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How to Calm Your Freaking Brain

Don’t get me wrong; I’m really glad this place exists. But boy does it make me anxious.

“Maybe I should google the possible risks and side effects of anesthesia in children.”

That’s the thought that popped into my decidedly unhelpful brain last Thursday night. I was lying in the dark on my daughter’s bedroom floor, waiting for her to fall asleep. She was having a hard time for the same reason I was; my husband and I would be taking her to the hospital first thing in the morning for a minor surgical procedure.

It was minor in that it took less than 15 minutes to finish, and the risks of the actual surgery were quite low. But it was still surgery, which meant getting up early, schlepping a tired and hungry child to the hospital, hurrying up and waiting, and, of course, anesthesia. They had to put her under, and that’s the part that had me worried. Between both of our daughters, my husband and I had been through this particular song and dance five times before, and knowing that my child is going to be anesthetized never gets easier. It totally stresses me out. Every time.

I wasn’t the only one. My daughter was also anxious about it, which is why I was sprawled out on her rug, waiting for her to fall asleep. I was trying stay focused on my breathing, but my brain wasn’t interested. Hence, the suggestion to head on over to Dr. Google.

A few years ago, I would have fallen for that crap. I would have whipped out my laptop and gone to town the minute my daughter was asleep. I would have read everything available about all of the terrible things that can happen to children under general anesthesia. I would have obsessively researched the risk factors, desperate to know that my daughter didn’t have any. I would have read and read, even as I was freaking out.

Knowledge is power, right?

Um, yeah, not so much. At least not the kind of knowledge that fills my brain with worst-case scenarios that are a) unlikely to happen and b) beyond my control anyway.

Fortunately, there is another kind of knowledge (or perhaps wisdom might be a better word for it) that has been incredibly empowering, both in my parenting and my life in general.

I’m talking about the realization that I don’t have to believe everything I think, the awareness that I can do something in response to my thoughts other than following them to whatever dark and seedy corner they happen to be hanging out in at that particular moment.

Rather than taking the crappy bait my own mind was dangling for me as I was laying in my daughter’s bedroom last Thursday night, I noticed that shiny little worm, saw it for what it was, and went back to breathing instead.

In. Out. Breathe. Breathe again. In. Out.

To be clear, it’s not like I was breathing in magic fairy dust that instantly made all of my dumbass thoughts disappear. They kept coming back, over and over again. Google the procedure, I kept thinking, google the side effects, google the sh*t out of all of it. Those thoughts weren’t helpful, but my brain didn’t care. My brain wasn’t designed to tell the difference between skillful thoughts and unskillful ones; it was just designed to keep thinking. (And, for the record, the more tired and/or anxious I am, the less helpful the thoughts are. That doesn’t stop my brain from chugging along, of course.)

And so I just kept coming back to my breath. I tried not to explore these particular ideas. I didn’t argue with them or try to negotiate my way into some kind of compromise. (Ten minutes online, just ten. HA! As if that ever works!) Nope. I just let the thoughts go, and returned to my breathing, again and again. By the time my daughter was asleep, my brain had stopped nagging me, and I was able to get a little work done and get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

Don’t get me wrong. I woke up anxious, and I stayed anxious until my daughter woke up from the surgery, groggy and confused, wondering where she was and why she had a needle in her hand.

But I wasn’t nearly as anxious as I might have been, and that’s not nothing.

Keep breathing folks. It helps.

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How to Calm Your Freaking Brain

Carla Naumburg

Carla Naumburg, PhD, is writer, speaker, and clinical social worker. She is currently working on her third book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t at Your Kids (Workman, forthcoming). You can read more about her work at

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APA Reference
Naumburg, C. (2018). How to Calm Your Freaking Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Oct 2018
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