Ever find yourself at some random time –early afternoon or at 2 o’clock in the morning – while the world appears blissfully at peace and you’re not? Now and then, during those quiet times, I manage to take something small and wind myself up into a hot mess.
Here’s an example: someone dear to me has a swimming lesson scheduled at 9 a.m. I fall asleep around 11 p.m., a little worried, awaken at 2:30 a.m., and immediately begin cataloging everything that could go wrong. Contaminated pool. Diving accident. A playful shove results in a traumatic brain injury. A rabid squirrel attacks in the parking lot. All those things are possible, but I already know the pool is well maintained, the class sizes are very small, there are certified life guards on duty, staff address rules violations (like pushing and running), the teachers are also life guards, and the squirrel scenario is statistically remote.
Still, there’s always a chance of something going wrong. That’s part of life. There’s also a chance of everything going quite well.
In general and in households blessed with a safe non-war-torn community, the chance of something going well far exceeds the possibility of a worst-case-scenario. And “rehearsing” the worst possible scenario doesn’t actually reduce the pain of dealing with said scenario if it happens. On the other hand, that rehearsal does hurt because the self-imposed stress about a fantasy-disaster has a negative impact on all bodies and long-term health.
Caveat: When It’s Really Out of Control or Intuition Knocking
It probably goes without saying, but just in case…
Whenever someone is afraid/anxious because they heard a suspicious noise outside or thought they smelled smoke, good self-care means calling 9-1-1 to ask folks who are professionals to assist.
Likewise, any time any of us experience feelings that seem overwhelming, good self-care means reaching out. Some options include visiting the nearest hospital Emergency Room for professional help, directly connecting with a therapist, calling a hotline (I’ll include a few at the end of this), or contacting 9-1-1.
Ruling out those scenarios, I believe in the power of intuition. If you know yourself well enough to sort out when you’re catastrophizing from when your intuition is guiding you, trust yourself. If there’s something you can do, take action. I’m talking about garden-variety goofiness when I’m aware that what I’m scrolling through in my head seems unrealistic. Like a machete-wielding ninja squirrel in a parking lot.
Garden Variety Catastrophizing
My tips are how I cope with nights when I’m not falling asleep… or the day I’m exhausted and those around me seem determined to rattle my nerves… or the morning when my loved ones are out running errands and I hear sirens in the distance and immediately ask are they safe and try to determine where the sirens are heading and how that correlates to where my peeps headed. For many people, it’s easy to shrug off those prickly moments. For some, they’re a signal to pray. For me, when something jacks me up and I begin to think, oh, no, here’s what could happen… and, like a portal opening to a temple of doom, ideas fly out helter-skelter, these usually work.
- Check in with your body: does it need attention? In my experience, that’s about making sure I’m not fungry (f*#cking hungry) or crazy tired. Fatigue and hunger can escape the attention of our minds. When I convinced myself that 12-hour workdays (I loved my job) and 5 hours of sleep a night were totally okay, I didn’t recognize the impact for many months. My days off slowly morphed from shopping, completing household chores, and taking refreshing walks on the beach to spending weekends in a zombie-like state on my sofa, binge watching streaming videos, eating that-which-didn’t-need-to-be-cooked (and I love to cook!), and struggling to find the energy to finish two loads of laundry.
What I do: Pause. Take a breath. Conduct a body scan. And I ask myself (out loud is okay): How tired am I? (I like numbers, so I use a scale of 0 to 10 with 0=I’m ready to burst into dance and song! and 10=If I blink too slowly I’ll doze off.) For me, anything 5 or more means I need to rest. Same with hunger. (For me, 0=So stuffed I couldn’t eat a bite and 10=I would eat my shoes if I thought they were digestible.)
In either case, I give myself 5 to 60 minutes to focus on food and/or rest.
- Rather than continuing the looping thoughts, I give myself some compassion. Here’s my take on a simple self-compassion meditation that can be completed in as little as 2 minutes.
- Find a place where it’s possible to relax with eyes closed.
- Take one or two deep breaths, focusing on inhaling as if through the heart and exhaling through the solar plexus.
- Affirm, “I am struggling” or, as self-compassion expert Kristen Neff suggests, “I am suffering” or use words that acknowledge the pain. Pause. Take a breath.
- Next, silently acknowledge that suffering is difficult. Pause. Sometimes I remind myself of this more than once. Take a breath or several breaths.
- Silently acknowledge all people suffer at one time or another (this realization does not diminish anyone’s suffering but reminds us we’re not alone when we suffer!).
- Put your hand or hands over your heart and affirm (aloud is good), May I be at peace OR May I be happy OR May I be healthy OR May I be safe OR May I be strong. Use any or all of these more traditional mindfulness phrases or use words that feel right.
- When there’s time, I continue affirming health and happiness and expand those wishes to include my loved ones, neighbors, and the world.
- Take a breath and open your eyes.
- FYI: This wonderful practice is something I learned via www.edx.org in the Science of Happiness course. For more on Self-Compassion, including free guided meditations, visit Kristin Neff online at www.selfcompassion.org or search for her on YouTube where you’ll find more in-depth ino.
- A dose of thankfulness. This is another quick pick-me-up that has always worked for me, often in as little as 30 seconds. I use this at times when, for example, I’ve read the news, and a news story sparked a negative spiral worrying about the future for my grandsons. My super simple intervention:
- Take a deep breath to create a pause in the worrying.
- Start with “I’m thankful for ___” and recite the list aloud (whispering is okay!).
- Thinking of some stand-by items ahead of time helped me get the process moving. For example: I’m thankful for the blue of the sky on summer afternoons. I’m thankful for the songs of the birds living near my garden. I’m thankful for the sound of waves breaking on the shore. I’m thankful for: pineapple flavor jellybeans, fresh sushi with wasabi, roses, daisies, payday, gift cards, old growth trees, easy trails, good books, funny movies, family, friends, air conditioning, soft sheets, life.
- This could take from a few seconds to several minutes and may require repeating things (that’s why I suggest coming up with some generic ideas that appeal to you in advance).
- FYI: This technique I first used as a child after watching the movie White Christmas and the Irving Berlin song “Count Your Blessings.” Later, if I remember correctly, I was reminded by a talk during an online course (www.udemy.org) by Brene Brown. Glad I was paying attention because this has been a huge blessing for me.
A final self-care suggestion is to keep a Gratitude Journal. There are a lot of different ways to do this. The science (again, from the Science of Happiness course) that sounded the best fit for me is once a week. This takes about 10 minutes, depending upon how much I write. Some people feel hand-writing this activity is more effective than making a note on an electronic device, but I tend to believe whatever feels best to you is the way to go. The simple process I employ is to keep a separate journal in which I quickly write down, in a few words, 5 experiences from the past week for which I’m thankful. After I’m finished, I look them over and for each I write a sentence or two about why I’m thankful/what touched me about each. The time spent on why/what helps anchor the gratitude to something personally meaningful.
There are many more fabulous ways to practice self-care, so stay creative and remember you deserve the effort!
A few hotlines, as promised:
- Crisis Counseling via Text: Text HELP to 741741 from anywhere in the US. Provides text- and email-based counseling with a trained Crisis Counselor.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) Offers support, resources and advice for safety 24/7, 365 days a year.
- Services designed with the needs of LGBTQ folks in mind:
- The Trevor Helpline – 866-4-U-TREVOR, 1-866-488-7386 A national 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hot line aimed at LGBT and questioning youth.
- IYG National Hotline for Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian Youth – 1-800-347-TEEN
Provide info about national and local resources for LGBTQ teens.
- Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline – 1-888-843-4564 (1pm to 9pm Pacific Time, Mon-Fri) or http://www.glbthotline.org Provides peer counseling and resource information.
- Services designed with the needs of military veterans in mind:
- Veterans Mental Health Crisis Line – (800) 273-8255 / or text 838255 Serves veterans, family, and friends. Operated by the US Department of Veteran Affairs.
- Military Helpline – (888) 457-4838 / or text MIL1 to 839863. Serves service members, veterans, and their families. Service is independent of any branch of the military or government.
- National Call Center for Homeless Veterans – 877-424-3838
- Rape, Abuse, Incest national help line (RAINN) – (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or www.rainn.org
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency National Helpline – (800) 662-HELP (4357)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – (800) 273-8255.
If you’d just like someone to talk to but don’t consider yourself in crisis, search online for “warm lines” or “info lines” and find one that suits your needs.