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Get off the Worry Train

Today I attended six-hour meditation retreat offered by UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.  While I had just completed a six-session workshop, I have yet to develop the habit of meditating daily as I would like.
I headed to UCLA’s campus with a (newer) friend, whom I just adore.  I’ll probably make a post about friendships sometime in the near future, as I have found it so difficult to make and maintain lasting friendships as we  get older.  I won’t call her out by name, but I am so thankful for finding her.

The topic of the retreat was called ‘Day of Mindfulness: Freedom from Anxiety’ and was guided by Diana Winston.  The description was

Many of us struggle with fear, worry, and anxiety. Our days can be filled with little concerns, worry, or anxieties, and we never seem to have a moment of ease.
MARC invites us to learn new ways to relate to fear and anxiety. We will learn how to be mindful in the midst of fear, and how to use mindfulness to prevent our thoughts from getting out of control, by returning to the present moment. We will also learn to cultivate states of mind that antidote these emotions such as fearlessness, ease, and kindness.

My reasons for attending this retreat were the same as signing up for my first meditation workshop.  As I wrote about in my post Developing a Mindfulness Practice,

One of my three resolutions for 2013 was being more fully present.  With so many changes I’ve been taking on lately, I knew my mind would (and had been) going a million miles an hour.  I’ll say it, I’m restless, a busybody, a doer.  It comes with an ability to get a lot of great work done, but a potential for high levels of burnout.

The room was packed, with a waiting list of additional participants ready to join in the session.  Diana quickly went into describing key terms including fear, anxiety and worry.   On the surface these words can be used interchangeably, but do have differences

  • Fear: Base Emotion
  • Anxiety: Formation of Fear
  • Worry: The act of thinking

Diane spoke of thoughts (worry) like a train, upon a allowing yourself to board a negative training you can end up twenty miles in the wrong direction.  To explain further, have you ever had some kind of physical condition like a rash, chest pain or headache that started to get to you?  The next thing you know, you are deep in webmd.com and have convinced yourself of soon impending doom?
No, just me?!?

“Don’t believe everything you think.” –Diane Winston

Tools are the cornerstone to mindfulness meditation.  In my last meditation related post, I wrote about STOP:

S: Stop what you are doing
T: Take one breath
O: Observe your emotions
P: Proceed

Today I learned RAIN, that applies directly to dealing with anxiety:

R: Recognize by labeling the experience causing anxiety
A: Acceptance/Allowing of experience
I: Investigate the manifestations in the body
N: Not to identify personally with it, ‘This is not my emotion.  It is anxiety passing through me.’

When working through anxiety, one important element that mindfulness teaches,  is to stay in the moment, deal with the fear directly and approach it with acceptance instead of fighting it.
Before lunchbreak we completed an entire hour one-meditation session.  This included sitting, walking, standing and sitting again.  My anxiety rose when Dr. Winston first proposed this, and my friend and I exchanged glances of dread.  But we did it!
It felt like going for a long training run.  I had moments of struggling like going up a steep climb.  There were also times when I hit my stride and reached an ability to simply exist.
One piece of information that was very impactful was learning that worrying can be a habit itself.  What makes worrying worse is what Diane described at the beginning of the day, in getting on the worry train heightens our worries into fears that churns up physical manifestation which leaves us with anxiety.
The last exercise of the day was done with a partner.  We were handed the list of questions and asked to take ten minutes each to thoroughly describe one worry we have been dealing with.

  • What events or experiences trigger anxiety/worry?
  • What believes trigger anxiety/worry?
  • How can I create conditions for less worry to arise?
  • What patterns do I notice in my anxious/worried thinking?
  • ie: Predicting the worst/blowing out of proportion/jumping to conclusions
  • What do I believe anxiety/worrying gives me?
  •  Who would I be if I didn’t have this anxiety/worry?

Sharing out was therapeutic, but also was the time listening to my partner.  Mindfulness is done beyond meditation: while eating, walking, cooking, eating, running and more.   The last question was very telling; who would I be if I didn’t have certain worries?
Who would you be?
When used constructively, worrying can be beneficial.  Sometimes there is wisdom in the worry.  The problem is that when the worry hits the worry train, you are taken to higher levels of anxiety.  How can we preserve the wisdom of a simple worry without feeding the anxiety?
The practice of mindfulness would say one needs to meditate daily.  But also it is not a magic pill.  Diane described it supportive like a friend.  Maybe like the friend I went with today.
I know I am not an expert in this topic, nor someone who has practiced meditation for years.  However, I believe these tools are very important to share.  Maybe you are experiencing some struggles that you can’t seem to shake.  Fears that now you can feel in your throat, chest or stomach.  Boarding the worry train day after day.
Are you on the worry train?  What would you be without worry?  Where would you be going?

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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