My top three tools for when freaking out

Okay, so I’ve been freaking out a little bit lately.

My PhD defense is coming up in 4.5 weeks. It will be fine. No biggie.

And I started my business where I’d like to coach people on designing their lifestyle, setting priorities, and reaching their goals. Will it go well? No idea.

I’ve been looking forward to these events for years, but they’re scary nevertheless. I spent 8 years at the Donders (2 years for my master’s and 6 years for my PhD), so leaving the institute marks a big transition. Change is exciting and stressful, both at the same time.

My #1 tool

I’ve discovered that the best way to calm myself is by putting things in perspective. It works like a charm, but the key is to really see things in perspective, to really feel it.

I ask myself, “What is my #1 priority?”

Answer: “My family.”

Follow-up question: “Are we all okay right now? Are we all healthy? Is any of us in danger?”

Answer: “Actually, we’re all fine.”

Conclusion: “The most important thing is there. The rest will be fine.”

We’ve been in and out of hospitals during the last year, and we’ve lost several close friends and family members. Life puts things in perspective like nothing else.

This is the most powerful tool for me, but unfortunately, you can’t hack it. I’ve tried to use it in the past, and I just didn’t feel it. I thought, “Yeah, yeah, we’re fine, big deal. I’m still stressed!” But recently, something shifted. I guess it’s gratitude for things being just normal.

My #2 tool

This tool is super simple. It has to do with the present moment.

I’m standing in my kitchen, freaking out about my defense. I ask myself, “Right now, in this moment, am I okay?”

Answer: “Well, yeah, the defense is 4.5 weeks away, so I’m actually okay right now. I don’t have to defend my thesis right now.”

This works in most situations. Even when I’m on the podium during the defense, I can ask myself, “Am I okay right now?”

Most likely the answer will be: “Well, yeah, right now, I’m answering a question kind of alright, so I guess I’m okay.”

Most of the time, our fear is about the future, but in fact in this current moment, we are okay.

My #3 tool

This tool recognizes that there are different parts of me and that I have different, sometimes conflicting, feelings.

For instance, one part of me is scared, and another part of me is excited.

One part of me doubts whether I’ll make it (e.g., the defense, the business, being a good mom, etc.), and another part of me knows it will be fine somehow.

Both parts of me are there. Both things are true.

I find this super calming for some reason. The fear is not any more true than the excitement or the joy. Both are true. (Btw I got this idea from Dr. Becky Kennedy.)

What are your favorite tools for when you’re freaking out, stressed, or anxious? I’d love to hear!

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