11 June 2012

Make Up Your Mind: The Importance of Calm

What's the problem?

When we feel stress, this is an important question to ask ourselves.  What really is the problem; what is it exactly that is causing me to be impatient, upset, rushed, or worried?

Next question: does it have to?

Anxiety always explains why.  Why this worry matters so much, why we must figure it out.  Right now!  But, do we?  Is this true?  Does our mind always tell the truth?

When clients are struggling with anxiety, I try to help them in many ways.  We learn to breathe deeply; I teach them mindfulness techniques; we go through past trauma, and try to understand underlying causes of deep-seated fears about life and living.  But, most of the time, this simply isn't enough.  In order to recover from anxiety, we have to really, truly, decide not to give in.  We have to fight!

Part of this fight is defining ourselves and our life.  Yes, this or that may go wrong, but do I want to live my life in worry and stress?  What actually is important to me? And, even more fundamentally, is this worry and stress helping?

These are the processes we have to go through.  I encourage clients to read widely and seek: seek meaning for themselves, seek to find something that will help them face life with courage and strength.

Once you start to put these ideas into practice, life seems less and less scary, and you become able to discern between anxiety and true concern.  Anxiety never results in a solution; anxiety is convinced that the sky is falling.

When we are anxious, we feel all alone, isolated and without help.  In the worst case, terrified.  One of the best remedies is to ask for help in calming down, but not with the problem your mind is grappling with.  Instead, real help lifts the needle off the skipping record, and keeps us from waiting endlessly for the song to end.

Here's something to try next time you are feeling anxious and need help.  Seek out the ear of a friend, spouse, sibling, therapist, or whomever you trust and say, "I've been feeling really anxious lately. I need some help calming down, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Then let them calm you.  Take in the words of this trusted confidante and trust them over the ruminations of your mind.  Breathe.  Believe them, allow them to help you, to comfort you.  Yes, there may be a problem, but is it as big as your mind and body are telling you?

The real problems and challenges of life will be there when you calm down, and then you can face them with your full heart and mind. This way of living results not only in better solutions, but in solutions that produce growth and transformation.  Life is supposed to be hard.  Grow and change -- you can do it!

You may have noticed a lot of use of the word 'we' in this post.  That's because I've been there, and I work everyday on my own anxiety.  Otherwise, how could I either be interested in helping others through it, or even know how to?

K. and I went to see the excellent, amazing, musical "Next to Normal" last week.  I was struck dumb by the entire thing, so beautiful, so incredibly produced and performed, and I wanted to share a few tidbits from one of the songs, when the therapist of the main character is trying to help her face herself.  He sings,
Make up your mind 
That you're strong enough.
Make up your mind—
Let the truth be revealed.
Admit what you've lost
And live with the cost...
At times it does hurt
To be healed.

Make up your mind
You can live at last.
Make up your mind
To be fully alive.
Embrace what's inside,
Replace what has died,
Then make up your mind
You'll survive.
Have a beautiful, calm, lovely June week.
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