The other day I was leaving a local event when I encountered three young children on the corner of a quiet neighborhood selling lemonade from their homemade stand. I smiled to myself. I continued my short journey home and upon entering my own area, I drove by yet another such lemonade stand. This time my eyes filled with tears for the innocence of it. For the next few days my mind kept steering back to the image of those sweet little kids and their entrepreneurial zeal. I basked in the vision of them.
Later that week the real horror of the destruction that consumed Lahaina on Maui became apparent. Lives destroyed. I thought of the ongoing devastation to Ukraine, other horrifying issues which the 24/7 news cycles blasts our way. It can feel overwhelming; the power of the bad news headlines insistent upon grabbing our attention. Oftentimes I even worry about our country’s ability to sustain our democracy. When I let those thoughts run away in my head, Ken manages to talk me down. Anyway, the purity of the lemonade stands moved me so much that I began telling my friends about them. Invariably they’d grin and exclaim, “Well there’s still lemonade stands!” Meaning that in the face of all the negativity in the world there is still purity. I believe that!!
If you too find yourself feeling anxious I think a trick is to practice getting our “calm” on; managing our thoughts and being mindful of where we allow our thoughts to stray. One of my all time heroes is author David Rock in his book Your Brain at Work. He writes: “The human brain likes to wander, it is like a sniffing puppy!”
Ever since my husband, Ken, received his diagnosis of advanced heart failure and the changes it brings to him, he has become proficient at practicing mindfulness to stop himself from over thinking it. He favors reciting the Serenity Prayer to himself, especially the line “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..” He challenges himself to concentrate his energy on the life paths still open to him.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, and becoming aware of where our thoughts have meandered. It requires that we are conscious and aware — that we learn to choose our response instead of simply reacting
When we feel our thoughts escalating out of control we can work to contain them by purposefully bringing to mind something positive; we can exercise; we can celebrate being alive; and we can focus on what is right with the world. Years ago, in my Interpersonal Relationship class I had a very stressed out middle-aged woman who had endured decades of therapy regarding her serious “mommy issues.” When my assignment required the students to write on “What is Right with Your Life,” she had an epiphany! She confided to me that she had spent the last thirty years focusing on what was wrong with her life. At the end of the semester she whispered to me in private that that assignment helped her more than all the therapy she ever had put together! Whew! That was a lot to say to me, but it speaks to the power of positive thinking and how important it is to take control of our thoughts.
I think we humans are brave. Fight or Flee is built into our brains. We are absolutely wired to action: but who do we fight? Where do we flee? Really, there’s often nowhere to flee nor anyone to fight, so many of us feel plagued by anxiety. It is normal to have some anxiety. Change and stepping out of our comfort zones can sometimes elicit some profound discomfort, but it can also bring growth. Meeting the new situation head-on can oftentimes dispel that uncomfortable reaction. It is human to experience all this. Maybe we can do better by working to control our wayward, perhaps catastrophic thoughts. We can find realistic ways to manage and live with our anxiety.
So tell me, what is right with you? In what ways are you thriving? How do you get a handle on your own anxiety? I would love to hear what you are thinking. In the meantime keep your eyes peeled for those corner lemonade stands.My best, donna