For many years, unbeknownst to be, I had a low level of anxiety. It showed up in shyness, fear of public speaking (remember those speeches with index cards you had to give in 6th grade?), and worrying. It also manifested in perfectionism. I was always striving to be the best, and it was so upsetting when I didn’t live up to my own expectations. As I grew older, and especially after the difficulty of my daughter’s birth, anxiety began to show itself clearly to me, especially with fear of flying.
Fortunately, I had tools to work with: yoga, meditation, breath work, and chanting. I had been a psychotherapist for a number of years, and had some cognitive-behavioral skills. They helped a lot, but just temporarily. It was when I took my energy work class for the first time that I began to understand embodiment and its role in calming emotions. I also connected with a couple spiritual teachers that deepened my practices and brought about real transformation for me. Over the past 8 years, I’ve synthesized my discoveries into the 7 keys in the book. For myself and my clients, these keys truly shift us out of stress and anxiety into more calm and confidence.
Many people who write deal with overwhelming anxiety—especially when it comes to sharing that writing with other people. What are some of the tools you teach your readers for overcoming anxiety and accessing that calm?
First of all, when we feel anxiety, we’re not in the present moment. We’re usually worrying about what might happen in the future, or ruminating over something that happened in the past. In this moment, right now, what is actually happening? Probably sitting in a chair reading this. So it’s essential to come into the present moment, as it is, without telling ourselves anxiety-producing stories in our mind.
And that brings up the second issue: we usually aren’t feeling the emotion—we’re thinking it. Anxiety and stress are perpetuated by our thoughts. That’s why it often feels like it increases when we feel it. We’re re-running the same anxiety-producing thoughts over and over, and of course it doesn’t improve.
Emotions are not actually thoughts, although thoughts can produce them, and emotions can stimulate thought. Emotions are visceral, bodily experiences. So when we have an emotion like worry or fear, it is much more helpful to feel the physical sensations of it. How is your breath? What do you feel in your stomach? Your jaw? Are you hot or cold? What is the overall sensation in the body? There are many questions we can ask ourselves to explore the physical experience of emotion. Then, I explain a process of how to allow that emotion to move through you, like a wave. There’s a lot more to it, but those are the basics.
When we’re able to be in the present moment, feeling our sensations in the body with self-compassion and patience, they have an opportunity to release. Then, we can look at what is actually right here in front of us—maybe the page or computer screen. We can allow ourselves to begin again, in that moment, to write. Let it be whatever it is, whether it’s brilliant, total crap, or something in between. Give yourself permission to simply write, and whenever the emotions arise again, stop to be present, feel your body, and be compassionate toward yourself. Those are some of the keys in my book and are great tools to have on the spot when that anxiety arises.
I know you juggle work and parenting with writing. What are some tools you have used to get writing done?
When my daughter was very young, it was really hard. I squeezed in time when she napped or after bed at night. I chose to make it a priority. But now since she’s in school, I set aside time during the day during school hours.
I find that I’m really effective in 1-hour chunks. I schedule it on my calendar (otherwise, it never happens!), and I set a timer. Usually 45 minutes or an hour, and then I stop. I might take a break and come back to it, or just be done for the day. I’m amazed at how much I can write in an hour when I put that time aside and know that I just have that one hour today.
When I sit down and write, I go ahead and write, even if I think that it’s worthless. I keep that agreement with myself. Sometimes, it turns out unexpectedly good. And even when it doesn’t flow and sounds like a mess, I usually find that when I go back to that passage later, I’m able to sift a few gems out of it. Even bad writing can spark some helpful ideas for better passages. So it’s always worth writing, no matter how it goes.
What are you reading now?
I’m usually reading bits of several things at once – there are so many amazing books out there! Right now I’m in the middle of Ask and It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks (the Abraham teachings). It keeps my thoughts on track with creating what I want in my life. I’m also greatly enjoying What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young. He’s my teacher of deep nature connection practices. It’s delightful how connected I feel to the planet when I spend time listening, watching, and immersing in the birds in my own backyard. They have so much to teach us.
Original post found here.