Hello and happy April! Although Spring officially began on March 20, the weather here in the Northeast has not agreed that it is officially Spring since we started the first full day of the season with a blizzard. It's been a bit shaky still weather wise, and I'm hoping that warmer days are coming our way for good soon. I'm hoping the illustration over on the left (or top, if you're on mobile) wills the "April Showers Bring May Flowers" kind of weather to happen soon, rather than the 38 degree weather we had this morning.
This month, I wanted to get a bit more personal on the blog with my experience with meditation and anxiety. Before I start this blog, I want to make clear I'm not a doctor and I'm not giving out medical advice. If you are experiencing the kind of anxiety that causes disruption in your daily life, please see a medical professional or professional therapist. I've done that, too, when things get bad (it happens) and it's the best thing you can do for yourself, really. I'm just talking about the kind of anxiety that happens now and then and is unpleasant but not life-altering.
I've had a tendency to be anxious pretty much my entire life, and meditating inconsistently for the past few years. Admittedly my mind wanders a lot during the process. At times I've fallen asleep. I fall off the meditation wagon usually after taking a vacation. Who has time for meditation when there is an itinerary to follow? I continue to return to the practice, though, and I think I'm getting a little bit better with it, although please don't ask me to sit in the lotus position. I wasn't even good at that when I was in kindergarten.
While I really do not enjoy anxiety, I do enjoy meditation a lot, even if I'm not a zen master of all I survey. I've also tried using the TiPi method, introduced to me by a friend who gave a presentation on it back in the summer. TiPi is really effective when experiencing on-the-spot, immediate anxiety brought on by something unforeseen. Lately I've been trying to be more consistent with meditation as a foundation for the day, so that I start off with a calmer, more focused mind. This latest round of 5 minute daily meditation is working so far, especially when it comes to "noticing" thoughts and feelings.
One thing I've been noticing is that I feel low-level anxiety after attending an event of some sort. Networking, a term which I wish we'd just call "meeting new people", is actually a very necessary part of having a business or life of any kind. People (myself included) tend to think of creatives as being introverts who only stay in the studio, working away at their latest idea or commission. While there is a lot of truth to that idea, it's also important to get out and be with other human beings now and then, and being out with other humans is actually great for fostering creativity. Even knowing this, I sometimes need to push myself to go to something, like an opening at a gallery, or a "meeting new people" event, even sometimes a friend's party if I'm not going to know most of the people there already. I am mostly successful at making myself go, because once I'm there, I'm actually OK and I find I have a pretty good time and enjoy meeting new people. What's odd is that after the event, I am struck with low-level anxiety. Maybe that's actually not odd, and other people experience this, too. I worry about what I said. If I did something dumb. Or offended someone. I might have a hard time sleeping, replaying every angle I can remember about things to make sure I didn't mess up. Ninety-five percent of the time, I think this is overthinking. Not that there aren't some times when I've made a faux-pas of some sort. Who hasn't? I've been getting better at realizing the overthinking and putting the breaks on the process using TiPi.
However, the anxiety I experienced after one event in particular was a bit stubborn even though it had no bearing to anything that actually happened at the event. I would calm myself down and the low-level anxiety would return after a few hours. Why was this so?
This question bothered me for several days after. As someone who loves to solve a problem, it's really irritating when the solution eludes me for too long. Finally, through meditation, and working to only focus on breathing, was I able to release the need to figure it all out and simply "observe" the anxiety and breathe. I still had the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety, I was just better able to accept the feeling and go about my day. Kind of like if you have a pulled muscle that aches. And then a couple of days later, the reason for my anxiety struck me as I was making breakfast.
It wasn't actually anything that happened at the event, or anything I said or did or was said to me at the event. I met great people! We had an amazing brain-storming session! Everyone was engaged and enthusiastic and supportive! Yes, it was hard to hear them... and sometimes I lost focus because of the noise level...and the well-meaning moderator that was interrupting us over a very loud speaker system...
It was the sounds and atmosphere of the event that was making me anxious afterward. I was in a crowded space, with tons of background noise that sounded like angry bees swarming. Logically, I knew this was the sound of large numbers of people speaking to each other. But the deep recess of the subconscious brain was interpreting the sound very differently: that sound was definitely something dangerous. That sound was absolutely an angry swarm of bees and they were coming for me. Someone louder than the bees kept yelling at me, too! The subconscious was saying: "Get out now! Why are you not leaving? How can you continue to place me in this obvious danger for hours on end? I will never let you forget how you made me stay in a place of danger. Here comes some really unpleasant anxiety as revenge." OK, maybe not revenge, since I'm not sure the subconscious is capable of plotting revenge, but it was freaked out and having a hard time getting the logical brain, which is somewhat automatically set to dismiss obviously unwarranted fear as illogical, to listen. So now there's a ton of anxiety with no understanding of why. It's weird how there might be two "brains" that don't communicate very well with each other, but I'm pretty sure this is something scientists have been talking about for years before I had my "a-ha moment."
I was able to test this theory out at another event. The anxiety did show up, but not quite as strong as before and it didn't take up head space for more than about a half an hour. Maybe this is progress?
If you experience anxiety after attending an event, do you think the realization I've had might help you? What are your social anxiety "triggers", and how have you managed them?
(Getting better at being)Mindfully yours,
Thank you for taking the time to read the blog! If you enjoyed reading it, say hi in the comments!
Have a great day!