Tired of feeling broken? Start with befriending yourself

For people with High Functioning Anxiety, we have built much of our lives on these two factors:

  1. Our Monger has convinced us we know nothing; we are flawed and wrong and continuously need correction.
  2. Because we are so flawed, we have must look outside for the answers. It has become habitual to discount our internal experience and look to others for “the right way.”

The challenge is, the only way to reduce our anxiety is to slowly, and I mean slowly change our focus from the outside world to our inner world.

People with High Functioning Anxiety are often drawn to self-help and personal development because we want to ‘fix’ ourselves. Unfortunately, by its very nature, self-help keeps us stuck in this loop. Experts and gurus tell us HOW to do self-care, how to meditate, how to speak our needs, and we follow their advice to the letter. We never internalize the lesson, we never question it, get curious about it, or make it our own.

You might read on-line that calm people get up early in the morning, take a long walk, meditate, and journal. You decide you want to be calm, amazingly you have this formula, and you set your alarm for 5:00 like a good little self-development soldier. And then 5:00 rolls around, and you wake up filled with anxiety, what are you going to listen to on your walk? Can you listen to something, or is that breaking the rules? Should you listen to a meditation or be quiet? How long should you meditate? AHHH so many questions and doubts and insecurities!?! Occasionally you might find the perfect formula that tells you exactly how to do it. But over time, you get annoyed by the formula, or it doesn’t fit you, so in your all or nothing thinking you stop the whole thing.

To bust this pattern, I want to offer a few suggestions:

  1. What if you aren’t inherently flawed after all? What if the message your Monger has drilled into you is wrong? What if you are naturally kind, loving, and loyal? What if we need to start challenging the Monger message of you are broken, and only shame can fix you? What if we need to listen to our Biggest Fan…you are a fascinating, complex genuinely-want-to-do-it-right-but-occasionally-gets-it-wrong human being.
  2. What if you all those outside experts are giving you general suggestions that might work? What if your job is to discern for you whether they work or not? The expert on what works best for you is you.

Even as I type that last phrase, I admit my anxiety goes up a little bit, and I can hear the questions. What does that mean? I am my own expert? How will I know I have it, right? Am I doing it right? How will I know when I won?

So let’s take self-care as an example. It is something we hear all the time and even more so now during COVID.

You are super stressed, and your Monger is really loud, so decide you want to add more self-care into your life.

You read an article about self-care and decide they want to drink more water and move your body more throughout the day.

You set the alarm on your phone to go off once an hour, and you do some quick stretches and take a couple of sips of water. You check the box each time you do it. By the end of the day, you are a little annoyed with the alarm, it is hurting your productivity, and you ignore the last couple of alarms so you can push through and get stuff done.

This self-care routine works well for a couple of days. So well that you decide to stop setting the alarm on your phone and after a couple of days, you forget that you were trying to implement more self-care and you are back to your old habits. The whole day goes by, and you barely check in with yourself.

Let’s try it a different way:

You realize you are super stressed, and by the end of the day, your neck and back are killing you. You decide that maybe getting up from your desk doing some stretches and drinking more water would be good.

You know you will have to set the alarm for the first few days because you are not in the habit. When the alarm goes off the first time you check in with yourself–is there any pain? Are you thirsty? You do some stretches, take some deep breathes, walk around the house, and drink your water. Before you head back to work, you check in again. You feel more energized, you didn’t think you were thirsty, but you feel much clearer after drinking and moving your body.

You repeat this process every time the alarm goes off. And at the end of the day you do another inventory—is the painless overall? If no, maybe you need to change something else up; maybe you need to experiment with a different desk set-up? Or doing different stretches? Maybe you got bored with just water, so you need to switch it up with seltzer water or flavored waters?

In version 1, you are assuming you are going to do it wrong, you are broken, and you need to fix yourself with self-care. The idea of self-care is more performative, checking the box that someone else declared as a priority.

In version 2, you recognize you are a human being, not a machine, and you need to take of yourself. By checking in with yourself, you can see the effect the self-care is having on you. You can discern if it is working our not. And the process becomes more nourishing and interactive rather than doing something because someone told you it might be beneficial. To keep your anxiety at bay, you still have an external reminder of the alarm. But hopefully, over time, as you get start internalizing how much better you feel when you take regular breaks, you will notice your body needs/craves a break rather than some external alarm telling you to take a break.

Special Note: For some of us (me raising my hand here), our Mongers can be quite the taskmaster and get very loud and shaming when we take a break. If you can relate, here is a special tip: When you notice yourself needing a break, and your Monger tells you to keep going because you have to be productive. NOTICE how that feels. Notice how your body feels when it craves a break. Even if you don’t take a break, building awareness of how your body feels, in general, is a baby step towards building self-loyalty.

This week I challenge you to try befriending yourself overturning your back on yourself. We are so busy looking outside of ourselves for the answers on how to fix our brokenness; we turn our back on ourselves. This week let’s befriend ourselves. Let’s get curious. “Hey Sweetpea, how are you doing right now?” and pause to hear the answer.