Mindfulness · Year and a Day

Anxiety: The Toddler in My Mind

As humans, our brains are pretty amazing. They’re also confounding and frustrating. I often feel like dealing with my own mind is a lot like wrestling a toddler into an outfit. It’s a process to be followed, and a “something that must be done,” but there is so much more out there to go do and see and be! We can’t take the time it takes to put an arm through a sleeve! That’s just ridiculous. *cue tantrum*

And then, on the flip side, I sometimes feel like my mind is the toddler that refuses to pay attention in an effort to simply be difficult. My mind becomes the “no” looking for the argument.

Through the practice of mindfulness, I’m able to stop and analyze my own mind and monitor my reactions. Sometimes that analysis and its associated learning comes after the horse has escaped the barn, but the important part is that I’ve dedicated myself to slowing down and looking deep within myself. I’ve given myself the time, space, and permission to observe without judgement in an effort to gauge and correct my own actions.

I’ve written before about my life-long battle with anxiety. Over the last couple months, I’ve discovered that a serious part of my inability to heal was the very notion of seeing my anxiety as a battle.

The anxiety responses I have come from that petulant toddler that is my mind. It rails against “what is” in and effort to have “what it wants.” The higher sense of self within me knows better than to believe the anxiety response will actually solve problems. And yet, in certain circumstances, there it is, with its little arms crossed and its reactionary scream-and-flail boiling just below the surface and sometime spilling out. In seconds, I go from “calm, serene me” to “lying on the floor, kicking and screaming.” (Not physically, but metaphorically) And like the good parent the Universe is, it looks the other way until the tantrum is over… and then it asks, “What is it you *really* need?”

In an effort to react less and respond more, I’m attempting to re-frame how I talk about the stimuli that generate the toddler response. Rather than looking at these events as cause and effect, I’m diving inward to explore how the “cause” made me feel. So far, every anxiety response I’ve thrown has resulted from some external stimulus that caused me to feel fear. After a few months of analysis, it’s apparent and it’s specific.

Fear of letting someone down.

Fear of failure.

Fear of loss (very specifically, loss of perceived control).

Fear of change.

Fear of disruption.

This self-revelation hasn’t stopped my anxiety responses — yet. But… it has lessened the severity and duration. It’s allowed me to bring myself back to a rational state faster. It’s given me a platform to voice the “why” behind the reaction — not in an effort to excuse my own behavior, but in an effort to understand. And in some (quite a few) cases, it’s given me the ability to distract my inner toddler and redirect her tantrum before it gets out of hand — sometimes before it even starts.

I have read in psychology journals how people are able to overcome their anxiety responses through mindfulness. Our brains are nothing if not a set of circuitry, and circuits can be rewired. Our minds are nothing if not the children that we have grown from, and children all grow up eventually.

inner childWhat we think, we become. The messages we give ourselves really do beget our reality. If you’re reading this, and you’re wondering where to start, I welcome you to invite your inner toddler on a play date. Ask her what she’s afraid of. Learn how best to redirect her energy. Make a friend of the toddler inside your own mind and let her know you won’t let her down, no matter what comes her way. You might not be able to change your circumstances, but day by day, little by little, you can change how you respond.

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