I've always had a high baseline level of anxiety. When I think of the home I grew up in, this part of me makes sense. During my childhood, my mother was always an explosive bundle of raw nerves. I learned early on to protect myself by existing in a hypervigilant state, always on guard to detect subtle dangers like electrical tension in the air.
Having learned the "art" of nervousness from my mother, I spent a good amount of time in my early adult life thinking I was doomed to be the same stressed-out type of person as my mother. But recently, I have realized was that there was a big difference between us — she never questioned or even seemed to notice her state, and to me it has always felt highly uncomfortable, and is a habit I wish to grow out of. As most of us know, judging yourself for behaviors or thoughts that are already uncomfortable to begin with just makes the experience worse. That said, it's ultimately a good thing: the power to free yourself lies in awareness.
But last year in particular, my anxiety took a turn for the worse. I realized that from the moment my eyes opened in the morning I was allowing myself to be invaded with stress. I would check social media from my phone in bed and subject myself to the myriad discomforts associated with comparing my life to others. Then I would get out of bed feeling sleepy, slow, and subtly aggravated in order to pour some strong coffee into my empty stomach. With this abrupt burst of adrenaline now coursing through my veins, I would begin to check emails.
At the outset of my day, I felt pulled in all different directions — feeling the gravity of responsibilities, deadlines, bills and so on. Only now, with distance, can I see how everything in my morning set me up for an experience of feeling distracted, out of control, and almost always on the verge of a panic attack. As I opened my eyes each morning, my fight or flight response was activated and it never took much to send me over the edge from that point. Throw in a little extra conflict, frustration, or having to spend time in the traffic in LA, and I was done for.
Can you relate? All of as humans are wired to detect negative information first — that is how we survived in primitive times. In other words, the central nervous doesn't really know the difference between being under threat of attack by a lion or just being exposed to harmless stressors such as Facebook and the usual barrage of emails. That's why it's essential to prepare yourself for each day with positive thoughts and a sense of safety. Here are some steps to help you figure out how to do this:
1. Become aware of the lies that you are subscribing to and how they are controlling you.
- "I must check my email right away." (A few minute delay on this task will not end the world. Actually, it will transform your day).
- "This cannot wait." (This thing, no matter what it is, is trivial in comparison to you creating a solid foundation for your day).
- "I have to put things and others first." (Think of the safety instructions on an airplane: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others).
- "I don't have time." (Fine. Make time: get up 20 minutes earlier / Go to bed 20 minutes earlier).
2. Become aware of the strong pull you feel to believe these lies.
The amount of strength it seems like it has over you, is the degree to which it is in control. You need to be the one in control and to decide when to let things in or you will live in a heightened anxious state. Really allowing yourself to observe the discomfort is a great way to find the motivation to make changes.
3. Write down what you did this morning before you officially started your day.
Did you create boundaries between you and the outside world? Did you allow yourself to ease into your day or were you immediately overstimulated? How did you feel by the time you officially started your day? What was your anxiety level like for the rest of the day? (You will most likely discover it only increased).
4. Take a few moments out and get in touch with what your body and spirit is telling you.
In other words, get really present with yourself instead of slavishly attending to what your mind is telling you that you " should do" in the morning. I guarantee that you'll start your day off with much more optimism and hope.
5. See how you can shift your routine around, and plan a 30-day self-care plan.
What will you do to care for your own individual needs so that you have created a stable core within yourself that you can hold onto for the rest of the day? I highly recommend incorporating a short meditation that releases tension and cultivates control over your emotional state.
Once I realized this myself, I made major changes in the way I started each day. I treated it as an experiment, deciding that I would try new things out for 30 days in order to "collect data." I decided that I would try some new things out for 30 days and just collect data. I stopped checking social media the second I opened my eyes, and allowed myself to stay in that sleepy space without being overstimulated by things I wasn't ready to feel.
Now, the first thing I drink in the morning is warm water with lemon, as I allow my stomach to wake up. I sit down on my favorite spot on the couch with a heating blanket (I'm always cold) and warm myself up while I listen to a 20-minute meditation or hypnotherapy recording that resets my Fight or Flight response. Then I have some breakfast. Then, and only then, when I feel like all my systems are up and running, do I check email, social media and the news. It may sound like a lot, but we are actually only talking about an extra 20 minutes.
After a few days I began to feel different in ways that are difficult to describe. I still observed the stresses and pulls of emotions and life, but it felt like they were clearly coming from the outside and I could choose to stay centered in that peaceful core that I had created. I had gone from powerlessly reacting and trapped in a hyper vigilant state, to an awake observer choosing my responses. Even strong uncomfortable feelings like fear feel less sharp now, as I feel a clear delineation between my true center and the things that invade that peace from the outside.
Life is so much different now that I have taken a few extra moments in the morning to show myself and my nervous system that I am safe and in control.
Photo Credit: Stocksy