Overthinking Social Situations

We’re social creatures, now this is partly due to evolution. Evolution is definitely out of my knowledge range. However,  I’ve had a theory for some time in my head and I heard a podcast which finally explained my thought perfectly. It fits into an Evolution Theory. There’s a feeling you get when you don’t think someone likes you, not someone unimportant to you, but If you’ve annoyed a friend, upset a coworker. That sort of uneasy anxiety that sits in your stomach. The anxiety I get when I think I’ve upset someone is quite intense and I’m not sure if it’s always my anxiety being intense or my empathy heightening it. The thought of upsetting someone is probably why I put up with situations significantly longer than I should, why I give people change after chance and just end up feeling like I am somehow the person who wasn’t good enough, didn’t say the right things, tip toed around how I felt as to not upset anyone when I really should have just said how I felt because now they don’t know and that’s my fault and my feelings of hurt aren’t valid because they don’t know… you get the picture. So I’ve found a theory which helps me explain the way I feel to myself (aka why I’m such a f***ing mess when it comes to relationships with people). And it comes back to evolution. Back when our greatest enemies were other predators and not our own minds, (I say this as an extremely privileged white girl who has not had a significant struggle in her life)… we were part of tribes. Think about the implications of someone disliking you in your own tribe. You’re out hunting/gathering (let’s not get into that) and a sabretooth tiger approaches, now the person next to you, maybe you ate their share of the berries one day, trust me if you eat my food, we’re no longer friends. So it’s you, the person whose berries you stole and a sabretooth tiger. Old mate berries looks at you, you stole my berries… would it really be a loss to the tribe if they lose you? And berries decides to leg it. Leaving you alone and presumably now dead. Similarly you upset enough people in the tribe and they exile you out, you’re alone, you meet tiger, you’re again dead. Pleasing people is your brains way of ensuring you’re in the group, that the people around you will protect you, and you’re brain hasn’t quite figured out that it’s not really a life or death situation if someone doesn’t like you. Which is why when someone’s text is shorter than last time, they only put 2 x’s instead of 3, my brain overreacts, I overthink and analyse what it was I said, did, what could have been misunderstood and make a problem out of nothing. The amount of conversations I hold in my head and could probably recite is terrifying. But, to my brain it’s extremely important to my self-preservation to know whether people in my tribe will stand with me in danger or whether they’d literally sacrifice me for their own benefit. And when we apply this theory to today’s context it explains why we react in such a way to social situations, if someone dislikes us, next time when we face a threat, they’d leave us.

Remember anxiety is your brains very best intentions of keeping you alive.

Self worth

“You have the perfect figure” she said as I screwed up my nose. I tried politely to smile while dismissing her comment. “I’m tall” I say “I’m just stretched out”.  I feel her eyes on me. “Do you work out everyday?” 

And then my head spins… 

I definitely don’t, I should… should I say I do… would that make her feel better? Or am I setting unattainable goals? Who works out everyday? If I worked out everyday maybe I would actually be skinny. She’s waiting… ummm… 

“No” I reply “Just genetics” 

“You’re very lucky” She says 

My eyes dart to the ground. I feel every part of me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. What’s an appropriate response to a compliment? I just laugh uncomfortably. My hearts racing. I feel clammy. I step into the elevator and eye myself off in the mirror. Honestly what is it she sees? That I just don’t. When I look, I see my insecurities. I cringe. I should workout everyday. Maybe then I’ll feel better, but I know won’t. 

This isn’t about having a perfect body. I’ve contemplated many times getting plastic surgery improvements. But I know it’s not going to fix the way I feel about myself. I remember the first time I had to get a spray tan for a show, it meant I had to get naked. I was about 14. I cried. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin the thought of being naked in front of someone else terrified me. And I’ve never lost that. Although I eat at my dinning table naked now a days. If there was someone new I’d feel insanely vulnerable. It takes someone genuine to make me feel at ease. 

I try so hard to work on self love. Loving myself and my body the way I am. I think on the surface, it would appear to most people I do love myself.  Fake it, until you become it I guess. I got very good at the faking. But honestly that 14year old girl is still there. Sitting with a stack of magazines from when I was young. These girls who defined beauty looking back me. That didn’t look like me. And now girls and women have endless feeds of perfection. These posts that all look the same. All these women who have followed the same trend to meet these expectations of beauty. It terrifies me what my daughter will have access to. 

I don’t really know why 14year old me is so hurt.  But, I’m trying to be kind to myself. Not compare myself to others. Allow myself to talk myself up – in a society that will deem you narcissistic. I’m trying to work on being grateful and positive mindset. A big part of what I can change for myself has been my social media feed. And finding something that makes me feel valued so I have less time and energy to worry about not being good enough. 

Good Enough Decision Making

The weight of decisions when you have anxiety can be extremely taxing. Not only am I extremely aware of all of the information I do not have in order to make the “perfect” decision, but you should see my reaction if I finally make a decision and then that is no longer is a possibility. Honestly the latter is probably worse. Those in my life have learnt once I’ve made my mind up about something that this is what is happening. The fact that I don’t deal well if I need to make a change post decision probably worsens my ability to make a decision as I need to know it’s definitely going to go through before I commit to something. People who don’t commit fully to  decisions make me anxious. I don’t always know what I want, but I have a fairly good idea what I do and don’t like and being able to narrow down options is an essential part of making a decision easier for yourself. If you’re not familiar with the inverted U it’s a premise that there’s a stimuli and then there’s an optimal peak to that stimuli and then a decline if there’s too much of that stimuli. Decision making also has a peak performance curve, the stimuli being how many options you have to make a decision from. There’s this idea in our society that the more options we have available to us, the more people have the option that is best for them.

Now logically that makes sense, but if you’ve ever been to a normal coffee shop, there’s a list of coffee options and sizes, and there’s normally 6 or 8 options down the page; Latte, Flat White, Cappuccino, Espresso, Long Black, Mocha and some other place will have your Macchiato’s and Piccolo’s etc. Imagine for the first time ordering coffee and having a list from 6 or 8 to choose from. You might decide you’ll go down the list, try them (not all in one sitting hopefully). Find one you like. Now imagine instead it’s your first time ordering coffee and you go to Starbucks… the list is triple. Imagine trying them all to figure out which one you like. And this in essence is decision making. Decisions are easier if you have prior knowledge or experience you’re able to draw off. But even then sometimes I order at Starbucks and I regret my decision after because what that guy has looks much better. Not only does increasing the available options make the decision making process harder, it increases the likelihood you will be unhappy with the decision you made. It’s much easier to imagine that iced vanilla latte with extra whip would be a better option than my caramel latte that’s too sweet and too hot for this weather. Than it is too imagine the significant difference between a latte and flat white. And at the end of the day, my intention was to buy coffee, and I bought and consumed coffee. I’m just disappointed because I had to too many options available to me and now I feel like my decision wasn’t the best decision. When in fact I achieved my goal. The quote to live by when decision making is good enough is almost always good enough. In situations where making a decision is going to cause you anxiety, which are more likely to be areas you’re not comfortable in. Firstly, use your network to make decisions for you. People know why they bought the car the bought, what restaurants they like in the area, whether they liked visiting that country, so use the informational sources around you. Secondly, realise you don’t need to try every available option and you don’t have to make the perfect choice. If a decision is good enough, learn to be satisfied with your choice. Reducing the decisions you need to make in a day will decrease the anxiety provoking situations. I personally have my clothes set out for a week, because mornings with children are very stressful. What I wear is a simple decision really, but in that environment that decision could increase my stress causing my anxiety to increase. I’m extremely pro planning and organisation to significantly reduce anxiety. Trying to make the “perfect” decision is not conducive to your happiness. I don’t like making decisions on the fly, it causes my anxiety to sky rocket, but the way I cope is I narrow down my goal, what am I actually trying to achieve and then I accept that it might not be the best choice, but it’s achieving my goal.

Reaching Goals

It’s the time of year where we like to set goals. So I thought I’d to quickly cover willpower. This idea that relying on willpower by itself to achieve goals is not very sustainable. If you set a goal that is a plan to not do something, that is essentially “I’m not going to give into temptation”, this is asking too much of yourself. Because, yes in this moment you feel like you will have no problem walking away in future, once you’re in a situation it’s much more difficult than that. What is more likely to be the case is you’ll struggle in the situation. On this notion it’s important you be deliberate about the situations that you put yourself into. Minimise how much you rely on pure willpower to achieve a goal. A helpful tactic is to be prepared in advance. If you have a choice ahead of you that is part of goal, decide beforehand. That way before you have a decision in front of you – eg. Your goal is to eat less calories to lose weight (Firstly never use negative goals, but this is a common goal so I’m using it) so you go to dinner and wait to get a menu before deciding, don’t wait decide beforehand. Most menu’s are available online and if not decide – I’ll have grilled chicken and if that’s not an option I’ll have (insert option here) and I’ll just get tea or whatever floats your boat if other people order dessert. Pre-deciding increases the likelihood that you’ll do this by 3 fold. If you ever find yourself saying I just won’t be tempted…. Of course you will be. If you’re serious about your goal, be smarter about it (get it, smart goals there is a reason they’re so widely recognised). Decide in advance what your decision will be, because you don’t know how much willpower you will have in the moment you need it. Think through your options and be prepared to make a better decision when the moment comes. It will improve the odds of achieving your goal.

I also just wanted to quickly talk about negative goal setting. When we set goals we’re aiming to create a habit. Habits are stored in your basal ganglia, eventually the things we consciously have to think about become an unconscious process that “just happens”. Think about driving a car. When you first learnt to drive a car you used your Prefrontal cortex, every part of driving a car took cognitive processing. You consciously moved your foot off the break, it took all of your brain power to check your blind spot without steering across into the other lane (this may have just been me). And now when I drive I barely think about any of the processes that would have taken such significant thought processing previously. Driving has become a habit, an unconscious process of actions that no longer requires my conscious input. Habits in their essence cannot be negative. Therefore, you cannot create a goal that is “stopping” something. It must be a positive. Normally to remove a bad habit, we replace it with another habit. Soo be very mindful what you replace your bad habit with. Instead of eating Oreo’s after dinner (my personal bad habit), I will read a book… go for a walk… have pre-cut carrot sticks as a snack. The idea of eating less calories is not measurable, less than when? How much less? Do you continue to eat less than the previous day? If you don’t have something specific to attain it makes it difficult. Once you have a Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-framed goal… remember just like learning to drive, any habit is a process of learning, give yourself time to learn.

Shower Thoughts

There’s something that pushes my thoughts internally when I’m in water and I find it’s where I do most of my life contemplating. I just watched an episode of the bold type, which I’m loving, because I need strong female empowerment in my life. If you don’t like your drama dunked in girl power, it’s not for you. Regardless in this episode one character went travelling, one found love and one got a new job and it captured this thought I have, this drive for not even necessarily happiness.. but that rush, that high. This societal pressure for more, own more, have more, do more. I see this in myself, I get very bored, I job hop, I want to travel the world, I crave something else, different, new, exciting, but I have no idea what it is that will fulfil my drive and that’s a scary thought to not know enough, to not feel content in the now. I try to be a very mindful and present person, but I know when I get anxious my mind goes straight to the one thing that gives me an instant rush. That state of fiction in my head is great in the moment, and imagination is so incredible, but I strongly believe as long as there’s healthy critical thinking (for mental health reasons, in your internal world play). I’m thinking very critically about this need for external and instant gratification that’s so strong in my generation. Don’t misunderstand, adventure and self discovery are two things I aim to achieve in myself. And honestly I don’t have an answer for this, but what are we chasing, are we even happy when we get there? Or is it just the next thing will be the thing. I bought a new car today, level of excitement, low, something I could have taken joy in and didn’t. This could partially be because I was a insane mess this weekend, or maybe it’s just because once I’ve made up my mind that’s kind of it. I’m just predictable to myself now. It was just something I needed. As someone who feels everything when they should feel minimal. This was a different experience. But my main concern is I’m restless, I felt restless buying a car… and society tells us to travel, get a new job or direction in life or find love. I just feel like we are seeking something externally to something we’re missing internally. But what? 

Fucks Given

Sometimes I handle my anxiety with yoga, mindfulness and anxiety soothing techniques.. sometimes I handle it with wine, sarcasm and telling people to fuck off. Settle in for a lot of F bombs. One of the most important things I’ve learnt is my anxiety directly impacts how many fucks I can give. There are only so many things you can put on your plate when you’re dealing with anxiety. The idea of fucks given is to limit the amount of things you’re allowed to put on your plate. Give yourself a hard limit. Five fucks is enough fucks for one day (trust me it is). Once you hit your limit, if something else comes up it doesn’t matter you’re not allowed to care. It’s tomorrow’s problem, because you’ve maxed out your fucks. Conserving your fucks is important to your mental health and well-being therefore, it’s an essential skill. Learn how much energy you have and what that means for how many things you can put on your plate today. If you can only give two fucks, that’s ok, because not burning out is the aim of the game. It takes twice as long to recover from burn out as it did to actually burn out. If you think you don’t have time now? Then you definitely don’t have have time to recover from burn out! Set yourself limits! Set yourself limits with things and people… Some people just aren’t good for my anxiety. So for my mental health, I had to learn not to reply, to walk away from a conversation, to say no! I’ve had people in my house and just said I need to go to bed, goodnight. Got up, had a shower, went to bed. I’m important! My mental health is important! Important enough for me to put it first. Friends get that, because they know if I was ok I would have sat there until someone decided to leave, but I wasn’t ok. And that’s ok too. Set your fucks given limit. It will help you learn when you’re pushing yourself too far and you’ll know when you’ve reached your limit. Your limit is not burn out! Your limit is not stressed… you should never get more worked up. If at the end of the day you’re anxiety is worse you probably gave too many fucks. This isn’t about not doing things, anxiety has destroying motivation down, this is how many things you can care, stress and worry over. Take a big breath and say I’ve used up all my fucks today, that’s tomorrow’s fuck.

Mental Health is what works for YOU

Mental health is not about eating clean, living clean and natural alternatives. Sometimes it’s a very large glass of wine or late night full fat refined sugar snack or just finding the right medication dose. And that’s ok! Because what’s important is you’re ok not how you get there. It’s taken me a very long time to realise how detrimental the perception of what “you should do” is on mental health. I find what we think people will think shape so many of our life decisions, there’s definitely points where I’ve reflected on why I’ve done something and it’s because of my inability to have an argument with someone else about it, because they just can’t see what they’re asking of me is actually hurting me. This doesn’t mean I don’t hurt myself through my actions. It is just important to keep in mind that although people can have the best intentions that these come with their own biases. Reaching out for help can be the onslaught of SO many people telling what you should do, it’s overwhelming.

I’ve never been one for doing what other people think is best for me. I have had very strong opinions of how I think things should operate even if they’re against the norms of society and this has led to many moments in my life where I’m not behaving in line with my fundamental beliefs and values, you know because peer pressure. This is called cognitive dissonance and it’s an excellent tool for shaping desired behaviour if you’re trying to create habits for a healthier life. Healthier in the holistic view, I aim for a mentally healthy life and yes physical health plays into this but also interpersonal relationships balanced with selfishness. If you’re someone who say is really passionate about the environment but you litter or buy fast fashion those behaviours either mean the environment isn’t as important to you as you perceive it to be or you’ve not consciously made the connection that those actions don’t align with your values.  When people are made aware that their beliefs and actions differ, one of two things generally happen… they change their behaviour or change their belief. Cognitive dissonance causes me a lot of anxiety, and it’s a time where I sit down and think about the way I behave and how that aligns with my beliefs and decide what is actually best for me. Especially when I’m in the head space I have been in recently, it’s very important that I can identify if there’s anything causing unnecessary stress. Keep in mind my last post, not everything that causes us anxiety is bad for us. I’m focusing my attention on a few of my behaviours that don’t align with logically what I know is best for me so I’m working towards small changes to help build some habits to better align my behaviour towards my mental health. The first step I take to determining these things is completing a habits journal for 2 weeks. It’s just being mindful of your habits and reflecting on when you do certain behaviours. Somethings are easy to shape such as “I bite my nails when… ” or “I eat shitty food when.. ” some are harder to correlate to a trigger. Important fact – habits cannot be negatives, you can’t not – not do something as part of habit building. Habits are positive. And I am looking forward to building some positive habits. 

I came, I saw, I had anxiety so I stayed

Exposure therapy is the most used form of therapy for anxiety. If you feel yourself getting anxious. DO NOT LEAVE. When I talk about forcing myself to do things I am giving myself exposure therapy. Now when I say if you’re feeling anxious don’t leave, I mean at the height of your anxiety don’t leave. You need to give yourself time you calm down. Even if you go from 10 to a 9. Leaving means your anxiety goes, and this instils to your brain that if I leave the anxiety goes and it’s likely to worsen the situation. If you stay the anxiety will also lessen, because the fact is you can only stay in an anxious state for so long. You’re body has to tap out. Does it suck? Absolutely! But just see if you can get yourself that slightly bit less anxious. Breath. Stay present. There are lots of techniques to use when you feel as though you’re about to lose it. Find one that works for you. Stress test it and then force yourself into a situation that causes you anxious and let yourself stay until you feel one tenth less anxiety. And repeat. This is a simple premise to how you create habits.

I recently participated in a seminar where I had to do a speech. And by recently I mean yesterday. I know that I could give a speech to a bunch of people sitting down in a relaxed environment. No problem. I have no issue speaking up in large groups ( I feel myself being anxious, but I’m able to not let this show externally , something I have worked extremely hard on). As soon as I heard public speaking yesterday, that thought of standing up in front a room full of people. I could feel instantly my heart and breathing, which only expatiates the situation. I didn’t have time to run through exercises as it was kind of sprung on me. I got up, got so nervous, lost my train of thought, got more nervous. It was probably the worse public speaking I have ever done. I will say I had no preparation and this is the one thing that I know calms me. Did I want to leave? Yes. Did I want to find an excuse so I didn’t have to participate? Yes. Was I terrified about having this experience in front of my peers? Yes. Did I do it anyway? Yes! Never be hard on yourself, it’s a growing experience. Even if everyone else thought I did poorly, to me I did so well for that situation because I completely froze up the moment public speaking was mentioned. Anything that forces us to grown and learn is amazing for you as a person even if it feels pretty crap at the time. It’s so true how you should do things that scare you, it’s exposure therapy. Given I’d forgotten how much this terrifies me, because I haven’t had to be in a situation like this in so long I’m going to look into putting myself into these situations more. And I have one in 2 weeks, hopefully because I’ll actually be prepared and therefore be able to breathe.

Extroverted Introvert

Shocker I’m an Introvert. A extroverted introvert to the point people are surprised when I describe myself as an introvert, but people honestly drain me. And that’s how you know. Extroverts recharge in social interactions. I recharge, in the bath or on a mountain or in a bath on a mountain, but most importantly by myself. I’m also an anxious introvert, introverts do not get anxious about social interactions they just find them tiring. If you avoid social interactions, you’re more likely to have social anxiety.  During a social interaction I often feel nervous, self-conscious, and spend a lot of time analysing the person or people I’m interacting with and their non-verbal communication cues. However, I still do my absolute best to participate in social situations and events. It’s so important to have meaningful relationships in your life.

Friday I went to lunch with a colleague I used to work with, my mood was instantly improved. Friday night I went out with girls from my last job. Those interactions just reminded me how important workplace friendships are. I have been so lucky to work in some amazing organisations where I have had teams I genuinely enjoyed working with and it’s become very apparent to me lately what an impact that environment has on me. I need there to be social interactions with people I value in my day. Regardless of the fact it’s draining and anxiety provoking I still crave social acceptance, we’re social beings after all. Although I’ve got a new roomie at work, the key is being with people I enjoy the company of. Despite all of my understanding in how judgmental our brains are, I still gauge fairly quickly whether I’m going to like a person. Not that I don’t completely accept that I may be wrong, but that feeling when you meet someone and you immediately know – I like you and you’re able to engage in conversation as though you’d known each other some other time. Honestly though some people are just easier to have conversations with. For me these types of people, people I naturally feel comfortable with are so hard to find and this is my issue. The other issue being I don’t really go out of my way to talk to people I don’t interact with naturally during a work day. Now I understand that I have poor self-esteem, thank you anxiety and this is something that’s extremely difficult for me to do, because my brain goes… What value could having a conversation with you add. But I’ve been told it makes me come across as quite snobbish. So I really rely on company events where you have a situation to talk to people who you wouldn’t ordinarily. It’s easier to make myself do something when it’s being forced upon me. Where I am currently that just doesn’t happen. So I’m forcing it upon myself. Wish me luck… I’m already sweating at the thought.

Happy Place

There was a time when my anxiety was the lowest. I was so distracted with life… I forgot my anxiety. Trust me now I look back now and I think how did I get so caught up in something that I forgot? This girl who when her heart started beating fast it was something that thrilled her, instead of immediately controlling my breathing and finding my happy place. I let the thoughts wander on their own because they were finding all the good things. I want it to be clear I wasn’t travelling or living some high “Instagram” life, I just found something that exhilarated me. There’s no “thing” that stops anxiety. But that rush that I felt had me completely caught up in living. Had me feeling the right things. This is a place I visit in my head when I’m feeling like I’m backpedalling with my mental health – there’s a quote about living a couple things twice and this moment in time is one of those moments. I like to go back and visit in my head probably more times than I care to admit. Feels like listening to the rain pour down on the roof, snuggled in bed, knowing you have nowhere to go. This memory has been bitter sweet lately. I’ve had plenty of these moments, but my anxiety has been at its highest in a while. So I’m just trying to find a new happy place.

I love water. I was raised where you could choose whether to walk to the front beach or the back beach. There’s something about being in and near water that just calms me. This is my calm. I’ve driven to the beach, just to sit. I’ve ran a shower just to have it run over me until it went cold. I’ve parented my children from a bath, because I just couldn’t leave. It meant I coped though.. in moments where I didn’t think it could be possible to cope with what I was dealing with, but I did. So I took the day. I can’t stress how important it is just to take the day when you need it. Everything will continue without you, it just will. So I went to the beach, I felt the sun on my skin and the sand up my ass. I breathed in the salt air and ran through the crashing waves, and I felt calm. And the fact that I felt that calm will give me something to breath into next time I feel like I’m drowning in my own body.