Friday, January 17, 2014

Anxiety, swimming and letting go...

My friend Rachael and I were chatting the other day, and sometimes talking to her is like a confessional – she’s one of those friends you can tell anything to and it’s kind of, well, therapeutic. So we were covering all the random topics we tend to, toilets, weird words like weenis, basketball games and violin lessons, then we got to anxiety. Ohhh, that’s a big one. Because it’s everywhere.  It’s in me, it’s in her – it’s in our kids and in our daily life. I once a read a statistic that stuck with me, about 8% of kids suffer from some sort of anxiety; I would wager in our area it’s much higher.

Anxiety is tough. How much is too much? When do you worry about your worries? When do you let them go? Many a mom knows the empathetic feeling of that quick read in the moments that her kid is walking off the bus or to the car. We do a covert scan – are they smiling, do they look nervous, what was their day like? Happy? Sad? Anxious? Were there boy problems, girl problems, teacher problems, academic problems….? Then we can react accordingly. We can sooth them or say suck it up. We can say, yes, that sounds awful or maybe you could try to be a little more empathetic yourself.

Oddly enough, I just read this in Alea’s swim newsletter taken from Dr. Aimee Kimball, about zenning your thoughts. And we have a lot of thoughts in our house….boy do we! Though this in reference to swimming, I think it can be taken to just about any facet of our life, especially our general well being.

Accept and Release
 If you've ever taken yoga, instructors often teach you to focus on your breath or the muscle you are working. Zen thinking is very similar. Basically, if you have a thought that is irrelevant to your race/practice or detrimental to your performance, you don't judge it or dwell on it, you accept it as simply a thought and then let it pass quickly through your mind, returning your focus to the task at hand. For example, if you say to yourself, "What if I don't win? These other swimmers are just as good as I am," you wouldn't want to follow that by thinking, "Why am I thinking that?!?! I should be confident!! Maybe I really won't win. What would others say?...". Instead, you simply accept you had a thought, imagine it departing from your head, and focus on your breath/race/clear your mind. Don't give thoughts extra energy unless you want them to stick around.

I love this. We waste time on negative, irrational thoughts and so much energy. If only we could let them go so easily. But, really, why can’t we work on the letting go just like other activities. I work on my back hand in tennis and my forward fold in yoga. Alea works on her breast stroke and dive in swim and Kiyah on her double pirouette. So why not take the mental effort to work on letting the thoughts go. Mind you, there’s a big difference in letting them go and trying to rid yourself of them. For many of us, the thoughts are part of us, regardless of what they may be about. But they take us over when we give validity to them. I love this piece and how it advises the swimmer (or anyone) to accept the fact that the thought exists, and then let it go. Whether you imagine it leaving by giving it some sort of visual (putting it in an envelope and sending it far, far away) or physically throw or blow it away or even say something to it to bid it good-bye like (Ok, Thought, time for you to go) – let it go.

Believe me, I’m not making light of anxiety or repetitive thoughts- these can be scary, scary challenges. But I do think what has worked a little in my house at least is to acknowledge what’s going on. Don’t be afraid or ashamed, and then shoo it along.

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