While sharing with my coach the challenges I have met with filling my groups, she pointed out that “we” (meaning the average person living in the United States) are not a “group culture”. I thought about this for a moment (she is very wise and I often take pause to consider the truth bombs she drops for me 😉) and realized that she had a valid point! While I believe that, on some level, we crave being part of a group or community, we also have a sub-conscious belief that we are supposed to be strong and independent. Being part of a group vs. being strong and independent 🤔 that sounds like a bit of a conundrum...
At first glance those would seem like two opposing thoughts, diametrically opposed if you will, AND YET, what if that is where the challenge lies? What if the key is that we have not yet learned that it is not an "either/or" situation but rather a "yes/and” conundrum?
What if we human beings get stuck in feeling like we have to choose to be either strong and independent OR part of a larger group AND what if the way to move forward is to learn how to embrace BOTH?
While, at times (and I know I have mentioned this before 😳), getting anxious folks to commit to and walk into a group situation can feel more challenging than herding cats! Once they settle in, though, I hear comments like “it feels good to know that I am not alone” and “when I find myself in a stressful situation I think about what other members of the group might say and I feel better”.
No matter how shy, sensitive, introverted, grouchy, or fiercely independent we may be (did any of those describe you? I just reread them and definitely a few of them apply to me 😜) , we are, in fact, social creatures. We want to “belong”. It is a biological imperative. We are not meant to be in complete isolation and are, in fact, dependent on others for lots of things.
So how did we get this subconscious idea that we can do it alone? From lots of different little messages along the way. Our parents, teachers, coaches, and any number of “authority” figures probably encouraged you to stand out in the crowd in some way ( be tougher, smarter, more talented) and to some degree those are noble pursuits AND they are not the whole picture. This is where the “AND” part comes in to play. We seem to have lost sight that just because we can be individuals it does not mean we have to sacrifice the belonging to the group along the way.
Of course a majority of it comes from Anxiety telling us that our #1 priority is a tie between being comfortable and being certain. This is the part that I want to address today. When Anxiety is in our ear it is important to remember that it wants you to make it’s job easier. If you go out into the world and interact with other people you 1) make it’s job harder as it now actually has to be part of your survival system and do it’s real job and send you signals if there is any danger - it would much rather you stay at home and isolate yourself (or just have you hang out with mom and dad ‘cause they are safe 🙄) because then it has your full attention, AND 2) you might actually find out that Anxiety lies to other people and those other people might actually support you in talking back to your Anxiety (and that would totally suck for Anxiety 😳😂).
As technology makes our day to day lives easier, it makes truly connecting to others harder. We can hide in our “virtual world” because it seems safer. Notice how I used the word “seems”. Yeah, Anxiety will convince you that playing it safe and only interacting with others virtually (where you can edit what you type, leave a chat mid sentence with minimal repercussions, and simply “ghost” someone if you get “too anxious”) is the way to go.
Along this line I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend who suggested that offering my groups virtually might be a way to get teens to participate. She shared that she felt her own teens would be “more comfortable” sharing their fears and challenges with an online group as they wouldn’t have to be concerned that their classmates or neighborhood friends would be part of the group (which would mean they want to avoid possible embarrassment). At first I was intrigued by this idea, AND what came to me, though, was that this might just be another way that Anxiety would seek reassurance that all is safe and comfortable. Say it with me folks: “Anxiety is a Liar” and “Reassurance doesn’t work”!
Now don’t get me wrong, technology and the virtual world can make our lives easier and help us to connect in a lot of ways. I have had clients who could not get to my office and they were able to keep their appointments because of technology. I much prefer “seeing” my clients (or friends for that matter 😉) when I am talking to them (rather than simply by phone) as it gives me opportunity to read facial expressions and gestures. Technology can allow me these options. What technology lacks, though, is the deeper connection. The ability to feel the energy of the person in the same room.
So I just realized how verbose I am being with this topic, so I have decided to make this a multiple Part Series so that I can really explore this concept of what I am going to now call Community. The less we have Community in our lives, the more Anxious we have become.
I am going to take a break here and let you sit with this.
Will you do me a favor? Click the Comment button and tell me what you think (if you don't want to share publicly, feel free to shoot me an email instead 😊). Do you use technology to “play it safe”? I want to know what you think about how Anxiety and our not being a “Group Culture” intersect. Tell me about your experiences with being connected and having Community (either in person or virtual).
Do you have a particular worry that has somehow become a “Thing”? One of my “Things” has to do with getting my picture taken. I don’t remember exactly when it started. I do remember loving to go through our family’s photo albums and seeing all of the goofy pictures of my parents from before I was even a glimmer in their eyes 😉and I even liked looking at the pictures of myself when I was little. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided that I didn’t like having my picture taken. Maybe I went through a stage where I was self-conscious, maybe I overheard someone make a comment about a particular picture, maybe my own inner critic was the one whispering judgments in my ear. Wherever and whenever it started, my dislike of posing for and seeing myself in pictures grew into a “Thing”.
Anxiety likes to take our content (the things that bother us or get our attention…the things that have meaning for us) and use it against us. Remember that Anxiety’s job is to protect us and it will go all CIA psychological warfare on us when it thinks that we may be going outside of the comfort (safe) zone! For me Anxiety thinks that keeping me in the shadows and out of the “pictures” is the way to keep me safe….so having my picture taken became a “Thing”.
Here’s the thing about “Things”. We can know in our “logical” mind that our thoughts about our “Thing” are illogical ("it’s just a fucking picture, who cares” 🙄), others can reassure us until the cows come home (“OMG, you look so beautiful, what a great picture” 😳), and we might even have a part of ourselves that kind of wants to be in the spotlight (as long as we can be assured or “make sure" that all of the pictures will only show off our “best side” 😬). For those of us with Overactive Anxiety, none of the logical thoughts or reassurances from others or even our own desire to do something may be enough to demote the “Thing” from big, bad, and scary back to just a “thing" that we can do with ease.
Are you relating here? What is your “thing"? What is a “thing” with your loved one that drives you nuts? Those of us who deal with Overactive Anxiety know that “things” can be pretty tough to deal with. Some people have a “Thing” around dogs, or going to school, or driving on the highway. Others may have a “Thing” around spiders, or cleanliness, or an inability to make a decision. Sometimes the “Thing” keeps us from living our lives fully. It keeps us busy paying attention to or avoiding the “Thing” and that keeps us from fully engaging in our work, play, or social situations.
Yeah, so my “Thing” with getting my picture taken isn’t huge. I’ve found ways around it at times, like creating Auntie Anxiety and using my logo picture for advertising purposes AND I decided that I wasn’t going to let my “Thing” (which is really Anxiety in disguise) get the better of me. So what did I do? I met my “Thing” head on and I got my picture taken. And then I did things like Facebook Lives and even Selfies on Instagram and Facebook.
So what do we do to deal with the “Things” in our lives? We expose ourselves to them. Yep, there is no magic wand or fairy dust folks! You decide that the “Thing” is only a “Thing” because Anxiety has convinced you of such and then you decide to do the “Thing” over, and over, and over again, until it goes from being a “Thing” to just being a “thing”.
A better story about dealing with a “Thing” would be my Mouse story. The short version is that my mom had a phobia about mice (her “Thing”). I know where it came from. She was the oldest and her younger sisters knew she didn’t like mice and rats, so they would catch them and put them in the feed bin (they grew up on a dairy farm) and then stand back and watch my mom “freak out” when she put her hand in and found the “surprise” inside 😳
Growing up I remember sitting on the kitchen table with my mom until my dad came home because she was afraid of the mouse that had come in by the dishwasher. So whether it was my own fear of mice or I picked it up environmentally, mice became my “Thing”. Fortunately my dad was always around to take care of the little critters. That is until I lived on my own. My journey toward dealing with my “Thing” about mice started when I lived in an old apartment and over one week at Christmas time we caught 13 mice (a family that had taken up residence in our kitchen) 😬. When I say “we”I really mean my father, brother, my roommate’s father and brother, and at least two of our male neighbors and friends 🙄. I stayed out of the kitchen that week. The living room seemed like a good place to hang out and make phone calls when I would hear the trap snap 😳
Fast forward to me buying my first house, finding the pantry to be party central for mice, and having a heart to heart with my Anxiety when I finally decided that I was a Big Girl and that calling my daddy every time I found a mouse in my house seemed over the top ridiculous. If I could own a house, I could figure out how to deal with my mouse “Thing”! So I got started. I bought a plastic trap so I wouldn’t snap my own fingers in it (OK, truth be told I started with having a conversation with the mice about how I was totally cool with them living outside, but that they just were not welcome inside…), and put peanut butter on the trap. When I came home that day it took me at least an hour to decide to look in the panty. Yep, there was a mouse in the trap. It probably took me another hour to decide I was ready to deal with it. I think the first trap ended up in the trash along with the mouse (there was a thick plastic bag involved in the picking up of the mouse and trap). At some point buying new traps got expensive, so I finally dealt with picking up the trap and just letting the mouse drop into the bag. Eventually (there were a lot of mice who wanted to party in my pantry until I met my husband and he figured out how to insulate it better!) my mouse “Thing” was reduced to just and annoying “thing” that I had to deal with every once in awhile.
On some level I appreciate all of the mice who sacrificed themselves by not listening to my plea to just live outside. They helped me to deal with my “Thing”. Do I still do a little dance (which is sometimes accompanied by a little bit of a scream) if a mouse comes within a 10 foot radius of me? Yep. Am I thrilled that my 15 year old car has, on occasion, been party central for our woodland mice when it is cold (and my daughter has left food in the car)? Nope. I don’t have to like mice, I just have to deal with them so that they are no longer a “Thing” that gets in my way of living my life on my terms 😊
What is one “Thing” that you are ready to demote to just a “thing” in your life? You can do this! You don’t have to like it and it will be uncomfortable AND you can have a heart to heart with your Anxiety and start taking the steps to demote your “Thing” back to just a “thing” 😍😘
Once again we (a collective society “we”) are in a position of scratching our heads and asking “Why?” or “What the Fuck?” 😳 Of course we want answers. Answers to our mind’s questions allow us to feel more secure. If we can just understand why, then we can stop feeling uncomfortable and scared. It’s pretty cool that our brains are set up this way. It encourages us to innovate and create. We aspire to know why and then use that information to make things “better” and “safer”.
Unfortunately if Anxiety jumps too far into the game (as it does for those of us who tend to be “sensitive”, “nervous”, “anxious”, or even “empathic”), we get stuck in seeking answers and it can stop us from moving forward in our lives. Did you spend any time last week glued to the news? Did it keep you from getting what you wanted to done? Did it help you feel better? When shit happens (and it does happen on a regular basis) we can hardly help ourselves, but to get sucked in.
You know that the media has made it an art form to present the “news” in ways that purposefully target you psychologically so that you feel compelled to keep watching, right? They have people who get paid big bucks to figure out how to keep you watching, because they have advertisers who pay them big bucks to get in front of your faces (and into your heads) because they want your money. They have products and services that will make you feel more comfortable and safe, or, at the very least, will distract you from all of the pain and suffering in the world. What a bunch of crap! 🙄
See the media knows that what gets our attention in the fast way possible is to trigger our Fear and Anxiety 😳 Did it work? Did you turn on a news source to get answers (so that you could feel better, right?) only to get sucked into a range of emotions that only triggered more Anxiety? Did Anxiety pull out the “What if…?” Game and set up the pieces for a marathon game with you? Folks, it’s time to learn how to step away from the media frenzy and back into your life!
So how does this work? Well, the first step is to accept that shit happens. Shit has been happening since the dawn of time. It is part of the cycle of life. We are not going to be happy and there are not going to be rainbows and sunshine and roses every moment of every day. The first step in dealing with any of the shit that happens (either to others or to ourselves) is accepting that it has happened. It is our denial and resistance to this fact (that shit has, in fact, happened) that feeds our Anxiety.
I know what you are saying, “Wow, thanks Auntie Anxiety, I was actually in a good mood this morning and you just shit all over it 😩”. Bear with me folks, it does get better….
So, let’s say that we accept this idea of accepting that shit happens. Let’s examine this a moment. You know those things I mentioned, rainbows and sunshine and roses? They all exist because of clouds and rain and have thorns to remind us that nothing is without it’s opposite. Some of the worst storms leave us with destruction, but also the stories of just how compassionate and strong we human beings can be when we are pushed to what feels like our limits.
What I am about to say is not new. We’ve all heard it before (Mr. Rogers)….AND it bears repeating: When shit happens, look for the helpers and look for ways to help. Spending time stuck to the media circus is not helping you or anyone else. So stay focused on all of the people who listened to their instinct and did their best under those terrifying circumstances. In the moment Fear and Anxiety do their actual job and work together for your survival. It’s how we are built.
Sitting in front of your computer or TV your Anxiety has a party, winding you up and fooling you into believing that you would not know what to do, and that you would not survive if you were to find yourself in such a horrific situation. I call Bullshit on your Anxiety. It has no fucking clue as to what you would actually do in such a situation.
Folks, you are way stronger than you can even imagine. Anxiety’s job is to protect you and the easiest way to do that is to convince you to stay stuck in one place and the way to keep you stuck is to convince you that you are not competent or capable of surviving. So we buy into Anxiety’s Bullshit and put up our walls and “make sure” to set up our routines and fill our lives with stuff that helps us feel “comfortable” and then we just exist. Really? 🤔
So, if you are ready to call Bullshit on your Anxiety, then I encourage you to Lean In. Shift your focus from the “news” to the helpers and then see what you feel drawn to do to be a helper yourself. Figure out what calls you and then take action, without excuses. Whenever tragedy strikes there are plenty of organizations that could use donations of time, money, or particular items (Brene’ Brown supports Undies for Everyone). Pick an organization and then take action.
For those of you who read the guide, this is all part of the getting ALIGNED with your Anxiety process. Accept, Lean In, Ignite, Get Out There, No Excuses! Taking Action is one of the best ways to get unstuck and move forward. The people who are experiencing these tragedies do not need your sympathy or anxiety. Empathy and Action are what bind us together and allow us to make changes and move forward.
(Auntie Anxiety steps down from soapbox….for now…)
Do you ever find yourself feeling almost paralyzed when you are faced with making a decision? Does Anxiety get in your ear and play the "What if...?" game using every possible choice you are considering and coming up with a list a mile long of why that choice is not the "right" one?
Challenges with indecision and feeling stuck are some of the most common complaints that I hear from my chronic worriers and anxious clients.
Oh Anxiety, what silly games you play 🙄
Here's the deal, one of the tactics that Anxiety uses to convince you to get your panties in a wad (have you ever been able to get much done when your underwear was bunched up? I thought not 😉) is this idea (technically this is a cognitive distortion) that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Folks, I am not here to get into some deep moral discussion about right and wrong. I am, however, going to share my take on why assuming that there is a "right" and "wrong" choice when you are makng a decision is keeping you stuck, and, most often, miserable!
Guess what? Decisions are just decisions. If you decide and then want to make a different decision, have at it. Will it possibly be more difficult or require some extra work on your part? Possibly...AND that is where the rubber meets the road! Being willing to make a decision and then make another decision if the first one is not working out. THERE ARE NO RIGHT OR PERFECT DECISIONS! I have made plenty of decisions that may have worked out for awhile, until they stopped working out, in which case I made another decision!
See Anxiety has you convicnced that if you just make the "right" decision the first time that you will be certain and comfortable for the rest of your life....yeah, I call bullshit on that one! Decisions are just decisions and the more we make then the better we are at just going with our gut AND being willing to change course when we get more information that guides us in a different direction.
Remember that Anxiety wants to keep us in the future and convince us that we can somehow predict and respond without actually having all of the information. Guess what? You do not need ALL of the information, only what is in front of you. Stay in the present and use the information you have to make the best decision you can in the moment AND remember that you can change your mind and change course whenever you want!
Here is a post that I made on Facebook this week that speaks to how decisions are not set in stone and the best thing we can do for ourselves is to be as flexible as possible as we move forward:
"So Sometimes in life you find yourself at a fork in the road and initially you think you are going to go right and then something else pops up and you decide to go left instead….
This summer we had made plans for getting our Anxiously Empowered Teen group back up and running and adding a group for Tweens. You see, all Spring when I had a Teen group running, I kept getting parents and grandparents who wanted a group for their Tweens and I wasn’t in a position to offer one at the time. So we planned and advertised and the Teen group got started, but the Tween group didn’t end up with anyone signed up 😳 The folks who were interested in the Spring were not availabe this time around. So I sat with this dilemma 🤔
A couple of days ago while I was meeting with a college aged client, she shared that she really wished that there was a support group for Anxiety so that she could practice some of the skills she was learning in her sessions….BOOM 💥 There it was….the opportunity to go left instead of right!
Turns out, when I mentioned it to two other young adult clients, they were interested too 🎉
So here’s what’s happening: We have ourselves a Anxiously Empowered Young Adults Group forming right now (no time like the present to jump on this gift from the Universe 🎁).”
Now, if you are one of the folks who has a Tween and are suddenly gasping for air thinking that there will never be a Tween group, that you have lost your chance….please take a deep breath and know that if and when your Tween is ready for a group, we will make it happen. For now, though, I am going to take my own advice and move forward with a different decision than what I originally would happen and work with those that the Universe has placed in my path at this time.
You see, this Young Adult group, which I had thought about previously, but was unclear as to how to go about offering, fills another gap that I had in our services. I guess the Universe was ready for the gap to be filled and so it asked me to turn left instead of right….and I have simply chosen to take that left turn rather than holding on to some idea that the right turn I originally planned on was the “right” choice.
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor