When C. and I started talking again, Sara suggested that if we planned to try things again (that’s still not been determined, though we talk frequently), the most important thing would be for me to closely regulate myself. Don’t let my thoughts run away with me, and don’t let him take up too much space in my head.
Those will both be challenging, because if I had a diagram of my head, it would show my relationship taking up about 95 percent of my brain space. And I don’t want to be the girl who is texting her friends, freaking out that “it’s been four hours and he hasn’t texted back”! Especially not at 41. Cripes.
So, here are some things I’ve tried and found helpful:
- Practice meditation and mindfulness. I love the Headspace app and use it almost daily. I find that the self-awareness from my morning meditation often carries over into the rest of the day, and I’m more able to “catch” myself when I feel that tight, anxious feeling (about relationships or anything else) starting to form in the pit of my stomach, or my mind running away with a worry. Once I notice it, I can name it and then deal with it.
- Center yourself. When I do feel my brain going haywire, one practice that helps me is just closing my eyes and paying attention to all my senses. What do I hear? (The hum of the furnace? Rain? The cat racing madly around the house after nothing?) What do I smell? Feel? Taste? (Hint: It’s usually coffee.)
- Reduce your phone usage. This one is especially true if you’re the type who is constantly checking to see if someone has called or texted. Leave it in the car. Leave it in your purse. Keep it face-down on your desk. Keep it in the other room. I recently started stopped charging mine in the bedroom at night, because I was spending too much time on it before bed and first thing in the morning. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Focus on what matters. If you have kids, don’t let their childhoods pass you by while you spend all your time worrying about a guy or checking your phone to see if he’s sent you a message. If you don’t have kids, take stock of the important people in your life and focus on them. Who are the people who could use you in their lives right now? Who are the friends who’ve supported you in the past? See how you can be there for them.
- Stay busy. Read an involving book. Focus on your work, if you have a tendency to let our mind wander on the job. Listen to an audiobook or watch a great show. If those aren’t enough to keep you busy — and I’m a person who has trouble just sitting still and watching/listening to something — knit or do some other craft while you watch a show, or play an audiobook while you do housework. (I find that I am far more likely to do laundry this way, too! It takes it from household drudgery to “time to enjoy a book or podcast I really like.”) See a friend. Go to the gym, as I’ve read about previously.
- Don’t try to figure others out. The things you would do and say, and the ways you would think and react, are not universal. If someone tried to see inside your head and figure out your motivations or thoughts, how right would they be? (This is NOT a suggestion that you ignore screaming red flags, just a gentle reminder that you likely don’t have psychic abilities.)
- Notice when you find yourself creating scenarios in your head, especially “what if …?” scenarios. I read “The Worry Trick” last year, which suggested that when a worry starts with “what if,” it’s your brain playing, “Let’s pretend something bad.” The book further discusses that it is actually not helpful to try to ignore the thought, or to convince yourself that the scenario won’t happen, because we can often convince ourselves to worry about it, no matter how unlikely. A former therapist once told me to follow the “what if …?” through to its logical conclusion. “What if C. and I get back together again and then break up again?” for example. Instead of refusing to think about it because it’s so scary and stuffing the thought back down to lurk like Pennywise in the sewer, I can sit and think about what that would look like. “Well, it would probably hurt a lot, and we’d both be very sad and miss each other. But we both would get through it, and I think we would still be glad we gave things another shot.”