23. How Can I Handle this Constant Anxiety? With Janis Whitlock
We all have anxiety, but not all of us know how to manage it. Janis Whitlock, senior advisor for the Jed Foundation, says a great way to tackle anxiety is to think of it as energy in motion that needs to go somewhere. She says if you can learn to channel this energy and experiment with your own triggers, you’ll be able to lead an anxious-free life. This episode’s practice is about releasing doubt, breathing, and using mindfulness to move through moments of anxiety.
Resources from the show
- Read “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief” by Claire Bidwell Smith
- Read “Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears” by Pema Chödrön
- Check out the Jed Foundation’s Guide for Understanding Anxiety
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Claire, Janis Whitlock
Hi, I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. Welcome to NEW DAY. I’m wondering how many of you out there are struggling with anxiety? Frankly, I’d be surprised if anyone’s not especially after the last couple of years. What is anxiety exactly though? Simply phrased, it’s the fear of something real or imagined. Well, there’s plenty of stuff these days both real and imagined to worry about. I’ve run anxious most of my adult life. For me, it started around the time my mother died when I was 18. Although I didn’t even know back then that it was anxiety. I just thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. It took me years to understand what was going on, and even longer to learn how to cope with it. I still get anxious from time to time, I worry about my health, I worry about my children. I worry about the state of the world. Some of my concerns are completely irrational, and some are highly plausible. Either way, I’ve discovered a lot of ways to work through it, a lot of ways to not let my anxiety leave me feeling as debilitated as it once did.
I’ve also learned that while we may not be able to fully get rid of anxiety, there are plenty of practices that can help us move through it. My guest today Janice Whitlock, is someone who knows even more about anxiety than I do. And in this episode, we’re going to help you understand more about it and give you some practical tools and takeaways. We even answer some of our very own listener questions. Janis is a Senior Advisor for the Jed Foundation, an organization that works directly with high schools, colleges and universities that put systems programs and policies in place to create a culture of caring that protects young people’s mental health. She’s also the founder and director of the Cornell research program on self-injury and recovery, and the co-founder of the International Society for the Study of self-injury. In addition, she studied and written about connectedness, resilience, the role of social media in mental health and prevention, and sexual health. I’m really excited for you to get to know Janis, and I know that everything she brings to our conversation today will be enormously helpful for anyone struggling with anxiety.
Hi, Claire, how are you?
I’m good. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. So I start every episode by asking my guests to how are you doing? But how are you really doing?
I’m really doing pretty well, today is a pretty significant day for a bunch of different reasons. So it’s my aunt’s 80th birthday, and it’s the day my house is closing, I just got all the numbers for my house closing in Ithaca, which means it’s the end of a whole life 25 years there and home. And so it’s the beginning of a brand-new adventure. I head for Belgium next week for a five-month fellowship and life is really the Nexus. So that’s how I really doing.
Big stuff. Well, we’re going to talk about anxiety today. So I don’t know if you have any anxiety about any of those things. They sound like big things. But it’ll be interesting to get into. Yeah, I’d love to just start though, by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work and your background?
Well, I’ve had a pretty long career in a lot of ways. It’s been about 35 years now I but I can see how all the parts fit together. So I started as a sex educator. I mean, I worked in women’s health, and I was a sex educator working with youth and families at risk and lots, lots of different people used to provide sex education in all sorts of different places. And I learned to appreciate a couple of things. One was the questions you ask, make a really big difference and the shape of the answers that is part of you know, that laid the groundwork for me being going into as an academic later. And that at the ground floor of like all of the issues that I was hearing about, learning about and speaking to people about was this idea of connectedness, and emotion, how people filter their worlds through their emotional lenses. So I became really interested in how we filter and perceive things. So I went back, I went back to school and got a master’s in public health. And then I started research program. Again, it just sort of showed up on my doorstep. I wasn’t planning to study self-injury, but I ended up doing all this work and on suicidal self-injury. And I was really interested in how people’s dark nights of the soul can yield deeper wisdom and the desire to help other people, you know, compassion, basically an empathy. That was what I was interested in pursuing. So that was the article you know that led me down another 25, almost 25 years almost actually doing that.
Yeah. That’s so fascinating. I have to ask you; how do you define dark night of the soul?
Hmm, yeah, I think I would, I would probably punt that to anybody who was telling me they experienced that it’s just a great way to describe that feeling of persistent struggle or challenge or, or obscurity, like you can’t really understand. I think that’s what makes it sort of dark, you’re in the shadows, it feels like sometimes you’re just walking forward, and you don’t know where you’re going like it’s just foggy. And it’s hard, right? So those are the qualities I would probably attribute to dark nights of the soul. What exactly that looks like in the outside world, I think is really personal.
It’s such an interesting thing. I’ve never tried to think about the actual definition. But I kind of feel like there’s, when I think about it, there’s two ideas that come to mind. And one is like that we’re having a reckoning with ourselves, like, we’ve made a choice or something has happened. But then there’s another side to where I can imagine a dark night of the soul is simply like, flat out rock bottom, you’re not even reckoning, you’re just on the bottom. And those are the things that I think about with it.
Janis Whitlock 06:00
And you know, I think it is interesting when it comes to mental health because this question of growth in the face of challenge is most often applied to like post traumatic growth, right, where there’s an event or it’s unexpected, mental health stuff can be a little different, because it’s usually not an event. It’s a condition, it’s a state of being that you may wake up in day after day. But it’s still and it feels like nothing’s moving. And yet my experience has been that there is movement, there is motion. It’s not always as you know, like another side isn’t like people come always come out. Sometimes they do. Or they go sort of go in and out. But there is this sense of motion movement and cultivation of understanding sometimes, and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just dark struggle. And as we know, that’s, that’s the kind that we worry the most about, obviously, because people get tired after a while of struggling all the time.
Absolutely. How do you apply this knowledge to yourself when you are going through something like even just now it sounds like a huge life transition? I can’t imagine there’s not even at least a little bit of anxiety happening with around at all, how do you apply everything you’ve learned over all these years to yourself?
Oh, gosh, that is a big question. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have several things. One is I have a perspective; I think that is a little unusual around life in motion and purpose. I’ve always felt a sense of purpose or sense of connection to something bigger than myself, always. I just I think that has really helped. It doesn’t always have form; I can’t always talk about it in a in a way that makes a lot of sense. But it’s always present. And in my darkest, darkest times, and I for me, I would say dark is like the times that I felt the most suffering the most confusion. And I don’t feel that now. So that’s I don’t feel like I’m in that at the moment. But when I have felt really confused, there’s always that presence, there’s always something there that really helps to. It’s like, if you’re in the if you’re really in a dark fog, and you can’t see anything, it’s like this little beacon that’s kind of you know, just pulsating slowly or like, okay, I’ll have better action. So that helps. But yeah, I mean, I do have to, especially now there’s an extraordinary amount of change. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life. And I had a bit of a hardscrabble life in some ways, especially childhood that has been this uncertain. There have been more times that are more anxiety provoking, though, interestingly, but this is really, really like, I don’t know. I don’t know. But I feel mostly kind of excited and open. But I do have to, like, every day, I do have to kind of do, like, make sure that I do my practices. I have a menu of things I do I say every day, you got to do at least one. And if I’m really anxious, I do three, you know, every day for a while.
I feel like our great work in life is really about learning how to sit with uncertainty. And I think the last couple of years of the pandemic have been a really great kind of lesson and, and forced all of us to really think about this. And do you think we have more anxiety today in our culture than we used to people keep asking me this? And I’m, I think we do, but I also think for talking about it more than we ever have.
Yeah, I mean, so that’s the other piece, right? That we don’t talk as much about is with all this anxiety, and uncertainty is also coming opportunity. And there are a bunch of silver linings that I see for not just me, but I think all of us and one of them has been deepened self-awareness, and not just awareness of self but awareness of other you know, we just enhanced psychological literacy. And it’s not just this time, I mean, I think our generation has been part of why our younger people are more versant in psychological concepts. I’m grateful for that because I think it would have been really hard to meet this time, say like in the 50s or something where the idea even like most of the Mental Health terms we know we talked about weren’t even discussed. First, let alone at all familiar. And then things like the unconscious or the subconscious, or I don’t know, we have a lot of language that has come, has grown up with us over the past 30 years that has allowed us to meet this moment with maybe a tiny bit more equanimity.
I agree. I think our kids are growing up with a lot more emotional intelligence, for sure. And a lot more just vocabulary around that ability to talk about it. You have three kids, right?
Yeah, I have two biological kids and then a stepson that I’m close to, yeah.
I get a lot of questions from parents about anxiety. What are you seeing in your kids and their friends these days?
Yeah, I think I’m seeing what a lot of people are seeing, just a lot of treading water, they just don’t know, like my son, for example, who’s in college right now has had to put a pause on at least two internships that he really wanted, because they just, they couldn’t happen. I mean, one was supposed to happen even this January. But when Omicron hit all of that went on pause, because it was an in-person internship. So a lot of the plans he’d had for college has not panned out quite the way he wanted it to. I know, but you know, it’s just like their lives are on pause. Their lives are really on pause, and all of the people around them and in my world, because of them, and in my world, because of my work, are just grappling with these big developmental questions that can’t go anywhere, they can’t be answered.
No. It’s true.
I do worry, I worry for our young people, because I don’t know how long they can tolerate being like this, being stuck in one place.
We took a bunch of listener questions before this interview. And I wanted to jump in with some of those. And there’s one that fits right into what we’re talking about. This listener says, seven months ago, I graduated college and started working my first salary job. And even though my life feels stable right now, and my career is off to a good start, I still show up to work anxious every day about how long I’ll be here, or who and what I’ll be doing in the next year or two. Why do I feel this way? And how much of this anxiety is actually my own? Is my uncertainty about my future unreasonable? Or is the job career system to blame?
Hmm. I would say, her anxiety or his anxiety is, or their anxiety is not unreasonable. It’s not just internal. We’re in a collective pool of anxiousness right now, I think one of the things that at least Americans I don’t know about all humans, but Americans really don’t get at a deep enough level is how the states of other people affect all of us, there is no, there is no just me, you know, there’s this, there’s a collective pool that we’re all sort of in. So anxiety levels are high everywhere. So that’s part of it. And then just stage of life, and all the uncertainty that comes along with that is definitely part of it. So the anxiety is completely understandable. I think the other par, was the other part of that question how to deal with it?
Kind of why do I feel this way and where’s it coming from. But I think how to deal with it is really important. You know, I mean, I think a lot of it goes back to just that limbo, how, not knowing how long the job will last, not knowing how long we’ll be on earth, all of these things. And so how do you get up in the morning and just kind of waltz off to work and not feel anxious? Is that the goal? Should that even be that goal? What are your thoughts around that?
Such a great question. And yeah, I mean, okay, so just coming from both my professional experience and my personal experience at this point on the planet, I would say that I would drop that as a goal if you can, I mean, we have built many structures that help us to feel like we have power that we really don’t have, that becomes right, that becomes a thing you learn as you age, right? Your body, there’s just things you absolutely cannot change. It’s just easier not to know that as we’re younger, and we’re building and we’re planning and, and a lot of times things can unfold at least approximately similar to kind of what you thought it might be like. But you know, the reality is, we really don’t have control, we have no idea what’s going to happen. And that’s been true for every human that’s ever walked the face of the planet ever. This is an unusual that time. What’s unusual about this time is how in our face it is. So it’s hard. I have extraordinary compassion, as I said earlier, but I also see it as an opportunity for all of us to just come square face to face with that deeper reality and see what happens next, because it doesn’t end there. You don’t just stop in terror at realizing that you have no control, that doesn’t happen. I was just reading a wonderful book by Pema Chödrön called Taking The Leap. And this book is wonderful, because she talks really a very cogently about how do you deal with that. And one of the pieces of advice she gives, that I have employed regularly recently, is don’t move away from whatever it is that comes up, you don’t have to leave, you don’t have to lean into it. But just try if you can, to not move away for three breaths, just three breaths, you don’t have to stay there forever. You know, it’s just three slow breaths. And I have found that technique to be really helpful. And sometimes I’m my third breath, and I’m like, Can I do a fourth breath? Like, yes, I can. And usually, by the end of my fourth or fifth breath, and sometimes my third breath, I’m just in a different place than I was, you know, I just don’t, that edge isn’t quite as edgy. I have noticed that it has made not just a short-term difference, but a longer-term difference in my ability to be with just the existential uncertainty, that is a reality of life that we don’t often have to contend with. So upfront, as we do now.
You know, I think there are so many ways to pivot from discomfort in our culture, right now, this kind of culture of immediate gratification, there’s just so many places where we can instantly distract ourselves or feed ourselves with some kind of, you know, dopamine, and I think learning to sit with a little bit of discomfort and kind of doing that same thing, you know, taking a breath, just, you know, not moving away from it, not leaning into it, just sitting with it, and starting to practice not running away from it. Do you think there’s anything else that someone could do in the morning, just before they go to work? Like, what’s a simple thing they could just do? They wake up a little anxious headed into work. I love practices of mindfulness, you know, just getting really present, not taking your thoughts away from the future or the past and spinning out in those places that don’t actually even exist right now. And, you know, bringing your awareness back to the present moment to today and not tomorrow.
Yeah, I would say that as well. I there was a question on this question or another one that I had thought about, and saw recently around, if somebody’s waking up very anxious in the morning, and my heart really went out to them. Because I, that has happened to me for years, it has to do with elevated levels of cortisol, I think for the most part that happened overnight. And I didn’t know that for a lot of years. And even once I did know, it didn’t help make it stop. It did make me feel like well, it’s not something about me or my life in particular, that did help. But I did need to develop techniques to deal with it. And for me, the thing that ended up being the most helpful aside from just recognizing the pattern, the first was like, gosh, as soon as I get out of bed, and move into the shower and start moving, it starts to dissipate. So that’s good, just like you know, get out of bed. But I wanted more than that, because I didn’t want to just get past it, I wanted to work with it. And breathing that was sort of the mindfulness techniques, you were just talking about using breath to just come completely present. And to not allow myself at least for a few minutes to go spinning off into my day or spinning off into what I was worried about that I was bringing into my day. And just feel the oxygen basically, in my lungs kind of going in and out and not moving away. I instinctively asked myself, please just don’t move away. The goal here isn’t to get rid of the anxiety. It’s just to breathe a little spaciousness, like I would have visualized just the tiniest bit of more molecules in the air around it, and it loosened I did help me feel like it loosened its grip. I don’t know if it was because of that, or has been because of that, or just maybe age over time, it just doesn’t happen nearly as much as it did. And when it does, it really doesn’t grab me. But it for years and years, especially as a younger woman, I would sometimes feel almost paralyzed is the wrong word. But it’s like, is I don’t think I can do this day.
That’s the word I use. How I felt sometimes, I think there’s a lot of physiology around anxiety that people don’t quite realize, I think a lot of people try to out think their anxiety or, you know, think their way through it or around it. But often calming our body is understanding how our bodies work, understanding cortisol levels, hormone, sleep, all of those kinds of things have such a huge impact on our anxiety levels. And I think a lot of us don’t quite know all of that. Are there any simple things that you like to do in terms of that?
Well, I mean, the first piece of advice I might give people link to what you just said is just know yourself and because there are scientific reasons for a lot of this stuff, and it really does help to know that and then the next level is what are your patterns? You know, when does it happen for you? Are there certain kinds of triggers? Are there certain things that you instinctively feel motivated to try to self soothe, that are healthy, right? Not distraction and self-soothing can look like they might be the same but are not the same. And I think that’s something our young people really need to know. They often mistake self-soothing for distraction, and vice versa. But so you know, learn just learning yourself is really, really helpful. Turn your turn your questions, your gaze basically on yourself. So that’s one and then would be to experiment with practices that work for you. Like, for me, them being around water and in water was very helpful for me. And I happened to have a place with a wonderful bathtub. So that was often an evening time, even in the summertime and evening time activities, just get in water. Walking outside, I was in Boulder, where there was just beautiful mountains, and I could be near nature. So being in nature, and especially really walking, you know, on paths. But if I couldn’t be in the mountains themselves than just where I can see them. movement in general, it didn’t always have to be Yoga. But I have personally found over the years that yoga is a really good practice for me. Journaling became good and I journaled, I would write my journal, but I’d also audio record my journal, sometimes I would want to journal while I was walking, or sometimes I’d journal in the bathroom, and I would turn on my recorder. And I would just, I would just speak it. Yeah, I have great conversations with myself. I learned a lot; I learned a lot when you just start to speak. And I’m like, oh, I think my cognitive mind if I don’t speak it sees about an inch of it. But if I’m starting to speak about it, I see much deeper. So that’s one of the benefits of journaling, however you do it.
That’s great, that’s a really good examples. Okay, here’s another question that feeds into a lot of what we were saying. This listener says, every single one of my friends reports feeling anxiety of some kind. For one, the way they describe it looks to me more like guilt over things they’ve done. They will often seek validation from the people, they’ve impacted big and little things that everything’s okay, then claim it was their anxiety making them do it. Another friend is very scared about her future, but has no idea how much of it is her ingrained anxiety that she’s dealt with her whole life, and how much of it is the job that’s fun, fulfilling or not exciting to her? Both of these friends have trouble separating external factors in their lives with their internal anxiety process. I find myself having the same issue, wondering if when I’m feeling trapped and terrified? Is it just anxiety? Or is it me signaling to myself that I should try a different approach? How do we know when anxiety is anxiety? How can we tell when we should keep persevering through our negative emotions? And when it might be the case that our nervous feelings are rooted in reality?
Janis Whitlock 22:45
That’s a great question. I mean, honestly, the simplest answer is just trust it. If you’re starting to feel anxious, then it’s anxiety. I don’t know. I mean, we can talk about whether it rises to some clinical definition of anxiety. But I’m not sure that’s very helpful, because so many of us are feeling anxiety. I mean, one of the ways that I work with anxiety that I find helpful, personally, is its energy in motion. Its energy in motion. And I know that it needs to move somewhere, it needs to go somewhere. If I try to bottle it or eject it, it never works. It just gets agitated. Which, you know, it’s kind of like, I don’t know a lynx in a cage. No, it’s just, it’s not going to work, you’re just going to make it worse. So I tried to give it an, I tried to honor it. I tried to give it an outlet. And often for me, that’s physical motion, I have learned that, I guess, like even getting up and walking around. If I’m feeling anxious at work, I’ll stop and paste the house sometimes just to get things moving. And I have noticed a palpable difference in times when I do that. So I don’t I wouldn’t quibble too much over where it’s coming from or what it is. And I would focus more on how do you work with it. And if you think about it as energy that needs to move, and you couple that with experimentation and knowledge of self, you can probably come up with techniques that help, you know, maybe too much to ask any of us right now, to live an anxious free life.
I agree with you. I don’t think we can expect or make it a goal to live an anxious free life. Do you think there’s I mean, with this question, do you think there’s any consequences in misnaming anxiety? She’s saying that one of her friends will feel guilty about something and act on it, calling that anxiety or saying that it’s the anxiety, you know, forcing her hand? What do you think? Are there consequences with that?
I don’t know. I mean, to me, I mean, I think if you’re having anxious feelings, you’re having anxious feelings. Does it help us to try to figure out where it’s coming from? Yes, sometimes it does, because sometimes there’s there are contributors that can be managed or moderated. Does it matter whether or not she calls it anxiety? As a clinical condition, I don’t know. I mean, I suppose what this person’s pointing to is, is she is She kind of missing the opportunity to know what’s really deeper? What’s happening for her by chalking it up somewhere where she where there could be, you know, even a richer, more satisfying explanation if she was really to, to deal with the other issues at play, like, you know, I’m feel I feel very insecure, maybe I’m not feeling anxious, I’m feeling insecure, and I really worried that I’m not enough, or they’re not fundamentally worthy that I don’t have connection and speak to that directly. Rather than saying, you know, I have anxiety so this is causing me to have this other behavior I see. Okay, so that’s partly what’s there. So it’s a missed opportunity to know oneself then. But then as a friend, I’d say, well, maybe there’s ways to gently raise that possibility in service of broader self and understanding, and then the possibility eventually of being able to manage those feelings, feelings of insecurity and disconnection, powerlessness, lack of control, independent of chalking it up to one idea we call anxiety and working it that way. Because then you, you do have a better understanding of self, and that usually creates more latitude for action.
Yeah, I agree. It’s interesting to think about, though, because I see anxiety getting slapped on everything all over the place, you know, especially on social media, everyone’s like, I have anxiety, it’s my anxiety. My anxiety caused me to do this, my anxiety stopped me from doing this, you know, whatever it is, and not really digging into what anxiety means? Or is it really anxiety. One thing that I think is helpful to remember for myself, and I remind my clients about this is that, you know, anxiety can be useful, we all have a level of anxiety at all times, it’s a useful part of being a human being, it helps us you know, prepare for things and stay on track with things. And it’s, it’s when it gets into a different realm that we need to start working on it and thinking about it. But it’s not always a bad thing. And I don’t like what like we keep saying, we can’t expect to just get rid of it. It’s not, that’s not going to happen. So how do we work with it? How do we flow with it? How do we utilize it as a tool to say, oh, hey, what’s underneath this? What’s coming up? What is this signaling?
Exactly? I mean, yeah, if we, if we go back to that idea that it’s energy and motion and its energy wanting to go somewhere you can get good at working with it. You can channel it sometimes, right? If there’s wait times, and places where a little bit of that extra energy is not unhelpful. I think sometimes being anxious is easier than being seriously depressed, where you can’t move at all. It’s hard to generate energy when you feel completely flat. And that is something that I find puzzling and a bit concerning, in some ways, but also extraordinarily human. I mean, we just want it’s a bit for connection in a way like I’m like at the foundational level, what are you after? Well, you’re you want to feel part of a community want to, you want to feel seen, you want to feel connected? Well, that’s a universal desire. Like there’s nothing about anything that any of us experience for the most part that is not completely understandable, and probably quite universal, even though it shows up differently for each of us.
Let’s try this question as maybe a last question from our listeners. We talked a little bit about this, too. What can you do with anxiety that is rational and probably necessary, I have a lot of anxiety about the climate crisis, what it means for the future, what it means for my children’s future, how it will all unfold and how our civilization will react to the increasingly urgent disasters. I also have a lot of anxiety that people do not take this threat at all, seriously. All of this anxiety is completely rational, unnecessary. In fact, I wish more people had this particular type of anxiety because then we might be able to do something about it. It seems like the dearth of anxiety is part of the problem here. I’m curious about your thoughts? Is this type of anxiety useful? Can it be problematic to avoid anxiety like this? Can we all agree to be a little more anxious about climate change?
Oh, Claire’s this is a tough one.
It’s a big one. It’s got a lot of layers.
Yeah, it’s got a lot of layers. Climate change is I find it fascinating our relationship, I will come back to the anxiety part in a sec, but just I’m learning so much. I think we’re all learning so much about ourselves in humans through the course of the last not even just the last two years. I mean, you know, the climate stuff has been on the horizon for quite a while now. And it was inevitable that it was going to get bad. I mean, scientists have been saying it increasingly loudly through bull horns over the last decade, at least and yeah, we all just sort of go along our merry ways and I understand on one level that makes sense because what are you gonna do you can recycle and do the things you know to do. But you still got to get up and go to work and make money and feed your family and you can’t sit around wring your hands, we have to hope that we elect people who can make a difference. Well, that’s not really happening, right? That’s not, it has not panned out that way. We haven’t elected people who are making huge strides in this. And it’s not just a US problem. This isn’t all around the world problem, which makes it all the more tricky because this is like COVID, in a way, but even bigger, this is one of those phenomenon that remind us, I think it shows us how incredibly interconnected our fates are. Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are in the world. I mean, wow, we were all affected, and we are all going to be affected fairly and unfairly. I mean, some of the places that are most affected by climate change right now are not had nothing, they have contributed almost nothing to creating the problem. So it does create this, it’s this twin, deep appreciation in me for wow, look at this, look at how connected we really all are like there is this gratitude and feeling of part of a really huge human family and seen it so visibly. And like oh my god, what are we gonna do and why are we doing, so I have no advice for how the world should deal with it, other than to deal with it at the individual level. I hope this doesn’t sound morbid. You guys can you cannot include this but I do death meditations.
I love death meditations; you are talking to the right person.
Because like, the reality is, I am powerless in the face of life, no matter what climate change or not. But I really just need to prepare to, to let go over and over and over and I practice it I practice. You know, I think of the visuals, like I close my hand and I bring in the love and the joy and the things that I’m attached to. And as soon as they I feel like they’re tugging at me, I’m like, Okay, open my hands, and I let them go, that is the practice because that’s, that’s the way of life, right? You come in and that’s going to happen no matter what, like my death meditations are going to help me no matter what. And I also hope I always have this sense of, there’s so much and there are so many empirically validated moments in history, where it is so clear, we cannot know. We just cannot know the future and the future. We know it with the awareness and the consciousness we have right at this moment. But every day is different and human awareness and consciousness is changing radically. That’s one of the byproducts of this time that I think is actually probably a good thing. It’s hard, hard one, but it’s a good thing. So I don’t know what’s possible. I mean, I’m watching stuff on Horizon going. That’s interesting. I, it’s totally possible that it won’t go the way that it looks like it could go, especially the most horrific looking way. So I don’t focus on those narratives. I focus on what’s gonna give me joy. And what’s going to help me give others joy right now, and because that’s all I ever got, anyway, is right now. So the Yeah, that present moment awareness, mindfulness techniques. I mean, I think they’re probably more germane now than ever. Then I just live today in this moment. Because, you know, we’ve been talking about I just, I have no idea about tomorrow. And I don’t want to, I won’t want to waste the precious moments I have right now, worrying about something that is not right now. And the coolest thing is that I have learned that as I’ve been able to withdraw my projections about other people, or even my concern about the future and just look around where I am. Gosh, sometimes it’s super beautiful.
That’s such a good reminder to be present and not let anxiety take away the sweetness all around us. Thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure.
Janis Whitlock 34:05
You’re welcome. Thank you. I really appreciate this. Thank you for being our host.
I love that so many people in the mental health space who work with such heavy issues are also some of the most upbeat and life affirming people I’ve met. Janis is no exception. I loved our conversation. This week’s practice is about releasing doubt and using mindfulness to move through moments of anxiety. Janis says when it comes to our mental health, we must think of anxiety as energy in motion that needs to move somewhere. So this week, I want you to think about what triggers your anxiety. What are your patterns? When do you feel most anxious? Are you calling parts of your uncertainty anxiety as a way to self soothe when it might actually be something within your control? Here are some ways you can put everything we talked about into practice. Instead of distracting yourself Like scrolling on social media or drinking more coffee when you feel anxious, I want you to sit with what comes up for you and take three slow breaths. Breathing is a form of meditation that can help you face your discomfort. It’s also a great way to get centered and bring yourself back to the purpose of the day. Another good way to find the roots to your anxiety is to keep a list.
Every morning, write down your thoughts. Think about what ways your anxiety is holding you back. By the end of the week, you can start to identify what’s triggering you and see what your patterns are. Remember that anxiety isn’t something you’re trying to get rid of. Instead, you’re learning how to work with it, understand it and gain control over it so it has less control over you. To go a little deeper, Janis recommends Taking The Leap, freeing ourselves from old habits and fears by Pema Chödrön, it’s a book on letting go of control in our lives and the powerlessness we have as human beings. This is a great resource for understanding patterns of the mind and how we can get stuck on certain emotions that come up. I can also recommend my own book anxiety, the missing stage of grief, which is all about how to grapple with anxiety that comes on after a loss. It has lots of practical tips and tools and ways to help you work through what you’re experiencing. As always, thanks for listening. And if you get a chance, send me a question through my new online forum at bit.ly/newdayask, it’s totally anonymous. You can literally ask me anything and you can find the link in the show notes. Or if you just want to tell me about one of your weekly practices, call and leave me a voicemail at 8334-LEMONADA, that’s 833-453-6662, or email me at email@example.com
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show is produced by Jackie Danziger, Liliana Maria Percy Ruiz and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Lily Cornell Silver and Claire Bidwell Smith. NEW DAY is produced in partnership with the Well Being Trust, The Jed Foundation and Education Development Center. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me at clairebidwellsmith.com. Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow NEW DAY listeners at facebook.com/groups/newdaypod. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium. You can subscribe right now on the Apple podcast app by clicking on our podcast logo and then the subscribe button. Thanks for listening. See you next week.