I stare at my MailChimp report in unblinking shock.
All on the same day?
As my body sits paralyzed, my meaning-making mind kicks into overdrive.
- What did I say wrong?
- How did I drive them away?
- Why don’t they like me any more?
Now, I notice a new Email from Annemarie.
With my first mental window open–-still vigorously processing 7 unsubscribes all on the same day–I click “Read” and feel my heart sink.
She’s supposed to march in June. Her solo art show opens in early April. But suddenly, she needs 9 more units in order to graduate.
My pulse quickens.
- This isn’t right.
- How did I let this happen.
- If only I’d been a better mother …
My mental windows merge, producing the message:
- Anyone who has 7 unusbscribes in the same day and whose daughter suddenly needs 9 more units to graduate …
This merging of mental windows has been normal for so long, I almost forget to question it.
It’s so natural for me to pile one stressful episode on top of another, to experience exponentially increasing anxiety.
But although this habit has been automatic for decades, it’s not inevitable.
I can create a “new normal.”
If you, too, are a stress-full self-sandbagger — or if you love someone who is — here are seven steps I’m finding helpful as I retrain my brain to stop auto-merging mental windows:
1. Stop, Step Back, and Get Perspective.
My entire goal, here, is to keep myself from getting in too deep too quick. So, I’m developing an arsenal of simple interruptors:
- writing in my prayer journal
- calling a friend for five minutes
- going for a short walk
- pulling out my art basket
How can I Push Pause right now? is my go-to question.
2. Check the Connections.
I love having the famous female “spaghetti” brain that connects everything rather than pigeon-holing life in little waffle boxes.
But sometimes I need to ask myself: Am I force-fitting events that don’t naturally belong together? Skyrocketing big emotions are a big clue that this is what I’m trying to do.
3. Suspend Judgment
It’s instinctive to start interpreting a situation immediately. Unfortunately, this means I’m making meaning before I have the facts. And when I make meaning minus the details, I am mean to myself.
I’m learning to switch into information-gathering mode. When tempted to jump to conclusions, I ask, What information will help me form the best possible interpretation? and keep curious.
4. Test for Triggers
Over-reactions tell me that I’ve been triggered, that my current reaction is not about the current situation. It’s about an old and/or deep fear. Like my fear of being a disposbile friend or a truly Bad Mom.
While I want to honor my emotions and not stuff them, I also want to be alert to hijacking attempts. Asking What tender spot is being triggered? helps me feel what’s real without being swept away by a tsunami wave from the emotion ocean.
5. See the Bigger Picture
When I hyper-focus on a few stress-producing details, they quickly feel like the only things true about my life. But they are not. Yes, 7 people unsubscribed from my blog. All on the same day. But on that exact same day, more than 100 women took my Reader Survey and many left comments of Kleenex-requiring affirmation and appreciation!
So I must ask myself What else is true? and then be intentional about seeing, hearing, and experiencing these other truths.
6. Rehearse Truth
What we women hear, we take to heart. And since we’re with ourselves 24/7, the negative ruminations of our minds are so easily reinforced in our hearts. If I’m not careful, messages like
- How did this …
- Why don’t they …
- If only I had …
end up on automatic replay.
I wonder my way back into the Word when I ask What Truth can I rehearse instead of this worry?
7. Seek Strength
My life-long modus operandi has been to dive in and fix things as fast as possible so I can feel better as soon as possible. This MEgocentric MO is responsible for many a miserable mess.
My goal now is to dely action and ask What is God telling me about this situation? The answer to this question requires time. Space. Being still. And knowing that He (not me) is God.
So, do these seven steps lead to a happily-ever-after ending?
I guess it depends on how you define “happily.”
Today, I’m focused on you, the woman who is reading my blog. Thinking about you, perhaps in a different state or even a different country, I am happy.
As for the 7 women who decided to unsubscribe? I’m happy that their Email box isn’t being clogged up with anything from me.
Annemarie’s graduation situation hasn’t been solved. But instead of going into frantic fix-it mode, I sent her a letter with clarifying questions and some encouragement which she said was very helpful. I’m happy that (a) I didn’t make things worse and that (b) I’m able to offer support.
For me, this is all becoming a “new normal” in a hopefully-ever-after life.
* * * * *
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