Anxiety is a giant cliff of what-if, and you always feel super close to falling off of it.
A REAL cliff is pretty scary, but the cliff in our mind is a cliff we make scary. Nothing happens if we fall off the cliff in our mind, we just make damn sure that we know what could happen if we did, and we get thoroughly freaked out about it.
The answer to this what-if cliff stuff is love. Love for ourselves, our thoughts, and our situations, no matter how stress-inducing they are.
Love allows us to see through situations that initially feel pretty scary, rather than avoid them. It allows us to look at the bigger picture of what's going on, rather than what's going on on the surface.
For example, an unfortunate car accident might mean a drastic opportunity to heighten your faith, rather than a drastic life disaster.
A blunder during a big meeting might mean an opportunity to give yourself more love, rather than bitter self-criticism.
Bad things don't happen to us because we are somehow deserving of them, or that we're going about life the wrong way, they happen to us so that we can enhance our experience of life. So we can learn a few lessons and re-teach ourselves what it means to love ourselves throughout every obstacle.
I recently teamed up with writer and artist Julia Travers to talk a little bit about how we can respond with love to scenarios that cause anxiety, fear, worry, and dejection.
It's rare that we get a glimpse into what makes another person feel anxious or worried, but in teaming up with Julia, we exchanged 3 scenarios that made us feel low on our self-worth, and each wrote a loving response to the other's fear/anxiety.
It's like we teamed up to give each other a little love for the situations that personally get the best of us, and the experience was so rewarding. Sometimes you just need to hear how another person responds with love to a situation that YOU have difficulty with, to get a different perspective on things.
I hope you'll be able to see yourself in some of these scenarios, and know you're not alone.
SCenario #1 - Julia's loving response to the comparison trap.
You try so hard in your business as a solopreneur to be the best out there in what you do, but it feels like so many people are doing so much better than you, and are scaling upward at a much faster rate. How do you stay loving towards yourself, during those times when you're feeling the 'compare and despair' creep in?
It's hard to push ourselves forward to compete without becoming complete tyrants, reigning over ourselves with uncompromising expectations. While it's important to stay abreast of your field and how others are doing, comparing the success or worth of yourself and someone else is often dangerous.
If seeing someone have a great idea urges you forward, or you have an exciting competitive edge in your personality, that's all wonderful. If you feel, like many of us sometimes do, that someone else's success hurts or diminishes you, you are getting lost in a difficult place.
In this case, I hope I would take a break to do something I enjoy- sit outside, drink coffee, play with my cat. I would breathe and feel my breath in my body. I would reflect on something I have done that I am proud of. I would relax for a bit, and return to my work when I felt ready. This image from Amy Poehler's Smart Girls is a great reminder for women in particular to celebrate each other.
SCENARIO #2 - Monique'S LOVING RESPONSE TO worries of FLEETING HAPPINESS.
You are having a wonderful, happy, amazing day. Sometimes when this happens, you are afraid something will come and interrupt your happiness, or take it away. How can you respond lovingly to this anxiety?
It's interesting how we believe the bad times will last forever, but the good times have to be so fleeting, and I can completely relate to worrying that something will come along and sabotage me when things are going so good.
However, this worry is unfounded. Nothing in our lives has ever happened, that hasn't been for our spiritual growth and evolution. When you embrace the fact that 'bad' things in life are really just our teachers, and that they actually contribute to our happiness by teaching us how to remember to love each other and ourselves, they become less of an anxiety and more of an opportunity.
In these situations, it's best to have a strong spiritual foundation within yourself, so you feel spiritually equipped to handle the bad things when they do happen. Daily self-love and spiritual practices help you remember that you are 100% deserving of happiness, good days, and sunshine, so that when you're right smack in the middle of having an amazing day, you know you're experiencing the truth about yourself (love), and that even if something bad comes along, it doesn't make you any less lovable, worthy, or deserving.
scenario #3 - Julia's loving response to rejection.
You submit your writing to a popular blogger for a guest post. You've refined your pitch and worked really hard at making the post something that the blogger's readers would enjoy - on top of everything, it's a huge blog that would get you so much exposure! But the blogger rejects your idea, and declines the post. How do you respond to yourself in a way that's more loving, rather than critical?
First of all, I would let myself be upset. I am an emotional person, and for me, yelling into or throwing pillows sometimes helps. I might cry.
I did have one experience such as this, and a month later the post was accepted by another highly credible site, which I liked even better! While this is not always the case with disappointment, sometimes things evolve in pleasing ways further on down the road. When they don't it is really hard, and that's okay.
I would say to myself: "Hey, if you weren't personally invested in your work, there would be no point in writing. It’s okay for this to suck. I'm here for you."
scenario #4 - monique's loving response to anxiety over looking good at social events.
You are going out to a social event, you love clothes, and you have an outfit in mind that you want to wear. One the day of the event, the outfit doesn’t look right, and you start to tear through your closet trying on various combinations, feeling more and more frustrated, rushed, and unable to decide or feel attractive. How can you react self-lovingly in this situation?
This has happened to me so many times! First I ask myself, who is saying the outfit I originally picked out doesn't look right? Did a friend or family member say it wasn't good enough, or was that just me?
It's important to figure out who is criticizing you before rushing into a harried state of getting ready - usually it's our own inner critic, and our own inner critic literally has nothing better to do than poke at the parts that aren't good enough, so it's best to recognize this and do your best to ignore whatever it has to say.
But if the outfit really doesn't look right to you, and you're in a mad rush to get ready, I feel it helps to compare your current closet with an empty one. Someone out there has no clothes to choose from at all. When you look at your closet from that perspective, it helps you act from a perspective of abundance, rather than lack, which helps you feel rich in the clothing that you do have.
I also sometimes find it helps to see your closet with 'new' eyes. Do this by pretending it's not even your closet at all. Sometimes we look at our clothes and get so bored of wearing the same old thing, but really, no one else notices if we're wearing the same old thing. They don't notice at all, so put on what's appropriate for the occasion and feels most comfortable, and rock that sh*t!
Scenario #5 - Julia's loving response to holiday season overwhelm.
You're absolutely overwhelmed by the holiday season. You've got dozens of people to shop for, you're low on money, and you've got events for friends and family going on every weekend till the end of the year. How do you love yourself enough to get through it, without feeling anxious and overwhelmed?
I will actively schedule breaks into my schedule. If I have 3 social events this week, I will also schedule a "me event;" an hour or two by myself to not accomplish anything. I might nap, do yoga, or just watch TV.
On the other hand, the main approach I would take is trying to let go a little. If I am have a busy holiday season, and I've signed on for a lot of activities and shopping, that's my (hopefully somewhat exciting) world right now and tensing up around it, while natural, will not make it seem less chaotic.
There are times in life when things are a bit nuts, and it's best to try to go with a flow. I will also remind myself that if I'm truly overscheduled I can say no to some events, and that while finding the right gift is a pleasure, people who really love me, love me, and not my presents. I would definitely try to remember to breathe, stay in the moment, and ride the waves. I will remember Leonard Cohen's description of a saint:
"He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance."
Scenario #6 - Monique's loving response to criticism about creative work.
You are hired to create a piece of work that requires you to use your creativity. Upon receiving the piece, the client is very dissatisfied, asks you to revise the piece, and is aggressively critical. How can you respond to the client and yourself in a professional way that also nurtures yourself?
What I usually do when I receive criticism for something I wrote especially, is take out the bits that could be true. Maybe the piece WAS too wordy or too vague. I try and remove the emotion from the situation, and try to look at the criticism as objectively as possible, so I know exactly what I need to change.
But FIRST, I usually will take a moment to hurt a little.
A lot of creativity and time goes into our work, and when someone is aggressively critical of it, it's hard to just make the changes quickly and move on.
If the time allows for it, I'll give myself a few hours to be a bit sad about it. This helps me process the hurt feelings I'll inevitably have, before putting my creative hat back on. Because if you jump right back into making revisions without giving yourself the time to heal, your revisions probably won't be as good as they could be. You might still be sour about it, and the feedback next time around might be even more critical!
So give yourself time to process the feelings before revising and responding to the client. Trust that their aggressive criticism is actually stemming from some part of them that's afraid the project is not what they expected, that it will now take longer, never be perfect, etc. A lot of times other people's criticism has nothing to do with us.
Give yourself the space to heal, make the corrections, and do your best to respond with love.
If you're still worried about some things...
These scenarios are only a small glimpse into the situations that cause us worry, panic, and anxiety, but I hope the responses we shared will help you in situations where you find yourself worried, anxious, and unlovable.
If you're still feeling like you want more loving ways to respond to anxious situations and negative self-talk, I've created 4 pages of self-love scripts for you to take with you today, for those situations where you just can't give yourself the love you need to get through it all.