When dealing with tough emotions, sometimes it’s hard to figure out when to go easy on myself and when to give myself a kick in the butt. Similarly, when faced with anxiety or fear in the face of work or creativity, do I let things slide and take a break or do I push through and check everything off my list? I recently started thinking about the value of hardness vs. softness as I observed how MTW reacts to my anxiety and bad moods. At times he uses a gentle voice and tries to soothe me, and at other times he comes across as more stern as he tries to help me move past it. The stern voice is hard for me to handle – it feels harsh and judgemental. But I’ve come to realize that when I’m really wallowing in self pity, that’s exactly what I need. I need a voice to remind me to come back to the present moment and be realistic.
At first this realization made me think I was going too easy on myself and I decided I needed to be a little harder – to stop pouting and start moving. As with many things, when I start out too far in one direction, I tend to swing too far in the other direction before I’m able to find equilibrium. In this case, I started shoving my emotions aside in an attempt to be strong and found that it made me feel tense and angry. Not surprisingly, it turns out that anxiety management requires a balance between the two sides: hardness and softness, strength and weakness, tension and release, and momentum and rest.
What it looks like to me: pushing myself to be better, to try harder, to do what I think I cannot do.
What I do: cleaning, cooking a healthy meal, strenuous exercise, getting work done, putting on a smile and being outwardly positive even when I don’t feel it inside, putting the needs of others before my own.
This strategy is necessary whenever I start to feel those “woe is me” thoughts creeping in. I need to be a little stern with myself. I need to remember that I’m better than this, I’m stronger than this. I am not a victim of my own mind and I do have control over how I feel. When the stories of how the world is conspiring against me start to spin, I need to switch them off. I need to return to the present moment and realize that everything right now is fine.
Yesterday I came home after a stressful weekend and felt very afraid of being alone all day. MTW dropped me off and I felt darkness closing in. I sat on my bed, had a good cry, then stood up and started literally putting things away. I tidied, vacuumed, washed the floor, scrubbed the stove and the fridge, did two loads of laundry, made dinner and washed the dishes. During those hours I had no opportunity to sit and think about how miserable I was – I was in the moment, focused on what I was doing. And when I finally rested many hours later I felt like I had been scrubbed out on the inside as well. There were no more stories to spin and the world seemed a whole lot lighter.
What it looks like to me: comforting myself, accepting things the way they are, doing things that are safe and that make me feel good.
What I do: reading, watching TV, scrubbing and massaging my feet, going for a walk, easy stretching, journaling, playing with Tarot cards, creating a nest in my bed – surrounded by books that make me feel good, treats and tea, calling a friend, asking for a hug
When I’m emotionally spent and feel like I’m shaking in my boots, sometimes I need to just wrap a soft blanket around myself and disappear for awhile. And the key here is that I need to allow myself to disappear. If I’m worrying that I should be doing something else then I should probably get up and do that something else.
After a big blowout with MTW or with a friend, I’m usually feeling pretty shaken. I feel regret and sadness over what I might have done or said, my confidence is low, and my energy is spent. At these times I know that I need to take it easy, to not do anything physically or emotionally demanding. I need extra hugs and extra compassion for myself. The same thing happens after I teach a workshop, work a craft show, or spend a whole day around people I don’t know very well. These things take a lot of energy so I know I need to recharge and be gentle with myself.
In addition to seeking balance between the two approaches, I’ve found that I can often use them both at the same time. At the first sign of anxiety, fear, or any discomfort, I go inward and find a place of compassion and gentle care. I acknowledge what I’m feeling and accept both it and myself wholeheartedly. And then I get moving. Instead of focusing on the emotion and all the reasons I may have for feeling it, I focus on feeling love for myself, feeling safe, and then moving forward.
A few months ago, MTW and I started using the phrase, ‘Get up and get moving’ to refer to the need to do something when flooded by emotions. Usually I just need to do anything other than sit and feel sorry for myself. No matter what the situation, getting up and getting moving is always the right answer, though what that looks like can be quite different. Sometimes it literally means get moving: dancing, cleaning, walking, riding my bike to the library. Sometimes it means asking for support. Sometimes it means staying perfectly still and retreating to another world inside a book. Sometimes it means making a big pot of healthy food so that I feel good about what I’m eating and sometimes it means ordering take out so I have more time to rest. The key is in choosing to do something, and then doing it with intention. The smallest action, whether it’s a push or a release, can set me on the path towards making the right choices and feeling better.