As a season, fall is the most unsettling.
Leaves change color and then rapidly fall, picnic basket one day and rain boots the next, tomato sandwiches for lunch and hearty squash soups for dinner. It’s this unpredictability that makes this time of year so beautiful to me.
But it can also wreak havoc on my skin (sudden dry patches), my digestion (it slows way down), and sleep (that last week before the clocks change…gaaah).
2020’s fall has come with the added bonus of sweaty palms, a tightness in my heart and an inability to stop checking my Apple News Feed.
I’m not an anxious person.
I’m the classic youngest child: my sister and mom take care of the details, and I blow on the dandelions. As a result , I am particularly ill-equipped to handle stress—My preferred method is avoidance and distraction.
It actually dawned on me how much anxiety I was holding (and avoiding) during a mindfulness meditation training last weekend. It was a refresher course to keep my teaching chops, but after 3 days of practice and break out sessions, things got personal.
We were doing a contemplative meditation on impermanence and I couldn’t shake a gnawing feeling of dread. I noticed the knot in my stomach; my shallow breath; the tension in my neck.
I thought about the triggers, starting broadly with uncertainty about the future of the planet, then as a nation, then as an individual. Things I have no control over and other things completely self-invented.
I just sat squarely in the feeling that I usually go to any length to avoid. I let myself feel the feels.
A few things happened. My body started to soften and my breath slowed. Not completely, but a bit. By naming the things nagging me, I got some insight and perspective. I was able to identify ways of reducing the “noise” (including removing a few apps on my phone, banning political conversations or podcasts from my morning walks, and not falling asleep to ANTM).
Here’s what didn’t happen: I didn’t magically eradicate any causes or lessen the significance of the stressors. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, there will still be an outcome to the election, and my cat is still sick.
However, I was able to pull myself out of the future and deal with the now. I got rid of my worried anticipation. My teacher called this frog mind. If monkey mind is the ADD tendency of swinging from branch to branch and thought to thought, frog mind is both ADD and OCD—jumping onto a lily pad and obsessively focusing on a fly before jumping to the next lily pad and doing the same thing all over.
So I shifted obsessing to focusing. Specifically, focusing on my breath.
After clearing some mental space, I went a step further and added some anti-anxiety activities to my schedule (including FaceTiming my family, thinking about people I love, and listening to Fiona Apple).
I’m not going to lie, post meditation, I still get that occasional lump in my throat, but sometimes we just have to accept that. Life isn’t always about blowing on dandelions.
If anxiety and stress are overtaking you, please reach out to a loved one or professional.