Have you ever left a conversation or an event thinking, “Ugh, here’s what I should have said or done…” and then spent the next few hours to days rehashing these “shoulds” in your head?
Despite our best intentions to just let these thoughts go, they whirl back around like an amusement park carousel, and if you truly paid attention at the content of these thoughts, you’d laugh at their carousel-horse predictability: Here comes the one with black hair and gray spots! There’s the one with flowers in her hair.
What’s funny when we’re worried is that we think the thoughts we’re thinking are new. Each time the same thought comes around, we sit with rapt attention.
Consider the second time your relative tells the same story at the family reunion because you heard it but Uncle Eric hasn’t. You mentally check out during the second telling. Your brain goes, “Already heard it! Don’t need to hear it again,” so you leave to get iced tea.
The tolerance we have for our own anxious story lines is impressive. And it’s incredibly disruptive. Not only do these thoughts keep us in the past or in an imagined future, but they physiologically pump our body with the stress hormone cortisol, leading to fatigue, irritability, and hours where the only thing you can think about is eating sweets. This last aspect of stress is most unfair (and unfortunately, delicious).
Quelling worries about the things we are not
A week ago, my fiancé and I had our engagement photos taken. Now, I prefer “real life” shots to posed shots, so I found an amazing photographer who does just that. We planned our outfits and locations and I did my makeup (and of course got a huge pimple the day before) and off we went, cavorting about downtown Denver with our own personal paparazzi.
Evan and I are goofy. We’re not capable of posing in such a way that warrants our photos a prime spot on a wedding blog. I mean, we ended up having an unplanned vegan ice cream cone food fight.
When we came home, I started to have silly thoughts such as: Why did I have my purse with me for that shot? I should have turned that way or this way or stopped smiling so gosh darn much so we could be like those other couples’ photos I stalked on Pinterest!
I had these thoughts over and over. I was thinking them the next day and the day after that until they wore out their welcome and something else replaced their presence on the worry train. Chugga chugga chugga.
The autobiographies we write each day of our lives are marred with picking apart the past or wishing for a different outcome, the unsettling notion of aiming to be someone we are not. The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture widely quoted in the yoga community, has something different to say about the type of stories we should be writing about ourselves:
“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
In the spirit of living your own destiny imperfectly, it’s best to stop the worried, anxious thoughts fast, rather than let them steal the show when you’re trying to sleep or work. Once you get a handle on these kinds of worries, you’re well on your way to overcoming self-doubt.
So here are five things I commit to doing whenever the worries strike. Well, not all five at once. I pick one, depending on the day or time of day.
Stop worrying, 5 ways
- Look up at the moon.
Or the stars, or any celestial twinkling that is obvious from your sky, and get lost for a moment in the fact that you are a literal blink in the life of the total universe and galaxies and all the unseen matter living well beyond your worries. Do not feel insignificant because of this. Feel privileged to be a participant. And know that there is so much beyond your mind left to experience, so why spend another moment on the same-old worries?
- Pull a card.
Whether it’s Medicine Cards, my personal favorite, or The Wild Unknown tarot, or any other deck of cards that holds meaning for you in your life, address your worry out loud and get tangible advice with a card. The card may not solve anything for you, but it might change your perspective. Whenever I need to table a worry with guidance, I use the ritual of pulling a Medicine Card. Just reading the description and intuiting its message helps me to move on from the stuckness in my mind.
- Walk the dog… or just walk.
Walk relatively fast. Walk without headphones or cell phones. Strap on your shoes and walk a path you’ve not tried before. Focus on one foot in front of the other, and when the worries start to bubble and you’re tempted to use this time to solve them, instead notice the leaves on the trees or the cracks in the sidewalk. Something, anything physical and outside of yourself.
- Practice Standing Forward Bend.
Stand on your two feet, bend your knees and bend forward over your legs. Let your arms hang (or hold opposite elbows if more comfortable) and experience the weight in the front of your feet. Let your neck relax completely. Loosen your abdomen so you can take deep breaths in and out, slowing down the breath. Imagine on every exhale that your worries are dripping like beads of water out of the crown of your head and into the thirsty ground. Stay for at least a minute.
- Call up a friend or chat with a loved one.
The purpose of this call is not to discuss your worry. It’s to chat about your friend or loved one. How are they doing? What’s going on in their life? One of the quickest ways to get perspective from your worries is to talk with someone else. This brief departure from your mind helps you access your heart, turning on the vagus nerve bundle, which is your physical head-heart connection and source of compassion. Compassion for another helps you to feel the same for yourself.
Most likely, none of these things are new to you. However, the idea of putting them into practice might be. It’s difficult to shake up your worried routine because most likely you don’t notice it. Greater peace of mind happens incrementally. Like working up to a daunting yoga asana, it all starts with simple action.
This week, do one of the above practices when you find your mind racing in worry. As a complement to your step-by-step action, practice the following yoga pose.
Half Locust Pose, Ardha Salabhasana
The idea of lifting both your legs up so high that your feet come clear over your hips is, well, challenging for most of us. Start working toward this action with Half Locust Pose, which lifts one leg at a time. Being content with this pose — and all yoga postures — starts in the mind, not in how the body looks.
- Lie on your stomach and place your chin (or forehead if more comfortable) on the mat. Bring your legs hip distance apart.
- Reach your arms, palms face down, underneath you. Your arms will find the space inside the bony points of the pelvis, so there’s not bone crushing on bone. Plant down through your palms, which, depending on your arms’ length, are planted below the thighs.
- Exhale and keep the upper body soft and heavy to the ground. Inhale and engage your right glutes and inner thigh, lifting the right leg straight up. Stay to breathe in and out for a couple breaths as you point the foot, yet flex the toes and reach back and up through the whole inner right leg. Exhale and return the leg to the mat. Inhale and switch sides, reaching left leg up.
- Switch sides, holding each for a few breaths, then relax both legs down. Walk your arms out from underneath you and press back into Child’s Pose if comfortable.