Anxiety, Mindfulness, and Learning to Relax: Part 2

By | March 6, 2019

**This is a follow-up post to Anxiety, Mindfulness, and Learning To Relax, Part 1**

If you read the post, “Anxiety, Mindfulness, and Learning to Relax”, you know that I promised to write a follow-up post to let you know how my day ended up.

I’m happy to report that I was, indeed, able to relax AND have some fun!

Win-win, eh?!

SPRING CLEANUP

The first order of the day was to participate in our condo complex’s spring cleanup extravaganza. I had been looking forward to helping out until I got invited to a major league baseball game. My first thought then was that I couldn’t help because I wouldn’t be there for most of it.

But then I thought, “That’s ridiculous. I can help for half an hour and then leave. It’s not like anyone is keeping track. There are no rules!” (I have to tell myself that a lot, as I tend to be a rule-follower as well as a rule-maker. Perfectionism is another of my downfalls.)

Fear of looking like a suck-up to the HOA Board and of looking like I wasn’t pulling my weight led to some anxiety, but I was intent on helping. I tried to tell myself that it’s really none of anyone’s business what my reason is for doing anything, but I already felt guilty about not having time to do more.

At exactly 9:00 a.m., I joined about eight other homeowners in the courtyard and started chatting. I felt the need to explain and justify my early exit, so as not to look like a taker rather than the giver I actually am. (One of my many theories is that people who constantly justify their actions/thoughts/beliefs usually feel guilty about them, even if they are perfectly reasonable. Therefore, they feel the need to justify themselves to others [and themselves], rather than simply doing what they need to do unapologetically and moving on.)

COFFEE TALK

Being with a small group of strangers can only mean one thing: The dreaded small talk.

As I stated Sunday, I don’t enjoy small talk. Mindless banter is pointless to me, and painful. But my goal was to be more present, more focused on the moment so I could relax and enjoy myself.

Well, it worked.

Normally, when I feel uncomfortable around someone, my brain kicks into this mode of, “Okay, what should I say next? I want them to like me, think I’m interested and think I’m a nice person, but my God this is so inconsequential!” So my mind wanders. I’m not paying attention to them. Or I am, but their words go in one ear and right out the other.

Instead of falling into my typical pattern this time, I made sure to actually be in the moment. I felt the crisp, cool, early-morning air on my skin, and I noticed the beautiful blue sky and the sounds of the birds. I noticed the people around me.

Once I joined the crowd gathered by the coffee and baked goods (no cream-filled, chocolate-covered donuts, but I did help myself to a chocolate chunk cookie), I greeted our across-the-hall neighbor (a very nice woman who also happens to be the president of the HOA) with a genuine smile. But as she introduced me to the group, my brain fizzled. She was going way too fast for me!

I did catch some of the names, I was finally able to put a name to a vaguely familiar face, and met one of the few people in my building I had not met up to that point. And everyone was very pleasant. Lots of smiles, handshakes, and greetings of “welcome to the neighborhood”. So that was good.

My brain came back to life, and I practiced active listening so I could get back in the moment. Rather than allow my fear and anxiety to take over and start telling me that they were all judging me and what could I say to sound friendly, intelligent, and competent, I focused on my across-the-hall neighbor, who acted as “captain” for our building, as she explained our goals and gave some suggestions to get there. I was even able to engage in a little small talk myself!

I spent the next half-hour sweeping out our shared garage, grateful to be getting a little exercise for a change. By the time I had to leave, three more people from my building were helping.

And you know what? It was all good. I didn’t feel uncomfortable (except when I was being introduced to so many people at once) and my worry mechanism was switched to ‘off’. I was mindful of my environment and the people around me, and it all worked out. I felt accepted and productive. All good things.

THE GAME

So the Twins played the Red Sox at Target Field on Sunday. I love baseball, but I’d only been to two games since I moved to Minnesota in late 2003. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, I had a mini-season ticket plan and could frequently be found at the Oakland Coliseum, which was only a very short trip on the BART train. I loved it.

Anyway, it was just me and my friend, Lindsay, but she knew the guys sitting in front of us and the woman to her left from softball. So she had plenty of people to chat with. That was fine with me because I don’t necessarily need to talk a lot. I’m one of those people who actually likes to watch the game – I don’t go to socialize (I think I’ve already established that).

So it was perfect. We sat in the home run deck. My only complaint is that the bleachers are really hard on the ass. My butt needed a break after only an inning and a half. Of course, it didn’t help that our starting pitcher gave up eight runs in the first two innings…the top of the second lasted forever!

But I digress.

When Lindsay invited me to the game a week ago, I decided to fully commit. I gave myself no “out”. A lot of the time, I’ll give a noncommittal response to an invitation: “Maybe,” “I’m planning on it,” and “That would be fun” are responses I regularly use.

See, I pretty much feel like I don’t matter, so it doesn’t matter if I follow through on my commitments. I mean, really, who cares? (Yes, I know – that’s the sick part of my brain doing the talking.)

I don’t like flaking out on people at the last minute, but I admit that I do it on a somewhat regular basis. Why? I always thought I had problems with commitment, but I’ve come to realize that it has more to do with my anxiety than anything else.

So, this time, I told myself that I was going to this game, period. No excuses. And you know what happened? I noticed a lack of pressure on myself all week. The old me would feel nervous about committing to something a week in advance. My mind would instantly start playing tricks on me, worrying about what would happen if I had a bad day and didn’t want to go. Or what if I was going to be depressed in a week? I would spend an inordinate amount of time and energy coming up with a good excuse to keep in my back pocket if needed.

But how can I commit to anything if I’m busy looking for a way out, “just in case”?

Exactly – I can’t. When I’m too busy expecting the worst, it’s impossible to experience the joy of being present and maybe, just maybe, having some fun.

That sucks.

So I went with an open mind and an open heart. And I had a good time. I consciously reminded myself (several times) that the weather was beautiful, we had great seats, I was with a good friend, and I love baseball. What wasn’t to like?

CONCLUSIONS

My willingness to take part in life and expect good things to happen has actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve been practicing mindfulness (and, by default, willingness) consciously for a week straight, and only good things have happened. I’ve been able to follow through with commitments, I’ve socialized quite a bit, my anxiety has diminished, and I’ve actually had some fun.

All this adds up to a few very important things: More respect for myself, less moodiness, less negativity, less shame and guilt about not following through, and more self-confidence. And all of those things just serve to reinforce themselves.

Lesson definitely learned.

Notes to self:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Notice everything at this moment.
  3. Strive to be right here, right now. Pack your worries up for another time.
  4. Be willing to try new things.
  5. Stop letting fear run your life.
  6. Participate in life, don’t just watch it fly by, afraid you’re too fragile to be a part of it.
  7. You don’t have to expect the worst all the time.

I will definitely be practicing mindfulness on a more consistent basis from now on – because practice makes permanent. And the results are worth it.

Please share the love!

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