Rewiring an anxious, angry, tired brain.

Recently I was at Aldi, shopping for food with my toddler. He was screaming the place down, because I looked at him. Seems reasonable! *Shrugs*. Anyway we FINALLY got to the checkout, when the checkout lady said to the bloke behind me “oh you come through first, that lady will take ages to unpack (because I was balancing a 12 kilo wailing banshee on my hip) and you don’t have that much stuff (he had about 5 items less than me)”. I SAW RED! I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, I’m going to let her have it!!! (when it’s eventually my turn, which at this rate is probably never). Anyway, what that looked like was, I said with flickering eye contact and shaky voice “I really would have preferred you to ask me before letting someone else through. I have a really sore back, and have the baby with me and I am actually in a bit of a hurry”. So assertive! She must have been terrified, not.  Anyway, it didn’t really work, because she just said “well, we always do that as a courtesy to our customers” and then when I repeated “I just think asking the person if they mind would be better, or letting the person offer it themselves” she said “I’m not here to argue with you, I did the right thing”. What the actual…?! *bites tongue* Seems little now, but yeah I was pretty annoyed.

So, I stewed on it all day (as you do), considered making a complaint to Aldi (but then realised I was far too lazy) and then let it ALL OUT to hubby when he walked in the door that night. I looked at him expectantly when I had finished my tale of woe, waiting for I don’t know what exactly, but some form of sympathy or outrage, I guess. He looked at me, genuinely befuddled, and asked a one word question: “So?” Well! I drew my breath, and puffed my chest out ready to tell him exactly why “so” Mister! And then I stopped. I stopped because the question had just sunk in and I didn’t have an answer to it. In what way was that event actually going to affect my life? What was I gaining by holding onto it and wasting time thinking about and even talking about it? In other words, as he so eloquently put it, so?

I have actually heard this lesson before, in a different way. My dad’s favourite saying is “oh well”. (Is it maybe a male thing?). But it hasn’t sunk in for me yet! I like justice, damn it!

There is some comfort in holding tight onto things that offend you. You feel as though the person is paying for their “crime”, so long as you don’t let go. Like if you forget it, then they are getting away with it. And that is not on, we think! But there is a saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies”. And another: “Forgiveness is setting someone free, and then finding out it was you”. Sometimes (most of the time) little things people do are just that: little things. That they possibly don’t even remember, and probably didn’t mean.  Sometimes they are big things, and sometimes they are intentional and that is harder. But it is still worth it to try hard to let it go. For your sake. Because you deserve to live your best life, and harbouring resentment and negativity isn’t it. I’ve spent (wasted) too much time thinking about inconsequential negative moments, and I’m tired, and I bet I’m not alone!

A friend recently commented to me that it is more comfortable to think about the “little” things in life than to have to go there with the big stuff. It gets us out of thinking about the major life issues, the uncontrollable things, and the stuff that really actually does need our time and energy. In the midst of raising a toddler, keeping a marriage alive, having a demanding people-focussed job, buying a house and moving into it, dealing with a chronic back condition, and being away from my family, on top of some other personal issues that are really draining, why do I spend time focussing on this (pardon me, but…) CRAP! Because it’s comfortable? But it’s not really. It’s not comfortable, but it’s easy and it’s automatic. That’s how our brains are wired; for survival.

We are wired to see the potential threat in EVERYTHING, at least according to evolutionary psychology. And we keep these potential threats at the forefront of our minds, to keep us alert, alive and “safe”. But we don’t often encounter actual threats to our survival in Australia in 2017; if someone looks at us funny it doesn’t usually mean we are going to lose our tribe and be left to fend for ourselves in the woods and then probably die of starvation. It probably just means someone has on their resting bitchy face, or something equally benign. The things we tend to focus on are more perceived threats than actual ones, and they are NOT worth holding onto so tightly. What was I afraid of in Aldi that morning? What was the “threat to my survival”? Well, I guess I felt embarrassed about my screaming kidlet, and worried that if I had to stand another minute I may not have had the strength left to pack the groceries and get them to the car and still drive home (not to mention take the trolley BACK to its friends in the trolley bay to get my $2 back – stupid Aldi; they make you work for it, don’t they?) Was that likely to happen? No. There were plenty of people around to help me if need be, and I even had my phone on me for any worst case scenarios. But the anxiety was automatic, and I guess by writing this I’m just realising that this is the way I am wired. I’m normal woohoo!

But there are ways to soften the blow of this automatic reaction. There is a term “Metacognition” which means “Thinking about Thinking”. It’s having the awareness of your own thought processes. Once we are aware of not only what we are thinking but how we are thinking and why we are thinking it, it is possible to use certain strategies to alter the neural pathways in our brains, so that our automatic pilots aren’t always set to fear and anxiety. This is a very basic example of something called neuroplasticity, which I might talk about more another time, cos it’s so fascinating. But what sorts of things should we set our minds to instead of fear and negativity?

Many studies have been done about the “key to a happy life”. One theme that runs throughout them all is thankfulness and contentment. To be thankful and content where you are, not always wanting things to be different, or wanting more, or striving to be better at this or that. Not to be stuck in the past with “it’s not fair” victim type mentalities, or stuck in the future with “what if”, worst case scenario type anxious thoughts. Just to be where you are, and to be grateful for it and content in it. Letting the other stuff, the negative stuff, the unfair stuff, the scary stuff, go. So, next time (should it happen again, which it won’t cos stuff you Aldi – joke! I actually love Aldi a lot) I will try not to think about the Aldi lady all day, making myself more and more angry and worked up. I will pretend I am a duck and let it roll right off my back. I will be like that movie Pollyanna and think about what I am “glad” about. I will concentrate on things I am thankful for every day. I’ll sit still and be in the moment.  I won’t drink any more poison. And then I’ll hopefully be set free. Well, I will try anyway. I’m sure it will be a work in progress!

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