Do you see that mole there. That little one to the left of my chin?
Back when I was a teenager I used to think that mole gave me something in common with Cindy Crawford. So I was secretly a little proud of it. I may have even “enhanced” it every now and then with a little eyeliner. But didn’t we all make poor makeup decisions in the early 90s?
I haven’t really given much thought to that mole in the past two decades. It’s just been there, blending into the landscape of my face. Until the past month or two. When I started noticing it was getting bigger.
So I did what so many of us tend to do in these situations.
I ignored it.
Not intentionally, of course. It just wasn’t a priority, it was probably nothing. I was so busy, I didn’t have time. Insert any number of excuses here.
But it was always there. In the back of my mind. Just one more little annoyance I “should” get checked out – somewhere on the list after getting my pap smear and booking my first dentist visit in seven years.
Until I finally snapped myself into gear and booked my appointment for Tuesday this week.
All day Tuesday I had that heavy feeling in my stomach. You know the one. That feeling like river rocks in your belly. Weighing you down. Anchoring you somewhere you don’t want to be.
And it wasn’t just the belly. It was all those worrisome little thoughts popping into my brain. Why didn’t I get this checked sooner? What if it has to be removed? How deep will they need to cut? Will I have a scar? What if it’s something serious? Could it be cancerous? Will I need radiation or chemo? Why wasn’t I more diligent with my sun cream?
Sounds extreme right?
All these questions over one little mole. But they kept popping up – all day long until 2.45pm when I finally got to my appointment to be told by the doctor that my worrisome little mole was “totally benign” – possibly the two best words you could ever hear from a doctor. Apparently it’s just a normal little mole that’s growing. That’s what moles do.
Those words were like a magic spell. Expecto Patronum. All at once I felt lighter. Not only did that lumpy knot in my stomach dissipate immediately, but I also opened up physically. My body, all of a sudden felt loose and at ease, and for someone who is normally pretty well in touch with how my body is feeling, I was surprised to realise just how tense and brittle I had actually been that day. It wasn’t until my body released its tension that I actually became consciously aware of it.
Now, this story isn’t a brush with death tale. It’s not even a warning to wear more sunscreen – though you probably should.
I wasn’t even going to blog about this situation because it turned out to be completely nothing at all. But on reflection, I realised there was still a message here. Beyond the sunscreen wearing.
It’s about that sinking feeling. All those little questions.
The ones we push aside on a daily basis. The ones we do battle with. The ones we engage with and make bigger than they really are – either by ruminating, or procrastinating or catastrophising.
Now I’m not a doomsday prepper. I’m honestly not a pessimist person. I’m not one to dwell on drama (at least not since my angsty early 20s) and I’m not a hypochondriac. And I teach mindfulness and anxiety management for a living.
But even I’m not immune to worrying thoughts. To doubt and fear and rumination.
Because I’m human. And I have a brain whose sole purpose is to keep me alive.
That’s it. That’s what our brain’s number one priority is – at every moment of the day.
And it’s the reason the brain finds drama, and worry, and anxiety everywhere you look.
Back in the caveman days, our brains needed to be on point to keep us alive. Was that rustle just the wind, or is there a sabre tooth tiger about to pounce on us. Our ancient brain sees danger before anything else. In fact, our ancient brain can register danger before it even receives the visual message from our eyeballs. True story. The brain has a faster processor than your latest iMac.
But there’s not too many sabre tooth tigers around these days. And a brain hardwired for danger, in a world without sabre-tooth tigers is like a woman searching for an outfit on the day before laundry day – desperate. “Maybe this outift could work…” equals “Maybe this could kill us…”
Thanks brain. Thanks for all the worry. Thanks for all the jumping to conclusions. Thanks for all the ruminating. Thanks for telling us that everything you don’t understand in our modern world is going to destroy us.
This is stress. This is why we “get stressed”.
Because our brains are hardwired to see the danger, to register the negative, to identify threats – and to figure out what to do with them.
The point I want to convey here is that these thoughts are always going to crop up. Whether it be about a changing mole, an unknown pap smear result, a potentially philandering husband, a not home by curfew teenager, a potentially bankrupting business deal. Our brains will always, always jump to worst case scenario by default. It’s an unconscious reflex.
Now there’s certainly some thoughts we can’t ignore. And a rapidly changing mole is one of them. But really, I should have done it sooner, before the thoughts had so much time to weasel there way into my psyche.
And of course, there are people out there who are going through something a whole lot more serious than my little mole freak-out.
I don’t mean to be flippant here. What I mean to highlight is just how unhelpful our thoughts can be. Even for those people going through the tough stuff.
The majority of those niggly negative thoughts really aren’t helpful. In fact, they distract us and take energy away from the practical stuff we need to be doing to address any situations we’ve got happening in our lives.
So it’s up to us to add the conscious thought back in there when the negative insta-thoughts pop up. We might not be able to control when those little thoughts crop up and pop in. But we can have a control over how we react to them.
Do we engage with them, tangling ourselves up in knots?
Do we expend all out energy pushing them away and trying desperately to cover them up with something else?
Or do we acknowledge them. Let them be there. With the awareness that our brain but them there to keep us alive, whether or not the danger is real or imagined?
Dealing with our thoughts can be tricky, but as I mentioned earlier in this post – if we don’t deal with them, they can tie us up in knots physically and emotionally. Which is why stress is so detrimental to our health. And which is why I’ve spent the past few years building more mindfulness into my life, and supporting other women to do the same through my work. It’s the one thing I’ve found works the best for the niggly little thoughts.
Give it a go, it might surprise you. I’ve included a link to a free five minute mindfulness meditation here for you to try. Let me know how you go!
Until next time, keep well and let your brain know who’s boss.