Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Living a life of "At Least."

I am going to let you in on a secret that has kind of changed my life.

I was recently on a very turbulent flight heading west from the most southern tip of Florida.  The air was so rough, that the pilot was unable to turn off the fasten seatbelt sign, and even the flight attendants were required to stay in their seats for the duration of the flight.  The only time I did see an attendant was when she passed my seat three separate times, to dispose of well used airsickness bags.  I was terrified.  Getting on a plane is difficult enough for me under the most ideal, blue-skied circumstances.  I am claustrophobic, acrophobic, emetephobic, anthrophobic, and just plain being-trapped-in-a-tube-with-complete-strangers-30,000-feet-above-the-ground-aphobic.  When it comes to flying, it isn't the fear of crashing into the earth that gets me.  It's the reality that I'm in a situation that is completely, 100% out of my control, from start to finish.

Here is an example of the series of thoughts I have the second I enter an airport.  "You are officially out of control. You can't control whether the planes are on-time, how old and weathered the equipment is, or if your luggage will make it into the cargo hold.  And ultimately, once that plane leaves the runway you really have no say in where you will end up.  Just because your ticket says your destination is Atlanta doesn't mean the weather or other circumstances won't put you in Dayton, Ohio.  You can't control the other passengers.  Are they diseased?  Are they terrorists?  Are they going to panic, or get airsick, or fall asleep on your shoulder?  Then there's the weather- is it a stormy day across the country?  What about wind causing turbulence so bad that the pilot won't be able to let us up out of our seats?  What if you have to go to the bathroom?  What if you have a bathroom emergency and the fasten seatbelt sign is still illuminated?  Do you just get up anyway and risk injury?  You know, the only people that have died due to turbulence in a plane that didn't crash were those not wearing their seatbelts.   You don't want to die because of your spastic colon... And then there's the pilot.  Is he competent?  Is he tired?  Did he just have a fight with his wife?  Is he texting while flying?"

Being a control freak is enough to drive a person crazy.  Which is why I'm crazy.  I am so envious of sane people who can just put their ear buds in and drift off to sleep before the plane even takes off.

Anyway...back to what changed my life.  I was reading something on that Colorado bound flight, trying to distract myself during the 4 and 1/2 hours of rough air.  I wish I could remember what I was reading. I know it was in a magazine- Maybe O Magazine?  Martha Stewart Living?  Skymall?  Either way, it was a casual comment that someone wrote in, talking about how they derail feelings of anxiety, frustration, and depression.  This person said that whenever negativity crops up, they simply say, "At least..."  And then follow it up with something positive.  It can be used for the monumental things, "I lost my job, my husband wants a divorce, I'm losing my house...But- At least I'm breathing.  At least I woke up this morning.  At least I have parents and brothers and sisters that love me, etc."  This technique can also be used for the silly, everyday things.  "It's such a dreary, stormy day.  But- At least I didn't wash my car yesterday."  "My kid just puked.  At least I managed to get a bucket first so she didn't get sick all over the carpet."  "I have to go visit the dentist today.  Ugh. At least I have teeth."

This rocked my world!  I've always been an advocate of the gratitude journal.  Keeping a list of things you're grateful for is a wonderful way to take the focus off the negative and shine light on those things that are going right in your life.  But I have never really been consistent with journaling.  I loved the idea of actually saying, "But- At least" because it's an applicable tool that doesn't require a pen or paper, and literally cuts off the negative thought process.  I gave it a try right there on the plane.  "Okay- this is horrible.  I am on a flight so turbulent that people around me are actually getting sick and I can't get up to use the restroom if I need to.  At least I am not sick and I haven't needed to use the restroom.  And by some miracle, I'm keeping cool under otherwise scary circumstances."

It worked.  I could literally feel my pulse slowing, and my breath calming.  The benefit was immediate.  Since then I have been making a conscience choice to say those words often, several times throughout the day.  Now it has become such a habit that I'll catch myself doing it without thought.  If I'm stressed when paying bills, I'll think to myself, "At least we have a home, and our cars, and jobs."  If I'm upset that my workout wasn't as good as I'd hoped or I'm not feeling well that day, I'll remember, "At least I have a body.  At least I know I'll eventually feel better.  At least I can walk, and run, and use my muscles.  At least I have a husband and kids that love me...  At least...at least...at least."

Before you know it, your entire world and everything you do feels like a gratitude journal.  The "At least" possibilities are endless, and this practice has genuinely made me so much happier. 

It works.  Do it!  At least give it a try.