How to Stop Living on Auto Pilot and Manage Your Anxiety

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Do you want to stop living on autopilot?

Midlife can seem to be an endless loop of the same sh*t, different day (or SSDD if you are into acronyms).

Wake up, drink the coffee, get dressed, and trudge through the day, fighting a growing sense of discontent and ignoring the mental alarm screaming about being stuck.

It Is Easy To Rely On Auto Pilot

Autopilot is defined as acting or functioning without conscious thought as a result of routine or habit. This word was created by shortening the term automatic pilot.

Maybe you can relate to the advantages of living on auto pilot. By midlife, many of us have settled into routines that define our day. Some are helpful, like exercise, food choices, and satisfying hobbies. But we also have habits that keep us locked in a circular cycle of boredom, and when that happens, we can get antsy.

Ants In Your Pants vs Living On Auto Pilot

And for many midlife women, when we start to feel a sense of unhappiness, we ignore our feelings and lean into our auto-pilot life. If we keep moving, we won’t have to worry about our growing sense of frustration, midlife anxiety or fear. These three emotions are often at the core of our choice to live automatically.

Auto pilot serves that part of us that relies on automatic actions. Like the part of our brain that keeps us breathing, the midlife autopilot keeps us functioning in the daily life that we have built, even if we are unhappy or feel anxious about it.

Sometimes Auto Pilot Is Helpful

We Do Routine Things Without Thinking

No one is going to argue against the benefit of routines. There is a tremendous amount of research that supports the idea that routines free up mental energy and can help us achieve goals. Doing certain things without thinking can be purposeful. Most moms can wipe a nose, make a school lunch, and get a kid to the bus stop without even opening her eyes!

For older moms, caregiving was like a daily workout routine designed to develop muscles. All the reps and heavy lifting create a well-toned machine that can rely on “muscle memory” when needed. That is why grandparents are so good at stepping into an overwhelmed household and creating order.

When Living On Auto Pilot Is Damaging

But living on auto pilot can have a dark side. When we hide ourselves away in routines and unconscious actions, it is very possible that we are hiding from our deepest feelings.

Simple signs that you are living on Auto-Pilot:

  • You do things without thinking
  • You find yourself wasting time
  • You have an overcommitted schedule
  • You struggle to remember what you did during the day

Are You Using Auto Pilot To Manage Your Anxiety?

Let’s be honest, shall we? Most of us have some anxious behavior. Our human brains are designed to keep us safe. Creating safety can sometimes look like constant circles of worrying thoughts and unresolved issues. As frustrating as it can feel, our brain is trying to help us stay secure and help us avoid danger.

Why Is Auto Pilot Anxiety A Problem?

The problem arises when we allow our brain to run our life on auto pilot to avoid experiencing our negative emotions. Yes, we get shit done, but we silence our sadness, our curiosity, and our longings for something new.

Auto pilot can keep us separated from knowing our soul.

Melane Ann, Midlife Is Magical

How To Stop Living On Auto Pilot

So, now we know that autopilot can help us and potentially hurt us. If we practice it as a method to avoid negative feelings, it can be damaging. Try the following ideas to help you break the auto pilot drone mode and bring yourself into the moment.

Begin a routine of self-reflection: This does not have to be complicated or super woo-woo! Take some time as you start your day and identify your feelings. Briefly note your feelings in an app or in a journal.

It could look something like this: I feel neglected. Great! You now have some information about your emotions that will help you decide your next step to solve that feeling.

Maybe you feel neglected in your marriage. Maybe you feel like you are neglecting your own moments of joy or happiness. But most importantly, you respected yourself enough to slow down and let your soul speak. Excellent work!

Stop Living On Auto-Pilot And Begin To Manage Anxiety

Consider when you use the autopilot to manage your anxiety: For example, you have a sense of dread around hosting an upcoming family event. Maybe your adult kids show up with bad behavior and shocking rudeness.

Don’t Be A Robot By Using Auto Pilot

On the day of the event, you are like a robot in the kitchen, cooking, serving, and cleaning up afterward. Your choice to be on autopilot helps you avoid confronting your negative emotions around the uncomfortable behavior.

Auto pilot can help avoid confrontation with family during the event, but our goal is to break the cycle of using emotional disconnection to deny our feelings. We need to plan a time to have a difficult conversation about rude behavior.

The Three Words That Stop Auto Pilot

Now that we have a basic awareness of auto pilot and how it can become a place to hide from our anxiety, try this phrase to bring yourself into the present.

Be Here Now

When you catch yourself disconnecting from your day, speak this softly out loud. Stating the phrase, be here now breaks the isolating bubble of auto-pilot. Reminding yourself to pause and feel this very moment is the first step to self-awareness.

Living On Auto Pilot Can Be A Coping Mechanism

As we know, living on auto pilot can be a coping mechanism to avoid difficult things. Focusing your attention and energy on the “here and now” helps connect you to your daily emotions and experiences. Life can be very challenging, and many of us have been relying on auto pilot to avoid negative emotions and manage our anxiety.

Living With Intent Vs Living On Auto Pilot

When we choose to live intentionally in the “here and now,’ we are actively creating our life with awareness. Living on the autopilot can result in us outsourcing our decisions to escape the anxiety that can arise from conflict or concerns.

Conclusion

Living on auto pilot can be helpful when we are moving through our daily routines. When we use our “muscle memory,” we can conserve our energy for more demanding activities that need our full attention. It is important to remember, though, that at times, we rely on autopilot to manage our anxiety.

When we find ourselves using autopilot as a way to disconnect or protect ourselves from our negative emotions, it’s vital to turn our focus to the present moment. Using the phrase “Be Here Now” can be a helpful, instructive reminder to stop living on autopilot and move toward a more fulfilling, meaningful life.

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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