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How Thinking I 'Should' Do Something Affects My Anxiety

“I should exercise more. I should learn to cook. I should practice Spanish again. I should really meditate more! I should be more social. I should prepare more for my future. I should read more and watch less Netflix. I should do this, I should do that… blah, blah, blah.”

Lately, I’ve been noticing how much my brain comes up with things that I “should” do — an incessant stream of ideas that illuminate my current shortcomings in life. I’m sure, deep down, my brain is coming up with these ideas as a way to improve my life and to ultimately be happy, but this never-ending to-do list weighs me down constantly. It makes me feel like where I am right now, and who I am right now, isn’t good enough.

As I’ve been paying attention to it more, I’ve noticed how the “shoulds” really contribute to my overall stress and anxiety. No matter how many “shoulds” I come up with, there are always more that pop up, day after day after day. It’s exhausting. I also realize so many “shoulds” are related to my mental health: I should try more mindfulness apps. I should start journaling again. I should do more yoga. I should deep breathe more. These things are beneficial to do, of course, but when they start piling up, it starts to feel like I can’t breathe at all. I feel more tense because I know I’m not doing the things I should be doing!

So I am daring myself to notice the “shoulds” a little more each day. I am daring myself to let them go, as though each “should” is a heavy rock I’ve been carrying in my pocket, and I am now releasing into a river. I am daring myself to trust myself, to trust I know how to take care of myself, including when it comes to mental health. I am daring myself to be imperfect, because that’s what’s at the root of it all: this urge to have my life be perfect, to be perfect myself. I am daring myself to remember that no, in fact, I don’t need to do that if it’s too much right now. I will be OK without it. I will be OK.

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Thinkstock photo via StockRocket