5 Lessons for Coping With Anxiety: Menasheh’s Metaphors #2

5 Lessons for Coping With Anxiety: Menasheh’s Metaphors #2

Menasheh’s Metaphors is a series I cooked up during one of my first creative explosions as I was brainstorming what I would write about on my blog. I wrote the first installment, which you can find here (link to #1), and then nothing more came to mind. It’s as though, for the last few weeks, I’ve gone through a creative thinking drout. Do you ever go through seasons of life where you feel completely numb? Usually for me, this is a sign that I’m not coping with anxiety very well.

When this happens to me, it’s hard to come up with ideas, let alone experience that strike of inspiration. And if I do dig up something, it’s likely to be lackluster and void of true emotion and inspiration. So I rarely write reflective articles when I’m in seasons like this because they wouldn’t be any good to read anyway!

But today, inspiration struck. And as with so many times, it came like a whisper on the wind. Nothing earth-shattering. No explosion of strong emotions. The profundity of this moment was in its simplicity. In stillness and silence, my mind finally had a chance to speak.

 

Stillness and silence? With a toddler? How?

I know, right?!! There is barely a moment of silence now days. My apartment is usually ringing with his squeaks, hollars, lip trills, and the endless string of, “Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma!!”

Well, he slept.

He hadn’t taken a morning nap, and by the time I got a chance to nurse him this afternoon, he was so tired he dozed off within five minutes. I looked down from my phone to see his head tilted back into the crook of my arm, mouth open, face completely relaxed. What a beautiful sight! My heart melted!!

But intstead of just savoring the moment there in my office chair, my mind started racing with items on my to-do list. All I could think about was sneaking him into his crib without him waking up so that I could take an uninterrupted stab at my long list of chores.

As soon as I stood up from the chair, I felt his muscles twitch. Instinctively, I knew he wasn’t ready to be left alone in his crib. But I was so desperate to get on with my to-do’s that I continued toward the nursery in denial. The more I felt his body tense, the more impatience welled up. That frantic, shaky feeling of panic started to take over. By the time I started to bend over the crib rail, he was waking up. By this point my heart was thumping fast and I felt shaky. Instead of bringing him back to my arms, I sped up the decent into the crib, and five inches from the mattress, those eyes popped open, brooding with indignation.

“Maaaaaaaaaa! Maamaaaamaaaam!”

At this point, I usually call it quits, muttering, “Good grief! I give up!” We hike back to the living room and I deposit him on his play mats with some toys.

 

Sometimes defeat comes as a blessing…

But today, something shifted. I felt a different kind of emotion in response to this frustratingΒ  twist. Instead of impatience, I felt compassion. Maybe I was too tired to fight. Exhaustion has a way of breaking us down and chipping away and pride, entitlement and indignation. And sometimes that’s for the best!

Rubbing his back, I waited for him to turn around so I could lift him out of his crib. He was so drowsy, precious little one, that he could barely keep his eyes open. Nonetheless, his little brain wouldn’t let him get the sleep he wanted until he knew he was safe. As soon as I lifted him up he flopped forward and faceplanted onto my shoulder.

I decided to let him have me. Instead of worrying about whether or not he’s too attached or dependent on me, I just hugged him and held him, and swayed back and forth. Menasheh turned his ear to my chest and nestled close to listen to my heart. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back and focused on breathing.

My mind and body started to open. I started to notice the rustle of the palm trees outside Menasheh’s nursery window. I felt the afternoon sun warming my shoulder and arm. Such a lovely feeling! As my body relaxed, Menasheh relaxed. He melted into my arms.

For the first time today, I took a deep breath that filled my lungs. Euphoria washed over myΒ  crazy emotions, and as Menasheh slept in my arms, I embraced the most lovely, unexpected relief.

My priorities changed in that moment. Instead of putting him in the crib right away, I stayed there even though my back ached. The to-do list no longer mattered. I just wanted to ellongate this rare, blissful experience and savor the feeling of affection that washed over me.

 

Then my mind spoke, “I should let go more often.”

Soothing Menasheh soothed me.

In meeting his need to be nurtured and reassured, I realized the same need in myself.

How often, when something frustrating happens, do I fight back and push against it with all my might! It’s the default reaction. I think we are designed to naturally protect ourselves from danger and adversity, whether it be mental, emotional or physical. Our minds are masters of pattern identification. We are constantly on the look-out for things that could pose a threat to our well-being.

 

Our biological “Disaster Alarm”…

In essence, we are designed to look for trouble. The problem comes when we can’t stop looking. The more we use a particular brain function, the stronger it becomes. What starts out as caution eventually becomes a hyper-active disaster alarm. Next thing you know, your whole day is ruined with fear and anxiety, discontent and impatience.

Isn’t it ironic how, in our attempt to protect, nurture, and re-assure ourselves that we’re safe, we can end up driving our minds into panic!

What my mind spoke to me was so subtle, “I should let go more often.” But this was the essence of the big, profound revelation. To let go is to breathe. I take notice of my environment and let it soothe me. My thoughts drift on the wind and my body opens to the sun’s embrace. I turn away from the things that tug at me and flash “Urgent! Must do NOW!” and only come back when I’m calm and focused.

Letting go doesn’t mean ignoring the alarm system. It’s the choice to intentionally seek out positive thoughts, emotions, sensations, and experiences. Just like the sound of my heart lulls my little Menasheh back to sleep, seeking out positives drown out my mind’s constant anxious babble.

 

So what did Menasheh teach me about coping with anxiety?

  1. Some of us may be grown up, but we still have the same need to feel safe, be soothed and reassured. This isn’t just a “baby thing.” It’s a human need.
  2. Just like we strive to choose compassion over impatience when caring for an anxious baby, we should approach ourselves with empathy.
  3. Sometimes the best antidote to anxiety and frustration is not to fight it head on, but to let it exist and re-direct attention to something else.
  4. Some of the most exquisite, unforgettable experiences in life are the simple, peaceful, quiet moments after we’ve allowed ourselves to be “defeated” by the frustration.
  5. The only way to open myself to what I ultimately desire is to let go of what I resent. It’s impossible to soothe a baby while nursing a grudge!

As always, I’m so grateful for the precious gift that is Menasheh. Every day the challenges of raising him shape me into a better, more patient and compassionate person.

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