How often have you said to yourself “What happened to the time? Where did it go? I still have so much left to do!” If it’s often, then you’re a lot like me. Every time I go away for more than a few days, the amount of stuff I have to get done before I go grows exponentially: I have to get the work I’d normally do the week I’m away done before I go; that office clean-up I’ve been planning for 6 months suddenly looms large in my mind; what about that sweater I began and never finished 2 years ago? These things, reasonable or not, suddenly become imperatives, even if some rational part of me knows better.
My partner knows better than to argue and offer rational argument; he simply finds other things to completely occupy himself with while I go crazy and wear myself out needlessly.
It really is a compulsion, and as with all compulsions, sitting and thinking about it in an attempt to discover what’s really going on isn’t going to get me anywhere. What’s needed is to take 10 or so minutes, and discover what my body has to tell me. That’s right – my body. It’s in our bodies that we store feelings and value sensations, and this compulsion is, for me, connected to my values and, possibly fears.
How do I do this? I do a body-scan, then sit quietly and meditate on what comes up for me. That’s all. A body scan is a mindfulness technique where we breath into our body and be with whatever physical sensations come up. We begin at our toes, then move up our legs, into the pelvic area, then up the torso to the shoulders, then from the finger tips up the arms, finally breathing into the neck, the face – jaws, mouth, nose and eyes, forehead and ears, the top and back of the head. By doing this, we not only become familiar with what is going on physically for us, we also get to know how those sensations are connected to our values and beliefs. And for most of us, this is an unfamiliar feeling.
Here’s a real-life example from my own life: I’ll take my compulsion to multiply tasks before I leave for more than a few days.
While thinking about the impossible list of tasks on hand and my sense of urgency over getting them done, I scan my body. I’m looking for discomfort and numbness. When I discover these, I take note and continue my scan. In this case, I might notice a tightening at my solar plexus, a hardening at the back of my head, and a clenching of my back shoulders.
Now, for each sensation, I ask what it’s doing and how it’s helping me. For instance, if I breathe into my solar plexus and the tightening there, asking it why it’s there and how it’s helping me, it might respond with something like “I’m holding things together”, and “I’m helping by enforcing calm”. This helps me understand that what’s really happening is panic, only what I’m feeling is tightening – tightening me up so that I can keep doing all those things on my list. I’ve fooled myself into believing everything is A-OK.
The hardening at the back of my head and the clenching of my shoulders are similarly, helping me dull down the panic, so that I can finish everything.
Knowing this is the first essential step to changing this approach into something healthier and less driven. It isn’t the answer, but it is a huge start.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .