I just put my son on the bus for a week of sleep away camp and I have had lots of emotions rising for me today: sadness, sentimentality, and excitement. Last year he asked to go, and I told him, “Mommy’s not ready yet.” I knew I had work to do on my fears around sending him. I had all these thoughts swimming around my head like, “I’m the only one that can care for him” and “I will miss him too much” and “There’s too many things that can go wrong”. I also anticipated many horrific situations like him drowning, being attacked by a bear, feeling like an outcast by other kids, you name it. Before I could even think about letting him go, I had to deal with all these scary thoughts and limiting beliefs.
When we picture horrible things happening, our bodies react as though bad things are actually happening. Our hearts beat faster, our blood pressure rises, our stomachs turn, we sweat, we enter the physiological state of “fight or flight”, JUST FROM OUR THOUGHTS. Then our feelings become so uncomfortable that we shut them off by distracting ourselves with something else. The problem for many parents, is that we imagine horrible things happening ALL THE TIME! Constantly thinking, then avoiding these thoughts, puts us in a perpetual state of ‘fight or flight’, even in the absence of a legitimate threat. The longer we stay in this sympathetic nervous system without having time to ‘rest and digest’, the harder it is on our bodies, our health, our weight, our ability to sleep, relax, and play. This habit of worrying, then avoiding, is so well ingrained that we don’t even know we are doing it.
In order to work through my fears about summer camp, I had to calm myself down first. Breathing (seems basic but you wouldn’t believe how foreign it is to worriers) is the most important thing you can do to move your body into ‘rest and digest.’ Other parents calm down with yoga, journaling, running, relaxing music, hot baths, even petting a dog can help. Once you can notice your breathing is deep and regular, THEN can you access your logical brain and ask yourself the following questions.
1. What is the worst thing that can happen? (In my case that summer camp = imminent death.)
2. What is the probability of this horrible thing happening? (the scared part of my brain says 1 in 1,000 although it’s probably rarer)
3. Can you think of specific evidence or examples of times when nothing bad has happened?(although I’m sure bad things have happened at summer camp, I don’t know anyone that had a bad experience and most, including myself, loved it).
4. Isn’t it just as likely that something good will happen? (For this one I try to lighten the mood by making it a little absurd). I decided it is just as likely that my son will be discovered by a talent scout (he HATES singing and dancing), as it is he will face death by summer camp.
Once you can laugh at your extreme thinking, you know you’ve got your power back. Worry only gives us the illusion of power. Real power (and you know we Mamas like to feel in control!) comes from being able to control your THINKING. So take a deep breath, relax for a minute or two, and ask, isn’t just as likely good things will happen?
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