Reducing Anxiety through Personal Responsibility and Mindfulness

Kristen King, MPS, WRAP Project Manager and Certified WRAP Facilitator,
Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

Do you ever feel like the universe is trying to tell you something? That’s been me for the last several weeks. It seems like there are “signs” everywhere, and they’re all pointing to one thing: my cell phone. As recently as the beginning of this week, there was even a sign on our Facebook page, where WRAP Social Media Manager Amanda Aykanian posted an article about cell phone usage that felt like it was put there just for me.

I often experience anxious feelings that make me uncomfortable. Fortunately, I have a great set of wellness tools to help me reduce that discomfort and get back to feeling fine. But unfortunately, I haven’t been taking personal responsibility for using them every day. Instead, I’ve been defaulting to my phone. Feeling overwhelmed with work? Better check my phone. Kids stressing me out? Nothing a little Facebook scrolling can’t fix. House a mess? Let me look at someone else’s perfect family room on Instagram for a while.

Not only has hiding in my phone become a massive time suck, but it also makes me feel worse and sparks negative self-talk. In other words, while I’ve been using my phone to escape my uncomfortable feelings it’s actually been creating more of them. Guilt. Shame. Inadequacy. More anxiety. What I was leaning on as a “wellness tool” has actually been making things worse.

The good news, if you can call it that, is I’m not alone in this experience. The current issue of the magazine Real Simple has a whole article about developing a healthier relationship with your phone. (That was another sign, by the way!) This insight really resonated with me:

Similar to the way many of us may grab a drink or snack at a party to avoid feeling socially awkward, most of us gravitate toward our phones for comfort and distraction when we’re confronted with everyday uncomfortable emotions. …An essential step in developing a healthier relationship with our devices is relearning how to get comfortable with boredom, social anxiety, loneliness, and other unpleasant feelings. 

Don’t get me wrong: Taking a break is an important wellness tool anyone can use to deal with discomfort or a challenge, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s actually really smart. Where the problem comes in for me is when “taking a break” is really “avoiding life.” I’m calling it one thing when it’s really another, and I need to take responsibility for being honest with myself and the people in my life.

So, in an effort to be more honest and stop mindlessly hiding in my phone, I’ve created a new habit: When I start to reach for my phone, I pause and do a reality check. I ask myself these questions:

  • Why am I reaching for my phone?
  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What do I think I will find when I look at my phone?
  • Is that going to help me or hurt me?
  • What do I really need right now?

That mini-break for mindful self-reflection has opened my eyes to two things: (1) how much anxiety I have been feeling and avoiding and (2) how many more options I have for dealing with it than I realized.

This has sparked a big-picture thought process for me about stressors and how I respond to them. I don’t have to hide. I can acknowledge and name how I’m feeling, and I can address that head-on. I can give myself space and permission to feel however I’m feeling and to not make myself “wrong” for feeling that way. I can self-advocate and ask for what I need. With my family, for instance, instead of hiding in my phone when my kids are very loud (a huge stressor for me!) or seem very demanding, I can ask for their partnership and teamwork and teach them how to do the same.

In just a few short weeks of making this shift, I’ve seen big changes in my anxiety level and in my interactions with others. This weekend, I was making dinner and one of my 6-year-old twins was very impatient to eat. “I’m going as fast as I can,” I told him when he asked for the third time how much longer it would be. I could feel myself starting to get anxious in preparation for an argument that ended with me banishing him from the kitchen and burying my face in my phone to calm down. I took a few slow, deep breaths to try to get ahead of that feeling. Ask for what you need, I reminded myself.

“I need you to stop asking me about dinner over and over,” I requested. “It’s making me feel bad and frustrated.” To my surprise and delight, my son responded, “Mommy, I’m hungry and dinner is taking a long time. I feel frustrated, too. Can I do anything to help it go faster?” Instead of disconnecting from each other, we both expressed ourselves clearly and leaned into what was happening. We finished making dinner together, and we both felt great about it. He was proud of helping me, and I was proud of his problem-solving and empathy. And, I didn’t lay a finger on my phone.

Mindfully considering what’s going on when I reach for my phone has helped me stop my automatic behavior and make more intentional choices. Now that I’m not hiding out, I have a lot more time for what matters. I’m connecting more closely with my family, friends, and even coworkers. I’m also connecting with myself by using wellness tools I’d been ignoring: getting fresh air, stretching, taking some deep breaths, writing in my journal, asking for help. The more I do these things, the less anxious I feel.

What’s an area of your life you need to pay more attention to? Maybe, like me, you’re overly reliant on your phone. Or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, I’d love to hear from you about how you plan to take personal responsibility and use your wellness tools to make your life more the way you want it to be. Comment on our Facebook page and share your experience!

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