Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” — Anne Lamott

Fielding questions about problems on a website, I have a list of tasks I normally ask people. Did you make sure you were logged in? Did you clear the cache on your browser? My final question is, have you rebooted your computer?

Computers aren’t that different from people — log in, clear your cache, reboot. When everything else fails, unplug the darn thing. Do resist throwing it out the window. I might also suggest holding your tongue just right and tilting your head a little to the right, at least for your computer.

For you and for me, unplugging from everything around us can also be the key to a fresh start. As Lamott aptly note, almost everything will work again, if you unplug it for a few minutes.

Do you still have anxiety?

Yes.

Over what?

I have no idea. I just lie down, and my world starts spinning.

The question was unexpected when I was asked if I still have panic attacks and anxiety issues. I must admit that I thought they might magically disappear the way they first began. They haven’t.

I’m not a worrier by nature, but I do think about my children, my mother, my friendships. I want everyone to be safe and to be happy. When I turn off the lights at night, I sometimes notice that my heart begins to race, my thoughts are full of many different things, and the panic begins — for no particular reason.

Unlike the pretty pictures we see on social media, anxiety is ugly. It looks different for each of us, but for each of us who have experienced it, it feels pretty much the same.

The world is feeling a bit upside down these days. I’m seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter and even Instagram from people who feel the world is out of control, and they are frightened. My goal here is to help all of us to take a breath, see what is within our control, and let go of the rest. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? It appears that what we do during the day can impact our ability to turn off and unplug at night.

When I was a child, we didn’t have electronic devices to tempt us into staying awake later, though a carefully placed flashlight could allow extra reading time for those of us wanting to finish one more chapter in a good book.

Today we have smartphones, tablets and other electronic conveniences offering reasons to stay awake a little longer; just a little too long, as we catch up on what everyone is doing and what has made the news, and sleep seems to be pushed to the back burner leaving a mind full of thoughts.

In a list of positive things to do before going to sleep, reading was No. 3 on the list. A study (University of Sussex) showed that those who read for only six minutes could reduce stress levels by 68 percent. I’m going to guess that reading a book or magazine is the better choice, as a screen of any kind has been shown to be disruptive at night in various reports.

Add to that a little exercise — research shows that people who are physically active are less anxious and depressed, and we are reminded that WE have the power to bring positive change to our lives.

People who go to bed earlier have fewer problems with thought interference than people who go to bed later. If your thinking keeps you awake, try going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier, and think some happy thoughts while you’re at it.

You see, happy and successful people also tend to put aside things that were troubling them earlier in the day and make their last thoughts encouraging and grateful. Find some positive quotes to keep beside the bed that will give you something to fill your mind when negative thoughts try to sneak in, and you might just find that the color of your soul isn’t nearly so dark just because your room is.

One of the last things I’ve learned from my study is to get up when you find you can’t sleep. The thoughts that bring worry or fear have a way of lessening or even disappearing when our attention can go to something else. Often, reading, knitting, or just breathing steadily while listening to quiet music for a few minutes is all the brain needs to turn off those worrisome thoughts.

People who aren’t normally worriers might find that they are feeling a lot of anxiety these days. Please, don’t dismiss it.

People who have never experienced anxiety are experiencing it and have no idea what it is. Please, don’t dismiss it.

People who are tough and need no one are finding that they are weak and need anyone. Please, don’t dismiss it.

Years ago, OK, maybe last year, people were too strong to need help, too proud to need help, too together to need help, but here we are in the summer of 2020 following months of social distancing, self-quarantining, losing friends and family, being afraid of losing friends and family, and feeling incredible uncertainty about life.

So today, in the summer of 2020, it is perfectly alright to acknowledge that you feel funny, different, and not like yourself. Watch a little less news, sit in the quiet a little bit more, turn off and tune out a little earlier in the evening, and stay active during the day.

Anxiety is real and painful; don’t dismiss it. Reach out for someone who will listen. Don’t shut others down when they are struggling with life. Be a good human to the people you love, and some you might not even know.

I’m going to unplug now — the computer, the phone, and my thinking. I’m going to sit outside and watch for a bunny and some birds. I think I’ll work better. You should try it, too.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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