My three year old had performance anxiety on Monday. It was his turn at daycare to bring in a "Me Museum," a collection of photos from his life to display on the wall throughout the week. He worked on it on Saturday--choosing the photos, gluing them onto a large piece of paper, decorating around the photos with his favorite color (green). Sunday evening, he began saying "I don't want to do a Me Museum...I don't want to go to daycare" in a repetitive loop. (If you've ever heard a three-year-old whine, you know the type of loop I mean.)
The poor kid has a psychologist for a mother, leading to questions like "what are you feeling?" and "which part are you nervous about?" Turns out that he was nervous about explaining his Me Museum during group time. When I tried to get an idea from him of the format for these presentations, he simply made the the classic "presentation" hand motion repetitively, slowly and seriously. This cracked me up! (Did I mention that he's only three?)
On Monday morning, he whined and resisted throughout breakfast and his morning routine. Then as we were preparing to head out the door, he picked up his Me Museum, gazed at it for a bit, and announced "I like my Me Museum! I'm not nervous anymore--I'm ready to tell the other people about it!"
He held onto it throughout the car ride and marched proudly into daycare to hang it up. And by all of his teachers' accounts, he kicked butt on his morning presentation. When I picked him up, he looked proud and told me it was "fun," but he had moved on to other things--the Me Museum was no longer an issue.
This emotional experience is deeply familiar to me. Excited about a presentation opportunity, prepared, nervous, don't want to do it (with thoughts of 'how can I get out of this'), adrenaline rush at the last minute, loving the actual event, feeling of "whatever" afterwards. I was shocked to see this familiar pattern in such a small person. It brought me back to a few of the core principles of mindfulness that I find so helpful.
Ultimately, my son's experience reminded me that unpleasant feelings are not an indication that we are doing something wrong--difficult emotions are inherent to our human experience, and are even one of the ways that we reflect God's image. When I experience those intense waves of emotion, I can respond to myself with kindness and compassion. I can be open to what the experience will teach me and know that "this too shall pass."
I can't help but think that God views us with some of the same compassion and loving humor that I felt toward my son through his anxiety about his "big performance" this week. That kind of puts my own performance anxieties into perspective :).
© Irene Kraegel 2014
I am Irene Kraegel. I work as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based university campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
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