Monday Mindfulness: Worry thoughts!

26 Nov

We returned from the midwest on Friday evening.  What a grand trip it was!  We ate so much great food, laughed with my silly family and we relaxed.  No, I seriously relaxed.  I slept in, I went on long walks, I played with kids, I cooked and I knitted.  These are all such enjoyable activities for me!  The weather was warm, sunny and fabulous, but then on Thanksgiving night the temperatures drastically fell and it snowed.  My aunt has been letting me know that it has been COLD since we left too- we’re talking 10 degrees.  So I guess we were there at a good time.

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Cold morning on the lake, with snow!

I noticed something during our week there that tends to happen during my vacations: I worry.  More specifically, I worry that I’m running out of time and then become mildly upset about it, not enough to cry to people about it, but enough that it is distracting and upsetting.

Instead of going my usual (and not so helpful) route of telling myself I shouldn’t do something, I became curious about this travel anxiety.  Why am do I worry about the time I have left on this trip?  What would I want to happen if I could control the time?  I have been lucky to go on many fun trips and during all of them I experienced this.  Most profoundly was during our honeymoon to the Dominican Republic.  Not only was it warm and relaxing but we had left Seattle at a particularly gross time of year weather-wise and I had a very stressful job that I wasn’t excited to get back to.  Also, it was a lot of time spent in airplanes and sitting in airports for a relatively short trip so I couldn’t help but dread returning home.

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Pale lady in the D.R., eating chips and hanging with stray dogs, and no doubt WORRYING about things.

My worries about travel tend to be in phases.  First I have the beginning days- I feel like I can just kick back and enjoy as long as I still have a few full days left to do whatever I want.  During the middle days of the trip, I really try to live it up and remind myself to appreciate things.  Typically the first thing I think in the morning is How many days left?  Then there is the third and most distressing phase, usually occurring once there are only 2 days left.  I begin to really worry about the trip ending and I feel very sad.  This hit me profoundly while in Minnesota, a place I have always loved to visit and have often longed to live in (well, I lived there until I was 3, but that hardly counts).  I enjoy seeing my family and spending time with them.  I love all of the lakes and how people make friendly small talk everywhere you go.  So, this worry about the time left in my vacations?  I’ve been sitting with it my whole life, all the way back to those summer vacations in Minnesota.  I love to travel so that same worry just started to latched on to all trips.  Of course I don’t want the time to end, but it always does.

This all comes down to a simple thing- not being present.  Instead of being in the moment I am thinking about the future by dreading the flight home and worrying about what needs to happen when I arrive.  I am also thinking about the past by wondering if more could have been done to maximize my experience and sometimes even mentally beating myself up for not fully appreciating everything.  This simply is not how I wish to experience things.  I have worried about this so many times that it is a well-worn path in my brain and a pattern I slip into easily.  We all have worry patterns and this is just one of mine.  They can be hard to break!

During this trip I tried building a new pattern.  I tried noticing what was happening around me instead of letting my mind get the best of me.  This is a simple-sounding yet profound technique. Using my senses to ground me in the present helped so that my mind wasn’t allowed to go back to its habit of worrying.  Here are some tips to this kind of grounding:

  • Use your eyes to notice what is around you.  Simply take it in and observe.  Notice colors, textures, patterns, etc.
  • If you are eating something, really taste it, chew slowly and experience the flavors.
  • If you can smell something, do the same- really experience it!
  • Take deep breaths.  Count each inhale and count up to 10.  When you get to 10, start over.
  • If your mind wanders, just do it again.  And again.  And again.  This is all about practice- it takes a long time to break an old pattern and build a new one!
  • Notice what is happening with the body as well.  If the mind is going to worry thoughts then this could be a good time to get up and do something- wash dishes, play with a kiddo, go on a walk.  These activities, when done with full attention, can be grounding in themselves.

These grounding techniques can help when any kind of stress is trying to take you away from your present experience.  For me, I can really use the grounding while I am traveling so I don’t overly worry about the fact that my trip will eventually end.  I think I have more work to do on this, so I will need to plan some very fun vacations!

What do you worry about?  What do you do to prevent yourself from worrying about things you can’t change?  

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