5 Ways to Keep Calm and Carry on
September 30th, 2013 by Katie Morton
Photo: Edward O’Connor / Creative Commons
Dr. Brené Brown writes about the 10 Guideposts of Wholehearted Living — practiced by people who live “amazing and inspiring lives” — in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. I began living wholeheartedly before I knew of Brené Brown, and I was astounded to read about the journey I’d already begun. This article is part of a series that explores Dr. Brown’s Guideposts and how they look in my life.
Guidepost #8: Cultivating Calm and Stillness; Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle.
“There are an unlimited number of things I could be doing at any given time. I have over 500 unread emails in my inbox. There’s a mountain of laundry to be done. There are blog posts to be written, there are partnerships to be formed, there are speeches to deliver, there’s a book to write.”
This is a phrase I noticed I would say to myself in moments of anxiety. My head would feel like it was going to explode from the level of overwhelm I was causing myself.
I’ve become really great at ferreting out erroneous thinking. Our emotions are important, but when you suffer repeatedly from a negative emotion, such as overwhelm, anxiety, sadness or anger, there’s a big chance you’ve trapped yourself in a thinking loop that continues to bring about unpleasant feelings.
Frequently when we feel anxious, it’s because we think, “I’m overwhelmed,” and we catalogue this vast list of to-do’s. The truth is, when we do this, we’re victimizing ourselves. Instead of feeling put-upon, we can look at the time available, and we can prioritize that time. And then we can let the rest go.
A knee-jerk reaction for a lot of people is, “But the Things! They need to get Done! And the Time! It won’t allow for the Doing!” Well, okay. How’s that working for ya? For some reason we like to insist that we have more to do than time will allow, but this is just embracing insanity – an unworkable formula that feels bad and that makes us anxious.
But we have a choice in the matter: we really can look at the time available, prioritize that time, and then we can let the rest go! It’s that simple. And with practice, this process gets easier and eventually, it will come naturally. We can catch ourselves earlier in the cycle each time we feel overwhelmed, then prioritize and move on.
Soon you’ll find no use for those feelings of overwhelm and anxiety; they won’t come around as much, if ever.
Even Brené Brown says the concept of cultivating stillness used to give her anxiety, and I know it does for a lot of people. It used to for me, too. Now I can’t live without stillness.
I have a few methods of “creating an emotional clearing” as she calls it, which make me feel peaceful and often even joyful.
1. I get up early to work out. There’s something about being alone while I lift weights that makes me feel really great. I feel weird admitting that, but it’s true. Zoning out while I lift free weights is meditative to me.
2. I take walks. There’s a little track of woods and a stream near my house. Almost daily and sometimes multiple times per day, I take a walk here and dream and visualize and have gratitude for my life.
3. I will sometimes traditionally meditate. When I first started out, my regular practice was like gold to me because my brain really needed the changes that meditation had to offer: increased self-control and willpower included.
Now I find I can slip into meditation wherever I am, whenever I need it. I’m no longer dedicated to a formal practice of sitting with my eyes closed (although I do that occasionally.) My workout and my walks serve as my mediation practice. I can also gaze out a window and still my mind and watch my thoughts pass by whenever I need to
4. Prayer and visualization. I’m sort of new to prayer. I’m beginning to realize that when I would visualize the situations and events that I want to see happen in my life, that this is a form of prayer. This morning when the alarm went off, I prayed that God would help me get out of bed. You can use prayer for anything, and that’s kind of fun.
5. Journaling. Once you start journaling regularly, you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life. For me it’s often a 3-step process:
- Get the gunk out. Just write down what’s bugging you, what you’re happy about, the things you’d like to do, just whatever is floating around in your brain. I especially like to write down thoughts that I find myself repeating. Once my thoughts are on paper, I’m free to figure them out so that my brain isn’t cluttered by them.
- Look at what’s important. Sometimes we have thoughts that are just junk that are mingled in there with the stuff that matters. It’s nice to be able to see them all clearly on paper and to choose what to focus on.
- Act. I’m often most motivated directly following a journaling session. Now that I’ve released the garbage and gotten clarity on what matters and what’s the most impactful, it often clears up exactly what priorities I want to tackle.
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