Note: This year I was accepted into a doctoral program in psychology. The blog had to be put to the side for a while, and won’t be a priority for a while. That being said, I still want to engage with these topics and explore them, particularly in moments when I need self-reflection.
This is an anxious moment.
I’ve held off on completing my weekly coursework for my doctoral program, knowing that I would have quite a few hours of the day to work on it today. Today has come, I’m sitting at my desk, my noise-canceling headphones on, my desk free and clear of (most) distractions. I’m dressed, showered, coffee in hand. Everything is prepared and ready for me to work. But when I opened up my university portal to begin this week’s assignments, my breathing started to get away from me. Anxiety started to bubble up as a physical manifestation in my body.
I paused. I am pausing. What am I feeling?
To pinpoint the emotions that are causing my breathing to devolve into anxious breaths, that are causing my chest to rise and fall deeply, that are even causing a little bit of a headache to start forming in between my eyes, I consulted a tool that I use with my students all the time.
This emotion wheel has been helpful when guiding students through socio-emotional learning (SEL) exercises. I push students to utilize the outer-most ring of the emotion wheel because it is the most specific. I pride myself on being able to accurately identify and manage my own feelings. Today, I was surprised to see that “anxious” as an emotion is actually in the second ring. Let’s dig a little deeper. Within the category of anxiety we have “overwhelmed” and “worried.” “Overwhelmed” seems a lot more accurate than “worried,” but then again, what else is there? Overwhelmed implies that I feel I don’t have enough time in the day to complete my coursework. I definitely do. So what else is going on here?
I may also be feeling a little embarrassed and judgmental – embarrassed that I waited until the day these assignments were due to start working on them. Judgmental because I’m labeling that procrastination in my head. My logical brain needs to work against that: if I have planned out time to do this assignment, and I have planned in fact the necessary time to do it, and it is done by the due date, then it isn’t procrastination.
My breathing is coming back down. Writing these thoughts out and reflecting on my feelings, rather than being reactive, or rather – trying not to be reactive – is a practice I have been very focused on the past few weeks. Meditation has become an important part of my day. Yesterday’s Daily Calm (a short meditation available on the Calm app) revolved around silencing the inner critic – breathing deeply and making sure that the part of us that judges, that criticizes, that is ready to jump in and blame, can be made smaller through mindfulness. We grow up seeking perfection and many of us as adults devote ourselves to self-improvement, but from a foundationn of a harsh inner critic. This inner critic says “You need to be better at _____. You need to stop doing _____. You need to start doing _____.”
You don’t need. You don’t need because you don’t want for anything. You don’t want for anything because you are whole as you are, perfect in your imperfection, as we all are.
Though I don’t know if I’ll be ever to silence my inner critic completely, I can turn down the volume on those thoughts, and instead react to myself with compassion. The same compassion that I extend to my closest friends, to my partner, to my family. Would I allow a stranger to judge my partner, my sister or my best friends the way my inner critic judges me? Hell no. Someone would catch these hands. Compassion isn’t making excuses for yourself or others – it is simply acknowledging that we are all flawed, and that to expect or demand perfection from any human being is fundamentally unreasonable, and ultimately harmful.
I am breathing deeply. I am breathing in confidence, competence, and a renewed belief that I am capable of accomplishing the tasks in front of me. I am breathing out judgement, self-judgement most of all. I am breathing out blame. I am breathing out the inner critic.