I walked out of the church feeling good about my contributions to the meeting, grateful to have been asked to join the committee. I texted my husband that I was on my way home, resumed playing my podcast, and got on the road. Then I hit rush hour traffic. Stuck in a long line, I decided to check my work email since I had left the office early for the meeting. The first few messages were no big deal. Then I saw it: "Can you check the survey as it wouldn't let me enter more than one of the 5 comments? Please test it to make sure they can enter 5 as stated." This from a client for whom we are preparing to facilitate a keynote in a week. From a client who pointed out a typo on the survey a day before. From a client with high standards. From a client I'm really trying to impress.
I could tell you I breathed deeply, reassured myself that there was an easy resolution and committed to looking into it as soon as I got home. I would be lying.
Instead, I panicked. So nervous about the impression this client has of us, I lost my dang mind. In the span of what was probably 47 seconds, I had these thoughts: "I know it's right! I tested it!" "Wait! Did I really test it?" "I am an idiot! I didn't test it!" "I probably programmed it wrong. I've been so stressed lately and moving too quickly." "Oh geez! What if other people aren't taking the survey because it's not working properly?" "Oh no! What if he sent out an email that told people I screwed up and not to take the survey?" "Oh sh**! What if they regret hiring us because I made this mistake?" "Why am I always screwing things up?"
So much for positivity, right? And while having every negative thought I could have, I was trying to fix it. Immediately. While driving. I logged onto the SurveyMonkey app, trying to see what was going on. I read the email again, trying to understand. I continued beating myself up. I was probably in full-on panic mode for about 5 minutes before I realized I was not paying attention to the commute, I was getting myself all worked up, and I would just have to wait until I made it home. And then I was instantly filled with regret. I could have gotten into an accident! I hurt my mental state by getting myself into a state of panic instead of acting calmly. And I remembered something I read a long time ago on raiseyourresilience.com:
Wait 90 seconds. When you feel an unpleasant emotion, apply neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor's 90-second rule. An emotion lasts for 90 seconds, she says. "Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.”
When I was looking for that quote from Jill Bolte Taylor, I came across a few other notes I had written a while back. Unfortunately, I don't have and can't easily find citations. But I want to share them as a good reminder for all of us:
When we reject our present moment experience we're creating a new sort of suffering. This is what's happening right now. Accept what is.
For every six minutes you experience a high state of negative stress, it takes your immune system six hours to recover.
Twenty percent of the oxygen of every breath you take goes straight to your brain. When we're stressed, one of the first things that changes in our bodies is our breathing - it gets shallower and we take in less oxygen.
Whatever we focus on gets larger and larger.
Duh. I know better than to act so rashly. I shouldn't have been checking my phone when driving, but also, once I saw a problem, I should have just breathed. Waited 90 seconds to let the frustration dissipate. Not focused on the problem until I was in a position to solve it. Instead, I got myself worked up and my immune system suffered the consequences for hours later.
Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash