Minimizing Anxiety over Change

March 29, 2017 by School of Medicine Webmaster

Whether a liberal or conservative, the abrupt and dramatic changes in the political climate have created a lot of increased anxiety for many.  One of my dear patients came in the other day with a beautifully made “RESIST” poster to hang up.  There was obvious moral distress over the “alternative facts” proposed by the current administration. Tweets, press conferences, NPR, CNN, Fox News are constant reminders of the concept of impermanence.  For those of us in the mindfulness community this concept is very present.

In last month’s article, Dr. John Schorling, eloquently discussed mindfulness and leadership “through the lens of emotional intelligence”.  I was particularly struck with the relevance of his message in light of our current political culture.  Understanding my own strong reaction to the constant barrage of political news has been eye opening.  In noticing my own beliefs and patterns of reaction, I have also discovered with a myriad of possibilities for compassionate responses.  Paying attention to my own emotional intelligence has helped me to tease out what are my own feelings, beliefs, and attitudes versus what are just my reactions to others who may appear angry, insecure and alarming?  Sounds simple, but autopilot kicks in with a programed sympathetic nervous system response before I realize I am reacting. Taking time to sit quietly and meditate has helped create a moment for me to be with all of these reactions and explore, with curiosity, my own feelings, thoughts and emotions.  Interestingly, I am starting to experience more space for some tranquility.

The “key aspect of really paying attention to how we are feeling in relation to others is being aware of why the emotion is arising” says Dr. Schorling.  Working in a university setting, I see a variety of people from all over the world.  I hear their stories, I know their families, I see their good hearts. I see them work hard to provide for their households.  I do not see them as my “enemy”.  So I notice I have moral distress reactions each day over their uncertain futures and how this plays out in my own life, as well as collectively how it affects the lives of those around me.

Being aware of my own reactions has been freeing.  As I pay more attention to my own reactions, I am able to unhook my thoughts from the stories I get lost in.  This allows me to position myself in a better situation to listen without judging.  Listening without judging allows a pause that provides space for me to choose how I want to respond. Responding instead of automatically reacting also feels better.  In addition, I notice a greater sense of wellbeing and balance.  I am not “consumed” by what is going on in Washington. I feel less anxious and more tranquil. I am also aware of a new found energy for finding solutions to create a more peaceful society.  I can enjoy listening to the news with curiosity, realizing this is a unique moment in history, however strange at times, instead of getting caught up in someone else’s reactionary style.

Practicing mindfulness can be very challenging because it makes me realize my own reactions and increased anxiety.  With better understanding of the concept that things are constantly changing, I realize the importance of intentionally practicing present moment awareness without judgment, especially today.  Unhooking from the worries associated with the stream of stories creates more tranquility.  I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this.  It doesn’t mean that hearing the news every day is not fraught with challenges, but it does mean it doesn’t rob me of my joy, creativity or compassion for myself and for others.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings