stepping out

Last week when I admitted to liking Cougar Town (oh, the shame!) I actually did so to start a post that would be semi-related to something I saw on the show. Instead, it turned into a conversation on escapism and the value of getting away from it all, if only for 30 minutes. So now, if I didn’t terrify you away with my omission, I’ll return to my originally-scheduled blog post.

In a rerun episode recently, Jennifer Aniston guest-starred as Courtney Cox‘s therapist, Glenn. Her character was a proper wing nut, but that’s not the point. At two points during the episode, ‘therapist Glenn’ said something a little interesting. She counted down from five: “Five, four, three, my anger is a puddle and I simply step out” and “My anger is in a purple balloon and I let it go”. I thought this was interesting and it got me thinking about whether or not it was really this easy. So I tried it. I’m not advocating crack-pot mindfulness from a sitcom, but the idea of just deciding to let go of your anger intrigued me.

My anger is a puddle and I simply step out

A few months ago I sat in on a ‘Managing Stress’ lunch-and-learn at the office, hosted by our (then) in-house physician. During her talk, she touched on a number of interesting things, which I plan to get to in a later post, but one that really resonated was to give yourself a certain chunk of time, say 10 minutes and only 10 minutes, to stress about something before putting it out of your mind. Being the type to stress about things fruitlessly – even things, as I’ve said, that may have happened years ago(!) – I’ve been giving this a try and it was a bit surprised to find that it really does work. Instead of spending minutes/hours/days dwelling on a subject that 1) drives you mental and 2) can’t be changed/fixed, I allow myself a few minutes to stew before moving on. I’ve often been following up this mini stress sessions with a few minutes of breathing and meditation, which, no surprise, is proving to be a valuable combination.

I recently read an article that suggested a similar mindfulness practice to decrease my  trouble sleeping. It outlined that, when going to bed, tell yourself that you will go to sleep. That’s it. Make the purpose of lying down going to sleep, not stressing/dwelling/thinking/ planning – things I often do when I should be drifting off – and you will fall asleep. This seemed like a pretty extreme case for the power of suggestion, believing that I could simply tell myself to go to sleep, but lo and behold, it’s been working. While it used to take me an hour or more to finally fall asleep, lately I’ve cut this by half. [Note: This could also have something to do with the fact that I’ve been waking up earlier to get into the office earlier but not actually going to bed any earlier…]

My anger is in a purple balloon and I let it go

So this past weekend, when I had a spat with my sister, something I might have fumed over for a half hour or more (I tend to dwell on the inconvenience of disrupting my pleasant mood, not necessarily the event/reason for the argument) I simply decided that I could step out of my anger. So I did. Instead of possibly spending the next 20+ minutes in tense silence with her, I just picked up and moved on. And as a result, so did she. We carried on, went about our afternoon, and enjoyed ourselves. It brought into start contrast all the time we’d wasted in the past by allowing ourselves to stay upset out of pride/stubbornness/boredom.

Personally I find the ‘stepping out of the puddle’ imagery significantly less laughable than the ‘purple balloon’ (which, I confess, could have something to do with my irrational and, admittedly ridiculous, fear of balloons) but it goes to show that even the most frivolous settings can glean something of value. I’m rationalizing my enjoyment of the show again, I realized, but in this case it happens to be true. I feel as though there’s another blog post in that – recognizing the value/complexity/substance in everything, which I’ll suggest is a mindfulness practice as well, but I’ll save that for another day.

I’ve been making it a practice to ‘step out’ of my anger/frustration/stress/resentment/ exhaustion/impatience/bath tub for the past week and, unless I’m properly fooling myself, I think it’s made a recognizable difference. It’s reassuring and calming to find myself in the place after I’ve set my frustration aside and just move on. If you’re still reading this, think about just stepping out of the puddle the next time you start to feel the water rising.

*Note: I promise (promise, promise!) that the next post won’t have anything to do with Cougar Town.

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