In Depth: No Really. Stop.

In Depth: No Really. Stop.

This is a series on Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” For more on that, check out this post.

Guidepost 8: Calm and Stillness (letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle)

It might have been around this guidepost when I realized that Dr. Brown was personally attacking me. Actually me. This book was written at me, I swear. I mean, play and rest and also calm and stillness? But… laundry!

When I think about using calmness instead of anxiety to address situations, I tend to laugh because it isn’t my natural state. I have an anxiety disorder, I was born anxious. The first thing I learned about my infant self was that I cried a lot. All day, all night. I was an anxious infant. It amazes me how much of my lifetime of reactions are based in anxiety. I know I’m not alone. While most of us don’t have a full blown anxiety disorder, responding too the world as though everything is a threat is such a common narrative in our society I don’t think we question it anymore.

There are lots of frightening things on the news, on our social media feeds, and in our daily lives. My kid does shooter drills at school, the world is possibly going to choke to death on plastic, and I am not even going to address politics. There’s lots to be scared of. The point of this guidepost isn’t to tell us not to be afraid, but to allow us to focus on how we respond to things. Respond, not react, is the name of the game here.

Imagine how it might be different if we responded to fears and threats instead of reacted to them. In my personal life I see the benefits over and over. My dog barks all night and I get a note from an anonymous neighbor. My reaction is one of shame and fear–fear they’ll have my dog arrested (not kidding i was totally afraid of that), fear they’ll judge me (ironically, they already have), fear of not being good enough to own a home or have a dog or even exist. That’s always my first feeling–I suck. So if I had reacted, I might have asked around, figured out who it was, and acted in defensiveness and not out of my integrity.

Instead, I threw the note away and took time and space to think about how I wanted to handle the problem. I sat quietly, still, thinking about the deep shame I feel when someone tells me I did something wrong. I thought about how hard my life has been the last year or so, and offered myself the compassion and empathy I wished the anonymous neighbor would have. I got some backup support from friends. Then I did some research to try to figure out how to fix a barking dog (he is not fixed but he might be less annoying now). I’ve gained so much here: I’ve helped my dog, I’ve offered kindness to myself, and in theory I’ve helped the pained neighbor have less annoyance in their lives. I feel worthy even when criticized. That alone is pretty magical.

This approach is fairly new to me. I’m a reactive person, I freak out in shame and anxiety all the time. I did this time, too! But the difference now is that I take the time, find the stillness, and figure out how to respond calmly rather than in the state of dysregulated panic I feel at first. I’ve spent a lot of time making things worse when I’m upset. Learning to take the stillness time to figure out what’s up and then respond calmly helped me be in my integrity much more often.

What do you need to take this space to let anxiety not be a lifestyle choice? How can you respond to life with equanimity and grace instead of reactivity and fear? Things are scary, that’s true, and upsetting and may even cause shame. Can you find this stillness in you to come back in alignment with your values instead of your shame and fear before you act? Imagine if we all did! What a world that would be.