Blood warms my cheeks and fills my ears. My palms prickle and my fingers curl like a snake waiting to strike. I feel the breath held at the top of my chest. I keep it there, holding it close to protect my heart. When I open my mouth I’ll erupt and say exactly what I’m not supposed to say. Through the rising red fog in my eyes, I let anger lash abruptly and land on the target.
It’s not who I wanted to be but it’s who I alway thought I was. I acknowledged this as dormant anger that I had no control over. I wore annoyance on my face at the slightest inconvenience, challenge or frustrating situation. As I’ve worked through both personal and professional disagreements over the past few years, I can recognize that the feeling of not controlling these sensations is misplaced. I do control my reaction and, if I want to be calm - I need to get ahead of it.
But how? How when the frustration meets its boiling point do you choose to release the breath instead of holding it in? I have found myself occasionally winning this fight with myself by sheer luck and occasionally, the art of pause. As I find my balance between passion and compassion, my tools are evolving.
In The Gifts of Imperfection Brown says to imagine the person you feel challenged by being hugged by their loved ones. This helped immensely in a professional situation where my boss and I never saw eye to eye.
More recently, however, I discussed this gripping feeling with a patient. We were discussing a similar sensation that people get when they have anxiety or the beginning stages of a panic attack. I felt our conversation led me toward a better understanding of how my big reactions may not just be anger, but may be rooted in anxiety and fear. Their suggestion? Pickle.
Can you associate a word with the rising tide? When things begin to spin and the throat becomes tight, instead of having one of two options (explode or implode) stop yourself with a word. He gave me the example of “pickle” and it was quickly adopted. Not only because it’s the perfect silly word to bring you out of your head and back to your body, but because I will remember this person telling me how they utilize the word to get back into their body.
Whether you find yourself in spirals of fear, self doubt and anxiety, teetering on the edge of panic, or about to let the frustration escape out of you like air from a balloon - maybe we could all use a word like “pickle” to remind us that we’re here and we’re okay.