Rollercoasters, Vomit and Ballerinas
I have to vomit on rollercoasters.
Especially those ones that spin around in circles really fast.
I must admit, it has been brought to my attention that I’m uncool with my kids because anytime we have ever gone to an amusement park my poor children have to go by themselves. “I’ll sit this one out, guys,” I say. (And this one, and this one, and this one, if you get my drift)
I much prefer to watch. Take pictures of their excited little faces as they get strapped in to that torture chamber – uh.. I mean that seat. But me? Nah I’m good. I’ll be over here while you get slung around and around in circles.
And before you start saying I’m old (#oldandugly), hold on a second. I’ve always hated rollercoasters, even as a kid. I remember being peer-pressured to go on these puke-mobiles and regretting it the moment that iron arm came down over my body. Then as I sit – trapped – thinking about what would happen if the ride malfunctioned, the brakes broke, or my seat accidentally broke off and flew off into the crowd, the ride starts up.. going from slow circles to spinning around and around and around. Everyone around me starts screaming and yowling for excitement, their arms up in the air. “Woo hoo! Let’s go!!!”
Me? I’ve put a barely visible grin on my mouth while silently thinking, “Why God?! Why?!” I hate those rides, I’m telling you. Those rides feel like... well, they feel like my mind feels sometimes.
You see, sometimes, often out of nowhere, I experience anxiety. My mind is racing around, and around, and around in circles. Yes, it feels pretty nauseating to be honest. I don’t actually consider myself an anxious person.
I do have a bit of social anxiety, but general anxiety is not my thang. Yet, every so often, like today, that little gremlin creeps up from behind its heavy velvet curtain. And I’m not kidding you, it lives in that spin-and-puke ride called my mind. When my thoughts get too racy – and I’m not talking about the good kind of racy, if you know what I mean - that gremlin feels called to peek its nasty head out from its hiding place. And suddenly my body feels tingly, my stomach feels weird, my muscles get tight, I can’t concentrate on anything.
Yes, when I let my thoughts have a big dance party inside my head, the gremlin comes out.
Did you know we have somewhere up to 60,000 thoughts per day? And the majority of those thoughts are negative. The majority of those thoughts are the same as the day before (and day before, and the day before).
Sound familiar? All those thoughts – when the brakes malfunction – go around, and around, around. Like a spin-and-puke ride.
It feels particularly nauseating when we aren’t aware of all these thoughts going around and around.
It feels especially nauseating when we try to pay attention to all those thoughts. Just think about it. When you’re on that spin-and-puke ride, just try to keep your eyes focused on everything you see.
Ya can’t, folks.
When you try to do that, the only thing that happens is your eyes feel like they hurt, and you start to feel nauseous.
Quite the opposite happens with ballet dancers.
When they twirl around and around, they do something that is called “spotting”. They choose a spot to focus their eyes on. While they are spinning, they try to keep their heads focused on that spot. When they can’t look at it any longer – because their bodies are turning away from that spot – you’ll notice their head whips back around as quickly as possible back to that one spot. Spotting keeps their balance.
When we try to take evvvvvverything we think seriously, when we give equal attention to every g-damn thought that pops up (60,000, folks), we WILL get dizzy.
Now, we might not get dizzy in a literal sense. But we will become unfocused, forgetful, anxious.
So, you might be wondering how can you keep your thoughts from taking you on a spin-and-puke ride?
Here are 5 steps to help stay calm and focused when your mind is all over the place:
1. Notice that you have thoughts. Just say to yourself, “Oh, my brain is producing lots of thoughts right now.” Your brain is a thought machine. It is merely doing its job. No need to get upset about it.
2. Breathe. Once you realize that your thoughts are taking you on a joy ride (or puke ride), stop, and bring your attention to 1-3 breaths. Just notice your inhale and exhale and the physical sensations of the breath. This will help with the other steps.
3. Observe. Notice what kind of thoughts there are. Thoughts of the past, future, positive, negative, neutral? Just observe them without getting caught up in the content.
4. Pay attention to how the thoughts come and go, without you having to do anything. Just like sounds come and go, thoughts arise and pass.
5. Realize that your thoughts are not necessarily true. If you have a particularly unsettling or critical thought, ask yourself some questions:
a. What would you tell a friend who was having this thought?
b. Did this thought come out of nowhere?
c. Can you interpret the situation differently?
d. Do the facts of the situation support that thought?
Try these steps out, leave the puke bag at home, and let me know if it helps you next time your thoughts take you for a spin. ;-)