Monday Motivation #106 (6/6/2022)
Sometime in childhood, I developed a phobia about fish. My folks used to take us “up north” in the summers to visit our grandparents, and we stayed in a cottage in the midst of national forest land. There were three small, inland lakes just down the road, and we’d spend hours jumping off the dock and trying to swim while wearing the old-fashioned bright orange life preservers that kept tugging us onto our backs in the water. I have a distinct memory of donning a swim mask and peering under the dock, where schools of bass and other sizable-but-ugly fish would retreat from the chaotic children splashing around. And I remember very clearly screaming so loudly while underwater that my dad swore he could hear me from land. What I don’t quite remember is what startled me, or how I ended up on the dock sobbing about the fish, but that’s perhaps the earliest manifestation of my phobia.
I knew my fear wasn’t rational, and that the fish couldn’t actually harm me, and every year I’d head to the lake determined to master its inhabitants. I tried joining my grandmother in a rowboat for one of her favorite pastimes (fishing!), but when I reeled in my first catch and saw the flash of scales in the sunshine, my fear took over as I screamed and threw the whole pole over the side! Grandmother retrieved it and said I should just sit there while she continued, which was fine until one of her catches leapt out of the storage bucket and into the bottom of the boat while she was reeling in one of its friends. I found myself cowering at the end of the boat, shrieking for help, and trying to decide whether it was worse to stay in the boat with one flopping fish or to jump overboard and hope that there weren’t schools of them waiting for me.
As an adult, I decided that it was important to figure out how to overcome this fear so that I didn’t have to miss out on fun-but-fishy activities. There were a few setbacks, like the time I passed out at the Shedd Aquarium or when I threw my (life jacketed!) baby at my spouse and jumped into the boat after discovering tiny nibblers darting around the sandbar. But over the years I learned relaxation techniques and developed self-calming routines that help me dampen the fear, even if fish still aren’t my favorite neighbors. I’ve found these calming techniques to be valuable in other stressful situations, and I sometimes share these approaches with students who are facing their own fears or trying to navigate significant transitions like graduation. Deep breathing exercises can help in the moment, while meditation or yoga or just taking a walk can bring more lasting calm. Talking through problems with a trusted friend or making pro/con lists before making a big decision can help clarify our concerns. And working with a therapist or physician can help ensure our mental and physical health.
This week, I’m sharing some ideas for helping to improve your own sense of calm.
Three Things to Try This Week
Take a Breath — controlled breathing exercises can have a profound impact on our physical and mental health, especially if we practice them frequently. Try these different approaches and see which appeal to you.
Take a Beat — there are many different relaxation techniques for our minds and bodies that can be practiced quietly, without anyone else knowing, which can make them a great source of stress relief even in public settings. Learn more here.
Take a Break — no one can work at peak productivity forever. Including regular breaks in your daily and weekly routines can help you reset and refresh before tackling your to-do list again. Try one of the suggestions here.