A student of mine wrote to me recently and said, “I wake up every morning filled with anxiety and dread. What do I do with those feelings?”
I can so relate! Early on in this crisis, I woke up like that too!Uncertainty about what’s going to happen is such a trigger for feelings of anxiety. I feel like right around the middle of March, my ordinary life got thrown into a blender. And not just me, but pretty much everyone in the world got thrown into uncertainty. So yes, that week I woke up with a cloud of dread hanging over me. It felt awful.
We can say, “No wonder, yes of course, sure that makes sense.” But then what? As my student asked, What do we DO with those feelings?
In this episode, you’ll get my tip to bring you support when anxiety and dread challenge your inner peace.
So, when I woke up with that cloud of dread hanging over me, it felt awful.
And I have to admit, after all these years learning and teaching about feelings, my first reaction was to try to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there.
“Dread? What dread? I don’t see any dread. Do you see any dread?”
That was the way of handling feelings that I grew up with. All around me as a child I saw people who pretended they didn’t have any painful feelings.
My dad pretended he wasn’t depressed. My mom pretended she wasn’t worried about my dad. And sometimes my dad got so depressed that he took it out on me with sarcastic verbal abuse. I felt the RESULTS of his feelings. But we never talked about those feelings.So MY feelings of confusion and anxiety, I realize now, lived in a no man’s land inside me where they never fully took shape because there was no place to bring them and no vocabulary to talk about them.
In the years since then, I’ve learned so much about feelings. I’ve learned that our feelings make sense. They have real reasons. They are signals that something needs attending to.
Feelings call to us for attention. That doesn’t mean we have to express them to other people, or do any particular thing with our feelings. But we do have to attend to them, to listen to them in ourselves. Otherwise they get stuck.
And on the day that I woke up with a cloud of dread hanging over me, I have to admit that my first reaction was to not fully take in that it was there. I got in the shower, and the cloud of dread followed me… and I was doing my best to ignore it. Nothing going on here!
But later that day I was going to be doing my first free webinar on support for stressful times, in response to the crisis. I was going to be telling other people what a good idea it is to pause and feel what we feel, whatever it is.
As I thought about that, I realized, “Oh. That starts with me. Right now. What am I feeling?” That’s when the word “dread” came into my mind. Up until then, I had felt it, but I hadn’t named it.
Now here’s a funny thing. [highight]Dread is a pretty awful feeling. But naming it brought a sense of relief.[/highlight] It didn’t go away. It was still there. But somehow, it was more OK that it was there.
And I stood there in the bathroom, with my hairbrush in my hand, and said to the feeling of dread, “Hello.”
This is the moment that makes all the difference. I was no longer ignoring it. But I could have started arguing with it, dismissing it, explaining it away. And I didn’t. I just said, “hello” with interested curiosity. I wonder what it is that feels so “dreadful” right now.
There’s a crossroads right there. I could have said, “I already know. It’s obvious. There’s a pandemic. Of course I’m feeling dread. We just have to get through it.”
And instead, I was curious and interested in what in particular was bringing THIS feeling of dread, right now. That’s what I mean by respecting that our feelings have reasons.
THIS feeling has a reason and IT KNOWS the reason. And it can tell me, if I’m patient, and curious.
After a moment, I got it. It was the feeling that something unknown and awful was hanging over us, unpredictable and uncontrollable, a surge, a peak of infections. Ah, that’s it! And then I acknowledged it. I said, to the feeling, “I get it. That’s what the dread is about. I hear you.”
And the feeling relaxed! You know the feeling you get when you tell a good friend your troubles, and they hear you, so you’re not alone with it any more? That’s how it felt. It’s not so bad, it’s a trouble shared, I’m not alone any more.
Right there in front of the bathroom mirror!
So here’s my tip for you today. No matter how bad you are feeling — anxiety, anger, grief, whatever it is — when YOU hear it, it’s not so bad. Your feelings make sense. They’re here for a reason.
And maybe your feelings do lead to action. Maybe you’ll stand up with others and make your voice heard. It will be easier to do that if you don’t dismiss and disrespect your own feelings. After all, respect starts inside us and radiates out from there.
Do you want to have more of my tips for calm in the midst of stress? Get my free e-course, Get Bigger Than What’s Bugging You here. In five simple lessons, you’re well on your way to responding differently to the triggers of life.So here’s to you… having a more peaceful life.