My recent trip to Switzerland inspired this Mindful Monday post on how to let go of the stories you tell yourself to reduce your anxieties. Hey friends! I’m baaaaaaaaack. I started writing this post as a travel guide to Switzerland and then shit got deep so it evolved into a Mindful Monday post :). Stay tuned for a travel guide soon!
My trip to Switzerland was incredible. Like the kind of incredible that opens your heart, opens your mind and leaves you hungry for more. My trip pushed me way outside my comfort zone. Challenged me. Brought me to new heights (literally and figuratively). Made me stronger. There’s a quote that resonated with me from my trip to Thailand a few years ago, “Life begins where your comfort zone ends.” I had the quote put on a magnet with a picture of me on top of a lookout point at Ko Phi Phi Island and it still remains stuck to my fridge. But with anything that you see on a daily basis, it starts to blend in to the background and you forget about it. Well, lucky for me I have the best future husband ever who reminded me of the quote, sticking a card with that exact quote on it in my book I brought with me to read. I sat on the plane getting ready to takeoff from Boston and let the words of that quote reverberate through me.
The reason that quote was so important for me with this trip is because I have a pretty intense fear of heights. And I was going to Switzerland with some of the highest mountains in the world with two very brave girlfriends who harbored no fears of heights whatsoever. I was alone in my anxieties and anticipations. My fear of heights is a learned one, passed down to me at a young age. Ever since, I’ve been scared to go hiking, to go to look out points, to climb stairs that you can see through (yeah, this shit runs deeeeep) and the list goes on. And I have some awful memories associated with my fear of heights. As a child, panicking at the top of the super slide at the amusement park, needing the worker to ride down with me. Freezing in the middle of the stairs to the water slide at the waterpark and having to walk back down, unable to experience the ride. And more recently, passing up on a trip to Machu Picchu. Not finishing a hike in Colorado and in Portland. My fear has prohibited me from experiencing so much beauty and wonder.
Until I realized that my fear of heights is a story I’ve been telling myself for years. And that my story was long overdue for a rewrite. We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves and about others. We fabricate stories on a daily basis. We make up stories about the email our colleague sent us. We make up stories about the tone of a text a friend sent us. We make up stories about what our S.O. said or didn’t say. When we let these stories take off with a complicated plot, we feel anxious. Because they aren’t rooted in reality, in truth. So we have to challenge these stories and be present to deal with the uncomfortable feelings we may have to face that we were trying to bury in our story telling. And we have to let go of our attachment to stories we tell ourselves about us. “I’m a total control freak”, “I’m a super sensitive person”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a loser”, “I’m a failure”, etc. We often take how we are feeling in a given moment and attach it to ourself. Instead, we can let go of the attachment to our stories and change the narrative. “I am feeling lazy” is much different than “I’m lazy” and “I’m feeling sensitive right now” is different from “I’m a super sensitive person.” And so in Switzerland I changed my story I had been telling myself for years that “I’m afraid of heights” to “I feel nervous when I’m high up but I also feel empowered when I push myself outside my comfort zone.”
And so as we climbed the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, I breathed through the fear and focused on the beauty and nature that surrounded me. By facing my fear and detaching from the story, the fear gradually dissipated. I learned that the fear was rooted in anticipation, the fear of the unknown and perhaps an underlying fear of death. Getting clear on the root of the fear also served me well, gaining another level of understanding of myself. There were other anxious moments after Mount Pilatus during the trip. Staying at a hotel 4,500 feet elevation. Taking a cable car up to Mt. Schilthorn at 10,000 feet elevation. Climbing a winding (see through) staircase in Lisbon to see the view of the city from the terrace at the Elevador de Santa Justa. With each anticipation, I breathed through it, reminding myself of my strength and courage and that I could overcome.
I had a moment during the trip where I found myself fighting back tears thinking about all the beauty that I would’ve missed out on this trip (and going forward) had I not challenged this story and fear.
And so I turn this back on you now: what stories do you tell yourself? What are the stories you tell yourself about you? About others? How do these stories result in anxieties? How do these stories hold you back? Prevent you from moving forward? Be mindful how you talk to yourself. The narratives you fabricate. Dig deep to find out where the stories are coming from. What are you trying to protect yourself from?
The next time you tell yourself a story, take the following steps to detach:
- Catch yourself in the act. Often we let our stories take off full speed ahead and get so wrapped up in it, we can’t see the truth. The first step is catching yourself and getting off the train at the next stop.
- Breathe. Get grounded and present to find out what’s really going on and why you’re telling yourself this story in the first place. To access a place of wisdom and your true self, you must be present with yourself.
- Challenge and rewrite. Once you figure out why you’re telling yourself this story, try to rewrite the narrative to detach yourself from the story.
This stuff isn’t easy so be patient with yourself throughout the process. Tell me, what are some of the stories you tell yourself? How does it impact how you interact with the world and with others?