Kerry here. I’m up ridiculously early this morning. Sleep is a little fragile and I woke up stressed about all of my to-do’s. I wish I could say I’ve mastered the art of staying calm, but here I am…. Not Zen at this moment.
If you can’t relate, you might as well just scoot on down to the next email in your inbox. But if you do relate, stick with me for just a moment.
’m a therapist in my 50’s and my six kids and stepkids are big and grown-ish. When I was younger, I assumed that by now, I’d have my state of mind all figured out and would feel calmer inside than I did in my 30s and 40s. Well, the truth is, I do often feel calmer and more peaceful inside. Thank goodness all that personal work hasn’t been for naught. But the other truth is, it’s also pretty normal to shift states or modes, frequently: we’re grounded and happy… until we’re not. Then we’re fired up and stressed. Then we’re laughing and loving. Then we’re irritated. Our bodies and minds cycle through all sorts of states.
What I have learned is that, even though I don’t enjoy being in my stress-state, it’s just a state, and I can use skills to draw myself back to a calmer state. (Well, sometimes I can, anyway.)
One quick self-therapy skill that I love is called “Past-Present-Future” and I’d like to share it in case you, too, could use a new skill in your toolbox for shifting states of mind. It’s a simple little skill and we can do it solo or with a friend or partner. Here are the steps:
Step #1: You pick a topic that is causing you to be hard on yourself. Jot it down or share it. For me, at this moment, it would be: feeling overwhelmed about all the stuff I’m trying to get done, and my heart is racing.
Step #2: You write or share how you would have handled this in the past. For me, as an example: In the past, I would have stayed stuck in this state. I wouldn’t have given myself the grace to take care of myself when I’m busy. I would have overworked myself more than I do now. I would assume I was stressed because I hadn’t done a good enough job of getting things done earlier, so I’d drive myself harder with a critical inner voice.
Step #3: You write or share how you are handling it now, in the present. In my example, I’m still waking up early today with a racing heart about all I need to get done. But, different from the past, I have a kinder voice inside my head that cuts me more slack, and reminds me that it will come together. My kinder voice gently chides me about thinking I’m so super-human that I can do it all, and she lovingly reminds me that I am more than the tasks I accomplish.
Step #4: You write or share where you aim to head in the future. For me, I will keep working on finding acceptance of myself as imperfect, not on top of every little thing, more able to ask for help, and better at not setting myself up with unreasonable expectations about how much I can accomplish.
Simply writing down or saying these things out loud can be calming because we remind ourselves that we are forever evolving. We are better and more mature than we once were and we are still works in progress. Doing this helps me feel more compassion for myself. I can accept growth and gradual maturity in my children; this exercise reminds me to do the same for myself.
From my heart, I ask this of you: please be gentle with all versions of yourself: past, present, and future. You are growing. You are learning. You can be an imperfect person and still be amazing.