You can’t freak out about stuff like this

Some Monday motivation for you:

A month ago, I was sitting on the sidelines of another kids’ sporting event, chatting with a friend, when her phone rang. I couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but it went like this: Uh-huh, uh-huh, I’m sorry. Uh-huh, I’m sorry, see you soon.

I didn’t know what it was about, but I’d had plenty of conversations myself that sounded a lot like that on my end.

She hung up, and filled me in. That was her husband, calling from across town, because he’d gotten two similar-sounding schools confused. The game had already started, but he was ten miles away at the wrong school, and in rush-hour traffic it would take 45 minutes to get to the right one.

He was mad, of course he was, and if I were in his shoes I would be in full meltdown mode.

(Can you relate?)

That’s the worst, I said, and if you had asked me then what I expected my friend to say in reply, it would have been something like I know. But that’s not what she said.

Eh, that’s life, she said. You can’t freak out about stuff like this. 

And she went on to explain that mix-ups like this happened to everyone at some time or another, and that’s just the way it is, and you have to decide to not get upset about it when it’s your turn.

I wish I could say I gracefully took things in stride when my own carelessness lands me 45 minutes across town during rush hour, or in any number of similar situations. I can’t, because I don’t. I freak out about stuff like this. I’d assumed that was part of who I was, my latent inner perfectionist rearing her head, again.

It never occurred to me that not freaking out was an option. That I could decide to not get upset.

I told my friend so; she shook her head. I really believe it, she said. You have to decide.

Readers, sometimes you have to choose to stay on the board. You have to decide you have what it takes. And can I decide to take things in stride sometimes, instead of freaking out as per usual? It never occurred to me to try, till that day, but I’m trying.

Readers, do you take these things in stride, or get upset about them? Have you tried deciding to react differently? How has that worked out for you? 

P.S. This is why assumptions are dangerous, a piece about mindset and practice and … paddleboarding.

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    • Mary Wilmot says:

      What a great reminder. Life does happen and it always ends up ok. I worry and freak out at times and my husband is good at reminding me this! 🙂

  1. Mary says:

    Hoo boy, this is something that I’ve been working on a lot since I became a mother. I used to be much more reactive, and then realized when I had my daughter that I was going to quickly burn out if I allowed myself to get intensely emotional about every.little.thing. Thank you for the reminder that we do have a choice when things don’t go according to plan, and we really can lead ourselves into a calmer, more peaceful life.

  2. Lbpv says:

    I think its better to find a happy medium. Freaking out over life’s smaller issues and being too passive can both be problems.

  3. Lisa Zahn says:

    This is a very recent revelation for me. I read an email and wanted to respond immediately, but I didn’t have the time at the moment. It really upset me! But I then had this thought, that even when I’m not meditating (which I rarely do anyway), I can choose to just let a thought like this go. So I took that respond-to-email-now thought/reaction that was going on in my head, and I watched it float away on a cloud–just like I would do when meditating. It worked! I left that reaction behind and was able to easily respond to the email later, at a better time. I’ve been doing it with lots of things since, and it works! You can choose to let things just *float away* for the moment–go figure!

  4. My husband has a very short fuse for freaking out. He was talking about how his cardiologist told him to have less stress. I told him he needs to CHOOSE to be less stressed, to not freak out over the smallest thing. This is a guy who loses it if the forecast said sun and he wakes up to rain, as if the weather gods decided to persecute him personally.
    I probably was more like him before having a kid. But as I was a “geriatric” mother (medical term!), I realized the preciousness of my time with my little one vs. everything else I could be doing. I decided to never get upset about the way it took half an hour to walk three blocks to school because of stopping to examine every pebble, cat and leaf en route. Just factored it in. And savored it. It was a good lesson that has extended to other parts of life. If only I can get my husband to do it.

    • Guest says:

      Really enjoyed reading your comment. As someone who seems to have been wired to be on the worry/anxiety side of the fence, I, too, have learned that we can choose (to a point) not to freak about certain things. I do wonder, though, reading your comment if your husband freaks out a bit more because you are so adamant to not freak out. A number of years ago we were having marital troubles and the therapist told me something that struck me as incredibly true and representative of us. Relationships (romantic or otherwise) seek a balance. My therapist pointed out that I am hyper productive and hyper responsible (both true) so my husband’s laid back ways (which drove me insane) were in some ways the foil to my not laid back ways. I started choosing (there’s that word again!) to let things not get done and to not care as much about certain things. It was an interesting time in our marriage because it started bugging HIM that I stopped caring about certain things. We’re in a much better place now but your comment just made me wonder – perhaps your husband cares (which can come out as worry/stress) A LOT because he feels like you don’t. Or perhaps he’s just an overdrive worrier! 😉

      • I love your reply! I’m glad to hear you worked it out. Certainly there is a risk of tit-for-tat. I think, actually, that he counts on me to calm him down. His family and friends say I’ve made him much more laid back! Ironically, he was Mr. Be Calm Don’t Worry when we met, and I was working 18 hours a day, six days a week. He would tell me to kick off and encourage me to push back against my bosses (and he was 100% right). There’s a yin and yang to it.

  5. Whoa. It sounds really basic, but it is very insightful. I’m with you, a meltdown is probably what would have happened on my end… It wouldn’t even occur to me to take a step back and realize that not freaking out is an option!

    On another note, I’d just like to say that your book “Reading People” made me realize I am an HSP… and that is not a BAD THING. I’ve been told all my life that “you are just too sensitive” or more recently, “well, you are just going to have to get over that.” It felt more like a character *flaw*. Now, recognizing it, I can understand it and adjust accordingly if need be. It make sense now why I can’t handle too many people talking to me at once or why I can’t have the radio as loud as my husband. I am very interested in reading further on this subject now. Thank you!

  6. Susan says:

    I read these questions a few years ago – can’t remember where, but they help.

    Calm Questions:
    1. Do I have enough information to freak out?
    2. Where did you hear this upsetting news?
    3. Will freaking out be helpful?

  7. LoriAnglea says:

    I have a friend, the age of my kids, who models this behaall the time. I want to be more like her! We had (another) mix up about misplacing belongings and I said , out loud, that I didn’t want it to be the narrative of our weekend. Starting.

  8. Elaine says:

    I totally agree with your friend. I used to be an A type, perfectionist who, although happy to accept less than perfection from those around me, expected nothing less than perfection from myself. I have come to realize that good enough is good enough. We all make mistakes and I have a limited number of ‘cares to give’ left. I’m keeping them for the things that really deserve them. The rest of the time I’ll breathe deeply and appreciate life as it happens.

  9. Julia says:

    There are definitely some things I get het up about (my southern grandmother’s phrase) but generally I tend to take things in stride–in fact, I think I might be too passive sometimes. Striking that balance can be hard.

    One thing that I tend to be extra chill about–and it seems to freak people out a bit– are medical just-in-case scenarios. For instance, when I got my 20-week ultrasound for my 3rd, they found a little blip on the scan that they felt needed re-checking just in case. My OB was at great pains to assure me that they err on the side of extreme caution in these things, there was no reason to assume anything was really the matter, it was just a precaution, etc. etc. And I was sitting there like uh-huh, right, ok, sure, sounds good. He and his nurse were like, and you’re ok? You’re sure you’re ok? You’re sure you’re sure? Yes, I’m fine! It’s a precaution, got it! (The baby was fine BTW.)

  10. Leslie says:

    Groundbreaking…. such a simple yet so profound idea. Freaking out is an option but so is not freaking out. I’ll absolutely be putting this into practice.

  11. I’m such a type-A control freak so this behavior doesn’t come naturally. But it’s something I really should work on and need to work on. I do not do well with being late or being off schedule. But I mostly put that pressure on myself because I don’t get mad at others for being a few minutes late. This is a skill I am going to have lots of opportunities to work on as I’m pregnant with our first child who is due in early March!

  12. Lisa says:

    For a few reasons, I recently went through a course of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. DBT was developed by Marsha Lineham and is used for people with a variety of mental illnesses to teach them how to deal with their emotions. The first thing learned is deep-breathing, on into mindfulness, etc. All things your commenters have suggested. We all have emotions, and we can all choose to react to those emotions in more effective ways. I, too, am choosing to let things go more often, not freak out, be effective in my reactions.

  13. Katie says:

    Advice like this is what allowed me to have an awesome wedding day. (Outdoor wedding in November in Texas – was expecting nice fall weather. Nope, freak weather of 33 degrees and raining pre and post event). Because of that I had to change my reception plans and cut some things out of the ceremony to shorten it (which was still outside). But it was all ok and I had a great day. I give similar advice to friends of mine planning weddings.

  14. Jena says:

    Ha. This reminds me of a couple weeks ago. My kids & I have a long-standing Saturday play date with friends who live outside of town. They’d e-mailed and and suggested a place to play on that sunny Saturday. I drove to the French school, thinking that it was a good playground for the day, one we’d only been to a couple times over the summer. My husband was supposed to meet me there with some spending cash. I parked and called my husband, who had already called to say he was there. “Where are you? I don’t see your truck at all.” He said he didn’t see me either. I said something about the soccer game, and he said, “What soccer game?” which then led to, “Where are YOU?” Turns out, he and our friends were at the French CLUB, which was having a festival, and I had misread the e-mail.

    The part that irked me was that I knew I’d told him to meet me at the French SCHOOL, so how he’d ended up at the right place anyway still confuses me. I don’t think my error would have bothered me so much if it weren’t for my kids whining in the back seat, because they’d had their hearts set on the playground at the school. (They, of course, had a grand time once we got to where we were supposed to be.)

  15. Deb says:

    This is often easy to see in others, and more difficult to recognize in our own lives. Keeping a constant reminder to “not sweat the small stuff” is so important, but hard work. I’m guilty of going from first to fourth gear without shifting and I don’t realize it until I look back on the episode. I do chalk it up to being Type A and an MBTI “J” — meaning perfectionism is so important to me. It takes it’s toll though and someone once told me to TAKE DEEP BREATHS and COUNT TO 10 before doing anything. Sage and simple advice for anyone.

  16. Christine says:

    In my 20s and 30s, lots of freaking out. Then I had a child who needed a mother that didn’t freak out. It took lots of practice. 52 now. He still needs a mother who doesn’t freak out. It’s actaully something my boss puts on my annual review as a strength. Stays calm in difficult situations. It’s much less exhausting. I heard a comment on a podcast recently. Don’t have a $5 reaction to a 5 cent situation. Good advice.

  17. Helena says:

    I have to work really hard to stay calm, and I find it harder if my children are freaking out, because sometimes I *just need a minute* to wrap my head around what is going on and proceed calmly. I have a friend who is one of the calmest people I’ve ever met–I joke with my husband that if she ever freaks out, i will know the world is about to end. But this reminder that we can *choose* to stay calm is a good one, though something I will need to work on.

  18. Mary in TN says:

    Growing up, I was the oldest of three kids when we lived in North Dakota. My mother became extremely frazzled and mean whenever it was time to get on the boots and coats and hats to go outside. In North Dakota, winter lasts for a long time. So there was a lot of harshness in our daily lives. As the oldest I felt a lot of guilt about not being able to do more. But I was a preschooler. My mom really had a hard time. She has told stories about how wretched that time was for 50 years.

    We were living in Chicago when our first child was born. The winters there involved snowsuits and coats, of course. I was at a moms group one time and noticed something profound (at least to me) when it was time to leave. Some of the mothers talked to their babies and toddlers and smiled at them and laughed a little if the baby started to fuss about the snowsuit. I was stunned. I thought you HAD TO get upset and start screaming when getting kids ready to go outside.

    Going shopping for back to school supplies was a similar thing growing up. So I made the decision to be extremely mellow and overly calm when buying the required items from the school list with my kids. It turns out it is possible

  19. Brianna says:

    Sometimes letting things go works for me, but then sometimes it doesnt. When I have tried to let things go it turns out that sometimes I was just holding everything in for a bigger blow up and tears later. Still trying to find out how to balance that and communicate in a way that is helpful to myself and my family.

  20. Krista says:

    So you mean I shouldn’t have kicked my husband’s shoes down the hall with rage when they were left in front of the door for the 567th time which caused me to not be able to actually open the door to get inside our home after work even though we have a shoe shelf that he himself was on board with? haha hmmmm … I’m going to have to think about this concept. 😉 In all seriousness–I’m a perfectionist and a freaker-outer. This really is mind-blowing to conceptualize.

  21. Lauri Manes says:

    I just started working on this and it isn’t easy. I thought it was the perfectionist thing too. I need to get back to yoga. It kept me chilled out and focused.

  22. Maria says:

    I had this exact aha moment a year and a half ago. I was trying to nurse my new babe in a public bathroom. It was difficult, she was crying, someone was knocking on the stall and I was sweating bullets. Suddenly I had this moment of perfect clarity – we were ok, and I could choose to stay calm, so I did! It was amazing. Having a kid has created such a delicious narrowing of cares for me. If she’s ok, we’re ok. 🙂

  23. Diana says:

    I SO needed this reminder this week as I suffered through over a week of having hand/foot/mouth which did NOT work with my plans. But it happens, the first days may have been easier with this attitude (a lot of time to catch-up on shows and reading!)

  24. Gayle Lawrence says:

    Good to read today. I was already getting upset about a situation that hasn’t even happened yet. I’m going to try to not get upset and keep my cool tomorrow.

  25. Deborah says:

    We are expats in the Middle East, and we learned early on that we couldn’t freak out every time something went wrong. We adopted “the rule of three.” Our definition: no getting upset about failure to accomplish something until after the third attempt. So if we need a specific piece of furniture from IKEA, but it’s closed for prayer time when we arrive, we don’t get upset. That’s just the first attempt. And then, if we avoid prayer time and make it into the store, but the item we need isn’t in stock, or the credit card machines are down, we still don’t get upset. That’s only the second attempt. This mindset has saved our sanity.

  26. Alison Hill says:

    The predetermined decision is a huge thing and a ton of power. I recently read The little things by Andy Andrews and one chapter talking about how you can choose to act differently than you feel was an eye opener. It also lead me to where I believe I am most effective, where I act, and that start with determining how I will react.

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