When was the last time you did something for fun? Not because it would get you closer to your bigger goal, or because it would help someone, or because it made practical sense? When was the last time you did something just because it brought you joy?
I have noticed a pattern with myself and my clients who have High Functioning Anxiety: we don’t experience joy for the sake of joy. EVERYTHING we do has to be practical, responsible, and serving a higher good. It is exhausting.
Clients have shared how they know they feel better when they get up in the morning and journal or work out, and yet they don’t do it. Not because they are lazy (although that is what they tell themselves) but because there are other more practical things to do in the morning: make breakfast for the kids, catch up on work, or even sleep. Waking up and journaling is something they have to mindfully choose to do, and it is only for them. It isn’t for anyone else.
Another friend of mine shared that she loves painting. She has no formal training or experience, but when she has taken a painting class it brings her such joy. When I asked if she ever paint at home, she replied, “No. I would have to spend money on the supplies and who has the time?” But if her daughter or her partner said they loved painting, you better believe she would move heaven and earth to allow them to paint.
This problem isn’t just that people with HFA don’t appreciate joy. In fact, I would argue most of my clients want to experience more joy!
The problem (as with most problems) is more complicated and nuanced than that. It is a multi-tiered problem.
Here are some of the reasons I have found:
Practicality: When we are impractical, our anxiety goes sky high. Doing an activity solely because it brings us joy will be counter to every message we have ever received. Being practical is a finely tuned coping strategy we have used to keep our anxiety at bay.
Permission: We rarely come first. Again, because if we put ourselves first, our anxiety goes sky high. By focusing outside of ourselves we can keep our anxiety at bay.
Perfectionism: Doing something for the sake of doing something is anxiety-provoking because how will we know when we have done it right? When will we know to celebrate? Something as arbitrary as doing it because I want to doesn’t give any guidelines for winning or losing!
So what do you do about it? How do you change your coping strategies when they have worked so well?!!?
Self-Loyalty: The crux of ALL my work is building loyalty with yourself. Giving yourself permission, getting to know yourself beyond the to-do list, trusting that voice inside of you that says “this might be fun.” Make a commitment to yourself—the same as you would a friend or family member. You wouldn’t break a commitment to your best friend, so why would you break a commitment to yourself?
Kindness: As you start trying to add more joy to your life, your Monger will get louder. As I said above, it goes against all you have taught yourself. That’s okay. Be kind. You can say to yourself, “Well, hello there, anxiety. I thought you might pop up. Yep, I am painting and I have no end goal. Just to enjoy myself so move along please.”
Years ago someone suggested that I physically “walk the Monger” to the door and shut the door behind me as a way to symbolize I am not listening to this today. Try it! It sounds crazy, but it really works!
Practice: Start small. Make a commitment to yourself to do something that brings you joy for five minutes and gradually build up to 10, 20, 45 etc.
The first step is noticing the pattern.
Notice how rarely you do something just for fun and slowly change that pattern.
All this month we are looking at how the self-help industry isn’t doing us any favors and is leading us astray, particularly those of us with High Functioning Anxiety who love looking outside of ourselves for the answers.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
In this week’s episode, I examine how When/Then thinking is keeping us stuck (e.g., WHEN I have a life partner, THEN this experience will be awesome; WHEN I am thinner, THEN I will be happier). How it is preventing us from accepting ourselves, living in the moment, and seeking solutions from within.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Check it out on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or over here.
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