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Striving for Zen

This post has pretty much nothing to do with writing. You have been warned.

I’m tense. Every day. All the time. Constant tension.

If you know me, this likely surprises you. I don’t have a tense personality. I am not high strung or high maintenance. When asked to describe me with one word, multiple close family members said, “content.” So what gives? How does the laid-back, go-with-the-flow girl end up so constantly tense?

I’ve been doing my best to figure that out for the past six months. Why six months? Because it was only then that I even realized it was a thing. Yes, I’ve known for a long time that my back ached and the tension in my shoulders and neck gave me headaches, but what I didn’t realize was that much of that tension was simply habit. Somewhere along the way, my body decided that it needed to brace for impact. It tensed up in an effort to lesson pain or protect me from discomfort and it’s never stopped. My best guess is that it started with the car accident I was in when I was eight. I’m guessing it caused undiagnosed whip lash because it was soon after that that I started noticing the back pain. It was an annoyance, but I was eight and resilient and it wasn’t severe enough for anyone to realize it was a real problem, so I just got used to it. And my body got used to holding that pain. It got used to bracing against things that might make it worse.

On top of that, I’ve come to realize that my lack of outward emotional drama, and my refusal to be a worrier, isn’t all that healthy. My chill attitude doesn’t stem from true zen. It comes from avoidance. When problems and uncomfortable situations come up in my life, I don’t yell and scream and get the emotions out. I also don’t turn it over and over in my mind until it’s resolved.

No. I avoid it. I’m so uncomfortable with contention and confrontation that I side step it. Then I take all that discomfort and I shove it down, where it gets stored in my muscles as tension.

Healthy, huh?

No. It’s really not. And when I became a mother, that cycle only intensified. There was the added physical intensity—pregnancy and nursing are not kind to a person’s body—but also the emotional intensity. Motherhood is busy and chaotic and out of our control most of the time. It’s demanding and unpredictable. So as I mothered, I would deal with the stress and handle the demands, and then when I got 10 minutes for myself, I would panic-relax. Those of you who do the same will know exactly what that means. It’s the I HAVE TEN MINUTES TO MYSELF, I MUST UTILIZE THIS TIME RIGHT NOW AND RELAX BEFORE IT ALL COMES CRASHING DOWN ON ME AGAIN.

Spoiler alert: that’s not relaxing. As it turns out, I’m really bad at pacing myself. I’m bad at just breathing. Plus, maybe that 10 minutes of “free time” has to be filled with cleaning, doing, organizing. If I have work to do, it feels like an emergency, something that must be done quickly and under pressure, even if there is in reality, no pressure.

So I’m trying to retrain myself. Over the past six months, in addition to regular chiropractic visits, I’ve been doing my best to slow down, give myself permission to not be in a rush. I’m also constantly reminding myself that I don’t have to panic-relax or panic-work. I don’t have to grocery shop with my shoulders pulled up to my ears and my back tense.

Take a breath, Annette. Sit back in your chair. Drop your shoulders. Calm down. You’re fine. This isn’t an emergency. Life is good. It could even be relaxing if you let it.

I’ve also made some practical changes. Instead of sitting in a chair with my laptop on my lap, hunched over the small screen, I’ve now got an external monitor, on a desk, at eye level, that I can read from a comfortable distance.

I’m slowly making progress. I’m doing my best to be mindful of how I’m holding my body and why. I’m trying to be better at recognizing and then DEALING WITH my emotional discomforts so that I can let them go instead of clamping down on them. I’m taking advantage of the quiet time I have during the day now that all five of my kids are in school, and I’m reminding myself that not every minute has to be productive. Relaxation doesn’t have to come with guilt. Taking care of myself is not selfish.

Relax. Breathe. Eat at a leisurely pace. Sit and just BE.

I’m trying to undo thirty years of muscle memory, so it’s bound to be an ongoing process, but I’m started to gain just a little bit of zen.

Clean Romance Highlights:

Deborah White has The Kingdom Tales boxset on sale for $.99! It includes her first three books.

Box Set includes Kingdom of Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Kingdom of Slumber: A Retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and Kingdom of Cinders: A Retelling of Cinderella.

First Real Kiss by Jennifer Griffith is a comedic medical romance.

The girl of his nightmares might be the girl of his dreams.
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