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.

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? 


What is the kind thing you’ve done for someone else today? Research shows that if we do something kind for someone else they’re 3 times more likely to reciprocate that behaviour towards someone else. If you drop money into a hat or instrument case, those who saw you are 3 times more likely to mimic your kindness. Be the kindness you want to see in the world. Stop and look around you. Don’t assume that the person driving beside you in the merge lane is an asshole, maybe their running late for something really important, maybe they’re lost, or maybe they are an asshole, but behaving like an asshole to an asshole only perpetuates the behaviour. How much does letting that person in really impact on you? How much does getting worked up about some asshole cutting impact on you? Choose what you let affect you. Let people in. Ask if the person looking around the coffee shop for a seat if they would like to sit with you. If I see with people with kids looking for a seat in a busy spot, I will always give up my table and share a table with someone else. Just taking the tiniest amount of energy to look up around you and notice if someone needs something. I always offer to take photos for people takings selfies. I love the memories I have captured in photos. I love giving that back to others. This morning on the bus a lady was sniffing, I handed her a tissue. Why do I carry tissues? Because I’ve been in that exact situation. I asked if she’d like a tissue. I handed her my tissues. And she had the biggest smile on her face. The other day I saw a lady looking confused around our building. I just asked her if she was ok, she was late for an interview and couldn’t figure out where she needed to go. I showed her, put her in a lift. She beamed at me through nervousness. Be the person you would need if you’re lost or tired. I saw a gentleman tap a guy who fell asleep on the bus and let him know his stop was coming up. Maybe he’d noticed that person previously got off his stop with him, all he did was pay attention to the people around him and the other guy was so grateful. Imagine the impact missing his stop would have had on his day. You have the ability to impact on another person’s life. This is something I try to bring to my awareness before I leave the house in the morning. You get to choose to have a positive impact. Whether you influence another person to be kinder to others around them is entirely up to the kind of person you choose to be. Not only do you create a kinder world, it’s in your self-interest. When you’re kind and generous it makes you feel good about yourself. We’re social beings. Keeping in mind that some people just lack the emotional maturity to deal with others and use nastiness as a defense, that’s on them. Don’t take that on yourself. And while you’re being kinder to others, be kinder to yourself. You’re just human too.  

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.

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.

Anxiety Anti Spiral

Thursday, 8 August 2019
1:03 PM

Highly anxious people have an enlarged amygdala, this is the part of your brain that is responsible for perception and regulating emptions as well as other primitive functions. Most importantly is drives your fight or flight function – the amygdala’s role is to warn you of things that may possibly be important to your survival. Now imagine you’re triggered by every little thing, because you’re amygdala is so over active everything is a possible threat to your safety, even though it’s not. It’s a very exhausting state to be in. Never cried because even though you received a non-threatening email, it made you feel attacked. I have. Anxious people get emotional at all kinds of things, because they’re always kind of on that tipping point where that one thing is just too much. High anxiety for me leaves me exhausted, physically and emotionally and that leads to me sleeping, but not sleeping because it’s really difficult when you’re in an anxious state to sleep, which leads to me spending time in bed, not sleeping, but not doing anything, becoming more anxious about things that need to be done, and then more tired. You can see this lovely little spiral starts occurring.

When I feel myself getting into this specific situation I start by regulating my sleep habits, always wake up and go to bed at the same time. Sleep is driven by an internal body clock, it needs consistency. Now this is not likely to be enough, but it’s a start. Good bed time habits, no blue light an 1 – 2 hrs before bed. Warming up your body 2hours before bed, either in a bath or through exercise. This is a natural indication to the body it’s time for sleep. Speaking of exercise. EXERCISE! Studies link anxiety and dopamine levels in the amygdala, increasing dopamine levels through exercise can help. Sleep impacts on dopamine levels if you’re not getting enough sleep you need to boost dopamine through other avenues. Add sunshine to your life, sunshine will regulate your melatonin and internal body clock assisting with sleep and increases your number of dopamine receptors. Human contact triggers dopamine too, hugging, shaking hands, getting a massage – physical touch is such an important part of well-being. And finally, I start every day with small, attainable goals. We just like achieving things, simply achievement trains the brain propelling behaviour to more achievements.

Be your authentic annoyed self

I think the part of being happy that people forget is that it’s not a state of being. No one is happy all of the time and it’s essential to happiness! Regardless of how negative emotions benefit us people will report that the because of how we felt about it, it was bad. So I think it’s important to talk about anxiety being useful. Most people know this superficially, but we still don’t value negative emotions because it makes us uncomfortable. There are so many situations where it is better to be in a sad or angry state than being in cheerful and optimistic state. It’s my personal opinion (also backed by studies) happiness should not be the end game, or the thing that should be pursued because if you try and attain it as a goal, it only makes it more difficult to attain. If I devote my life to the pursuit of happiness, I would be setting myself up for failure. You can’t control your happiness, because we’re so situationally influenced anything can ruin your “positivity”. You find happiness on the journey of perusing things you actually care about. I set up my time for what are the important things I want to accomplish and time to do whatever I want that satisfies me. Space for myself and space for the things that are important to me and my relationships. This does not discount positive emotions, mindfulness and positive mindset. It’s just far more effective to try and be fulfilled. Be present, explore and be curious to work out what works for you. And don’t interpret having negative emotions as being unfulfilled, as emotions, the full range of emotions are beneficial. When you think about first dates, rollercoasters, child birth, things that bring great joy and happiness is never pure happiness, emotions are blended. Being uncomfortable, acknowledging vulnerability and not avoiding anxiety transfers into being present which positively impacts on relationships and connections. It’s important to accept the positive role anxiety and other negative emotions have in our lives.

Thoughts of a twenty something with anxiety

There will be no “positivity is a mind set” here, living with anxiety is not a mindset and I wish more people understood that living with any mental illness is utter lack of control.

If you can imagine that thing that pops into your brain sometimes, like a bad memory or thought… most of us have one of these. Sometimes they’re not even that bad, they’re just something or someone that is a thought in your head. You’re not really ever sure where that thought comes from… it just appears every now and again. The thing about thoughts is the more times you think of something the more your brain connects that thought to other thoughts and stimuli and the more you’ll think of that thought. Now imagine that, this mysterious thought that pops into your head is actually anxiety and it’s not so much a thought as immediate impending doom. What anxiety does is triggers your fight or flight impulse, so suddenly with no actual stimuli you feel like you’re fighting for your life…

Now imagine you’re trying not to think of a ball, how difficult is it not to think of a ball. And trust me the further you try to push the ball out of your mind, the harder it pushes back. It’s like trying to push something.. like a ball filled with air under water, until pop it’s right back there.

So how to deal with possibly feeling crippling anxiety at any point in time… how do I deal with this? And this is relevant for all times you feel out of control. Be grounded. I love and live for mindfulness, it’s very simple. Name 5 things you can feel…

  1. I can feel my heart, pounding as it may be, I can feel it.
  2. I can feel my hand against my chest. (Touching your chest or head can help you feel present)
  3. I can feel the rise and fall of my chest and I breath. (Try and pace your breath, it is perfectly ok if you can’t, just acknowledge your breath)
  4. I can feel the chair underneath me, it’s soft, but sturdy.
  5. I can feel the pressure of my body on my leg as it’s tucked up underneath me

That’s 5