Anxiety is common enough in our society, but not something I was terribly conscious of before having children. As a stay at home Mom (which isn’t a great description for someone with 3 part-time jobs, but nevertheless I am home during the day), I began to experience anxiety on a regular, almost daily basis. The onset of anxiety and irritability is the energy of the day rising within, but that insight took some time to arrive. It is a circadian rhythm: creative, active energy, available to accomplish whatever I set in motion.
What I noticed first was a chaotic swirl of thoughts, an inability to make decisions, and a hard knot at the center of my chest. It disappeared when I was on vacation, which was a good clue that it was stress related. Slowly I became aware that before the knot in my chest became a stone, my thoughts and worries about what I had to do and what I hadn’t already done became a thick tangle in my head. It was difficult to triage the chaos and figure out what to do first. On a bad day I would start one task only to remember something else, and switch. What is wrong with me, I wondered, I never used to be like this. But it was much simpler, before I had children, and the stakes didn’t seem so high. Now there is a mountain of laundry to climb and an equally imposing river of paper that comes home in backpacks and in the mail on a daily basis, along with the nagging sensation that I’m not making progress toward my dreams.
There was a period when this feeling was so pernicious that I asked my nurse practitioner about it. She is lovely, but not so holistic. She recommended a trial of an anti-ulcer medication, thinking to prevent acid reflux which she felt could be the source of my pain. No thank you, just needed to know that I’m not at risk for a heart attack.
I am slowly learning to notice the swirl of thoughts and to channel this life-force in a useful way. It requires focus and direction. So I make lists and generate plans. The trick is to create the right plan. It has to be challenging enough that it serves to motivate but not so overly ambitious that it causes despair. Then there is the paradox of holding lightly to the plan. Firmly enough to hold steady on the course, loose enough to flow when there is a mountain in the way; like a child in distress, needing attention more than the dishes and the laundry. I’m not very good at this, being stubborn by nature, but I keep trying.
A lot of this insight is a direct result of my yoga practice. The time spent on the mat is a quiet, discerning space in which to learn to observe the rise and fall of thoughts, to learn focus. The practice of Ashtanga yoga, in particular, is gradually teaching this very slow learner to hold lightly to the plan.