Friday, April 12, 2019

defusing the anxiety monster

Y'all know that I am a planner. I love planning things. Listing out all the intermediary steps, going through all the small preparations, progressive iterations, etc etc etc. It's kinda my jam. Maybe for reasons you wouldn't quite expect, tho.

Recently in a few conversations, some longtime friends have been surprised to hear me describe myself as intensely nervous and anxious when it comes to this sport. And of course *I* was surprised at *their* surprise haha, bc I felt like I've always been pretty honest about dealing with fear in riding.

hacking out as our warm up. finally got that shot of all the gorgeous spring forsythia that lines so many of the hedge rows in maryland
My sister says it's because I'm so matter of fact about things, people just assume that corresponds to a sense of inner calm or steadiness. Which like, dear god, no it does not haha. But I can see her point.

So anyway. All the planning is basically my defense against crippling anxiety. The whole, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." thing. Visualizing and imagining exactly how I'm going to go about doing something - down to the most particular details - is calming for me. It helps give me a feeling of control over a situation that might otherwise be overwhelming.

trying to look serene and self assured instead of scared shitless. meanwhile charlie is all, "i'm happy for you and ima let you finish, but where is my carrot?!?"
For example, when I'm preparing for a competition I will literally visualize everything: how I'm going to pack the trailer, filling the water containers, cleaning my tack, all the rides leading up to the event, then finally pulling into the venue's driveway, getting my gear set up at the trailer, walking my courses between phases....

ALL of it. I go through it all in my mind, so that once it's actually unfolding in real time, I can hopefully operate a bit more off muscle memory.

It's a double edged sword, tho, something you all also know I've had to contend with in recent years. Bc it turns out that all those plans, all those small steps and processes and regimented preparations, can also turn into a house of cards if I'm not careful. Or a long line of dominoes, just waiting for that *one* misstep before they all go falling.

novice brown house that we've seen a few times before
On a larger scale, this is sorta how I felt about my 2017 season with Charlie. I was so consumed with the "Novice by November" plan, and everything leading up to it, that it robbed me a bit of some of the joy and happiness and satisfaction I should have felt in the day to day moments of Charlie's development.

Specifically - his BN run at Fair Hill. Sure, it wasn't perfect. But it was good. He was a good boy. It should have been fun. But I walked away from the day feeling concerned that it wasn't as "well schooled" of a performance as I felt we needed to stay on track for my move up plans. That we still made too many green mistakes.

Of course, none of that ended up mattering anyway bc the horse's season ended shortly after with surgery. I should have just enjoyed the day. Not worried so much. Ya know? But my own supposed defense mechanism against anxiety had completely undermined me, and instead just created its own manifestation of nerves. Go figure.

this training log table is pretty fucking big. but for whatever reason, the positioning of this line of fences (slightly rising ground off a gently sweeping turn) always rides really well. charlie FLEW over it!
That same domino effect often happens on a smaller scale, too. Like, when my friends and I planned to school cross country a couple weeks ago. That entire day was compartmentalized in my mind. From when I should eat, what tasks had to be done at work (complicated by having client deliveries through the afternoon...), when I should change into riding clothes, what time I'd arrive at the farm, and how long it would take to catch Charlie and get him fed before we headed out.... All of it.

So when my friend let me know she'd be arriving quite a bit earlier than we had originally agreed, I honestly had a meltdown. All those little steps I expected were now totally out the window. And I'd have to hustle and rush a bit -- something I *hate* doing when it comes to horses.

Just the simple act of changing one detail of my plan (the timing) was enough to completely ruffle my feathers. All my carefully tamped-down anxiety came exploding out, and I started thinking that maybe I should just skip it altogether bc my mindset was so utterly shot.

this downhill line gives us grief every single time ugh lol. charlie was a good boy tho!
Luckily tho, my friends are patient with me haha, and everything worked out. The schooling was successful and was just the reminder I needed that Charlie is an amazing horse. Which like, let's be real, THAT is the ultimate antidote to nervousness haha.

At the end of the day, positive experiences and positive mileage will do more for us than anything else in the battle against nervousness and fear. Sometimes we just have to get out there and do the things to learn that, yea it's actually ok. We're ok. It's all fine. And FUN.

But yea. In case it isn't glaringly obvious by this point, I'm a pretty special blend of neurotic over here haha. But hey, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward doing something about it, right? Or at least, that's sorta what I had in mind when I sketched out my goals for the year, and included "Be Flexible" among them haha.

i've lost count of how many times we've jumped this red boat house haha. it's a great jump tho!
Yes -- it's important to make plans. Big goals aren't achieved by accident, ya know? And challenging myself and overcoming obstacles (literally and figuratively) are major components of the joy and satisfaction I derive from this crazy sport haha.

But. BUT. I just cannot let myself become consumed by the plans. There has to be a balance. The final step in any plan has to become some variation of "Adapt, Evolve, Overcome" lol.

This week has been a perfect microcosm of how this whole cycle plays out in my mind, too. We have our season opener on Sunday (possibly jinxing myself even writing this but #whatevskis). Our first event since September, and first away event since August. It's been a while, and I feel a ton of uncertainty about how things will go.

Naturally, as is the Charlie Way, this has been complicated by less-than-ideal preparations. The month off for stepping on that nail. Last weekend's plans blown to smithereens when the horse was alarmingly stiff. Etc etc etc. I can rationalize anything, including finding ample reason to set my nerves ablaze.

we jumped this guy again! had not quite as good a distance as last time, but it was still just as easy for chuck. i'll take it!
In a way, tho, I think that early season Nail Incident was maybe a blessing. Yes, I have big scary ambitious goals for this year and the years to come. But also, Yes. Things are going to happen that are out of my control and I can't let those things color my perception or take over my mindset.

The nail was a reminder right off the bat about that whole "Be Flexible" thing. To not become so consumed by what I want my "outcomes" for the year to be that I lose sight of enjoying all the intermediary steps along the way.

Like schooling cross country again this week. I knew I wanted to get out before our show this weekend. Didn't have to do a ton, but wanted to have a fresh memory and fresh reflexes. I planned out which jumps I wanted to tackle (a combination of N & T fences, most of which we've done before), and in what order. Planned out how we'd conduct our warm up (25min hack through the woods, then off to jomp the jompies!). All the plans haha.

training ramp that we jumped for the first time a couple weeks ago. you can see the green novice ramp to the right
But still. Starting around midday at work that day, I could feel the anxiety start to creep in. That vague nebulous feeling of impending.... something. It's such an awful feeling. But like, there IS something good in there, right?

Positive anticipation can be an extremely powerful force. I read some article years ago about how people tended to be happier in the lead up to a vacation than they were during the actual trip itself. That the expectation of fun and happiness was itself enough to make the person happy.

Which makes me feel like I'm in some ways kinda doing it wrong haha, with the negative anxiety etc., but maybe in other ways I'm already kinda halfway there? Like maybe if there's some sort of way to wrestle in those feelings of anxiety and tell myself they're because I'm looking forward to doing something fun?

So just as those nerves started creeping in and I began to get that hollow feeling of dread ahead of our planned xc school.... Well. Honestly? I kinda sat myself down for a little pep talk. This is supposed to be fun. I want to jump cross country fences. I love galloping my horse. And my horse is a good boy who also loves jumping. I should be looking forward to schooling, not dreading it.

meta data for the ride
And this is why they say visualization is such a powerful tool haha. Just by force of reminding myself about all the good feelings associated with riding my horse on cross country, I was able to translate at least some of those nerves into positive anticipation.

Which then translated into what was honestly a pretty good school. Not perfect, not by a long shot. Charlie and I are both rusty haha. And the time off definitely did not do my eye any favors.

But that's ok. It was fun, we jumped all the things I wanted to jump. Strung some stuff together to mimic coursework. Jumped a couple bigger things to ensure the weekend's course looks small. Practiced jumping up and down hills (the *down* still being particularly challenging lol). And practiced our "start box style" going away from the barn.

And it was all good. Charlie ate everything up. Was relaxed and happy about it all, which helped me stay relaxed and happy too. Overall we logged about ~5min of cantering with an average speed of roughly 370mpm. Which, not so coincidentally, will be about what we're expected to do on Sunday.


Charlie felt great for that. He's not at peak fitness, but he's more than ready for this level of exertion. Me? Well... my lungs were burning haha. But I was happy. And that's what matters.

So here's to putting those anxiety monsters to rest. To planning out what we can, setting ourselves up for success as much as possible, but then allowing ourselves to sit back and enjoy the ride. And allow ourselves to have fun, and let all the rest roll off our backs.

And here's to hoping I can cling on to that mentality through the weekend lol.... Wish me luck!

30 comments:

  1. I am so much like you that it’s scary. I have to plan everything the same way. Amf, like you, many people take my outer calm as evidence that I don’t get ruffled. All that said, when things do go to hell I handle,it well most of the time. But after, I’m a mess.

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    1. yup, totally. handling things "in the actual moment" is not so hard, it's the anticipation of things that *might* happen haha. or.... dwelling eternally on them once they've already come to pass.... minds can be such cruel places sometimes!

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  2. OH HAI I DIDN'T KNOW YOU WERE IN MY CLUB!!! Uh you should see my obsessive week-of-show-prep lists. That I have not made this week because I've been getting home at 10pm every night. I show tomorrow. I'm FREAKING. OUT. But I experience all of what you talked about here... the dread and anxiety before any sort of planned outing, the visualizing and planning every detail of the day's logistics, the panic when things aren't as I visualized them. All of it. Honestly in the past couple years it's helped having an older horse who is in the downswing of his competitive career. None of it truly *matters* anymore, and that's helped me roll with the punches and have a little more fun. In any case, I hope you're able to take what the day brings with grace and poise, and quite literally, enjoy the ride!!

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    1. it's weird to say it, but so so so true, and i remind myself constantly that the outcomes don't really "matter" for charlie either. like, realistically i'm doing low level unrecognized stuff. the tokyo 2020 selection committee is NOT calling me haha. not today, not tomorrow, and not ever. the only thing that matters is having fun, so why do i make that so difficult for myself sometimes?!? usually tho it all works out at the end. thanks for your well wishes and i hope you and Dino have a wonderful time in the show ring too - i know you guys will SLAY!!!! :D

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  3. OMG I identify with this so hard. I do the same thing - I become such a control freak and then when one tiny thing goes wrong I'm like whelp obviously the world is ending so I'm going to get out and lay down in front of the truck goodbye.

    But lately so many things have gone against plan that I've really had to let go of even having a plan... and now when things go wrong I'm jsut like... of course it did. And while I definitely do have a low grade level of nervousness all the time when it comes to certain things I don't have too many meltdowns anymore because I'm not a nuclear reactor waiting for a breach anymore.

    total aside, that's funny people arent aware of your nervousness as your blog is literally called fraidy cat eventing lolololbut you do present yourself as super controlled so, kudos?

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    1. ugh the "nuclear reactor waiting to breach" is such a real thing tho, and i *hate* feeling that fragile ugh. hate hate hate it. but ya know, it's a work in progress lol. and yea i totally feel you on sometimes kinda having to live through the worst to figure out that maybe it's gonna be alright after all. hopefully for your sake, tho, the universe will stop testing your mettle on all that and stop trying to ruin all those fun plans!! soooon!

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  4. You are not alone... I get the same thing - people don't realize that I'm often quite nervous underneath a seemingly calm exterior. I work in a policing environment, so while it can get a bit crazy, it is all within a safe box of approvals and chain of command, which is like a balm for anxious people. lol

    At home though, with life and horse plans - eesh. I've tried so hard to make detailed lists and plans and get thrown off when any tiny thing changes. Fun when the ol' brain is fighting against you all the time. I'm also a big "worse case scenario" worrier. Fun times. ;-)

    Anyhooo, I hope you and Charles have a good weekend and enjoy your cc run on that handsome beast!

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    1. oh - ps - I love forsythia! We are still a few weeks out from ours flowering!

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    2. oooh forsythia is my absolute favorite and i LOVE this time of year when, out of nowhere, all the hedgerows come to wild, untamed, vibrant YELLOW life haha, even as everything else is still just starting to bud out. forsythia is like the actual visual representation of joy haha.

      and yea it's hard when you have to work your butt off to keep up appearances and hold everything together, when inside it's a roiling mess. hopefully tho, at least with horses, it all pays off when we do finally get those "high" moments. right now i'm feeling good about the weekend, so we will see!

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  5. Yep. This all resonates pretty powerfully. Wishing you the absolute best mental game this weekend and hoping that the mental game lends you positive results in all areas. =)

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    1. thanks girl!! right now things feel good. but of course, anything and everything is always possible, right? i'll just be sitting over here quietly reminding myself to #beflexible lol

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  6. Reading this post gave me anxiety about showing and I'm not even showing this weekend lol. I love xc, but honestly I'm sooooooo chill when it comes to showing dressage I will never go back to eventing. No stress, no nerves, no worries, nada. The only thing that makes me twitchy is, like you, a disruption to my schedule--especially if I'm going to a new venue that I don't know the layout of so I can't obsessively mentally get everything set up before I even hit the road. Horse people are their own special breed of neurotic. :P

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    1. hahaha what can i say but that i love to share the joys of anxiety?! and yea i definitely feel ya on dressage being a whole 'nother beast compared to eventing when it comes to what sort of mentality is required. in some ways, idk if i have enough patience yet for pure dressage lol. and in other ways i'm still a bit too addicted to the highs that apparently can only come after running myself through the meat grinder of lead-up anticipation. or something like that? honestly, who knows. neuroses, we got 'em!

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  7. So I’ve tackled my own anticipatory anxiety by uh well not planning anything ever and making super last minute decisions to do things. If I give myself any lead time I’ll talk myself out of it. If I wake up and go “I’m feeling brave let’s do x” it will happen. Doesn’t work so well with HTs where you have to register in advance. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there tho.

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    1. ha yea, honestly sometimes that's a pretty solid approach! a lot of our local hunter / jumper schooling shows are like that (hunter paces, too), where you can basically just show up the day of, and ride whatever classes you want to. it definitely works out for that low key, low pressure experience!

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  8. You two look really good out there! I think you'll do fine! Wishing you two all the luck for the weekend!

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    1. thanks!!! i'm hoping for a really good, fun time ;)

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  9. I get those same feelings. I've decided to call them "anticipation" instead of "anxiety" though because that makes them seem more positive. For me, it's always worse the first few times, until we find the groove again. I'm already feeling it just thinking about starting to show again, and I don't even have a horse yet... Oye.

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    1. haha "oye" indeed, but damn do i know how that feels! and YES i'm 100% on board with trying to reframe all the feelings as positive anticipation instead of anxiety. i mean, physiologically there actually isn't that much separation between excitement and fear, right? just gotta rebrand it to my brain LOL

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  10. I have a clinic on Saturday/Sunday. I drug the trailer out YESTERDAY to get it packed and ready, lol. I CAN'T sit still and I must BE PREPARED.

    But yes, it's important to take steps to minimize the amount of unneeded stress we put on ourselves. I think this year a lot of us are aiming to become zen ninja warriors.

    Good luck this weekend :)

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    1. lol why yes, i'm also a member of the "have pulled out trailer and truck to begin preparations days in advance" club. but hey, i feel like that's a totally legit habit anyway, esp for going over all the safety protocols of the vehicles in case anything needs to be attended to before travel lol, right??

      thanks tho, i'm totally on board with the "zen ninja warrior" idea ;)

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  11. Honestly, all these comments give me comfort that I am not alone. Also, yes, packing trailer early is totally my thing. In fact, over the summer, I keep it half-packed -I have duplicates of things but it makes me feel better.

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    1. oh man, seriously tho, it's always so weirdly reassuring to know that so many riders have to work through similar issues haha. just more proof about how horses are therapeutic / and maybe we're all a little crazy too lol. and yea my trailer and truck are basically always stocked with most of the stuff i'd need for any typical travel, minus the tack. it's nice to have, haha!

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  12. I hear you man - it's why I'm such a dedicated over planner too. Learning to be flexible is such an ongoing process, every tiny step forward is one that should be celebrated. Best of luck this weekend, breathe and try to have fun!

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    1. ongoing forever and ever, amen. and thanks it should be a good one if i get my way lol ;)

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  13. Right there with you! Good luck, and have fun. Even though it's always easier said than done ;)

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    1. for sure haha - thank you tho, i'm excited to FINALLY get back at it!

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  14. Thank you for this post. My mom asks me why I show when the showing makes me so anxious and nervous. Because when I get through it it feels great. Schooling doesn't usually give me anxiety like shows/formal outtings do. But I totally get it. And I don't think I'd ever quit either. It's good to push past the anxiety and comfort zones and accomplish goals.

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  15. I'm the opposite, if I'm anxious about something I go in to denial mode and refuse to think about it at all!

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  16. I have a post going up this week about JUST THIS issue. This non-anxiety riddled, habitual planner lost her shit over Training level. It is not fun and can be difficult to manage. Finding a way to push through is key, even if you are forcing it.

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