Do the exact opposite of what you think you should do.
Our body is an excellent communicator if we know how to interpret its signals. There’s a book to help unpack these, but even then, if we’re not tuned in to our emotions or how we feel, we might miss the message.
They say our second brain is in our gut — hence why it clenches or nausea comes about when we don’t like what we hear or are in fear. But what if, we took the clenching in our stomach as a signal to let go? What if the nausea that arises from anxiety is a signal telling us not to worry?
Often we confuse natural instinct with ingrained habits from childhood.
Remember, our body was designed to save us. That’s why when you put your hand in the fire, you feel pain. The pain is saying to your brain, ‘Whoaaa doggy, DANGER! If you continue to leave your hand here, it might burn you to a crisp and you wouldn’t want that. Please kindly remove it.’ And so you do, you remove your hand quickly and from that point onwards, you are so scarred that you never do that to your body again. That scarring is probably not a bad thing in terms of human survival.
But as we’ve evolved from cavemen to Baby Boomers, Millenials, and Gen X, we no longer deal so much with lighting fire, but rather with school, work, parents, kids, and the most daunting thought: the future. The future we keep creating based on our past, not our present. The future we create based on our past pain — based on something we never want to relive again but continue to.
I’ve lost you? I’ll give you a clear example. When I was growing up, it was very important that I get good grades, get good test scores to go on to a prestigious university in order to get a good job in order to make a good salary in order to lead a good life. Standard. I was an awful test taker because I wasn’t skilled in 1) following my instinct, and 2) making the ‘correct’ decision under pressure — or so my subconscious told myself because of scarring that had happened at home.
My dad would check my homework religiously and because there was always someone to validate me (my work), I was free to make mistakes. In tests, there were no second pair of eyes. I just had to rely on myself. Oh, and the scores accounted for 1/3 of how students get into college — but no pressure. Had I done something incorrectly on my homework, I would have a chance to learn and correct it. But often, when the ‘right’ answer wouldn’t come to me after Dad had explained how to solve for it, I began to feel inadequate and nervous, searching for answers in the abyss and wondering why I could never be as knowledgable or quick as my dad. How come I had spent all day or week learning a certain concept and couldn’t deliver when Dad could look at something he learned 25 years ago and understand in just two minutes? When these thoughts overtook my mind, I couldn’t focus on the problem which only exasperated the anxiety and his frustration with me not being able to find the answer on the spot. If I couldn’t come up with the answer when my hand was being held, how would I ever come up with the answer on my own and under time constraints? This was the story I told myself.
I misunderstood my anxiety. I thought it meant that if I didn’t work harder, if I didn’t study more, that my future was gone. I just wasn’t smart enough, but hard work and persistence would make up for it, right?
That anxiety was actually an opportunity to calm down, signaling to my brain, ‘Do not compare yourself to anyone, you are your own person and you don’t need to have the same skills as your Dad.‘ That anxiety was telling me that hard work was not the answer and if I continued to burnout, I would never have the capacity or space to be creative…
But I continued to carry anxiety around with me like a bag.
And then my body did a funny thing. Every time I would work harder or not take breaks when I was pressed against a deadline, I would develop brain fog so severe I wouldn’t be able to see straight. I was so loopy I would either have to close my eyes and meditate or go for a walk in nature. This would cause more anxiety and now guilt for taking too long of a break WHEN SO MUCH HAD TO GET DONE. And yet, there was nothing I could do but close my eyes.
And when I would open them, I worked faster and easier than I ever had before. The answers just came to me and I knew they were right — no one needed to check them.
Because I rested when I *thought* I had to push harder, I became a more efficient worker. Because I went for a walk, I came up with a new campaign. And that’s the moment I understood:
My anxiety, that pit in my stomach, and the nausea was actually my body having anxiety about my anxiety. My body was having an adverse reaction to my anxiety and it signaled to me to go into shut down mode to save my cortisol levels from being in a constant peak state. My body was going into survival mode.
It can be really difficult to understand our feelings when we’ve never been taught how — especially when many of our ingrained habits are not even us, but traits we’ve adopted from our parents or our society’s behavior growing up.
So… the next time you feel anxiety play a game with yourself. Do the exact opposite of what you were doing. The next time you feel stressed, do the exact opposite of what was causing that stress. The next time you feel as though you need to rush, slow down. The next time you feel as though you need to focus, play. Just play with it. See where it might take you.
Try it, just for one day.