For me, one of the easiest paths to anxiety is to try to do more more more, faster faster faster. Slow it down, Girl.
Have you ever noticed that the more anxious you get, the faster everything seems to be moving? This past week, I had to surrender. To my to do list, to my own expectations, to the pressure that I put on myself, to the feeling that everything needs to be done RIGHT NOW.
I had been working on a painting that wasn’t coming along well. I was attempting to create the first in the series of “breathe paintings” that I told you about last week. What was coming out was the prickliest looking “breath” I have ever seen. It was pointy, sharp, not at all the feeling of inhale and exhale that I had hoped to create.
I realized that my state of mind at the time was abrupt, self-critical, and racing like it was running around on fire. How could I possibly create paintings that felt like releasing a deep breath if I myself felt frantic?
I wanted to rip it up and start over, but I had spent hours on this painting already. Shouldn’t I stick it out and see where it went? I have a goal of when I want this series done by…I’d be losing time if I were to abandon what I had already begun.
I stared and stared at this painting. I tried hard to talk myself into what it was becoming. Then, I decided to wipe it clean. I had already applied a good bit of paper onto the canvas so I wet a bunch of paper towels and laid them on top of the paper so they would gently become loose, and I removed everything I had done.
Back to a blank slate.
I immediately felt myself exhale. “On the right path already,” I thought. Then I began to apply paper again. I felt myself slow, my actions almost in slow motion. Pick up the paper, dip it in the adhesive, fold it carefully, and apply it to the canvas. Over and over I did this.
Occasionally, I felt myself start moving faster, that deadline creeping into my brain. I took a breath, picked up a piece of paper and slowly continued, watching my pace as I went on. A funny thing happened…my shoulders relaxed & my breath became deeper and more intentional.
A few hours passed in this way and when I stepped back, ahhhhh there it was. The deep breath that I was looking for was beginning to appear on the canvas. No more prickly, pointy paper. It was now smooth, calm, and flowing.
I worked in that way for the next two days. This morning, I woke with energy for the first time in weeks. My first thought when my eyes opened wasn’t, “Oh God I can’t wait to go to sleep tonight.” Instead, I woke excited to continue on with my painting...
…which, as it turns out, I won’t be getting to today due to three appointments spread out over the day, and an early Yoga and dinner date with my Mom. But it’s ok. A shift has happened.
A funny thing happened…my shoulders relaxed & my breath became deeper and more intentional.
I worked for a nutritionist and herbalist for nearly a decade. During presentations, he would talk about the different types of energy and why sea turtles live so long. Now, I’m sure I’m going to get this wrong, as I am not a healthcare professional or a scientist, but basically, we are either spending energy or building energy. Sleep is our time for building. Waking hours are when we spend.
Where do sea turtles fit in? Well, he said that the reason sea turtles live so long is because they move so darn slow. They aren’t in a hurry ever, like at all. They spend waaaaaaay less energy when they are awake than we do and don’t have to work so hard during sleep to build energy back up and thus live to be two million years old or whatever.
I found myself thinking about this as I slowly worked on my painting and also today while running around from appointment to appointment. I reminded myself a couple of times to take it slow.
When I am running anxious, I have a Mean Boss in my head telling me that I need to do more and I need to do it faster
I find, when I am running anxious, I have a Mean Boss in my head telling me that I need to do more and I need to do it faster. I should already have accomplished more than I have. I should be much further along than I am.
That will make my insides feel like they are vibrating and I begin to move faster in an effort to get more done. This is what I refer to as “chicken with my head cut off” syndrome (see also "tornado brain", "hamster wheel mind" and "running around as if on fire mode"). It feels frantic and panicky and most of the time, leads to exhaustion, miscommunications and me taking everything personally.
But here’s the deal…it will never be enough. I will never please Mean Boss. I will never accomplish what Mean Boss thinks I should have done. I will always not be doing enough. I will always not be doing it fast enough, or good enough. Mean boss is a real fucker.
The thing is that if I listen to Mean Boss, and start moving faster, I and my work suffer. I am not able to create my “breathe” painting and instead create a pointy, sharp painting because that is how I am feeling on the inside.
The answer? Slow down. Be mindful of every action. Don’t think about the deadline. Instead, think about how this little blue piece of paper looks next to the lighter shade of paper that I placed it next to. Think about the curved line that I am creating with straight edges. Inhale. Exhale. I am breathing.
Today, I find I’m reminding myself to simply slow the pace down. I’m realizing that when I spin out into “go mode”, it actually feeds the anxiety. Instead of feeling accomplished, I feel even more like a failure. It’s because I am trying to satisfy Mean Boss, who will never ever be satisfied.
The answer? Slow down. Be mindful of every action.
I have clarity on this today. Tomorrow, I may not. It is the ebb and flow of peace and anxiety. I feel, as I’m settling into middle age, that the anxiety is getting worse. Is it because there is more to do? Maybe. But deep down, I feel it is fear of running out of time to get all the things done. If I figure out how to fire Mean Boss, who will never be satisfied, will I then I solve the issue of never ending deadlines, and ever growing criticisms?
My desire right now is to be that sea turtle. To feel ok about my productivity, even if I am not running on full throttle 100% of the time. To tell myself that I do enough. I am enough. I will accomplish enough...and to quote Stuart Smalley, "Gosh darn it, people like me". Simple, yes? Someone needs to get Mean Boss the memo.
Have you ever noticed the power in slowing down? In the comments, tell me about one time that you helped yourself by simply taking things slower.
The photo at top is a detail from the beginning of my first Breathe painting. I have a ways to go, but already I'm finding it soothing.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I use creativity to break through anxiety paralysis, I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes. To hear from me more regularly, join me on this Crazy, Beautiful Artventure.