For as long as I can remember, I have been an anxious person. As a kid, I was the one hiding under the table when my parents went visiting. I was beyond shy. This lasted until around grade 10, but even as I began to find my voice, I was still riddled with anxiety.
I grew up as a people pleaser. I worked hard to be a model citizen and worried about disappointing my parents. This drive to please others served me well as I moved into advertising, specifically event marketing. My role revolved around keeping the client happy.
Anyone who has organized a wedding or large event understands the pressure and stress that comes with the planning. Working in events fed my anxiety monster and had my brain running in overdrive.
When I was 29 my dad passed away and the anxiety took a deeper toll on my life as I attempted to cope with my grief and deal with the pressure of work. I began to have panic attacks. The silver-lining to it was that I could no longer ignore the issue. I needed to learn how to cope with the stress and anxiety I was feeling.
I did the work to help me cope when I was sliding towards an anxiety attack. I learned the value of being present, grounding myself in my environment by naming the items I could see around me “green tree, blue sky, black dog, red car, blue house, white fence.” When you can stop the racing thoughts by getting grounded, the anxiety eases.
I also learned powerful breathing techniques that allowed me to calm myself when I was feeling anxious. It is incredible what few deep breaths can do to get you into a calmer state.
It was after years of practicing these techniques, deep breathing and mindfulness through connecting with my body, that it struck me, why did I have to wait till I was in my 30’s to learn these amazing tools?
As a big fan of Eckhart Tolle and his teaching about being present, I started asking myself, “what if I could simplify this so that a child could understand it?” I let that percolate for a few days. It was a quiet Saturday morning that the refrain “A thought is a thought, it’s not me, it’s just not” popped into my brain. That was essentially the crux of the idea that we are not our thoughts.
I huddled in my bedroom, in the dark, with my laptop and typed out a rhyming scheme that would teach kids the basics of mindfulness.
The framework revolved around these key areas:
- We have thoughts all day every day, they are incessant
- Our minds shift from thoughts about the future (what’s going to happen), to the past (recalling what we’ve experienced)
- When we meditate or get still and present, we can calm our racing thoughts
- By checking in with our bodies (what are we feeling physically?) and practicing breath work – deep breathing we can calm our nervous system
- And most importantly, thoughts are just thoughts.. they are not who we are.
The earworm “A thought is a thought it’s not me, it’s just not” is intended to teach kids that they are not their thoughts and that they can let the thoughts go. I like to think of each thought as a little ball, and when a thought is stressful, I visualize it as a helium balloon floating up to the sky, past the clouds, getting smaller and smaller until it’s gone.
As an adult who practices mindfulness, it works as I apply it to my day. Bad day at the office “A thought is a thought..” Negative self talk “a thought is a thought…”
Quick cheat sheet:
- You are not your thoughts
- Feeling stressed? Ground yourself in your environment (what do you see, hear, feel, taste, smell?)
- Need to slow down your busy mind? Take 3-5 deep cleansing breathes, in through the nose (3 counts), hold (3 counts), and out through the mouth (3 counts)
If you have an anxious child, a few things that can help with deep breaths is to have them lie on the ground, place a stone, stuffy, or book on their tummy and have them breathe in through their nose trying to push the item up towards the ceiling. Then have them exhale through their mouth and watch the item come back down. Try to have them do it 3 times in a row.
If you have an anxious child that is creative, encourage them to draw something that takes a lot of their focus. Give them an object to copy or ask them to draw the room they are in. The focus they will have as they complete that exercise will take them out of their racing thoughts and bring them into the present moment.
For adults trying to find time to be more mindful and present, try being present while in the shower. See how long you can focus on just the feeling of the water on your body. Put your hand under the running water and see how it feels as it warms up. How does it feel when the water first hits your head and runs down your back? As someone who can’t always remember if she’s shampooed her hair, the shower is a great time to be present and take a moment for yourself.
Look for moments where you can put down your phone, feel the breeze and listen intently. It’s important to remember people will model their behaviour after yours so if you can get grounded and be present, hopefully you’ll positively influence others to do the same.
My wish is that you can quiet those racing thoughts and know that you are enough, just as you are. Next time you have a nagging, negative thought, remember “A thought is a thought, it’s not me it’s just not.”
For more details about the book “A Thought is A Thought” and helpful resources for child anxiety please visit www.athoughtisathought.com