Recently, I’ve been waking up super anxious every morning. I don’t know if it’s from being at home for so long or that quarantine is finally getting to me - probably both. Either way, I’m learning that I need a plan for times when I don’t have it in me to figure out what to do.
I actually started doing this a few years ago, but only for very specific circumstances. Basically, I wrote myself a letter with very clear instructions on what to do, and anytime I was feeling overwhelmed I would read the letter. Reading and writing are very therapeutic for me, so this exact style might not work for everyone, but the point is just to have some type of plan in place, for when planning is no longer an option.
This month, I’ve also been recording my dreams. I would say that I can recall with vivid detail around 2-3 on average at this point, which is amazing progress. I will say that a lot of my dreams have been super stressful or scary recently and so remembering them so clearly when I wake up is definitely affecting my mood. It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation; I don’t know whether me being more anxious during the day is making me have more anxious dreams or vice versa. I sincerely hope it’s not a positive feedback loop because that would just be very unfortunate for me. The point is, mornings have been hard lately. And considering mornings are usually my highest momentum part of the day, well, it only goes downhill from there.
As you all know I have a pretty regimented morning routine, and usually it flows without much thought. This past week or so, I’ve been trudging through it. I’m lucky if I make it five minutes into my meditation without getting irritated, which almost never happens to me, which is also how I know something is off. Regardless, I usually make it through my whole routine because I already know what I’m going to do.
The trouble comes as soon as my morning routine ends. It’s almost like having more time makes me less motivated to get anything done. I thrive under pressure so having deadlines works really well for me. I also like having the freedom to do whatever I want though, but when all of my options are inside my house it’s less appealing. So while I want to stay flexible with my time, I want to come up with a backup plan that I can default to when I’m lost and can’t figure out what to do.
So how do I make these plans in advance?
1. Choose a target (emotion). Ok I think the first step is to come up with a very specific emotion or feeling that you want to target. I think “anxiety” is probably too broad but “anxiety from xyz” is good enough. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter how narrow you go, but the more specific you can be in identifying your emotions the more specific your plan can be, which means it can then be as effective as possible. But as always, play around with it and figure out what works best for you.
2. Reflect on how you usually feel in situations involving the emotion (1). Sometimes when I’m feeling really anxious, I feel like I have adrenaline coursing through my body. I have so much energy and it’s all trapped inside of me. Other times, I feel so lethargic I can barely move. It really depends. Knowing how you feel will also help us design an appropriate response to the situation.
3. Pick one small (but big) success. Can you think of one thing, just one thing, no matter how small, that would make you feel better when you’re feeling whatever you feel in (2)? Some things that I’ve used before are going outside, meditating for one minute, exercising in any form, journaling, daily gratitude, showering, etc. I think each of these actions have a different effect on us, so choose the one that best suits the target emotion you selected.
That’s it. Well that’s all I’ve got for now anyways. When I get super overwhelmed the idea of doing one thing, let alone two things, is a lot so I’m not going to push it. If you pick your one thing correctly, it should hopefully put you in a headspace where you can appropriately plan your next step, but experiment and see what works for you.
I think something else to keep in mind is that it’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling. I saw a post the other day saying there are no “good” or “bad” emotions and I think that’s a really good way of putting it. Sometimes I feel guilty for feeling bad and not being grateful, but guilt is just another emotion being tossed into the pile. Better not to beat myself up so I have a better shot of dealing with the situation at hand.
Another strategy I use is to leave the physical place that caused the negative emotion, even if the emotion isn’t necessarily tied to the room. I’ve found just going from the living room to the bedroom or from the bedroom to the bathroom helps to start changing my mood.
Now I know there’s a lot of advice out there on the internet for what to do in different types of situations, but I’ve personally found that a message from my past self is way more convincing than some random article on the internet. Especially when I write my advice out in the form of a letter, I’m able to really hear my past self imploring my present self to take a step back, recognize everything’s going to be ok, and do one thing, just one thing, for me!
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that it takes me an hour of lying on the ground to do the one thing I planned for myself. But if and when I do it, it gets me back on track, and that’s all that matters.