Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interstate Anxiety

By Julie Marie Rahm

Have you ever been stuck in traffic knowing you were going to be late for an important meeting? That’s what happened to my husband, John, and me on Monday. We were driving from Philadelphia to eastern North Carolina, a trip that typically takes eight to nine hours. My husband had a speaking engagement that evening – “Declaration of Independence, the Rest of the Story”. We left Philadelphia before 7AM thinking we would have two to three hours to unwind before his event.

We traveled south on I-95 instead of taking the shore route. Delighted with our progress, we stopped at Wendy’s in Ashland, VA for lunch at 11:30AM. Thirty minutes later, we accelerated back onto I-95 south, only to find ourselves decelerating to a stop before we got up to speed. A voice on the radio said there had been a two-car accident in which two people were killed and three people injured. All lanes and the shoulder of I-95 south were closed. We were three miles from the next exit sitting in a four-lane parking lot. The police directed all traffic to detour at the next exit. One hour passed as we crept forward. Then two hours. Our cushion for an early arrival in North Carolina got eaten up one minute at a time.

I could feel John’s anxiety building as his metaphorical level began to tilt farther and farther off balance. What kind of Mindset Mechanic would I be if I could not help my own husband feel better? All he had to do was identify the truth about what was troubling him and the issue would be resolved. Metaphorical pliers at the ready, I asked John what was bothering him. At first he thought it was being stopped in traffic. Then he thought it was fear of missing his speaking engagement, thus letting down the organization and the event planner. None of these thoughts deleted his anxiety. If the issue is not resolved, there is no truth in the statements. Those were not the thoughts that were truly troubling him.

So, I pulled out the metaphorical utility knife. It sounded like a trigger issue to me. I asked John if he could remember a time when he was punished for being late or for letting someone down. Of course he could. I would imagine that most of us could. A trigger to being punished was the truth that caused his anxiety at that moment. The entire Marine Corps culture in which he had spent 26 years was rooted in being “on time on target”. If he was not on time, Marines could die. We plucked the thought of punishment out of his mind with the metaphorical pliers. Identifying the truth resolved the problem. We cut the cord to his punishment trigger with the metaphorical utility knife. That trigger is now gone forever. Then John was free to handle only the moment at hand. We used the metaphorical hammer to hammer in the thought framework for success. John’s level was in balance again. We called the event planner and explained that we would arrive just in time for John’s lecture.

Back on the highway, we made great time to North Carolina. John changed in the parking lot and arrived in the building just in time to be introduced on stage. He gave an entertaining and informative talk, leaving the audience wanting more. All was well, because we eliminated the punishment trigger and re-balanced his level enabling him to have calm and clarity for his performance.

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