“It was bright pink, cheery…and it almost ruined my day.”
Someone who completed one my past Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction Skills(MBSR) courses called me to share her success in using MBSR to manage intense anxiety triggered by this bright pink, cheery envelope. Naturally, I was intrigued. “What happened?” I asked.
“Well. I got this pink envelope in the mail and it did not have a return address, which was the first trigger for my anxiety. I wondered, ‘Who was sending me this card-sized envelope at the end of July?’ There was no holiday or birthday to be celebrated, so I was suspicious. Then I noticed the handwriting…it looked like an older woman’s handwriting.”
She went on to describe her awareness of her negative, automatic thoughts triggered by The Pink Envelope. She was approaching the anniversary of living in a house that she has rented for 12 years, and with the shaky economy and her husband’s job loss last fall, she was afraid that this pink envelope was a notice from her landlady to increase the rent—or worse—or a 30-day notice to move out. “It looked like her handwriting!”
“In the past this would have totally stressed me out. I might have avoided opening it. The shift in my mood would cause me to be unpleasant to be around, and my poor husband and dog might not receive the quality of my attention they deserve. …and I probably would have gotten an intense headache!”
She went on to share that because she had been practicing formal mindfulness on a regular basis (she learned how to do this in the class) and became aware of her patterns of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, she immediately recognized that The Pink Envelope triggered a cascading and nearly overwhelming stressful bodily response.
“I noticed the tightness in my chest, the shallowness of my breath, the feeling of fear, and the risk of becoming consumed by what was inside of the envelope.” When she noticed this, she was able to take a few deep breaths–just focus on her breathing for a few moments–to restore some control over these sensations. This allowed her to challenge the evidence of her fortune-telling and catastrophizing that The Pink Envelope was something scary.
“I walked inside the house, set the envelope on the table, and with my full attention greeted my husband and my dog who were eagerly waiting for me. Afterward, I decided to face The Pink Envelope. I told myself, I was being ridiculous and asked myself ‘Why would my landlady send me a formal notice in a pink envelope?’
“I grabbed the envelope, tore it open, and discovered a beautiful photo of a friend’s newborn baby/announcement. I took a deep breath, told myself that I was an idiot, rolled my eyes and shook my head at myself. Aware that I was now beating myself up, I took another deep breath, forgave myself, blew it away, and took my dog for a delightful walk!”
No longer consumed by negative thoughts, anxiety, self-judgement or the once-dreaded Pink Envelope, she was able to take in the full experience of her neighborhood, the smell of flowers blooming, the cool breeze against her skin, delighting in her dog’s wonder and curiosity about all of the new smells, and enjoy the remainder of her day.
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