Most of us try to keep up appearances all the time; I’m guilty of this too. Especially now, with platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s easy to portray our best selves to the rest of the digital world. So when I was recently asked by my friend Natalie to write a guest post for her website, Second Nature Co., I wanted to try to broach a tough subject and present myself in an honest way.
Natalie runs an incredible business (check her out!) counseling clients on holistic healing and wellness and when she asked me to write for her I was thrilled. I mulled it over and decided I wanted to talk about the struggles I’ve had with control issues and anxiety. After posting, I received some interesting comments ranging from ‘Are you okay???’ to ‘That’s just what I needed to hear today’ so I wanted to share it with you all as well. I think it’s important to share this not-so-easily-shareable stuff online (as well as pictures of our dogs and food, of course) because it lends itself to creating community (rather than the exclusion I sometimes feel while checking out my friend’s sweet vacation spot or new shoes). And in the end, isn’t community what social media is about?
Would love to hear your thoughts! Here’s the post:
It’s All Under Control
I am a creature of habit. I’m always in bed by 11:00, eat my greens daily, stay active and try to keep stress at bay. I wasn’t always this healthy (here’s looking at you, college!) but over time I’ve adopted this routine because it makes me feel great – full of energy and mental clarity. But on a recent trip to Buenos Aires for a vacation with my husband (we live in Chile) I started feeling all out of sorts, fatigued, slow and panicky, and this was supposed to be my vacation! I was spending precious energy worrying about the weather, flights and money. Instead of enjoying the sites and the wonderful company, I was planning our transportation… Would we take the subway or the bus? Which was safer? Would we get back to the hotel easily? In this state I was feeling terrible physically and mentally, my heart was pounding, my hands were sweating and my mind was foggy. When I eventually calmed down I wondered what was going on. Was the healthy but strict routine I followed at home masking an underlying not-so-healthy control issue? Balance has never come easy for me; honestly I’m usually more of an extremist, obsessive kind of gal. So while the healthy living I was doing at home was obviously a good thing, the addictive, controlling nature of my approach was very clearly not. I certainly started out on the road to health with good intentions. Where had I gone wrong? So, on a sunny day last week I sat down with some Chamomile tea (caffeine makes me anxious, go figure!) and started my research.
What I found is that usually, control issues are rooted in fear. For example my problem cropped up when I was in an unfamiliar place without the usual structure and balance of daily life. In this case, my fear was that if I didn’t micro-manage every situation, I might end up with an unplanned outcome. And because I was so rigidly attached to my plan, I was scared to surrender to the possibility of something different happening along the way. The irony is of course, that my efforts to control the situation revealed the true nature of the situation as uncontrollable. Dr. Amy Johnson of ‘Tiny Buddha’ (www.tinybuddah.com) urges us to remember that surrender is not laziness, inaction or lack of planning but rather faith and acceptance that whatever happens will be okay, noting that “sometimes it’s as easy as noticing that you’re in control mode and choosing to let go – consciously and deliberately shifting into surrender energy.” From personal experience, whenever I start feeling anxious it helps to get outside and go for a run or have a conversation with friends or family. Connecting with people I trust or the outdoors always seems to lighten my mood.
When even yoga won’t get me out of a funk, meditation, visualizations and calming mantras can get me back into the present. I picture myself in a calm setting (my favorite is the ocean) and repeat a phrase like ‘let go,’ while focusing on breathing deeply.
On vacation (and more importantly, in life) plans are useful, as long as you don’t get too attached to them. You have to make your plans and then let what happens happen. That’s the tricky part. Plans should be used as an exercise to prepare you for the unknown, not as do-or-die guidelines. New friends are made in small cafes and impromptu dinner parties are enjoyed. Buses and trains are missed to allow an extra hour to discover an unknown part of town. I never would have ended up living in cabin built by my husband in the Chilean countryside if I had followed the plan I had after college but some of the most beautiful parts of life are found in the unplanned moments and their consequences. All it takes to enjoy them is the ability to let go of what we thought should happen to make way for the possibility of what could happen. As with most important lessons this one is easier said than done, especially for control freaks like me, but it’s not impossible. Learning how to surrender to the present, in all its unpredictable glory (and/or banality), is a valuable lesson I think we can all benefit from. When we’re open and receptive to whatever life decides to throw at us instead of trying to fight and constantly control outcomes we feel better, freer and at ease.
I’m currently taking my own advice and trying to work on worrying less, enjoying more and embracing both the chaos and the routine of normal life (though dirty dishes in the sink still drive me crazy).
xo – Bree