It is hard to slow down in a fast paced world, where the expectations for us to perform and always be “on” are high. Sometimes, this cleverly gets integrated into how we manage our anxiety – we keep busy, keep hustling, keep proving, striving, keep trying to figure things out.
I remember it dawning on me that I was someone with anxiety. I brought it up with my best friend in University. “I think I have anxiety” to which she said “You think?!” Apparently I was the last to find out.
Before that I remember learning about it in first year like yeah yeah, excessive worrying, got it. It didn’t have much significance to me except for how much of it would be on the exam. But once I realized I was someone with anxiety, I noticed the nuances that I experienced that others didn’t seem to or found odd. Like leaving a party without telling anyone because I felt uncomfortable, talking quickly, having difficulty engaging in and following a conversation when something was coming up like a job interview or something where I would need to perform. It is also things like not being able to relax, even though you have down time or days off.
While I do think anxiety is an overused term these days, I also think that its not uncommon to feel it regularly. For people that have always lived on overdrive, slowing down is way easier said than done. Keeping busy either with thoughts or with tasks is something that helps to manage the anxiety, whether that means indulging it or distracting from it. Both maintain it.
A big credit to learning how to slow down has come from sitting in therapy myself in a space that doesn’t have an agenda, that is focused on me, and allows for co-regulation (for you to regulate to the tune to a calmer, more grounded nervous system). It’s like a safe container for the discomfort. In starting to learn to slow down, this can be so helpful because you have a guide.
Other baby steps are things like giving yourself more time in between tasks or locations so you’re not rushed. It could mean reassuring yourself and talking to yourself like a small child. It could be doing breathing exercises while driving or commuting (safely and not meditation). It could mean encouraging yourself to stay at the party even though its hard because it might get better, or thinking of times when making a connection with someone else turned out well. What could happen if it worked out?
It could be starting to notice more. That’s all, just noticing. Witnessing yourself when you are rushing, or multitasking, or moving quickly through the world. It’s noticing when you get caught up in worst case scenarios, and reminding yourself that things often don’t go as expected (in a good way).
Mark Twain said “I spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened” and damn is that so true. Its like imagining terrible scenarios which your body reacts to, and is in an entirely different world than reality. Spending a lot of time there is exhausting because you’re constantly living awful scenarios that feel very real.
Where there is lots of anxiety, there is also often a lack of emotional regulation from parents who weren’t capable of containing their own anxiety. Our nervous systems tuned into the nervous systems that were taking care of us. We learn unconsciously how to be in the world by how our parents are in the world.
From this viewpoint, slowing down can look like having compassion for your young self who didn’t have the nurturance and containment of their emotional experience that they needed. It can look like orienting yourself towards self respect inwards rather than looking for it outwards.
No anxiety is not the goal here. It is awareness of how your nervous system has been programmed and having deep compassion and healthy anger around that not being your choice, while also acknowledging that you may be perpetuating your own suffering. It is both.
This relearning takes time and practice. We can’t expect ourselves to change a pattern that has been happening for years in one try. Be kind and patient with yourself as you bravely step out into noticing what it would be like if things were different.
This is for Shaila Patel who lights up my tuesdays, inspires me to keep writing, and is the kind of confident woman that I strive to be.