Three steps to put down worry and feel better in all your relationships
In this blog I use a simple example to show you how you can put down your worries and feel much better about the things that upset you in your life.
This weekend I was chatting with a friend who was worried about one of her children. She was doing her best not to think about something she was concerned about. Having had a few challenges over the years this person is great at being stoical. Picking herself up dusting herself down and getting on with life, with a ‘Sh*t’ happens, let’s get on with it attitude.
Unfortunately whilst this can see many of us through our day times, it doesn’t help us feel good. It doesn’t build our relationships and it doesn’t help when we wake up at 3 am and our thoughts and worries start rolling through our head. Dealing with these humps on the road is a three step process:
- Noticing (Seeing the story)
- Acknowledging (What am I feeling right now)
- Choosing (Taking the action that works for you)
Let’s take a simple hypothetical example:
Let’s assume our son has left his breakfast things all over the breakfast table (Again?!) and gone off to work making it clear he is in a bad mood.
My instant experience of the situation might be something like – “I am so fed up with being treated like a hotel, he is lazy and takes me for granted. I can’t trust him to do as I ask.”
At 3 am I might wake up and start worrying that if he carries on with this attitude eventually it will impact his work and he will never leave home. Why can’t he be more helpful like his sister? What have I done wrong as a parent?
Our brains love a story
Our brains are story making machines. They and we love a good story! Stories have helped us throughout history to learn, create patterns and make sense of the world around us. However when we aren’t able to distinguish the facts from the story we can lead ourselves down very unhelpful pathways.
Taking the above incident, the only thing that is fact is that he left his breakfast stuff on the table. The ‘again’ is weighted – it implies this happens regularly, but my brain is in story telling mode, I am in reaction and so it is hard to tell whether this is the second time this week or the second time this year. The other piece that is unclear is that I perceived him as being in a bad mood, but without being in his head I don’t know whether that is accurate.
I have created a big story and the story I have created is impacting how I feel. If I continue to carry it around, I may remain in a bad mood, have nights of losing sleep and it will potentially impact how we communicate further. The story really isn’t serving me.
What can I do?
Notice that I am telling a story. Notice what is fact here and what I have made up. (I share tools in all my work that make it easier to notice). Attempt to notice ‘what is’. I can’t always do this on my own. If I notice that I am very grumpy, or reactionary about something. I might talk to someone I can trust not to jump into the story with me and empathise with me. I want someone who can reflect back and tell me what they see actually happened.
When I discover I have been lost in a story, there is room for me to see my emotions. In this case I may be frustrated, or disappointed. I suspect dropping the story may have me drop my worry, but I find it helpful to explore everything I might have been feeling. I don’t need to make any meaning out of any of it, I can simply notice what feelings arise. Not needing to do anything with them, but witnessing them as my experience.
I have given a fairly trivial example here and there will be situations in which the emotions that arise for you may feel pretty big, stuck, possibly solid. There is no need for you to justify anything here. Your experience is your experience. If you find you go off into justification you are simply creating another story. Experiment with simply coming back to your feelings.
I find it helpful to name the emotion and notice where in my body I am experiencing the feeling. Does it have a shape, a texture, a colour? It helps me to get really curious about it.
This exploration sometimes changes my experience and sometimes doesn’t, but the acknowledgement is always helpful.
When I have witnessed my actual experience rather than the story I have the freedom to choose what next.
I often ask myself what do I need?
Sometimes the answer is nothing and at others I notice that I would benefit from understanding something better.
Not infrequently my story is filled with assumptions. My son leaving his plates on the table means he is inconsiderate. He was in a bad mood. They are assumptions that I don’t know the truth of. It is often the assumptions that cause me worry in the middle of the night.
I so often see people inflating unhelpful stories with a bucket load of assumptions. They did this which means XYZ. Our brains are so good at matching patterns they flip through our internal filing cabinets at great speed, to come to the conclusion that if this has happened this will follow. I hope by this stage you will have stopped your story in its tracks. The most helpful way to counter assumptions is to ask.
When I have got clear on what I need, then I can if I choose make a request. In this particular instance it might be something like:
“I was wondering what was going on for you this morning, I noticed you left your breakfast things on the table and I thought you might have been in a bad mood when you left for work?”.
Who knows what the answer might be (I know I am creating stories here):
He might say “Stop nagging!”
However, my experience is that when I have allowed myself to be in a better place by putting down the story, acknowledging my emotions and making a request with no negative energy attached, it is far more likely to be something like. “Oh yes, I am really sorry I forgot, I was running late this morning and was really focused on an important email I needed to send.”
None of this has changed the what is – his breakfast stuff was left on the table. But, I can put down the worry that he is a lazy, inconsiderate young man. I feel in communication, I feel calm, happy and connected to our son. My life feels much better than when I am trapped in the story. Our Feel Good, Work Well programmes are a great way to help you master these skills. If you are interested in knowing more you can read about them and book a call with us here.