Do you find yourself jumping up to do something, anything, when you feel worried, anxious, stressed? Well, here’s a new approach, “Don’t just do something. Sit there!”
“Are you kidding? There’s too much to do! And besides, what would I do if I just sat?” At least those were some of my initial reactions when I first read this saying. It’s on one of those placards you can buy (not attributed to anyone) that I still have hanging on a doorknob in my hallway.
Worried, Anxious, Stressed and the Substance Misuse Connection
For a person who had spent years loving or living with someone who drinks too much, like myself, this was a foreign concept. I was always doing something — generally for someone else — because that’s how I tried to control the drinking or the hundreds of variations on the theme of “If” — “If I don’t _______,” or “If he doesn’t _________,” or “If she goes _________ .” My attempts to prevent the “If” event or happenstance were subconsciously triggered by my belief that preventing them might somehow prevent the trigger on the binge or the ever-so-slight move that would topple our delicately balanced Jenga tower. And when that failed [like most of the time], without my really thinking, I’d subconsciously move my angst into do something mode because that gave me a sense of being in control. [Notice the theme here - control. Check out my friend, Steve Haputman's, blog, Monkey Traps -- it's all about control.]
Something could be dusting, cleaning the frig, running errands, looking up summer jobs for my daughter on Craigslist, looking for apartments for a friend of mine, taking another walk, setting up tabbed file folders for my daughter’s upcoming trip…just something [not until later did I realize it generally was nothing anyone else had asked me to do]. Yet, all of it seemed very important to be doing.
Worried, Anxious, Stressed? Respond, Don’t React
But now I have a different approach when I get a major case of the “what if’s.” I just sit there. Sometimes I rage or cry or go numb or feel anxious or feel lonely, but I try to just sit there – at least for a few minutes until I get a better sense of what has me riled up. Am I tired? did someone say something that hurt my feelings? did I do something that I’m afraid hurt someone else’s feelings? am I worried about getting more consulting jobs? what is it?
Just sitting there gives me some time to figure out what’s really bothering me instead of taking action (any action) so that I don’t have to feel my feelings (and then I might go clean my frig ). No seriously, sometimes it’s really important to give ourselves “permission” to feel our feelings. Then, we can sort through the feelings and emotions and instead of reacting from the Limbic System, move our thought processes to the Cerebral Cortex. From there, we can think straight and respond accordingly.
Reactions are behaviors without thinking — they originate in the “emotions” and “fight-or-flight, stress-response” portions of our brain – the Limbic System. Responses are behaviors preceded by thinking — they originate in the “thinking” portions of our brain – the Cerebral Cortex.
The following is an excerpt from Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go. A friend of mine shares these kinds of slogans with a group of us via email daily. After you read it, take a moment to let it soak in. Then, the next time you feel anxious or out of control, breathe and remind yourself, “It’s okay. Don’t just do something, sit there.”
Our minds get clouded, confused. We aren’t certain what our next step should be, what it will look like, what direction we are headed.
This is the time to stop, ask for guidance, and rest. This is the time to let go of fear. Wait. Feel the confusion and chaos, and then let it go. The path will show itself. The next step shall be revealed. We don’t have to know now. We will know in time. Trust that. Let go and trust.” Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go