There’s a woman at my place of work that I’m convinced hates me. Which is a pity, really, as I’ve always liked her. She is bright, intelligent, witty, focused and accomplished. However, for reasons I simply cannot fathom, I seem to have a target on my forehead where she is concerned. I’ve probably unknowingly upset her in some deep fashion. Anyway, this past week I have allowed her to get “under my skin”.
It’s a busy time of year and, squeezed between the Eisteddfods last week and a major concert in the coming week, I realise I’m juggling a lot of balls in the air. I was starting to feel stressed and pressured. And when I’m stressed, little things that normally don’t bother me, start to niggle. Small irritations take on greater proportions. When others fail to live up to my exacting expectations, I start to get exasperated and, describing small things left undone or not followed through as I would like, say to anyone who will listen: “How hard can it be?”
I know the mantra “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff”. But I could feel my blood pressure rising and knew I needed a release valve. And when I have “issues” I have learnt, that for me, it helps to talk it out. So I sought the ear of my very patient, supportive, wonderful, (long-suffering, with me) boss.
I got out my list and explained all the little things that were bothering me.
From little things big things grow…and so it seemed.
I was starting to feel myself slipping, and with the need to still throw together the coming concert, and with much yet to do, needed to get myself together.
Well, they say a problem shared is a problem halved, and my boss is a wonderful listener, good at pointing towards solutions, but also fantastic at seeing the bigger picture and suggesting that the reality of a given situation is often bigger and more complex than my own point of view. And that really many of the things that get me down are actually pretty trivial in the great scheme of things. And that mostly, things are not as bad as they might seem.
I was greatly heartened and not so depressed after our meeting, but still somewhat on edge, rather than my normal fairly bubbly self. It took an additional forty-eight hours, and the aversion of another potential conflict (which was one of those “wrench victory from the jaws of defeat” situations), large quantities of coffee, chocolate and jelly snakes, and a good amount of laughter and my small world appeared to be spinning closer to its usual axis again.
Psychologists talk of “Cognitive Distortions” – in other words, Negative Thinking.
Various types have been identified. A fairly comprehensive list contains:
- Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).
- Jumping to Conclusions.
- Control Fallacies.
- Fallacy of Fairness.
- Shoulds. (Musts and oughts are also offenders, leading to guilt)
- Emotional Reasoning.
- Fallacy of Change.
- Global Labelling.
- Always Being Right.
- Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
(More detail here for those interested: http://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions )
Trying to undo negative thinking and replace it with realism and therefore a more positive outlook is attempted by “Cognitive Behavior Therapy” (CBT), in which I have dabbled in my time.
So, recognising that I had become irritated and stressed by a number of, in essence, fairly minor things, I looked up this list and had a smile at my own expense. I identified aspects, in myself, of definitely “sweating the small stuff” and indulging in a touch of Numbers 2 and 3, especially 4,5 and 6, and a bit of 8.
All in the same week.
Equally, it seems a number of people close to me currently have their own worries and concerns, ranging from family illness, difficulties at work, grief over loss of loved ones, personal conflicts, possible relocation and, for some professional musicians, performance anxiety.
My Mum used to point out that in “her day” school children had a working knowledge of the Bible and Shakespeare, and lamented that this was no longer the case. I agree with her that the rise of secularism and post-modernism in our society has robbed younger generations not only of the security and optimism of faith, but also the beauty of much poetry and affirmation.
So I am not trying to preach or Christianise, but simply offer these reassuring words from the Bible, as beautifully expressed food for thought:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?[f] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6: 25-29).
There is also a lot of imagery in Scripture of parenthood. God is portrayed as a loving, protective father. Psalm 91:4 says: “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armour and protection”.
I recently came across this stunning image, which would illustrate this text perfectly. But it doesn’t need a Christian perspective to wonder at this beautiful example of love and protection (most likely by a mother bird).
When life throws us wobbles, and things seem bleak, it is easy to forget that we are loved, wanted, and appreciated. At least by someone.
On a related note, Boffins have apparently proved that audio memory is stronger than other types. Which is possibly why song lyrics stick in our heads (or become annoying ear-worms) and are remembered so much better than prose.
My childhood church had an enthusiastic choir. One of their anthems I particularly loved (with a type of fugue at the end) had the words lifted directly from Philippians 4:6-7: 6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Whatever this choir may have lacked in size they certainly made up for in dedication and verve, and our Organist and Choirmaster Don, over a period of years started small and simple and built up to performing complex choral pieces, with the addition of musical instruments. Recently I found a Manuscript Book in which my Mum had painstakingly handwritten for me, in large print, second violin parts I could deal with, in order that I could be involved with this church choir and “Orchestra”. As us younger ones became more proficient, our parts became more difficult and we progressed to presenting parts of Handel’s “Messiah” at Christmas, complete with frilly violin bits and trumpet solo.
From little things, big things grow…
Of course, little things growing into big things need not be worries and anxieties that take on extreme proportions. There can, of course, be positive, delightful things that start small and grow.
Our children, if we are blessed to have them, seem to literally grow before our very eyes, and sometimes the days, months and years seem to have passed in the twinkling of an eye. But some things remain.
My daughter was introduced to my son when he was 12 hours old, and she approaching three. For some reason only understood by her almost-three-year-old self, she packed and arrived at the hospital room with a bag full of all her favourite creatures. She approached the sleeping baby in the Perspex crib with some wonder, and then placed next to him (completely unprompted), her cat Sebastian – her most precious companion. After admiring and wondering over this new brother for a few minutes, she then continued to add her entire collection of soft toys until the newborn was almost covered over, in an amazing expression of love, by sharing with this newly minted creature what was dear to her.
Such a wonderful relationship to observe, and such a gift to us as parents to witness this love that they so evidently share.
From little things, big things grow….