Dana's My Coach

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How I Stopped My Thoughts From Stealing my Time and Basically Ruining Everything

Going on an anxiety detox last spring was one of the best things I have ever done.

Never before had I thought anxiety or stress was a problem for me. But reading Brene’ Brown’s book, “I Thought It Was Just Me, But it Isn’t” revealed that what felt normal to me was actually anxiety. I was even more shocked to realize my anxious thoughts were not going away anytime soon. And actually seemed to be getting worse by the minute!

Well, I had to do something about it but it seemed like very bad timing. I mean, when is a good time to deal with an anxiety issue?? Answer: NEVER! Especially since a side effect of my anxiety was feeling like I didn’t have time for anything. When it was particularly acute, I constantly felt I couldn’t do anything because I wouldn’t have time to finish it so starting it would only make me feel more anxious because I don’t like to leave things incomplete. Whew! Talk about a catch 22!

Luckily, I have low tolerance for feeling bad (especially when ‘bad’ is going to ‘worse’ very quickly!) so I took action. First, I declared myself VERY loudly (in the privacy of my own room) on an ‘ANXIETY DETOX’. I read that term somewhere and it seemed to fit. I was not an expert on the subject. I only knew I needed to increase peaceful, calm feelings and flush out negative or worry-full feelings.

Guess what? After nearly 100 days, it’s totally working! I say it’s ‘working’, rather than it ‘worked’, because I believe that feeling peaceful and calm is a practice rather than a fixed condition. It’s possible I will need to keep my anxiety-detox toolbox close at hand for the rest of my life…and that’s OK! I am just glad I have it! And today, I want to share with you what is in it.

First….get oriented. Through research, I learned that if you do something as a coping mechanism (which for some strange reason, is what anxiety often is) you can’t just get rid of it. You developed the mechanism (probably at some time in the past) for a good reason…and it’s usually linked to something that feels like a matter of life and death.

Imagine if you are floating in the middle of the ocean with no sign of land or rescue for miles around, and you only have one small life preserver to hang onto. You are not going to willingly let go and start swimming away from it unless you have a darn good reason!

Our unconsciousness somehow perceives holding onto our survival mechanisms (things like addictions, phobias, codependent relationships, and, of course, anxiety!) as a matter of life and death. Because of this it may not be possible to ever rid ourselves of these life preservers. However, if we can strengthen new habits and other sources of support (in my case relaxing) we are more likely to diminish the appeal of the behaviors our defense mechanisms drive us to.

Why it’s important to know more about it is because our behaviors are linked to nuanced layers of needs. Sometimes our needs are buried deep within us (possibly even hidden from ourselves) and therefore they are not easy to understand or change. In other words…we’re complicated!

“Ok.” I said to myself, “So it’s going to take effort to change myself. I get it…. but I don’t like it!” Alas! I had taken my first step…accepting the challenge. I accepted it would require patience and attention to reach my goal, and, it was my top priority!

Next steps? Recognize the difference between anxious and relaxed. Take note of what sources of stimuli in my life leads to each condition. Take action.

If a particular project, situation or activity caused me to feel apprehension or dread, it needed to be phased out, cleaned up, postponed, or handed over to someone else. Instead, I needed to spend time doing what I want. Usually, what I want to do is something that feels good and calming. Being honest with myself and others about this distinction was sometimes helpful (and welcome!) as well.

One thing worked really well for me …practicing being restful. I haven’t looked this up in the dictionary but I guess ‘restful’ is the opposite of ‘anxious’. Since ‘restful’ didn’t come easily to me during this time, It took committed effort to get to and maintain a restful state. In other words it took practice.

My practice included swimming or getting in water, putting on music or listening to sources of inspiring and calming information (ie. favorites include Brene Brown, or Byron Katie), being creative (ie. collage or home projects), repeating a mantra, and breathing exercises.

What happened couldn’t have surprised me any more. One of the results was, as I had hoped, feeling more relaxed overall. Feedback came from all around me…friends, colleagues and family members said I seemed, ‘calmer’, ‘happier’, ‘easier to connect with’ and, ‘different.’

Feeling more relaxed and happy is a wonderful result and in fact, what I hoped for. What I didn’t expect were the other results…that I would lose weight, make more money and get more done.

WHAT?! Yeah, that’s why I was surprised!…it sounds impossible. In fact, it sounds like an infomercial for a self-help video or vitamin product.

How did it happen? It didn’t. Not at first, anyway. At first, I lost money and gained weight and got less productive. I decided none of those things were worth worrying about for now. Also, I didn’t let any of these side effects stop me from taking intentional action to continue the detox. I listened and learned. Studied relaxed people and asked them what they did. Friends sent me their practices, their mantras.

I observed people who I’d previously judged as ‘lazy’ and ‘unproductive’ and found that what they were actually doing while I thought they were being lazy and unproductive was something amazing…they were restoring their strength, clearing their perceptions and minimizing stimuli.

Losing weight was a most surprising result and certainly not intentional. I have always eaten pretty clean and exercised daily so I wasn’t doing anything different. Best guess is that it was either a coincidence or it had something to do with getting more sleep, and improving my overall sense of well being. Feeling good leads to consuming less calories.

All these things, it turns out, are important ingredients for taking powerful, effective action. When I slowed down and did less and thought about less, I was able to fully focus on each thing I was doing at the time I did it. Therefore, my movements were more powerful and inspired rather than sloppy and quick and careless. Now, being sloppy and quick is still an option (and sometimes a necessity as a business-owner and single mom to twin boys who never run out of energy!) but it is no longer my norm. Now there are a lot less broken dishes to clean up. And a lot more time.

Below is a short list on how to Stop Your Thoughts from Stealing Your Time and Basically Ruining Everything:

Work to make rest restful:This may not come easy, but tools like guided meditation, audios of nature sounds or worksheets from http://www.byronkatie.com work beautifully to overcome anxious thoughts
Take a long view: Clearing out debris in my thoughts (like worry) takes time and patience. Accept this.
Make myself do what I like…even when crucial tasks await I can always afford to carve out some time to play.
Not doing what I don’t want (ending, postponing or handing off)
Be honest about above and saying it out loud (requires courage)
Set limits on thoughts: Distinguish what I choose/don’t choose to feel upset about

Invest time in gaining specific tools… (ie. meditation, breathing, mantras, etc.)
Invest time in gaining specific tools… (ie. meditation, breathing, mantras, etc.)

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