I like to consider myself someone with high functioning anxiety— someone who can keep her cool under pressure and stress. My mom always says “A ella no la mata nadie,” literal translation, “No one can kill her, ” what she really means, “Nothing phases her, she can’t be bothered.” For me, this “unbothered” state of mind is a defensive mechanism that keeps my anxiety at bay, although these days, despite all my best efforts, I have not been coping well at all.
No need to remind everyone of the encroaching pandemic spreading like wild fire all over the U.S. and the world. These highly uncertain and fear inducing days are causing even the most level-headed, non-anxious person nightmares and headaches.
I’ve rid myself of a week long headache just today. My head felt like it was ready to explode, I constantly felt on-edge, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, my workload felt overwhelming, my spirts were low, my body felt heavy and tired. I was consumed by “proving to my boss that I am working hard,” worrying about job insecurity, worrying about catching coronavirus— or worse, spreading it because I’m asymptomatic. I was working long hours, not taking breaks, not eating properly, not feeling motivated and overall miserable.
If there’s a solution, no need to worry, if there’s no solution, no point in worrying.
Some time ago I was introduced to this quote, If there’s a solution, no need to worry, if there’s no solution, no point in worrying,” and it really resonated with me. Of course, sometimes we can’t help but worry. This week I was listening to the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris, and his guest, longtime meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, said something along the lines of “our fear is rooted in the unknown, things that are yet to be seen,” which also resonated with me in the same way. I think, like many, I’m on a large scale contemplating the fate of all humanity, and on a personal scale, fearing my future and that of my friends and family. What I am coming to terms with is my smallness in all this, my fear of what’s to come, and my inability to control what is happening all around me.
Calming my Anxiety through Mindfulness
So what are we working with here? What I realized was that, as Sharon Salzberg suggests, I was spending too much time worrying about the future, and not enough time and energy on the things I had control over. Using the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer (secular version), “May I have the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” I’ve recently decided (as recently as yesterday), to focus my time and energy on things I CAN change.
I CAN change what I focus my energy on, I CAN change my daily routine, and I CAN change the way I’ve been approaching my workload.
Using the principles of mindfulness, I’ve been focusing more on the tasks at hand, adopting the mentality that nothing is more important than what I am doing at that very second. Literally taking things moment by moment; task by task, day by day. I’ve started waking up early again, creating a routine, exercising, and taking breaks. I started practicing compassion meditation; working on cultivating love and kindness for myself and others. It sounds a bit flowery but the repetitive nature of the meditation has helped calm the anxious voice in my head and turn my attention to something more positive.
As you repeat the phrases in the meditation, your goal isn’t necessarily to “send good vibes,” instead it’s about fostering feelings of compassion towards yourself, the people around you and everyone else. I’ve found variations of this meditation, but this version is the one I’ve been using.
Love and Kindness (Metta) Meditation
Repeat to yourself 3 times
May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I be at peace
Think of someone special/important in your life, or someone you don’t know personally but admire, visualize this person and repeat 3 times
May they be happy, May they be healthy, May they be at peace
Now expand to your entire neighborhood, community, city, state and beyond, repeat 3 times
May we be happy, May we be healthy, May we be at peace
Happy meditating! 🙂