Letting the Journey Unfold: How Living in the Moment Can Reduce Anxiety

Letting the Journey Unfold: How Living in the Moment Can Reduce Anxiety | It's incredibly freeing to let go of what we can't control and deal with each moment as it comes. Here's how I put these ideas into practice one night when things weren't going as planned--and ended up having a spectacular time.

It’s rough being both a night owl and a morning person.

On one hand, I relish the peace and promise of the morning, and on the other hand, I crave the depth and darkness of the night. Both are times when my creativity soars and I can imagine that I have the world all to myself. (No offense to, like, other people and stuff. I’m just an introvert; being alone is my jam.) Honestly, the afternoon hours are the ones I dislike the most; if I could hit the fast-forward button from approximately 1 pm to 5 pm each day, I’d be totally set. Reading an engrossing novel until 2 or 3 am? Yes, please. Sipping coffee with the sunrise? Count me in. Anything at 3 pm? No, no, and no. I’ve found some ways to lessen the sting of this long, harrowing trek from lunch to dinner (such as drinking lots of water and tea or taking a quick yoga break), but it’s still by far the worst part of the day. Perhaps we Americans could take it a step further and jump on the siesta bandwagon? Is that a political issue we could all get behind? #adultnaptime2k16

Anyway, so here I am, running on a grand total of 4 hours and 15 minutes of sleep, actually enjoying an early-morning writing session before work. My eyes are a bit puffy, and my mind is a tad slow, but the stillness and solitude are totally worth it. The reason that I was out so late last night was that I attended a concert in Indianapolis with my mom and sisters–although it might be more accurate to say that we kind of attended a concert, or that we attempted to attend a concert. First, we arrived at the outdoor venue only to find that the show was being postponed indefinitely due to the severe thunderstorms in the forecast. Then, although there was hardly a drop of rain during the entire 2-hour delay, it started pouring once the concert finally began, and lightning struck in the distance. So we stayed for a bit and then headed out before the final act.

But despite everything, I had a truly wonderful time, and I don’t think the enjoyable experience was an accident, either. I consciously tried to avoid my knee-jerk response of worry, regret, and negativity and react in a more positive and productive manner. Instead of panicking about how late the show would start or whether we would get caught in a bad storm on the drive home, instead of beating myself up for not monitoring the weather more closely or calling the venue ahead of time, instead of mourning the loss of the money we spent on the tickets or the time we spent waiting, I tried, as my therapist would say, to “let the journey unfold.”

Although this mantra sounds like one of those cheesy phrases you might find printed on the inside of a Dove chocolate wrapper, it’s also one of the hardest things anyone has ever challenged me to do. I don’t want things to happen to me–I want to happen to things! I don’t want to go with the flow–I want to be the force driving the current! I don’t want to “let the journey unfold”–I want to make checklists and itineraries and read reviews on TripAdvisor first!

But when we arrived at the venue and were informed of the delay, I saw disappointment creep across the faces of my two younger sisters and realized that I would play an important role in determining how the rest of the night would go. I could react how I normally did and plant the seeds of worry and negativity in those around me, or I could try to relax and look on the bright side and hope that ease and gratitude would flourish instead. Wanting to choose the latter, I smiled at them and said, “Well, there’s not really much we can do to change the situation. We’ll simply have to let the journey unfold.” I said this with a hint of sarcasm, poking fun at my own propensity to whip out the cheesy mantra at every opportunity. But I also said it as a serious reminder to myself to let go of things I can’t control (like the weather) and focus my energy on the here and now, come what may.

And you know what? It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies–we saw about an hour total of the show, missed the main headliner, paid twice as much as we were expecting for parking, and may have ruined a few pairs of shoes–but as I mentioned earlier, we had a darn good time overall. While we waited, we munched on the snacks we had packed, played the Head’s Up app on my sister’s phone, and generally distracted ourselves with talk and goofiness. And once the show finally started, we sang and danced and let the rain soak us through and smear our make-up and ruin our hairdos. It turns out that the great thing about living in the moment is that, bad or good, comfortable or uncomfortable, you only have the that moment to be concerned about. You don’t have to re-live all the ugly things that happened in the past or anticipate all the potential disasters that could arise in the future. You can focus on appreciating the joys and dealing with the troubles of the present–and the present only. Letting the journey unfold can be scary and unnatural at first, but it can also be incredibly rewarding and freeing.

So there you have it: morning reflections on late-night adventures. I’ve got to leave for work now, but who knows? Maybe if I take things one moment at a time, even 3 pm today won’t be so bad. 🙂

 

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Life Under Construction: Pursuing Authenticity Over Perfection

Life Under Construction: Pursuing Authenticity Over Perfection | We shouldn't wait until we have everything figured out to starting letting people into our lives.

The parking garage next door to my church is currently being bulldozed, so on my way to mass this morning, I walked by a fenced off pile of rubble with a sign reading DEMOLITION AREA: DO NOT ENTER. At first I thought nothing of it; Indiana roads have undergone so much construction over the past year that you routinely have to take a detour to get to your detour. People joke that the government is going to have to change the state flower to an orange construction cone. So at first glance, the sign seemed like nothing remarkable. But as I re-read the words, it hit me that the phrase DEMOLITION AREA: DO NOT ENTER captured, with uncanny accuracy, my general approach to life.

Even though I know that all of us are constantly growing and changing–we’re people “under construction,” if you will–for as long as I can remember, I’ve acted as though someday the work will be complete and then my life can really begin. In the meantime, though, I have to be careful not to let anyone witness the mess or trip over the rubble. Don’t stop by and visit until I’ve had time to clean my apartment from top to bottom! Don’t snap a photo or even look at me until I’ve had a chance to put on makeup and style my hair! Don’t ask for my opinion until I’ve done all my background research and composed an intelligent, nuanced response! And don’t get to know me until I’ve fixed all my brokenness and smoothed out all my rough edges, because right now my life is an occupational hazard, and one (or both) of us might get hurt if you get too close. It’s best for all of us if you just keep your distance.

Or so I thought. It turns out that (spoiler alert) this is an exhausting and unfulfilling way to live. Sure, maybe a few people will fall for the act and think you have everything together and possibly even admire you for your perceived ability to “do it all,” but in the end, the time, energy, and worry you spend in the process will hardly be worth the approval of a few acquaintances. And the people who fall for it will be acquaintances, because you can’t have any sort of close, meaningful relationship when you’re separated from the other person by orange cones and chain-link fences.

So I want to stop living this way. I no longer want DO NOT ENTER to be my life motto. I’m not sure of the best way to go about it, so I’d appreciate any ideas that you, dear reader, may have to offer. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding myself of a totally obvious yet brilliant statement my therapist once made: “Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean that the thought is true.” So next time I’m tempted to push someone away until I feel like I have my act together or postpone an experience until I feel 110% prepared, I will try to assess the accuracy of my thought processes rather than automatically throwing up the DEMOLITION AREA sign. For example, how likely is it that family members or friends dropping by on short notice will actually make harsh judgements regarding the tidiness of my apartment? Not very. Instead, it is far more likely that my loved ones won’t even notice the dusty blinds or full trash can, or that they will notice but not think any less of me for it. And most importantly, their reaction, whether positive, negative, or neutral, will have absolutely no bearing on my worthiness as a human being. BOOM. Paige: 1, irrational thoughts: 0.

So tell me, friends: What are your suggestions for living life fully, even when you’re “under construction”?

 

What Anxiety Feels Like (And Why I’m Done Letting It Stop Me)

What Anxiety Feels Like (And Why I'm Done Letting It Stop Me) | Anxiety is uncomfortable, but we can't let it keep us from telling our stories.

Today was an anxiety day.

My therapist, Nicole, would probably prompt me to describe my anxiety in terms of where I’m feeling it in my body, what it looks like, etc. She’d encourage me to “lean in” to the discomfort rather than turning and running away, to “talk” to the feeling and ask what it needs from me.

Although I always feel a bit silly playing this game, it’s surprisingly helpful. So I would respond that the anxiety is in my stomach–right alongside fear and sadness and all of my negative emotions, apparently. But unlike the sadness and the fear, which tend to take the form of big, bulky shapes in dark, foreboding colors (like slate gray or deep purple), the anxiety is a fluttery, feathery thing in pale blue. It’s like crepe paper blowing in the wind, except far less festive. The more I think about it and “lean in,” the more rapid the fluttering becomes, and the uneasiness in my stomach escalates from a simmer to a rapid boil. And I have no clue what it needs from me because I’m not even sure exactly what’s causing it.

Well, that’s not totally true. I could probably venture an educated guess: I just returned from a 2-week vacation only to be slammed with stress and conflict at work (doubly awful on a jet-lagging brain); I miss my long-distance boyfriend like crazy and don’t know when I’ll see him next; and, oh yeah, I just graduated with my master’s degree last month and have no idea what I’m doing with my life from now on. And quite honestly, I’m so tired and worn down from earning said degree that I’m not even feeling all that motivated to figure it out. Rather than job searching or soul searching, I’d rather search for the nearest pillow and take a nap.

So yeah, that’s probably some of why today was an anxiety day.

And although I keep feeling the urge to write about it all, I also keep hesitating to do so. Sometimes I push aside the urge to write in favor of doing “real” work, something that will make me feel productive when I cross it off my to-do list. Other times I push aside the urge because I don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into words, or at least words that sound good, and being the perfectionist that I am, good isn’t good enough. And sometimes I push aside the urge in favor of doing other things for other people and convincing myself that “me time” is overrated and narcissistic anyway.

But I want to stop making excuses. I want to stop worrying about writing something elegant and start focusing on writing something real. I want to stop acting like I’m superhuman and don’t need breaks and start allowing myself to be the vulnerable, limited, imperfect human being that I actually am. What I write may not always be pretty or make sense or result in a publishable post. But I’m tired of letting anxiety stop me, of letting it rob me of my happiness, my motivation, my creativity, and my joie de vivre. I’m tired of letting anxiety win. Quite frankly, I’m just tired.

So listen up, you fluttery, feathery, pale blue thing that has taken up residence in the pit of my stomach: Don’t get too comfortable. I’m telling my story, and you can’t stop me.