A few years ago, before I wrote the Happier Approach before I developed A.S.K. I was driving to work. It was a particularly stressful time in my life, and I was feeling exceptionally anxious.
As I often do, in an attempt to calm myself, I want to get to the Why? Why am I so stressed? So I asked myself, “What is going on? Why are you so stressed!?” But rather than it being a loving curiosity, a kind check-in with myself. My Monger took over, and the question became, “EXPLAIN YOURSELF, SOLDIER!!” WHY ARE YOU SO STRESSED?”
So like a good soldier, I began to litany off the items that were stressing me. I have played this rigged game with my Monger thousands of times (and it is still a go-to behavior when my stress is high), and my Monger’s response was as it always is “That’s all you have?!, You only listed a few things.” This is usually how this game goes—my Monger asks me to justify my stress, and I list off my stresses with an ere of indifference as if I was reciting a grocery list. It is a silly game because it doesn’t matter what I list off. If I list ten things or 100 things or if 5 of those things are major life stressors. I always lose the game to the Monger because her message always is: I SHOULD be able to handle it, SOMEONE SOMEWHERE has it worse than me, and I am a wimp who can’t handle any stress.
But this time was different. Sitting at the light wrapped in the safety of my car, I thought to myself, will I ever have enough reasons to justify this anxiety? I am stressed, isn’t that what matters? This was the first time I allowed my feelings. I allowed myself to cry, to feel sad, overwhelmed, and scared.
And I felt better. As I pulled into my office parking lot, I remember thinking I had turned a corner with this whole anxiety thing and was on to something.
Acknowledging your feelings works, I know, from practicing hundreds of times. It works. When I pull out the feelings sheet, when I label my feelings, I feel better. PLUS, it has been proven in research.
Fast forward to this past week. For a variety of reasons, my anxiety has been high. Last night as I was cooking dinner, I thought to myself: Why are you so stressed? Again, I went with the old habit of listing off all the things I was stressed with, the emotional equivalent of reciting a grocery list. And then there was the Monger’s voice, “You are fine. You are so privileged. Think of all the people out there who are hurting, and you are barely holding it together because of a few stressors—give me a break”. I had been playing this game most of the week. My anxiety is high—my Monger belittles me—I try to justify it by naming all my stressors—she belittles me more. And round and round we go. This game is so familiar. I have been playing it for so long it is habitual. It is like putting on an old sweater.
I want to say that I recognized the game and BAMMO. I practiced A.S.K. (A. Acknowledge my Feelings S. Slow Down and Get into Your Body K. Kindly Pull Back and See the Big Picture), and all was well.
But that isn’t what happened—my Monger won last night just as she had all week.
And then this morning, walking the dog in the cool crisp spring air smelling the flowers and watching Watterson have the joy only a dog can feel early in the morning. I thought to myself—you suck. You are a mess. And then I thought to myself, what would I say to myself if I was loyal, and a quiet voice whispered, “It is ok to be a mess, Sweet pea. It is hard right now. You are doing just fine.” And my whole body relaxed. I got tears in my eyes. And for the first time in a week, I took off the Monger sweater.
This time—I didn’t say to myself, Oh, you have turned a corner. I recognize that as much as I want to put this anxiety stuff behind me as much as I wish I could say, yes, the minute I notice my anxiety, I practice A.S.K, and all is well. That isn’t the case. My Monger still wins for way longer than I want her to. I still play her silly games of justifying my stress, and I wear her sweater, which repels any messages of self-loyalty for days and weeks at a time.
The good news? I do have the antidote. I know when I can find my Biggest Fan; when I can sneak in a bit of self-loyalty, the Monger sweater becomes more and more uncomfortable and eventually becomes unbearable. It isn’t instantaneous. It isn’t magical. It takes WAY longer than I want it to.
My High Functioning Anxiety wants to find a hack, a system, a guaranteed 5 step plan. A plan that I will want to do and will only take a few minutes, and BAMMO I will be fixed. And it just isn’t realistic. For now, dog walks, slowing down, acknowledging my feelings, talking to friends, being kind to myself, and having my own back helps.