Do you find it hard to let go of life’s little annoyances? Perhaps you simmer and stew and scream on the inside – until your frustration reaches boiling point and you explode with rage, leaving the people around you bamboozled. And a little bit scared.
I have a love/hate relationship with my neighbours. They’re noisy as hell, but man they make an exceptional veggie curry. Yep, hubby and I live next door to an Indian restaurant. Our apartment is above a hair salon on the high street. And our bedroom backs on to the rear car park, which is reserved for all the shop tenants. The restaurant has a little concrete patio, where the kitchen staff go to cool off, chat, smoke, and watch Bollywood clips at full volume on tiny mobile phone screens. They laugh and yell and clean til after 11pm. One of the cooks sings…quite beautifully.
On a good day, it takes me back to my adventures through the hot Rajasthani desert in my 20s. On a bad day, I open the window and scream at them to shut up. So now I’m too ashamed to duck next door for a delicious pulao. I’m missing out on the best Indian in Bristol because of my cranky pants. Because of my anxiety.
Obviously, I can’t keep barking at the world whenever it dares to disturb me. And despite making a noise complaint to the council (at 3am in a fit of frustration and tears), I doubt I can get the guys next door to change their behaviour. We’re the ones who moved next door to a popular eatery. I’m the one who has to deal with it.
Why do the little things annoy us soooo much?
Some things in life are bloody annoying. And sometimes (many times?) people frustrate us…even enrage us. Why?
- Repressed feelings. When you don’t express how you feel – either to yourself, through expression exercises like journalling, or by sharing your struggles, you bury it. It gets shoved deep down, stacked on top of all the other unspoken hurts, wishes, truths, yearnings, frustrations. Eventually, like an overstuffed rubbish bin, the lid bursts open and everything tumbles to the ground. And you’re left trying to pick up the pieces. To avoid this, you’ve got to regularly take out the trash. Sort through the stack. Express how you really feel, when you feel it. Give yourself permission to have strong emotions, then explore why you feel triggered. Get to know your patterns. Get to know your mind. Make friends with your anxieties.
- Forgetting to pause. When I explode at my neighbours, it’s because I haven’t given myself a moment to plan my next move. I’m acting on anger, instinct, emotion. The stress hormones are pumping, I can’t think clearly, and so I lash out. When your anger and anxiety peaks, pause. Close your eyes, take several breaths deep into your belly. Count the seconds – 4 beats in, 4 beats out. 6 beats in, 6 beats out…and so on until your heart slows and your muscles relax. Give yourself a moment. Step away from the trigger (you may need to tell the person who’s angering you that you need a few moments alone to clear your head). Take control of your emotions, your hot head. Practice changing anxiety into release. When this happens, you’re in a better position to deal with the situation rationally. You can then choose to walk away, or stay and speak up in an assertive way with clear communication. “Excuse me, could you please be a bit quieter so we can sleep?” is far more effective (and neighbourly) than “Shut the *$^& up!”
- Getting stuck in the minutiae. Life can get busy – and it’s easy cram our schedules with as much stuff as we like. Rushing from appointments to meetings to chores to errands. We’re so busy doing, we forget about being. I get it. Having things to do is a nice distraction from our feelings. You don’t have to reflect on your life choices, or your plans for the future, or question if you’re living your truth…because you’re so busy doing allllll the things. Trouble is, this gives you an ant-like view of the world and your place in it. Next time you’re all wound up, zoom out. Literally stop what you’re doing, sit down, close your eyes, and see yourself. Then zoom out and see yourself in the room. Zoom out and see yourself in the building. Zoom out and see yourself as a little body in a little building in a busy street. Zoom out and see yourself as a tiny body in a tiny building in a little street in a suburb. Zoom all the way out until you see yourself as a tiny little speck on a round ball floating through an infinite universe. Then open your eyes. Does Debbie’s passive aggressive email about yesterday’s meeting really matter? Do you really care if the neighbour’s dog barks in night? Will you look back on your life and worry about the little annoyances…or will you reflect on the precious moments, the time spent with the ones you love, the memories of all your achievements, celebrations, and the fun you had figuring it all out?
- Acting without gratitude or compassion. Gratitude and forgiveness always bring me back from the lashing-out ledge. When I feel out of sorts, antsy or mad, I write down 3 things I’m thankful for. Some mornings it’s small like “coffee, morning hugs, sleeping in”, others it’s “landing a new copywriting client, having the freedom and means to go on holiday”. Then there’s forgiveness, or compassion. When I take a pause before reacting, I consider the other person’s situation. Why are they doing the thing that annoys me? What’s the story from their side of the fence? Sometimes, I tie that in with gratitude. “My neighbours work hard in a hot kitchen six days a week…they should feel free to let off steam and connect with each other in the cool night air. I’m grateful I no longer work in hospitality (a job I was totally rubbish at, with the burn marks to prove it), and have the freedom to choose how, when and where I work.” When you next feel triggered by someone or something, try to see the situation through another lens. Try to understand the other person’s perspective. Acknowledge their intent probably isn’t to annoy you. And find something to be thankful for.
We only get a short time on this planet. You can choose to spend it flustered and frustrated, caught up in the itty bitty shitty gritty stuff. Or you can expand your view, zoom out, show compassion, laugh and let go.
It takes practice. And when you’re tightly wound like me, it takes effort every day to shift your thinking and shake up your patterns. To see the world – and the people you share it with – as a magical place to explore and enjoy and be your best self.
Question: What itty bitty shitty gritty stuff annoys you? And what can you do to let go?