A client of mine recently discovered that she’s pregnant and shared this question with me this week:

“I really hope that everything is safe and sound with my pregnancy. I’m trying my best to stay positive, but I have moments of anxiety.

I am wondering how to feel my fears while not being consumed by them and how to remain positive while not getting sucked into worst case ‘what-if’ scenarios. Suggestions?”

Now, you might not be pregnant with a new baby (though, congratulations if you are!), but if you’re like most of my clients, you’re working hard to bring something you care deeply about into the world—a new policy, a new program, a new relationship, a new business, or something else.

Whatever it is, you’re apt to have fears.

So how do you acknowledge your fears without getting sucked into them?

In today’s episode, I share four practices that I shared with my client. Listen in!

 

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A client of mine recently discovered that she’s pregnant and shared this question with me this week:

“I really hope that everything is safe and sound with my pregnancy. I’m trying my best to stay positive, but I have moments of anxiety.

I am wondering how to feel my fears while not being consumed by them and how to remain positive while not getting sucked into worst case ‘what-if’ scenarios. Suggestions?”

Now, you might not be pregnant with a new baby (though, congratulations if you are!), but if you’re like most of my clients, you’re working hard to bring something you care deeply about into the world. This might be a new policy, a new program, a new relationship, a new business, or something else.

Whatever it is, you’re apt to have fears. So how do you acknowledge your fears without getting sucked into them?

Here are four practices that I shared with my client:

1. Remember that Worry is the work of pregnancy.

Fifteen years ago, shortly after my son, Kai, was born, I became a childbirth mentor and birth doula, and one of my favorite quotes from that time was from Pam England, creator of Birthing From Within, who writes: Worry is the work of pregnancy.

In other words, you are normal.

If there’s something you care deeply about, something you long for, something you’re working hard to bring into the world, and you have a lot at stake, the odds of success are uncertain and the outcomes are not completely within your control—

Of course, you will feel worried at times.

My most recent source of worry is related to my son, Kai. He’s a sophomore in high school, thinking about colleges, and I want him to have a future in which he’s content and contributing.

He’s doing really great, but his future is largely out of my hands, and so occasionally, I worry.

Now, when friends tell me that of course he’ll be fine and that I should not worry, it honestly doesn’t feel very helpful.

But when they acknowledge that it makes complete sense that I would worry a bit, I feel heard, and my nervous system settles.

Until recently, most self-help teachers taught that stress was bad for us and that we needed to get rid of it.

But as Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal teaches, stress is simply what we feel when something we love is at risk.

While chronic stress can be harmful, momentary stress and worry are a normal part of reaching toward what we love.

2. Write down your worries.

Now, one factor that makes a huge difference in how we relate to our stress are the stories we tell ourselves. And while we may not be able to completely eliminate our fears, we can shift how we relate to them.

A key practice for turning down the volume on our stories—including the “worst case, what if scenarios” my client mentioned—is to write them down.

Journaling helps us do what developmental psychologist Robert Kegan called the subject-object shift. When we’re subject to our thoughts, we’re so close to them that we assume they’re true and don’t notice or question them. Before we write our stories down, they float around in our heads, clouding our perception, and it’s as though we’re seeing life through their cloudy lens.

But when we get our stories out of our heads and onto the paper, we can look at them rather than looking through them.

We shift our stories from implicit to explicit, from too-close-up-to-see to distant-enough-to-choose-our-response, from feeling like our thoughts are happening to us to accessing a sense of agency.

Just the very act of journaling can soothe our nervous systems.

After fifteen years of engaging with many of the practices I teach, when I feel worried, I still often need to get out my journal and write down my thoughts to soothe my concerns and choose my next steps.

3. Imagine yourself coping.

Most pregnant parents have something that they hope and pray will not happen during their pregnancy, birth, or postpartum experience.

These “worst-case what if” worries can be like tiger kittens in the backgrounds of their minds, but if parents ignore their concerns, they can grow into full-grown tigers that create significant stress by the time their birthing day comes around.

However, if they turn and face their kitten fears early on, they can tame their worries and grow their self-trust. The same goes for any concern, even those that us not-pregnant people may experience.

With this in mind, back when I used to teach childbirth classes, I’d guide my clients through a visualization practice called the Tigers Exercise.

I’d invite my clients to choose a worry to work with and then guide them to imagine that their concern was unfolding in real life and to notice how they felt and what they were thinking.

Then, I’d invite them to let this image go and imagine the same exact scenario, only this time, they were coping. I invited my clients to imagine that they were coping, to notice what they felt and what they were telling themselves when they were coping, and to draw an image of this scene.

The power of the invitation to imagine ourselves coping often surprised me. Sometimes, my clients’ dreaded experiences did indeed come to pass in real-life, and as their birth doula, I got to witness the resilience they’d cultivated as they brought their whole selves and strength to their experience.

So, with this in mind, if you have a worst-case scenario fear, I encourage you to imagine this worst-case scenario, and to imagine that You are coping. Notice what you know to be true about yourself and about the world when you are coping.

4. Rather than trying to “remain positive,” track glimmers.

In her book, Bittersweet, Susan Cain writes about the melancholic direction that she calls the ‘bittersweet’—“a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. The bittersweet is also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. ‘Days of honey, days of onion,” as an Arabic proverb puts it.’”

Like the most beautiful piece of music, there is nothing I know of that is more bittersweet than parenting. And, to create a life we long for, we must tune into our longing, and sometimes, that hurts.

And so, I cannot teach you to “remain positive.” At least, after nearly sixteen years of parenting, and four-plus decades of living, I have yet to find a way.

But I have found that it is possible to cultivate a default state of satisfaction and even delight. Snd one of the most potent practices I know for doing this is tracking glimmers.

Coined by social worker Deborah Dana, glimmers are cues that prompt feelings of satisfaction, wellbeing, and other pleasant feelings that indicate our needs are met.

They’re quick sparks of the feelings we want to feel, moments that nourish our energy or move us closer to what we long for.

Tracking glimmers is the practice of getting curious and searching glimmers as if we were a huntress, detective, or search and rescue team.

We can acknowledge our worries and acknowledge our delight. And, the more we practice tracking glimmers, the more we can shift our default state toward a sense of nourishment and delight, even while we honor the parts of ourselves who feel scared.

Back when I used to teach childbirth classes, I started every class by telling my clients:

My goal today is twofold—I aim to offer you tools to help you have the birth you want, while also helping you remember that you are loved and loveable, no matter what birth you have.

I wish the same for you.

May you receive all the support that you need to rise to the challenges you face.

And, may you know that you are truly enough, no matter what happens.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, I welcome you to share them with me at katherine@callingsandcourage.com.

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