Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed by a relentless to-do list that never seems to get shorter? I know I do. I have found that feeling like I can never really get on top of all I have to do can lead to a downward spiral of stress, anxiety and frustration. Feeling such pressure can often put me in a bad mood, making it difficult to enjoy and appreciate all the things I’m doing while I am doing them because I feel so rushed. Can you relate?
I have found something that helps: Taking a moment to think my “safe” thought.
Similar to the practice of using a “safe word”, whereby a couple may use a mutually agreeable word to de-escalate a conversation that is edging into “hurt feelings” territory, a safe thought can help de-escalate a mood that is heading in an unpleasant direction.
A safe thought is any thought that can immediately put you in a better mood. And once you start to feel better, it can put the brakes on bad feelings that are spiraling out of control. As you can guess, bad feelings tend to attract other bad feelings. It’s like they gang up on you. In the same way, good feelings lead to other good feelings. Here’s how it works:
My safe thought is “bamboo”. When I get to the point where feel like I just want to scream or run away, the classic “fight or flight response” of stress, I think about our bamboo patch in our backyard, and I start to feel better.
Why bamboo? Over the past few years, we have been nurturing timber bamboo along our north fence in order to eventually block the view from our neighbor’s house. Since they are a little uphill and their bedroom window looks down on our backyard, it can sometimes make us feel like we live in a fish bowl. This is the growing season for bamboo, where all the new shoots are rapidly reaching heights of 20 to 30 feet. I’m not sure why seeing all this unfold gets me excited, but it does.
Taking a moment to pause and think about our bamboo patch leads to other thoughts and feelings of appreciation, gratitude, and contentment. Here is one thing, at least to me, that is not overwhelming. This may be why so many people are into gardening.
How about you? Do you have “safe thought”? If not, find something that can immediately re-orient your mental compass and put you in a better mood. Do you have a favorite travel spot or a favorite band? This makes me think of The Beatles. What about a sports team? Or perhaps you have a favorite passage from a book or scripture. Psalm 23 comes to mind.
You get the idea. So try it. Decide on a thought beforehand that will consistently make you feel better and see how your day turns around when, in the midst of mounting pressure, you take a moment and think about that thing. I would love to hear your stories.