So, I started having anxiety attacks. I thought I was going crazy, but now it seems as if the most accurate diagnosis was anxiety. I’ve had it for a long time, but I never defined that feeling and the physical sensations that accompany it as “anxiety.” Now that I’m paying attention, I realize my mind has become habituated to running full steam ahead 24-7. I wake up in the morning with my head full of thoughts, and I go to bed at night with my head full of thoughts.

The real problem is that my thoughts are almost always about what I “need to” or “should” do. And, as many of you will probably relate to, almost never does that list include anything like relaxation or renewal. No – play is for when you get the work done. Maybe I got away with that in college, when the work had a specific beginning and end (the school work, anyway) and I didn’t have a small child to tend. Ah, who am I kidding? I was like this in college, too.

It’s gotten to the point where my brain is always about 10 (or more!) steps ahead of what I’m doing RIGHT NOW. And before I get to those things, my brain is on to the next 10 or 20 things I “need” to do. And then I start feeling overwhelmed and I look around and see what a mess everything is, and then I feel bad about myself. I should be better than this. Right? Oh, and then I realize that the to-do list has been propelled so quickly through my head that I forgot the first dozen things, and then I get more anxious because I’m sure I’ll forget something really important (and sometimes I do!)

Meanwhile, I’m walking like a zombie through my day, leaving my keys in the refrigerator and losing everything that isn’t nailed down. And joy? What’s that? There’s no joy – only drive. No time to enjoy anything – I’m already on to the task 3 or 4 steps ahead.

STOP!!!

My body’s way of saying stop was a very strange episode that may have been a panic attack. It’s not entirely typical of a panic attack, so I don’t know for sure, but it had enough of hallmarks that I think that’s what it was. After ruling out the most obvious medical problems, I started up with therapy.

I always thought I had so much insight and that I could figure it out on my own. Besides, I reasoned, I’m eternally optimistic, even when I’m in the darkest of holes. I can remember only one time when I felt true dispair – and it lasted only about 30 minutes. Now catastrophizing – that’s a different story. I do that ALL the time.

Obviously optimism is not enough. Either I’m super dense or live my life in far more denial than I like to admit. Either way, every day is a practice in staying with what I’m doing AT THE MOMENT.

I’ve compiled this list of meditations that I’ve found myself doing to keep myself from moving several steps ahead. It’s a daily and moment-by-moment effort with a lot of redirection of my thoughts back to the present moment.

Shower meditation – luxuriate in the water flowing and the suds sudsing; look at every detail of the tiles in the shower. Look at the ceiling and notice everything there that you’ve never noticed before – the way that shadow looks in the corner, a cobweb, a water stain, perhaps some peeling paint? DO NOT, under any circumstances, let your thoughts stray to cleaning or painting. Just don’t.

Toothbrushing meditation – this works really well if you have an electric toothbrush. I stand in “mountain pose” with my toes splayed out and “rooted,” and I concentrate on the buzz of the toothbrush, on the sensation of vibration over my teeth and gums, on reaching every tooth surface.

Moisturizing meditation – I pretend I’m a massage therapist as I slather lotion all over my dry skin.

Making-up meditation – I think of my face as a canvas and concentrate on the highlights and shadows, think about the optical illusions I’d like to create (eyes bigger, lips fuller, etc.) I take time to notice the color of my eyes, the shape of my jawline, that mole on my neck, my clear freckled skin.

Hairblowing meditation – a good meditation because it includes white noise. I tend to shake my dryer back and forth frenetically, so I concentrate on moving the air slowly over my scalp, listen to the hum of the little motor, and running my hands through my damp hair. When I’m done, I give myself a cool shot of air from the dryer and let it linger on my face a little bit.

Driving meditation – be careful with this one. It works well if you’re on a familiar route and pretty much drive it on “auto-pilot” anyway. The key to this one is to notice everything. Notice the bumper of the car in front of you; notice the shrubs on the side of the road. Notice the flow of traffic… if it’s heavy, try this: drive so that you don’t have to hit the brake at all – keep the car ahead of you far enough ahead that when it stops a few feet away, you’re still moving slowly forward, until the car ahead of you creeps a few more feet forward. This exercise will really keep you in the moment, but don’t get so caught up in it that you fail to acknowledge that you will not always succeed in keeping your foot off the brake.

I’ve many a time missed my exit by getting too caught up in the driving meditation… so it doesn’t work unless you’re on a very familiar and routine route. And if you miss your exit, just laugh at yourself and turn around.

Well, I’m sure you get the gist. Come on, now – share a few routine meditations of your own.

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