On Freaking Out

Let’s cut to the chase this morning: does mindfulness actually work? 

Quick story from my own life. But before I begin, let me contextualize. I like coming home at the end of the day to a clean home. Every roommate I’ve ever had can attest to this desire. My mind is messy enough, so when my house is messy bad things happen. 

Two weeks ago, my brother and I returned to cold NYC from 10 days in India on a work trip. I had been up for 48 hours; I was severely dehydrated; I got locked out; I had to beg my landlord to let me in; I didn’t have my contacts in; and I desperately had to pee. 

My beloved husband had wrote me a thoughtful, somewhat panicked email that said, “I didn’t have time to clean the apartment, I’m so sorry.” Thankful for the heads up, but optimistic that the apartment would not be in squalor, I walked in and, gasp, my apartment looked like 5 year old had been house sitting. Without airing too much of my husband’s dirty laundry (which, may I add, was EVERYWHERE), the apartment was a mess. Seething from my foggy jetlagged mind, I sat down on the toilet only to find…. there was no toilet paper. 

RAGE. 

I quickly picked up my phone and started writing a very harsh text replete with “are you freaking kidding me?!” and superlatives like “alwwaaaays” and generalizations on the quantity of love he has for me and an incident that occurred 8 years and all those things you learn in Therapy 101 not ever to say.

But then, something happened. 

I didn’t send the text. I erased it and I wrote another (without the “freakin’s). And then I wrote another (without the exclamation points). And another. 

And eventually the one I sent looked like “I feel disappointed and bummed out when….” and “how can we avoid this from happening again” and blah blah blah (boring!).  And then I sat in the bath for an hour till I turned to a prune and all the negative energy could slip down the drain.  

Inevitably (INEVITABLY!) we will change as we practice. And we know this, not only because neuroscientists have now proven mindfulness can change the physical structure of our prefrontal cortex and shrink the size of our fear-regulating amygdala  (is this med-talk turning you on right now?), but because we (or others) start to to see subtle shifts in our own life. 

These subtle shifts are sometimes so subtle we don’t realize they’re happening. But when we realize we used to flip out, and now we flip out less, these are profound (and celebratory) moments.

Let’s learn to freak out less.

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