When my daughter was a tiny baby I carried her everywhere in a cloth sling close to my chest. She slept contentedly, curled up and out of sight, while I grocery shopped.
All this changed when she hit the ripe old age of five months and developed an interest in the outside world. So one day when we got to the store, I decided to let her “ride” sitting up and facing outwards—and wide awake.
She looked ridiculously cute with her legs crossed and folded up to her chest and her head peeping out. We hadn’t gotten past the green beans before a smitten stranger approached. He admired the part of her he could see, then ask me a question I would field many times before she outgrew the sling: “Where is the rest of her?!”
We had a great time together as I grabbed things we needed and she tried to grab things she wanted…until she started to get tired, hungry, and overstimulated from all the excitement. I broke into a sweat. Public upsets are my personal HSP nightmare. Should I leave with my shopping unfinished? Or risk a full meltdown in the checkout line, imagining my fellow shoppers thinking, “What are you DOING to that poor baby?!”
We stayed. She melted down. It was intensely stressful. As soon as I got home and had time to take a breath, I asked myself the key question:
“How can I head this off at the pass next time?!”
As soon as I asked this question, I became proactive as a parent. I pondered the timing of my daughter’s naps, her nursing, the time of day we went shopping, the length of the outing: everything I could think of that might have contributed to the Great Grocery Meltdown.
If you wake up anxious, it’s time to take this same proactive approach. By the time morning comes, the horse is already out of the barn, just as it was in that grocery checkout line. At that point you do what it takes to salvage your day. But please don’t accept this as the status quo.
Instead, pause and wonder, “Hmm…what might it take to head this morning anxiety off at the pass?” When you invite your brain into “wondering” mode, it naturally starts to make observations and to generate creative solutions.
Analyze your actions the night before
To be proactive you need to observe your actions and to know yourself and your needs. Look back at the night before. Ask yourself, “Did I watch any violent TV? Did I drink alcohol—even a small amount? What did I eat last night? What kind of interactions did I have with other people? How does each of these things seem to have affected how I felt when I woke up? Are there other things that may have affected me?”
Experiment with what you’ve noticed. Observe what helps and what doesn’t. Only you can do this: it’s very personal. I woke up out of sorts the other day because I watched a police procedural with a psycho killer in it the night before. What was I thinking?! You, on the other hand, might be able to watch The Shining and be unaffected afterwards.
Take steps to go to sleep feeling at peace
Before you go to sleep, take time to acknowledge any upsets left over from your day. Try not to go to sleep upset or stressed. However, if there’s an issue hanging that you can’t fully resolve, that’s OK. It’s enough to acknowledge what is there:
“I’m sensing something in my stomach that feels queasy…there’s worry about this job situation.”
This is a powerful anxiety preventive. When you acknowledge something, you move into Loving Adult Presence. When you go to sleep in Presence, you are much more likely to wake up in Presence, feeling peaceful.
Last but not least, even a brief expression of gratitude before you sleep will inoculate your even more powerfully against anxiety. I love the question, “What was the best thing that happened today?” Even if you had a tough day, there will be something you feel OK about (if only that it is over!) But more often half a dozen will pop up and compete for the “best thing today” title.