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Does reassurance reduce anxiety?
Before I jump into my reflections about reassurance, I want to mention how I have procrastinated for a couple of weeks about which topic I should choose to start this blog. Maybe the back story of my own journey from fear to fulfiment, my career pivot, the importance of self compassion, letting go of the Imposter Syndrome...."What is the perfect way to begin?" I wondered. Making decisions can be tough. Searching for perfection is futile. The decision process is one of bringing together our heads and hearts and tuning into our 'gut' intuition. To do this we need to give those thoughts and feelings space to settle and be. Then we can move freely towards our chosen direction. "Sod it", I thought once the thoughts had settled, I'll write my blog on the issues that were running through my mind this morning because they are current, authentic (as always) and will resonate with many of you, I am sure! Action over procrastination. There will be plenty of time for those other topics in the future...
How many of you use reassurance to help you feel better? We all do. We try to turn our worries and anxious thoughts into positive "it's ok" ones. I am often talking to clients about the long term issues with this strategy. We may feel ok for a short while but boom...there comes that anxiety again so as well as having the original anxiety we then beat ourselves up for not being able to get a handle on it. These layers of anxiety and criticism turn our bodies into battlefields, switching on our sympathetic nervous systems. Then follows the heart pumping, stomach churning, chest tightening fight or flight response.
So this morning, I did a little experiment to check out whether my advice of letting go of the thoughts (taken from ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Training) is a helpful one or whether positive thinking reassurance actually does the trick. I constantly 'walk my talk' and trust me, being an ambitious business women who cares deeply about juggling my contribution to the world through my business with being the best mum, wife and friend that I can to be, I have anxious thoughts and feelings galore!
The anxious thought of the morning was related to me chosing to go for a morning run rather than do the weekly 'stay and read' at school with my two young daughters (aged 5 & 7). As I ran off from school I noticed a tightness in my stomach and the thoughts "that's really selfish of you to run rather than read, they'll be sad you're not there, these are precious times whilst they are little - you should embrace them all, you're a crap mum etc etc" (familiar guilt trip anyone?!).
These sorts of thoughts used to overwhelm me and quite frankly, I would never have chosen the run over the read. This, however, was the path towards overwhelm, stress and exhaution.
Added into the mix were the thoughts "I have so much work to do today, I should be doing that rather than running".
So instead of automatically using my ACT based way, I decided to do an experiment. I spent a few minutes reassuring myself - "You work school hours so the girls are lucky to be with you before and after school", "You have spent the whole of half term with them last week, they have had lots of time with you", "You read pretty much every week, one week won't make a difference". These are true and I focused on them for a few minutes. The result - the anxiety feeling did reduce...a bit... but there was still a tiny pull in my stomach. I went through some mini cycles of relief, phew, then the "yeah but..." thoughts kept popping up. I was in my mind and not completely aware of the lovely surroundings of my local park.
I then tried the ACT approach of acknowledging the thoughts, "I'm noticing my mind thinking that I'm a crap mum", "ah ok, that makes sense" with being willing to feel the feelings by tuning into the tightness in my stomach and opening up some internal space for it. I then said to myself "ok thoughts and feelings, you're coming with me on my run, so let's go". I let go of doing anything with them, I just let them be. It was a hand's off approach. The result.....I was free to focus on my surroundings and enjoy my run regardless of the anxiety. My mind then had the capacity to notice how my personal value of self care was priority for that half hour, which gave me purpose and a sense of fulfilment. I knew that the time would come for family relationships and commitment to work and they would take priority later.
This process of thinking and feeling really does take us from fear to fulfilment. It is not easy and can take some practice and guidance. If you are interested in dipping your toe into my appraoch then sign up for 'Ideas and Inspiration' on my website.
If you want a great and easy to read book on the foundation of this approach - get yourself 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris. It is awesome.
If you are an ambitious women wanting to let go of anxiety and self doubt so you can progress you career, grow your business and love you life right now then book your FREE call with me via the website. I would love to guide you towards your own freedom and fulfilment.
Bye for now,