I’m sitting in my fave coffee bar in Asheville, NC, (OK, it’s a double decker bus) drinking a perfect cup of coffee, at the beginning of a month long vacation. You’d think I’m totally relaxed, breathing in the smells of the local brew and yummy desserts. But I’m not. I’m consumed with worry, sick to my stomach and I can’t even dig into the amazing apple muffin. (Don’t worry – I am a stress eater, after the panic passed, I enjoyed every last yummilicious crumb) So instead of happy vacation thoughts, negative words buzz in my brain as I contemplate the possible payback for my reality break. What if I lose momentum? What if I can’t write anymore? What is hubby doing at home? Are the birds OK? Is the dog eating? Is he calling to gripe again? Doesn’t he know I’m on vacation?
It isn’t like I don’t have projects waiting once I get home. I have plenty, a whole back up of blog posts and story ideas for those lit mags. I am thinking about deadlines, and wondering if I need to go back to the hotel and write something awesome for my fans. (yes you, my lovely, lovely people)
The cacophony (I know, but I’m liking the sound of that word right now) inside my head robs me of the pleasure most normal people would be experiencing. It takes a lot of effort to appreciate the feel of the sun on my skin, (burning my thighs as I sit on the concrete benches) and the deliciously oversized cup of organic, local coffee. Do I really want to spoil a trip that I worked so hard to make happen? This is a once in a lifetime, three generational, all girls trip. How can I calm my over-anxious soul?
Guess what. I might not be able to…anxiety is genetic. That’s right. You heard it here on Morning Beans. A 2015 study of multiple generations of rhesus monkeys published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found evidence that 35% of brain changes associated with anxiety were genetically linked. So, when you grow up in a house where your parent(s) are experts at activating that stress response, it gets filed away in the back of that deep filing cabinet in your mind. Now, no finger pointing at my own mom (I think she did a great job with me- after all, I’m perfect, right?) but she will probably tell you she was a tad overprotective. She worried about it all. But I see the history. I come from a long line of worrying Jewish mothers.) Thanks to them, panic attacks and worry for my own kids became a natural occurrence. I really worry most about myself. But, here’s the good news, regardless of my DNA, the study showed that I am capable of becoming a calm, rational, relaxed human being. And not only alone on the beach in Sanibel with a glass of wine and an awesome sunset.
In 2016, some Swedish researchers did brain imaging studies of people with social anxiety disorder both before and after a nine-week program of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Great news! The test subjects who did CBT reported less stress. They were able to change their negative, stress-inducing thoughts to positive ones. There was no change in people who didn’t do the therapy. So now, I’m game to learn how to talk myself down from the ledge, preferably before I waste vacation days. The CBT has four basic strategies. Since I’m already headed on the right track with all that mindful meditation, I’ve nothing to lose. (It works by the way.)
First, be mindful and live in the present. Stop, I saw you roll your eyes. This works, honest. Life is a series of moments, and if you stay in the moment, and make the moment matter, you are making your life matter. It’s all about being present and aware. Don’t worry in advance, it helps nothing. Try and stay in the beautiful, pleasing “now.”
Second, keep an open mind – widen your perspective. If you believe something awful will occur, you’ll feel stressed out. Instead, try to envision multiple views of a future event, some of them positive. I remembered that today actually. I spent an hour doing my hair, and the weather called for thunderstorms. (I know, it’s Florida- I should be used to it by now) Ok, not the end of the world you’re thinking, but I rarely do my hair. I’m a writer for goodness sakes! I took a deep breath, and forced myself to come up a better outlook. Maybe it won’t rain after all, the forecasts here are wrong a lot of the time. That feels kind of bogus. I care, a bit. OK, I tried this: If it rains, hopefully I will be inside. My hair might frizz, but at least I won’t have to start from scratch. 20 minutes is better than an hour. OK, I prepared the straightener. I let the worry dissipate a little. And it did rain, but I was lucky enough to be home and cozy and writing already.
Like all champion worrywarts, I don’t only worry about myself. I also worry about my loved ones. Like my husband. As much as I hate him, I love him. He was at home, alone with my middle son, while I was gallivanting around the country on a road trip. I worry that he’s mad at me because I went on this trip without him, even though he encouraged me to go. I worry about other things, that he’ll have another heart attack and drop dead prematurely. I worry that he will flip the car when he whips around curves or floors it on 95. Yes, he drives that fast. OK. I stop. I breathe. He is a miracle of modern medicine- here longer than promised by the cardiac surgeon. That “pack your family into a Winnebago and travel around because you have only a year, if you’re lucky,” has turned into 8 years. I acknowledge that my husband is in pretty good health. He works out (sometimes), and has more energy than me. I think about the longevity in his family. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I let this positive thought sink in, and get in the car heading to the next destination.
Lastly, start practicing looking forward to things. Upcoming events, milestones, even a trip to Publix. My grandmother (may she rest in peace) loved the Yiddish saying Keneina Hora, which roughly translates to “don’t tempt the evil eye.” She used it whenever I said anything at all about my future. Maybe she worried because my dad passed away so young and didn’t get to realize his dreams. It seems that in many cultures, it’s considered smart to expect the worst. Then, magic happens, and that worst thing doesn’t happen. This hits home for me but really the opposite is true. Better things will happen if you expect good things. Plant a few positive ideas in your brain. Reach for those positive notes. That is selective thinking, which leads to positive thinking.
OK, back to Asheville. We start walking down the boho shop lined streets, and maybe it’s the exercise and the fresh air, but I think I left some of that worry back by the Double D Dessert Café. We wander around until we are hungry, and find a great place to have dinner. As I pull up a seat, I realize I’m not particularly worried about anything, not work, money, not even my husband, who, I’m sure, is safe, healthy and online at home. Instead, I’m fully in the moment, feeling incredibly grateful for everything, especially the delicious food in front of me. I can’t wait to dig in. Bon Appetit and remember to think positive, and life will be positive.
Stay Motivated and Caffeinated! 😉☕