Short sheeting the bed is a favorite pastime of my extended family. Any family reunion is a guarantee someone’s bed will be short sheeted. If you’ve never heard of this practice, it’s when you fold the flat sheet so that the bottom half appears to be the fitted sheet. When you get into the bed, your weight is unknowingly on the top sheet disguised as the fitted sheet and you are unable to stretch your body out. (Go ahead and google it.) This leaves you spending countless moments, even hours kicking to no avail. Eventually you are too tired to care and attempt to sleep in half the length of the bed. The prank makes breakfast a full on comedy club, assuming your family is good natured.
Anxiety short sheets our lives. It feels like it holds so much power -- causing us to go against our values, denying who we are, fueling the feeling of unworthiness and refusing to live a life of joy. Many of us give ourselves over to anxiety believing it’s just life. Life equals anxiety is a formula for misery and desperation.
I had a conversation this week with someone who has made radical change in her life over the last three months. She has moved from anger, grief, and desperation brought on by anxiety to peace, confidence, and hope. She did this by giving herself permission to do life differently, being intentional to set her own standards, values, and action steps and saying no when it didn’t fuel her values, plans, and contribution to the world. The transformation she has experienced is truly mind blowing.
If anxiety is calling the shots in your world, consider implementing these six steps:
1) Inventory Your Body.
Notice where anxiety shows up in your physical body. When you recognize it, call it what it is — tension in my chest or jaw or fluttering in my stomach. Once we are aware of it as a physical sensation, we can let it be a signal for taking action. This is our advance warning system like the storm warnings on our cell phones.
2) Take Action.
Decide on an action step for deescalating the tension.
Deep breathing — inhale slowly, hold it for a moment, exhale slowly. Repeat 3 to 5 times or whatever works for you.
Engage all five senses by noticing 5 things you see; 4 things you hear; 3 things you feel; 2 things you smell; 1 thing you taste.
Take a wellness break by practicing 15 minutes of Yoga, listening to three calming songs or going for a walk outside.
Any or all of these action steps can be very effective in reducing anxiety in the moment.
3) Identify the Triggers.
Pay attention to what happened right before the physical sensation. Start keeping a list of what triggers the anxiety. Journal about the stressor and the anxiety. Notice what patterns are repeated each time you journal. This awareness reduces it to some specifics so that it doesn’t feel like everything in the world. It also helps us see what we can actually impact and what is not our responsibility.
4) Fact Check.
Anxiety is often fixated on the worst-case scenario. As we check the facts, we are able to give ourselves a message more rooted in reality and much less anxiety producing — “The sky is not falling! I am simply nervous. The world is not coming to an end! This is important but I am totally prepared.” These messages elicit different responses than a worst-case scenario message.
5) Refuse to borrow from the Future.
Anxiety is typically future oriented. Bring yourself back to the present. What is happening right now? Is there something I need to do right now? If not, schedule a time on your calendar in the next 24 hours to revisit this worry. When you come back to it, use your journal or call a friend.
6) Stand up. No really, stand up.
When we are anxious our bodies protect our hearts and lungs by hunching over. Notice your posture the next time you feel overwhelmed by anxiety. Much of the time we are in the fetal position or somewhere close. Pull your shoulders back, stand with your feet slightly apart and open up your chest. This helps our brain feel more powerful or in control.
When we begin to practice a variety of tools to curb the impact of anxiety, misery and desperation no longer have a place to comfortably reside. As we practice this new approach, we are more able to start saying no to anxiety producing activity like perfectionism, maintaining impossible standards, or taking on extra projects, people, and programs that are not a fit for us.
Life does not equal anxiety. Today is a good day to stop living by that formula. Short sheet anxiety — bring it up short in your life by taking immediate action.