than you think. In fact, it takes 10 positive thoughts to overpower 1 negative thought. That’s why one negative comment can dictate a terrible day, but one compliment rarely gets acknowledged as truth. Once I realize that my negative thoughts are brewing into a storm cloud above my head, I take a mental timeout from everything else and deliberately develop at least 10 positive thoughts about the topic that’s causing so much trouble.
3. Breathe. It’s no mistake that there’s a special focus on breathing techniques in yoga or distance running or anything else that is physically and mentally demanding. It’s because your mind can only truly focus on one thing at a time, and if that one thing is the detail of your breath, then you’re not focusing intently on your urge to fall on the floor and hyperventilate. A deep breath can reconnect you to your physical body in the present moment rather than letting you live in the scary land of “what if.”
4. Frequency is your friend. The brain is actually wired to neural pathways that you’ve created for yourself. The more often you think a certain way, the more frequently your brain will automatically go there for a short cut (because it’s lazy and needs exercise). Unfortunately, you’re probably starting from a Negative Nancy neuron pathway given the 10:1 scale mentioned above. But, the more often you can catch yourself starting down that unpleasant path, the more often you’ll remember to reverse it with 10 positive thoughts, and the more positive neuron pathways you’ll create.
5. Nip it & Flip it. Pay more attention to the way you think rather than allowing your brain to automatically wander into disaster town. Once you notice your thoughts, you can decide whether you like them or not and make the conscious decision to change your immediate state and your neurological shortcuts for the better. Nip those negative thoughts in the behind and send ’em packing!
I’m obviously not a therapist. Or a neuro-scientist. But I’ve spent a lot of time working through these issues and practicing with these tools, so take from them whatever you’d like.
For me, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to myself. I would never expect my body to successfully complete a marathon without extensive training, so I can’t expect my mind to abolish all instincts of panic right away. Sometimes I just have to sob it out (just ask Mr. Rathroy). It’s a mental workout, and it’s tough, but the more I do it, the easier it gets. And the nicer I am to myself, the more motivation I have to keep working.