Boom! Mic Drop on Your Social Anxiety

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It's confusing. All we hear about these days is self-awareness this and self-awareness that. Everywhere we turn there’s another self-help article on the importance of getting in touch with our thoughts and feelings.

And yet, research shows that heightened self-focused attention plays a huge role in social anxiety.

What’s right?

It turns out both are, but the devil is in the details. Let me explain.

Self-Focused Attention and Social Anxiety

First, the down-low on self-focused attention and social anxiety. Research has found that when a person suffers from social anxiety, they direct too much attention on themselves during (or in anticipation of ) social interactions or performance situations. They pay too much attention to their emotions, their self-thoughts, behaviors, their physical appearance, nervous system arousal, etc. and pay too little attention to what they’re doing, to the other people they might be with, and their environment. With social anxiety, a person becomes acutely and overly aware of themselves.

It’s like a giant spotlight has been turned on and focused right. On. Them.

Can you relate? I know I can. There are many times in the past when I became so self-obsessed, so self-focused that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees! Miserable. And anxiety provoking.

Scientists have also found that when we become so acutely self-focused, we often do worse at the things we‘re anxious about doing in the first place! Add to that, because we aren’t focusing on the other people and things around us, we end up relying solely on our own negative impressions, thereby confirming… we’re a loser.

It is a vicious cycle and it totally reinforces our anxiety.

Breaking the Anxious Cycle

But once you realize it’s a cycle you can break it. The way to get out of this loop is to disrupt it. And the best way to disrupt it is to start turning your attention away from yourself. It’s the opposite of self-focused.

Yep, I know this also flies in the face of what we think of as being self-aware.

So to help with this, let me be a bit more clear about what self-awareness actually means.

Self-awareness is just that, being more aware. That’s it.

Like, “Oh, I’m aware that there’s a lot of traffic today” or “Oh, that felt really crappy” or “Oh, I feel my body starting to feel anxious.” Self-awareness is merely noticing and noting what is happening or what you are feeling. And it can end there. No need to figure it out or dwell on.

Contrary to popular belief, the major benefit to self-awareness isn’t an increased ‘feeling of our feelings’ or ‘thinking of our thoughts’. Actually, that’s often totally counterproductive.

The major wisdom of increased self-awareness is to notice our feelings and thoughts and not get pulled in by them.

A great way of not getting pulled in by them, after we notice them, is to turn our attention onto whatever we’re doing.

Instead of being totally self-focused, we become totally task-focused.

We turn our attention outward onto the specific task we’re doing. By doing this one little strategy, we release our tendency to become overly self-focused thereby releasing our anxiety… all while being self-aware!

Boom! Mic drop.

Is It Anxiety or 'A Shot in the Dark'?

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A couple years ago I got a coffee ‘to-go’ from the neighborhood coffee shop on my way to work. I usually have my own mug with me but didn't that day. No problem.

Not too long after arriving at work, my body started freaking out. I was sweating, my heart was beating out my chest, I was jittery, my mind was racing and I started feeling panicky like never before.

It came out of nowhere and was totally scary. My day was busy and there was a lot on my mind but this was weird.

I started taking some deep breaths to try to calm myself down. That worked marginally, but I could still feel my heart and my mind was still racing. I didn’t know what was happening. Was this a panic attack? I’d never had one before but definitely knew about them.

At some point, I glanced at my paper coffee cup and noticed the barista’s markings for my order. It read “shot in dark”. “What?” I thought to myself, this was supposed to be just a regular coffee.

I then realized that my reaction was a result of accidentally picking up the wrong coffee order at the coffee shop that morning! Instead of my usual coffee, I had drunk one with two extra shots of espresso! No wonder my body and mind were freaking out! I had just bombarded it with a super high jolt of caffeine and it was reacting as I would’ve expected it to.

I felt better instantly. Well, my body was still a jittery mess due to the caffeine coursing through my veins and my mind was still faster than usual but once I realized this logical reason for my reactions, I was at ease. It was a false alarm brought on my a ‘shot in the dark’.

Upon labeling it a false alarm, all of those symptoms that had captured my full attention and had me so worried soon became a fading-into-the-background noise. My symptoms were still happening but they no longer gripped me with their power.

I got back to work and waited it out.

You can do this too with your anxiety. There are so many similarities.

  • If you start to feel your body anxiously amping up, check in. If something isn’t immediately requiring your “fight or flight” reaction label it a false alarm.

  • Anxiety triggers false alarms. Teach your mind to settle down with the realization that this type of experience can be attributed to ‘anxiety’ just as my type of experience could be attributed to too much caffeine all at once.

  • Just like my accidental coffee with a double shot of espresso, your anxiety is something real and once it has been activated it needs to quietly run its course in the background. Important point: In the background! Label it a false alarm and then turn your attention back on to what you were doing or need to do.

  • Remind yourself periodically if you need to that you’re experiencing a normal reaction to something that just triggered your anxiety (usually a thought) and that you can let it dissolve.

  • Your anxiety is super uncomfortable because it captures your full attention and usually spirals to become even bigger. Check it. Label it. Forget it.

Have you ever had an experience that mimicked anxiety? What happened? How did you deal with it?

5 Ways to Stop Bargaining with Your Anxiety and Feel Better

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We’re all bargainers. No, not like the world class ones you’ll encounter as you nudge your way through the busy shops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, or wander through the famous stalls of Jemaa El Fnaa in Marrakech, or get lost in the maze of the ancient markets in Delhi. Few of us ever reach that level of bargaining. Most of us feel utterly uncomfortable in these types of haggling situations. We avoid them at all cost. And if by total accident we ever found ourselves there, we’d be counting the days until we were back in the safety of fixed price tags!

We think we prefer things a more concrete and non-negotiable.

The funny thing is, we’re constantly negotiating. If we were to turn up the volume on our awareness, we’d shock ourselves with how often we are wheeling and dealing…with ourselves!

Here are some examples. Have you bargained with the anxiety gods that as long as you keep your anxiety they will protect you from really bad things happening? Or convince yourself that as long as you keep your worry front and center, you’re being responsible and ‘fighting the good fight’ and that it will eventually pay off? Or have you traded your ‘peace of mind’ in exchange for providing for your family?

The problem with this type of internal bargaining and negotiating is that it is a one-way street. The other side might be at the table but they aren’t signing the contract. So, because in our minds so much is at stake, we end up with exceptional follow-through. We live up to our side of the bargain and worry, keep our anxiety, avoid certain things, even throw in a panic attack or two, and the other side? Well, they’re still not signing and there are no guarantees that they’re going to come through for us.

Would you EVER enter into a business deal like this? Even if your job doesn’t require making deals…logically does this make sense to you?

Me either.

So where does that leave us?

5 Ways to Stop Bargaining with Your Anxiety

  1. We need to shed some light on the bargains we’ve made with some unreliable counterparts. Constant anxiety in return for life turning out ok. Lack of sleep in order to ensure business success. Chronic worry in order to guarantee my kids stay safe. Being overweight in order for my kids to get to their activities. Panic attacks to stay employed with my demanding but high paying job.
  2. We need to ask ourselves if this is the only way that we will get the outcome we are wanting. Do I really need to wake up anxious in order for my life to turn out ok? Is the picture I’ve painted for my life the only picture that will work? Is being afraid of losing what I have or what I want to have the best way to keep it? Ask yourself some real questions along these lines.
  3. Think logically even though anxiety isn’t logical. Anxiety is usually based on something that is potentially real and so logically an anxious reaction does make sense, though exaggerated. Once we accept that, we then we can think of other logical ways to deal with whatever we’re struggling with. We keep anxiety as one option and then we add other options to our menu. For example, you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities at work. One option is to wake up each morning before work feeling anxious, another option is to call in sick, or start looking for another job, or talk with your boss, or reframe what’s being asked of you, or take an online class to fill in skill gaps, or talk with a friend, or learn natural ways to help your body calm down, or make sure you exercise, or or or…
  4. We need to experiment with other options. We can always return back to an anxious reaction. In a screwed up kinda way, anxiety will actually even feel comfortable because the known is always more comfortable than the unknown. But, we need to try out other reactions to address and deal with what is totally stressing us out because anxiety isn’t effective and makes life complicated and sucky. The key when we’re experimenting is to actually give the new reaction repetition and time to see if it works. Too often we try something once or twice and determine it doesn’t work. Our anxiety has had plenty of time and practice so we owe the same to other strategies!
  5. Cut ourselves some slack. I know, that goes against all the hard-a$$ ‘wisdom’ out there. It flies in the face of all the self-critical cheerleading that has become the sacred path to success in our culture. Most likely you’ve been going that way too. It really doesn’t work for the long haul. So, maybe throw this one into your experimenting cycle too. You’re not going to the opposite end of the spectrum, lighting patchouli and telling yourself, “It’s all good.” You’re merely accepting a little bit more of being human, having reactions that make sense, and doing your best to make changes going forward…minus the self-flagellation.

Backing out of a past negotiation with your anxiety is ok. I think your anxiety is expecting it any day now.

Leave a reply and let me know what you just unbargained out of :-)

3 Ways to Rid Yourself of An Obsessive Comparison Habit

Forever gone are the days that your 10-year reunion was the one night that your life had to be amazing beyond belief. Now, we’re trying to pull that appearance off every second of every day!

Social media has created an outrageously fertile soil to help us compare ourselves with every human on the planet… all the time.

Have you noticed that too?

This is for you if you find you’re in the habit of comparing yourself 24/7.

 3 ways to get off that roller coaster:

1.Awareness. First, you have to know that comparing yourself to others is normal and it’s something we do instinctually. So it’s not going to stop anytime soon. But that’s not the problem. The problem is when we subconsciously use what we see around us as a barometer to measure how our life is or how we are as a person.

Check in with yourself and see if you’ve inadvertently fallen into the obsessive comparison trap. You’ll know you’re either there or are getting a little too close for comfort, if your emotions and mood rise and plummet as you look at other people and compare yourself to them.

2. Limit your facebook, instagram, web-surfing and social media time.These things fuel our obsessive comparing. They just do. If you notice you are on a comparison roller coaster then get off. You must limit your time looking online. Nuf said.

3. Gratitude. You might be more vulnerable to obsessive comparison than usual if you’re going through a tough spell or, more deeply, if you’re not where you thought you’d be with your life at this point. It’s normal to look outward at all the examples of people who are (seemingly) experiencing what you want to be experiencing and be a bit jealous.

A point I want to highlight is that whatever we put our attention on grows in importance and grows in the amount of time it consumes in our thinking. In this case of obsessive comparing, what’s growing is most likely jealousy, unhappiness, and feeling of lack. SO, a daily habit of reflecting on 3 things you are grateful for will be a total game-changer. It’ll disrupt the comparison habit you’ve formed and will start shrinking the jealousy, unhappiness and feeling of lack.

Do you have other strategies that help you? Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you!

Is Anxiety Making Your Spanx Too Tight?

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What do you reach for when you feel your anxiety starting to rise? What helps you release the tension that builds when you’re feeling worried, freaked out? What gets your mind off what you’re anxious about and onto something that feels better, if just a little? What do you reach for to calm your nerves? Yep, food.

Overeating to Cope

Why does overeating help? Seriously, why don’t we over-meditate or “over-something” a bit healthier? It sure would save us from compounding an already challenging anxiety situation, not to mention money on our ever expanding Spanx collection!

We’re wired for taking the path of least resistance. This seems to be especially true when we experience emotional discomfort. Few of us were ever taught the skills needed to get through tough emotional times in a healthy way.

As a result, most of us avoid, push down, deny or numb our feelings through whatever means most available to us at the time. Once we see that it works, it becomes a go-to habit. After that, this maladaptive strategy is employed over and over with very little thought.

Comfort and Control

Sometimes we keep reaching for “comfort food” because it reminds us of better times in the past. Other times we reach out for “treats” to get us through. And then sometimes we reach out for something that is usually “off limits” so we can subconsciously create the opportunity to stop feeling anxious and start hating ourselves. Seriously.

Eating also may serve a subconscious function of feeling like we are in control, because anxiety sure doesn’t feel that way. Or it may serve the subconscious function of feeling that we are choosing the lesser of two evils, either we can freak out or we can eat. So many possible reasons!

Each person is different, and I don’t want to make this issue sound too easy to fix. Habits are brutal. But with strategies in place and practice, it is possible to start a new habit around your anxiety and eating.

That said, the strategies I’m going to suggest may seem totally unappealing and I know it. They don’t come with any dopamine hit from getting a treat, they don’t set off a blood sugar spike in your bloodstream, they don’t release the neurochemicals involved in reaching for the “forbidden fruit” and they don’t insert a behavior that allows you to turn your emotions to anger.

I know, it is a tough sell.

Even for me and I teach this stuff! But, I ultimately believe in our ability (and need) to prevail against immediate gratification.

How to change your habit:

  1. Recognize you’ve gotten into the habit of choosing food to address your anxiety or other feelings that aren’t comfortable.
  2. Notice when you start to feel your anxiety (or other uncomfortable feelings).
  3. Label your feelings and body experience as anxiety.
  4. Tell yourself that you can handle these uncomfortable anxious feelings without eating.
  5. Turn your attention onto something else. Yes, you are trying to distract yourself here.
  6. Take deep breaths, with longer exhale than inhales.
  7. Repeat steps 2–5 until you’ve moved past your discomfort. It may take a little while but will get easier the more you do this.

To recap: You start being more aware of your feelings. You tell your brain what is going on by labeling your anxiety. You tell yourself that you know your brain will want you to eat. And then you show your brain that you can handle it without food by turning your attention onto something else. Then you repeat the process over and over until you safely get past the discomfort without reaching for food or something else.

Like I said before, this process doesn’t come with any of the things we’re used to. It doesn’t instantly relieve the tension, it doesn’t give us a jolt of neurophysiological anything and it doesn’t allow us to transfer our anxiety to self-loathing.

BUT what it does give us is the ability to transform our anxiety in an empowering, healthy way and that eventually will become second nature!

Like It Or Not, You are the Average of the 5 Thoughts You Spend the Most Time With

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There’s a famous saying, “You are the average of the five thoughts you spend the most time with.”

Wait, something doesn’t sound right about that. And yet, something sounds totally right about that.

The famous saying by the late Jim Rohn was actually, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What he meant by that is that when it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. The people we spend the most time with affect our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Sure, we like to think we are our own independent snowflake, but research has shown that we’re more affected by our environment than we think.

I think the same can be said for your emotions and thoughts. I think if you were to reflect on your main thoughts you would see that they shape you more than you think.

Check it out and see for yourself. What are the thoughts you have most often?

Are you having a hard time remembering specifics? It’s really not much of a surprise if you are because scientists estimate we have anywhere from 12,000–60,000 thoughts per day!

If it’s hard to figure out one of those 60,000 thoughts per day off the top of your head, you can work backward from what feelings you recall having most often. We’re often more aware of how we feel then the actual thoughts that are causing the feelings. So think of the five feelings you usually have most throughout a typical day. Gratitude? Resentment? Pressure? Joy? Uncertainty? Irritation? Anger? Impatience? Creative? Stress?

Good. Once you identify the feelings you have most often you can backtrack to what types of thoughts might be causing them. You don’t even have to necessarily identify your exact thoughts, a ballpark grouping fits the bill here.

Use the feelings you just identified to recognize the thought “ballparks” you find yourself in most often? Negative thoughts, positive thoughts, worrisome, hopeful, realistic, unrealistic, anxious, assured thoughts?

It’s estimated that a ridiculously high percentage of the thoughts we have each day are repeats.

That’s right, most of our thoughts are recycled over and over each day.

If you are spending most of your day repeating negative thoughts, then it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that you’re going to trend toward the negative. If you spend most of your day repeating worrisome thoughts about this, that and the other thing then well, you can see how that will end up playing out. Likewise if you spend most of your day repeating thoughts along the lines of hopeful or positive thoughts, you’re going to trend in the opposite direction.

If you want to make changes in your life, start by tackling the thoughts you spend the most time with. If you find your thoughts aren’t ones that will help you, you need to start thinking different thoughts. It actually is that simple.

Simple but not easy! I know, that’s an annoying saying…but it is true in this case. When you find yourself thinking or feeling a way you don’t like insert a different thought. Literally any other thought (assuming it is not similar to the one you want to get rid of) will do.

Often the hard part is being aware of your thoughts in the moment, which happens to be the ideal time to insert new ones. But the good news is that choosing new thoughts/feelings whenever you remember to think of them will start to produce positive results over time!

Give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Of These 3, Where Do You Spend Your Time?

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Past, Present, Future

At every moment we can be in one of three different time zones. We can be in the past, present or future. Who says time machines and teleportation doesn't exist?Heading 2

The problem is we're rarely the one in the driver's seat. Most of the time our habitual patterns of thinking do the driving. And we just go along for the ride. 

We let our thoughts pull us back to what has happened in the past. Mulling over a conversation we had with our partner, replaying a disagreement we had with a colleague, second-guessing our decision to do this versus that, or kicking ourselves for eating this versus that. How often do you find yourself here?

If you’re like me, you might spend more time in the future. Constantly planning for the next thing, predicting what you're going to say and do, figuring out how things are going to turn out, even experiencing emotions of things yet to come. Sometimes you'll even totally stress yourself out...for something that isn’t even real! It hasn’t happened! Yep, know it. 

Last, and often least, we can spend time in the present.

All of my "power-of-now-genre" reading had me thinking that “in the present” would feel different somehow. Like, I would know when I was being truly in the moment because it would feel amazing and take on some sort of transcendent lightness. Unicorns and rainbows everywhere.

Total wishful thinking. And way off target.

Being in the present is merely catching oneself when swimming in the past or flying toward the future. And returning one's focus back to the here and now. No glowing purple aura. No blissed out smile. Just doing whatever one is doing right then and there. Driving. Writing. Searching online.

Sounds boring when I compare it to the emotional drama or self-righteous reliving of past events. Or compared to the cortisol and adrenaline pumping worst-case-scenarios one can conjure up for the future. 

I think that's part of what actually may hook us on the Past and the Future. Perceived boredom with the present. 

What do you think?