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Looking for the rules when there aren’t any

Am I doing it right?

What are the rules?

Am I being a good girl?

These are questions I have been hearing from both myself and my clients. Doing it right and following the rules are ways that people with High Functioning Anxiety keep their anxiety in check. Some of us learned this at an early age: feel anxious–scan the environment–figure out the rules–change yourself to follow the rules–get lots of praise–anxiety decreases. Rinse and repeat.

Much of my work with clients is breaking this “change yourself” cycle by helping them recognize their anxiety and find other ways to decrease it. But in this time of triage not treatment, we need some simple tricks to tweak our anxiety temporarily.

I have talked with many people who are struggling with the rules (or lack thereof) right now. Anxiety is high for everyone, and for those of us who seek anxiety relief through rule-following, it can be extra challenging. Because right now, nobody knows the right way. Nobody knows the rules. Good girl praise is hard to come by.

So today I want to offer a few tips if you are struggling with a lack of rules:

Find something you can control

Obsessing over the news, scrolling through Twitter, trying to find the right resources and research. Take a pause, put down the phone or the computer, and get into your body. Do a stretch, do a wiggle, and acknowledge what you are feeling. Many times when we are feeling out of control, it is because we are trying to control a feeling inside of us that is uncomfortable.

Remind yourself this is hard and riding this roller coaster of feelings is challenging. Living with all this uncertainty can be overwhelming. Then ask yourself: What can I control? Maybe it is what you are having for dinner that night or planning a family game night. Change your focus to the next thing you need to do. Trouble comes when we start looking too far into the future.

Remind yourself it is okay not to know.

Life is uncertain. We are being reminded of that now more than ever, but life is always uncertain. It was easier to lull ourselves into a false sense of security during pre-COVID times, but life has always been uncertain. That truth doesn’t make this time any less scary, but sometimes I find relief in knowing I didn’t ever really have control. I just convinced myself I did.

It is okay to not be okay.

I reminded myself of this statement earlier this week when I was having a tough morning, my anxiety was high, and I spent much of the morning trying to pull myself into a better mood. And then finally my Biggest Fan quietly whispered, “Oh Sweetpea, it is so hard to feel so anxious, isn’t it?” and my body gave a big exhale as I thought, “Yes, it is.”

For many of us, it is a default to search for the right way and try to pull ourselves out of a bad mood. We are always on the quest to be a good girl, which translation means happy, at peace, content, and in control. So here is a loving reminder: There isn’t anything wrong with you if you are in a bad mood. You are not doing it wrong. It’s okay to not be okay.

Be kind.

I say this every time because it is so important. Our Mongers are especially loud right now and them piling on to our anxiety by telling us how pathetic and wrong we are just isn’t helpful. So as much as you can, be kind to yourself. This is hard. This is super hard. This is exceptionally hard. Be kind.

Take care of yourself and those you love, and remember, I am here if you need me.


New on The Happier Approach podcast

This month’s conversation on anxiety and avoidance continues with Andrea Owen of Your Kickass Life. Andrea experienced this first-hand with another popular and dangerous combination – alcohol, anxiety, and avoidance. We recorded this conversation just two weeks ago so its message of alcohol abuse during the stress of a world-wide pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time. Listen to the full episode here.