My son is currently in the middle of his finals. Those intense weeks at the end of every university degree which will determine how your years have been spent. He’s not coping very well. Each time we have communicated, I have watched and listened to him in his anxiety, it has deepened as his university term has progressed.
I find myself feeling more and more uncomfortable as I witness his behaviour because I recognise it. I admit that I have a habit of getting anxious, then just when I’m feeling at my worst, I go out and find more things to be anxious about. I have to wonder, did he learn this from me?
He isn’t sleeping or eating well. As a mother, I would like nothing more than to reach in and find the off switch to his emotional discomfort. Witnessing his anxiety augment into fear and sheer panic I long for him to calm down and take a moment. I’m guessing that he feels very much the same way I do when I’m in that place. Nothing exists outside of the anxious moment. There is no way out. Even if there was an enormous exit clearly marked with a flashing neon light labelled “this way out”, I wouldn’t see it. I’m too busy being blinded by the flashing lights and deafened by the ringing alarms of overwhelm, confusion and sheer panic.
He is experiencing a justifiable once-in-a-lifetime stressful situation. His reaction is not entirely unreasonable. These weeks of final exams alone will determine which future career doors will be opened or closed to him.
So what is my excuse? Me on a normal weekday morning when my anxiety about work is running rampant and I’m blinded as to what needs to be done. I know that to achieve clarity I need to write a list but even that task becomes too onerous as thoughts flash through my mind at lightning speed, disappearing before I can catch them.
We all know that the best defence is a great offence but if you can’t avoid feeling anxious these are the best ways I’ve learned to get past it as fast as possible:-
Name it - Ask yourself what am I feeling? Listen to the answer and acknowledge it. “I feel…” Let me know if you don’t take a huge sigh in that moment, sighs are a great sign of knowing that you’ve let some tension go.
Walk away - As the intensity increases, remember to utilise your ‘down-time tools’. If you love kicking a ball about, do that. If you love gardening, do that. Find a way to break the self-destructive mindset and go release happy hormones. It will help.
Set yourself an easy goal - Stop and appreciate yourself when you achieve it. No matter what else needs to be done, you achieved this one goal and that needs celebrating. Take a moment to enjoy that lovely feeling of accomplishment.
Get out of your head - Just for a moment, pay attention to the feeling of your feet on the ground or your back against the chair. A true victory would be to imagine sitting at the back of your head, relaxed, while watching those thoughts play out, completely detached from the unfolding drama.
Recognise that you’re in it - Even if you can’t do anything about it, being able to say, ‘Oh I’m in this place again,’ it’s another way of momentarily detaching from the drama.
Reach out - Phone a friend or enlist the help of a professional coach. Talking about it and setting goals will help you gain perspective to find your own solutions.
Give up trying to control the uncontrollable - Control what you can and save your energy by surrendering to the fact that there are some things beyond your control and that’s ok.
Create a framework in your life - Tidy your workspace, stick to regular exercise and mealtimes, force yourself to get up and go to bed on time. Remember any small step is a victory.
Bring your mind back to the moment - We spend so much time creating worst case scenarios, come back to the now. The “who, what, why, how, when and where” of this very moment.
Show yourself appreciation - We’re always quick to thank others, how about appreciating our own efforts? Take a moment to appreciate what you’ve achieved rather than what needs to be done.
Take a breath and know that this too shall pass – We are emotional beings and like a pendulum, we can swing between all states from joy to pain. As sure as night follows day, rest assured that we won’t be in this place forever.