I spent most of my life as a perfectionist, a habit that led to episodes of anxiety and self-imposed physical symptoms over the years. I've slowly allowed myself to relinquish this label in recent years, but it's an ongoing process. Here are the techniques I've found that successfully ground me in minutes when things start to feel out of my control.
If I'm at my desk at work when I start feeling overwhelmed, I'll begin hunching my shoulders closer to the computer monitor, causing me to take shallower breaths, heightening my feelings of anxiety. When I notice this happening, I sit up straight and drop my shoulders. I then take three slow, deliberate belly breaths. I can improve the rest of my day without even getting up from my desk!
No one accomplishes anything by trying to do everything at once. If looking at my multiple endless to-do lists feels paralyzing, I focus on this question from David Allen's Getting Things Done system: "What's the next action?"
When we feel stressed about potential outcomes, we're experiencing our fight or flight response, which is built in to the most ancient part of our brain to protect us from danger. Unfortunately, facing deadlines in our modern age is not quite the same as facing a tiger! When I notice I'm worrying, I take a moment to thank my thoughts for their noble purpose, acknowledging they're there to protect me. I then remind myself how few of the things I worry about come to be, and how ineffective worrying is in preventing them anyway.
I use my drive home from work as a time to decompress with calming music or silence. I stay present by challenging myself to notice one new thing on my usual route, or by taking a different route. These activities force me to pay attention!
After arriving home, the weight of personal responsibilities, household tasks, and the immediate need to get dinner on the table can feel crushing. I take a deep breath and focus on my daughter for a few minutes instead of rushing to mark items off the to-do list. The simple joy I feel appreciating a moment with my daughter puts into perspective what the most important things in my life really are.
If I have time after my daughter is in bed, I take a warm bath. Even if it's only for 10 minutes, I feel more centered and calm.
As I lie in bed before falling asleep, I take a minute to silently identify and express gratitude for a few things in my day and life I'm thankful for. Focusing on how much I have, rather than how much I have to do, reminds me that whatever happens, I'll be okay.
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