How to Figure Out What Really Matters
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Do your days feel consumed by tasks and obligations that are getting in the way of really living your life? Claire gives you a tip on how to ascertain what really matters to you and how to go about prioritizing those things. Plus, she answers a question from a listener who is experiencing delayed grief and anxiety 15 years after the death of her parent.
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Do you ever find yourself doing stuff you don’t want to be doing? My guess is Yes. But how do we weed out all the boring crap that gets in the way of what really matters? Hi, I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about today on NEW DAY. Now in your feed three times a week. I remember shortly after my dad died, standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, staring at the rows and rows of boxes. What is the point of anything is all I could think in that moment. Suddenly, there were so many things that seemed pointless, what kind of cereal to buy bills and other random obligations. All this stuff I’d always done because I thought I was supposed to, it fell by the wayside. It was kind of an extreme way of looking at the world. But grief will do that to you. The upside was that going through so much loss really taught me how to focus on what matters most to me. I started saying no to things I didn’t want to do. I started prioritizing meaningful experiences and opportunities that came my way. If anything, I just didn’t want to regret wasting a moment on things that didn’t matter. Obviously, there’s a lot of annoying stuff we have to do in our lives, like going to the dentist and paying bills on time. I did get back on track with that one eventually, kind of. But so often, I see the people around me letting themselves get bogged down with stuff they don’t really need to focus on. And although I’ve lived much of my life, like there’s no tomorrow, these days, there’s so much on my plate that it sometimes becomes difficult for me to prioritize and focus on the right things. Between three kids and a busy career. Sometimes I can’t figure out what’s really important. But lately I’ve been thinking about the conversation I have with death doula Alua Arthur. I’m so inspired by the way she lives her life by constantly thinking about death. When faced with trying to figure out what’s important, she urges us to ask ourselves, will this thing really matter In a day, a week, a month? I’ve been putting this question to the test more and more, and I urge you to do the same. Next time you’re feeling torn about something like a decision to attend a bake sale or meet with someone you’re not that into, or spend another hour sending work emails, instead of hanging out with your partner kids. Ask yourself, will it really matter if I skip this thing? And if it doesn’t matter, don’t do it. Instead, see if you can make more time for the things that really do matter and will matter down the road. One thing that will help you pare this down even more is if you focus on the items that will have the deepest long-term impact, like not going to a school fundraiser if you really just need a night to rest. Setting aside 20 minutes a day to read a book and forgetting about the laundry for an afternoon. Calling to catch up with a friend on a work commute instead of listening to a podcast. Wait, I mean the news, you should still listen to podcast. This way, what’s important doesn’t get lost in what’s not urgent. You can also apply this method when gauging a failure or when was hosting an impromptu get together a win even if the house is a mess. The next day was splurging on dinner out a win because you really just needed someone else to cook that night. Ask yourself about the long- and short-term wins and failures. And you’ll probably gain a little perspective on how much emotion to dedicate to the matter. Look, we all get caught up in stuff we don’t want to be doing. But every time I hear someone complain about how busy they are, I can’t help but wonder if they’re paying attention to what really matters.
Now to one of your listener questions, here’s one from Ella in Atlanta. Ella writes, can you share insight about the relationship between delayed grief and anxiety? I lost a parent in 2004 15 years later; I was overwhelmed by crushing grief that seemed to have come from nowhere. I had been struggling with anxiety for several years prior to that. But it became much worse afterward. A therapist helped me process some of the grief. However, the anxiety remains. Thank you so much for this question, Ella, I totally relate. There’s a huge correlation between grief and anxiety that wasn’t recognized for a really long time in the clinical world. I myself began having panic attacks shortly before my mother died and it only increased later. There’s a lot of reasons why we get anxious after a loss. And I’ve been studying this for so many years, both in my personal life, and now with all the clients I see. But I think some of the big reasons are an inability to process all the grief that you’re experiencing, just trying to move through that much emotion and hold that much emotion, not knowing how to regulate it not knowing what to expect, you know, you could be walking through a room and suddenly you’re crying. You could be at a party and suddenly, you know you’re having a grief attack. So I think some of that is what causes some of the anxiety, just this unexpected way of being in the world now that you’re grieving. But then one of the other things that causes anxiety after we go through a big loss is the realization that life can change on a dime that big and hard things can happen. I think a lot of the time before we’ve ever been through a big loss, we’re kind of going about our life, thinking that it is going to go a certain way. And that we can depend on things. And we can plan ahead. And when you lose someone that you love, suddenly you realize that there isn’t a whole lot of certainty all the time that we aren’t always in control of our life. And that can bring out a lot of anxiety. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable, there’s so much we can do for it. One of the things that happens when we don’t treat it is that we get stuck in it, and anxiety kind of grows, and it loops and we kind of continue to come back and back and back and live in that space.
So if we’re not working on it at all, that’s why it just stays and sticks around. But when we start to chip away at it and do-little things that I’m gonna get into, you’ll see a lot of movement right away. So one of the other things that I was thinking about for you, too, is you didn’t mention your age. And when we go through a loss in childhood or adolescence, a lot of the times we aren’t developmentally able to process that loss. So sometimes that grief and anxiety does come back, you mentioned that 15 years later, you were overwhelmed by crushing grief that seemed to have come out of nowhere. And I’m wondering about your age at that time, because sometimes we’re not in a place to be able to process that grief, and it does come back later, doesn’t mean that that’s a bad thing. It just means that we’re finally maybe in a place to handle it. But for you, I would suggest a couple of things Ella, checking in to see if there’s still any more grief, there’s a process you mentioned a therapist having helped you with it. But just asking yourself some simple questions like, how much have I grieved? Are there places where I do feel stuck? Are there places where I kind of want to go back and open up that grief again, and just let myself sit with it. And if so taking some time to do that. Maybe you need support as you do that. Maybe it’s something you can do on your own with journaling or talking to family or friends. And then with the anxiety, it’s really important to start doing some little things around meditation, mindfulness, thought tracking, I love having my clients start to keep a journal and a list of their anxious thoughts. When are you getting anxious? What are the predominant thoughts? Start taking notes of them every day? Each time you have an anxious thought like, today feels overwhelming, or I’m worried I’m going to get sick or I’m worried something bad is going to happen to someone write it down, note in your mind or on your journal like, what were you feeling in that moment? How did it play out through your body? Was there any behavior that you took on afterwards? Did you choose to exercise? Did you choose to eat something? What was it you went to, to cope with that anxiety and that anxious thought, just start to get to know your anxiety. I mean, this is the thing about anxiety, we’re often so anxious about the anxiety that we run from it. But the more we can lean into it, the more we can get to know it, the more control we’ll have over it and the more we’ll be able to manage it. Think about it like a car at an icy road.
The advice is always to lean into it. When it’s skidding and anxieties like that too. We need to lean into it to gain control over it. There are so many amazing anxiety workbooks out there meditation apps. I had a really great episode recently with Kelsey Darragh, in which we talk a lot about tons of anxiety tips and like little things you can do. But I’m so glad you wrote you’re totally not alone in this. It sounds like you’re working on it and wanting to work on it. And I really think if you just dig into a few of these different places, getting to know the anxiety, taking a look at your grief. And just lastly, being compassionate with yourself. This is hard, you didn’t ask to go through this. Nobody wants to go through something like this. So I’m wishing you lots of luck and hoping that you are able to find some good resources and get on track. Thank you so much Ella. I love answering your questions. So if something is on your mind, type of a quick email and send it along to email@example.com. On Wednesday’s episode, I’m going to give you a tip for dealing with the delusion of terrible headlines in the news. It’s important to be informed, but it’s also important not to have it consume you. So be sure to check out that episode. The easiest way to do that subscribe to NEW DAY so all three episodes a week are right there and your feed.
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.