Saved by Gratitude

This morning as I drove up the greenbelt that leads to Yesler Way, I had a moment of intense anxiety.  I'm very familiar with anxiety, and for as long as I can remember, I've run "panicky."  I get hit with periodic, unexpected pangs. Usually they are related to an upcoming event, but often I have non-specified panic.

My anxiety this time was related to the demolition and construction that is going to start on The SweatBox tomorrow. Contractors are going to rip out the garage door and build a permanent wall. It's a good thing. We'll have better insulation, new windows, and greater soundproofing from the street noise. In the passenger seat beside me, Lucia, in her adorable 12-year-old voice, was chirping on about her day. I faintly heard her at the same time that my mind wandered towards the impending construction. I felt my chest tensing, my focus blurring, my breath quickening. I remember the moment because the beauty of the tree canopy was so striking as we climbed the hill. Despite my panic, I was still aware of the grandeur of the trees, grateful for their beauty.

Maybe it was the beauty that interrupted my anxiety. Maybe it was something Lucia said. I can't pinpoint exactly the moment, but all of the sudden I had a revelation. "I am having so much anxiety right now," I recall thinking. "But I'm only one person of billions in the world. There's no way my anxiety can be THAT huge." And just like that, I started breathing normally and I was able to hear and see clearly again.

Over the years I've developed lots of tools for managing my anxiety. Of course yoga is my everyday go to. Mindless TV can help. Running, playing scrabble, shopping, all take my mind off of my current anxiety fixation. My thought today-- that I'm just not important enough in the scheme of the world to have that much anxiety-- was one of my first successful attempts to rationalize myself out of an anxious state.

Driving up a beautiful tree-lined road with my healthy, happy daughter by my side, on my way to a job and community I love, it just didn't make sense that I would let a construction project highjack my mental health.  The truth of the matter is that I am unbelievably blessed. As part of a year-long meditation class I'm taking this year, I write ten gratitudes each day to two of my classmates. I think the daily reminder of how much I have to be grateful for played into this shift with my anxiety today. Gratitude gives perspective. No matter what's coming, what stressors (known or unknown) might be in front of you, regardless of the daily conflicts or discomforts in life, if we can find people, things, experiences to be grateful for, that other stuff comes more realistically into focus.  Tomorrow it's a construction project. In two years, it's sending my baby off to high school. In ten years, it's making sure my parents are well cared for. It's always something. The good news is, for every one of those possible stressors, there are at least ten things to be grateful for.

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