Excited it’s Friday? Me too! Got a whole weekend ahead of nothing but fun and relaxation? Me neither. Well, maybe you’re one of the lucky few who actually does, and if so, the rest of us will try not to be jealous. In all likelihood, you probably have a chock-full list of things you need to accomplish this weekend with a few fun moments mixed in. In fact, aside from not having to attend class or show up for work (or maybe you do), your weekend to-do list probably looks a lot like your weekday to-do list, but with some glamorous additions like “clean kitchen” and “update resume.” The lack of quality down-time in our lives is a post for another day, but today we’re continuing the conversation about stress with another “No-Fail” Friday mindfulness challenge.
Take a look at your to-do list. How’s that make you feel? Stressed, thanks for asking. I know, it’s ok. That’s why I’m here. In my last post, I wrote about research that has shown that how we think about stressful tasks actually changes our body’s response to the stress of completing them. Essentially, when we infuse challenging tasks with positive meaning, we still work hard to get things done, but it doesn’t make us feel as anxious or scared to do so.
So, let’s try this. Look at your list (mental, digital, or otherwise), and choose one thing on it that you really don’t want to do. You know – the thing that you would gladly swap for taking out the trash – heck, all your neighbors’ trash, too – just so you could make it disappear, or pass it off to someone else. It could be a tedious academic assignment, a challenging deliverable for work, a tough conversation you need to have, or a big decision it’s about that time to make. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit, and bring that task into your mind. Find your breath, inhaling fully and exhaling completely, as you just sit with the necessity of completing this task. Yup, for just a hot second, you’re going to feel worse. Stick with me here. When you feel anxiety about it rising, simply notice it. Don’t judge yourself for being anxious, or let your thoughts attach to the anxiety itself. Just notice it (“I’m anxious.”). Also notice how the task itself (“I am going to write this report.”) is different from your discomfort about it (“I’m anxious about writing this report because I’m afraid it won’t be good enough.”). Keep breathing, without becoming attached to any thoughts or feelings that may arise. Acknowledge them, and direct your attention back to your breath. Eventually you may develop a more clear understanding that the task and the anxiety about it truly are separate things, and that you can complete the task without the baggage of your worries about it.
You may find as you try this that different aspects of the task come to your mind. For example, you may think of teammates or classmates who may also be dreading their own piece of this assignment or project this weekend, and could use a little encouragement. It may dawn on you that getting through this task means the next step is something you’re actually looking forward to. You may realize that this moment of annoyance, challenge or uncertainty is temporary, and therefore doesn’t define you. Or, you may simply feel a little more relaxed than you were when you sat down. Either way, your weekend should start to feel a little more like a weekend ought to feel – and (bonus!) your Monday list will have one less thing waiting for you on it.
It’s important to note that this exercise is different than simply telling yourself that you aren’t scared or worried anymore. That just stuffs it away for later. It’s about taking a few minutes to consciously reframe how you are thinking about a difficult situation and observing the layer of anxiety you may have wrapped it in. Doing this won’t transform the situation into a five-star vacation. Sorry, this is mindfulness, not magic. But, it can take some of the unnecessary tension and “worry-spiraling” out of it. It may also help you more directly connect how you use your time to the people you share it with, and ultimately, to your purpose in the things you choose to do. The most direct route past a challenge is straight through it. This weekend, choose one thing, take a deep breath, and dive into it. It’s probably not nearly as complicated, or stressful, as you’re making yourself think it is.
Photo credit: Ian Schneider/Stocksnap