You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. My dog is 16 years old .. 87 in human years and he is always learning new things. Humans, too, can learn, adapt and change … even dramatically. I know this from reading and absorbing the science of the brain and neuroplasticity and from witnessing and observing myself and others. If we are open, we can change. Individually and systemically.
My habit is to live excessively in my thoughts, focusing on the past and the future. Today I worked hard at observing my thoughts instead of getting carried away with them. When a thought comes that is not productive, I often move my body, sigh or shake it off … other times I proactively stop myself and say: “Nope, this isn’t what I want to be thinking of right now.” Pausing to focus on my breath many times throughout the day really helps with this entire exercise. As when in Yoga, making the breath louder than the thoughts can really bring a lot of relief.
ACTION: SELF-COMPASSION This morning I woke up feeling the tail end of a cold. I was very stuffed up, coughing, and feeling tired. I had planned to go to Yoga and then go into the city to meet with the mentee of a colleague. I wasn’t feeling well enough for a rigorous Yoga class considering how much fluid was in my head and how runny my nose was. My old habit would have been to soldier on and go to Yoga anyway because it was my routine and because I didn’t want to miss my favorite teacher’s class. But because I am working on self-compassion and self-acceptance, I decided to get a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) massage instead. I have been feeling excess tension in my body ever since that difficult car ride last week and since the onset of my cold, and the massage did wonders to unlock and release a lot of it.
REACTION: THOUGHTS The primary habit I am working on changing right now is managing my anxiety more effectively and proactively. As I have shared on this blog, I have lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember, but I have only been intimately aware of my trauma-induced reactions in the past decade or so. My first symptom: getting panicky and frozen at work in situations where I was being evaluated by authority figures.
For example, one time I was on a conference call with higher-ranking executives, and when asked to weigh in, I started speaking in a very unnatural way. One could even say I was babbling. I was disembodied … I could hear myself from far away but couldn’t get to the center of my own words. It was simultaneously terrifying and embarrassing. Afterward, I had to go find my husband and ask him to hug and hold me. I needed to get back into my body.
When I had to present in front of groups around a long boardroom table, I managed to do really well thanks to hours of rehearsal and prep. In-person was always easier for me because I could make eye contact, joke around and use my body to engage the other people in the room and therein create a sense of community and not just focus on myself. Over time, I had convinced myself that my anxiety was situational. I thought I was triggered because it was a toxic environment and that if I left I’d flourish elsewhere.
What types of hormones are cortisol and adrenaline?
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
But that didn’t happen. I discovered that my adrenaline and cortisol responses stayed with me not only in more neutral work settings but that they even came up when I am not working (or should I say when I am working less). All it takes is for me to think about the uncertainty of my current employment and income situation and my gut floods with fearful fluids. They could just pop up based on my thoughts. Today, I can tell when one of the adrenaline/cortisol surges is coming on and sometimes I can even stop it. This is new. I am learning a new habit of self-mastery. I am grateful for teaching, as painful as the lesson has been.
ACTION – BREATHING Today I stopped to do intentional breathing several times. No matter what path I take going forward – personal or professional – I will sustain this practice.
ACTION – MINDFULNESS I have read and heard about mindfulness for years and years but never quite absorbed it. It’s starting, at last, to resonate.
ACTION – JOURNALING The feeling I have in this moment, at 9:34 pm is one of calmness and balance. My nervous system is in the rest and digest state and I will be off to sleep in a couple of hours. I feel a natural settling. I want to read and then go to sleep. The new habit/routine I am cultivating is not watching hours of TV at night and continuing to write in my journal even though I really want to just collapse into bed. Processing thoughts through journaling is very healing and helps us integrate our emotions and insights.
I am proud of myself for my persistence and how I keep showing up over and over. Practice and letting go.