Improving Your Reactions to Mishaps from the Inside Out

“Peace of mind is not the absence of conflict from life, but the ability to cope with it.” ~Unknown

I am confident. I am content. I am complete. I am calm.

I decided that this was going to be my new mantra. I decided this at 8:26 a.m. I repeated it to myself over and over while showering, getting dressed, and driving to work.

I ascended the stairs to my office, singing the words in my head. I am confident. I am content. I am complete. I am calm.

This was going to be a good day. I would stay focused, yet aware; productive, yet relaxed. Yup, I was on top of the world, strutting my stuff in my maxi dress and strappy sandals.

And then I spilled my water bottle. My dress was blotched in awkward areas for a significant amount of time.

Needless to say, I forgot my mantra.

I forgot that I was supposed to be confident, content, complete, and calm.

For the first hour of my work day, I drifted in and out of an anxious haze of unrest, just because of that stupid water bottle. That spilled seven ounces of water triggered a tidal wave of unease and insecurity.

They say not to cry over spilled milk. “They” didn’t mention spilled water because it’s so insignificant.

I realize that spilled water is a really stupid thing to get worked up over. Logically, I know that.

But it wasn’t the spilled water that was really the problem. Anxiety is something I know all too well. I often allow small and insignificant disruptions to cause me a lot of distress. I blow things out of proportion; I know this.

But that doesn’t mean I have to live with anxiety-on-call for the rest of my life.

“Spilled water bottle” incidents happen.

And yes, when these failures or unexpected events occur, I am hit with a wave of anxiety.

But this does not mean that I’ve failed. This does not mean that I should just succumb to the negative feelings and let the wave knock me unconscious, filling my eyes and ears and nose with stinging saltwater and flinging me into uncontrolled spirals in which “up” and “down” lose their directional distinctions.

I don’t have to be a drowned rat. In fact, I refuse.

After an hour of battling unease and emails, I decided that enough was enough.

I knew I might not be able to completely stop my negative thoughts by deciding not to have them. But I could decide how I reacted to them.

For me, there are two levels of reaction. First, there’s surface reaction, which you can easily control through willpower and reinforcement of positive thoughts and interactions. But there’s also the deep-down reaction, which I call the “real” reaction. The real reaction is what you think and feel underneath all the “I’m fine” surface stuff.

The good news is that even though the real reaction is difficult to control, it can be redirected.

You can do that by reviewing the logic and real facts of the situation, repeating (and believing) positive mantras, remembering all the good advice you’ve received about dealing with anxiety, and reminding yourself that it really is okay.

Yes, this will take some time. But feeling better really isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be. An hour-and-a-half after my spilled water bottle incident, I was confident and rejuvenated. How? I worked on my reaction, from the surface down.

I repeated my mantra, but this time, instead of just saying it over and over, I really believed it. I made a quick mental list of the things that I have done really well lately. I took a few deep breaths. And I decided to start over.

I remembered a friend telling me that all you have to do to start over, to “begin again,” is to inhale and exhale with purpose and awareness.

I inhaled; I exhaled.

My dress was wet and the floor under my desk was still a bit damp, but I had decided to begin again, to redo my entrance. My surface reaction was that from this point on, it would be a new day.

Today would be a good day. Today, I would be on top of my game.

That day was yesterday. Yesterday, I was confident, content, complete, and calm. And this will continue as long as I work to keep my real reaction authentically positive. And if another water bottle spills and soaks my inner peace with a wave of unrest, I’ll just take a deep breath, in and out, and begin again.

Sometimes the stressor may be far more significant a water bottle. These minor mishaps are great practice for that.

I am confident. I am content. I am complete. I am calm.

Start on the surface and let it sink in.

Photo by eugenethephotobug

About Lisa Stefany

Lisa Stefany is a proud graduate of Penn State University. She majored in English and minored in finding herself, literally. She makes it a point to vivify her mind daily with wine, yoga, and quantum mechanics. And when those activities aren’t sufficient, splatter paint fills the void.

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