“Think of your most compassionate voice,” she said to me. “Who do you use your most compassionate voice with?”
“Easy,” I replied. “My students.”
We sat in a coffee shop, a summer Chicago rain soaking the streets with darkness. The warmth of the coffee shop made me feel a bit better, and so did talking with my friend.
“Okay,” she continued, “so next time you’re feeling anxious, talk yourself through it, and when you do, use your most compassionate voice. Use the one you would use with your students. What would you say to them?”
“I would tell them…” I paused. I wasn’t quite sure. So I imagined an experience with one of the students I had that year, one that, like me, battled anxiety. I imagined her wide eyes staring up at me, her shoulders tense with fear, her silent squeak of a voice responding hardly loud enough for anyone around to hear.
“‘You’re doing the best you can do,'” I said aloud. “‘And you’re getting better!’ That’s what I would say to her.”
“Great, so use that. Next time you’re feeling his anxious, stop yourself, tell yourself that you’re doing your best, and that you’re getting better.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t necessarily the advice I was looking for, but it was a place to start. So I decided to give it a try a few weeks later when I found myself alone and in a pit of anxiousness. I stood in my apartment, my esophagus twisted with tension, my heart beating double it’s speed. I whispered the words aloud to myself, in my most compassionate voice.
“You’re doing the best you can do, and you’re getting better. Today is just a hard day,” I told myself.
After that, my anxiety manifested itself as salty streams of tears, running rapidly down my face. It had seemed my compassionate voice had given me the release I had needed. My heart rate slowed slightly, and the tension in my chest slowly released. It wasn’t long before I laid down and was able to go to bed.
Emotions, at their rawest form, are uncontrollable. While we can attempt to control our responses to them, we sometimes cannot help when they take over. Fear is potent, anger formidable, and happiness contagious. And I think being a teacher has helped me see this — and helped me help myself — most of all.
Incredibly enough, we share so many of the same struggles that our students have. Not only can we learn from them, but we can learn from our own interactions with them. That day, when the warm summer rain shrouded the streets of Chicago, and just a few weeks later, when rain clouded my brain and muddled my consciousness, I channeled the best part of me: the part that is compassionate, kind, and whole-hearted, the part that makes me a teacher, and I was able to pull myself up.
Today, I’m feeling the same, distracted by my own emotions, controlled by irrational anxiety, unable to fully turn my brain off. But my students are in the back of my mind, I’m using my most compassionate voice, I’m cutting myself a break, and I’m already feeling better.