It had been a long and busy day and I was beyond tired, but as I pulled the duvet over my shoulder anticipating sleep, I realised that my mind was too wired to let me settle and was about to throw a tantrum.
Anxiety washed over me, and my stomach started to churn. Thoughts started racing around my head like a three year old on a sugar rush and I realised I would be in for a rough night if I didn’t act fast.
While part of my mind thought “Why is this happening again? I haven’t felt like this for ages.” The part I’ve trained to rise above anxiety and take me to a calmer place went into Supernanny mode and declared that this was “unacceptable behaviour”. It had seen this before, it wasn’t impressed, and, best of all, it had a strategy.
I took another deep breath and began chanting my favourite mantra in my mind. Slowly and carefully, giving it my full attention and knowing that this prayer, this place of shelter, would help me feel calm and in control of my mind as it has so many times before. Another breath, another mantra and I could feel the tension draining from my neck and shoulders. My stomach settled and I started to sink down into my bed feeling relaxed and relieved. Two minutes later I was gone…
Waking with a Sense of Victory
The next morning the first thing I remembered was my little victory the night before. I remember so many times when I would get drawn into the anxiety and feel awful for hours. My mind would throw up a horrible thought, or image and then chase after it like a puppy with a slipper. Chewing it over and over again until I would feel like I wanted to run out of my body and escape.
“The mind can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven” John Milton
Our suffering and our pleasures are very much an inside job. Everyone gets anxious from time to time. Everyone gets overloaded, over-stimulated, stressed, worried, or worse. The key to regaining calm is to pick something that helps you rise above disturbing thoughts and practice it often, so that when stress or anxiety strike you can swing into action with full confidence and save yourself from sinking into full blown anxiety.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Don’t Get Into It
Anxiety like this is usually the equivalent of a mental tantrum. Your mind wants your attention, but not in a healthy way. You can’t reason with it, so you need to ignore its outburst and put it in a safe place to calm down.
2. Start Taking Deep Breaths
Take a deep breath in and release it as slowly as you can. And repeat. This tells your body that you are in control. You’ve noticed a problem and you’re dealing with it. No need for any stress hormones to get involved, everything is under control.
3. Play Your Ace
Here you have two options, but you need to pick one quickly and stick with it. If you have a favourite prayer, mantra, or affirmation that you know consistently works for you in helping you to feel calm, or positive - use it now!
Starting repeating it in your mind (or out loud, if you prefer) with care and attention. Keep taking slow deep breaths and repeat your prayer / mantra / affirmation slowly too. Make it a meditation. Become absorbed. This is the perfect antidote to the turmoil your mind is trying to throw up.
Breath and repeat. Breath and repeat. If your mind wanders to darker thoughts, bring it back. Don’t get into the details. Take a deep breath and bring your full attention back to your chosen words of calm.
If you don’t yet have a favourite invocation for calm, you could call in some outside support and have a guided relaxation exercise on an iPod, or MP3 player; if anxiety strikes, all you need to do is click play and follow along as you are guided into a calmer state.
Supernanny is a fantastic model for us in dealing with a wired and worried mind. When toddlers throw tantrums they do it with enormous energy. They can whip up a storm in seconds. She knows how to contain that storm and not get caught up in it. That’s what we need to do with our minds.
In summary, the next time your mind wants to throw a tantrum:
Don’t Get into It. Take slow, deep breaths, and pull out your chosen calming technique. Be careful to give it your full attention, treat it with respect and care and you will feel calmer in minutes.
Finally: Remember to acknowledge your victory, so you can grow your confidence in coping with anxiety and remember what to do next time you hit a rough patch.