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When High Functioning Anxiety Peaks

Last week I wrote about the High Functioning Anxiety Wrestling Match and gave a common scenario I see all the time between the Monger and BFF. My goal for this week was to talk about how to bring in your Biggest Fan, how to handle the Monger-BFF wrestling match in that particular scenario. But in light of the increased anxiety and Monger-BFF wrestling matches I have seen in myself and my clients over the past week as we stare down more shutdowns, increased COVID risk, and the start of the Holidays, I want to address how to bring in your Biggest Fan general.

Above all, I want to say this stuff is hard. I say that because even as I write this newsletter, my Monger and BFF are wrestling. Right now, given all 2020 has thrown at us, starting what would traditionally be the start of the holiday season in the states with large gatherings with those we love, anxiety is high. And when anxiety is high, our Mongers and BFFs are louder.

First, I want to cover some methods that don’t work:

Demonizing or criticizing yourself for not being better at handling your Mongers and BFFs.

Telling yourself to change your thoughts and be grateful. I rail against this idea (even though it is common in the psychology/personal development world) because it only works if we acknowledge our feelings first.

What does work:

Slowing down. By its very nature, the Monger/BFF wresting match increases anxiety-it increases our speed. So by slowing ourselves down, we can start to unhook their messages.

Acknowledging what is happening without judgment, criticism, or trying to make ourselves happier. This practice is SO hard and so counter to our culture. When we were raised in households and/or heard the message chose happy or be grateful, we don’t know how to handle those messy feelings of sadness, anger, and grief.

Last night I just let it rip. I said to my husband, “I am tired of COVID and not being able to live normally, angry that the holiday plans are turned on their heads, sad that I am missing family members, and sad for all those people who aren’t going to see their parents this Thanksgiving.” I shared a few more feelings and was shocked that all that messiness was in there. I was shocked that I was feeling all those things.

Even as a professional who KNOWS acknowledging feelings is the key, I still struggle to do that because the first message to myself is, “it’s not that bad, a vaccine is on the way, don’t dwell on the negative.” That message of positivity and gratitude is hard-wired. But when that message plays there unchecked, it leads to anxiety. Because first, we need to be loyal to ourselves to allow ourselves to think or say the truth even if it is ugly.

Our Mongers will let us believe that if we allow the emotions, we will get stuck in them. In reality, the opposite is true; when we allow emotions when we express them, they will not have a stranglehold on us.

Once we allow the emotions, we can then see a bigger picture. We can recognize that this way of life isn’t forever; there is light at the end of the tunnel. We can think of creative ways to celebrate the holidays. We practice gratitude and positive thinking ONLY AFTER WE HAVE ACKNOWLEDGED ALL THE MESSY FEELINGS. We try to skip a step and jump right into gratitude, and that doesn’t work.

Also, when anxiety is high—as it is now. These practices aren’t one and done, especially if you were raised in a household where emotions other than happy weren’t ok. I know we all want a practice that will solve the anxiety permanently or at least solve it for 8 hours at a time. I have had a lot of doubt in the past few months when anxiety is so high that these methods I teach are wrong because I have had to strengthen both the frequency and the intensity of my practices. But I believe that has less to do with the power of the practices and more to do with the extraordinarily anxious time we live in.

To review–when your anxiety is high, and you notice your Monger and BFF fighting, which can show up as pushing yourself too hard, stressing over unimportant details, having trouble sleeping, procrastinating, people-pleasing, and/or numbing out.

Acknowledge your feelings. Grab a feelings sheet, and write down on a piece of paper all you are feeling. Notice how often you want to spin it to be happier or more positive and remind yourself that will happen, right now you are being brutally honest. You can set a timer for this practice if that makes it more comfortable to have it time-bound.

Slow Down Get into your body. 

  1. Give your body a stretch.
  2. Touch your toes, stretch your neck, reach for the sky.
  3. Let those feelings go through your body.

Kindly pull back and see the big picture. Acknowledging all you have learned, give yourself some extra kindness, some extra love. Now is the time to practice gratitude–remember gratitude doesn’t wipe away the feelings of pain and sadness. It just reminds you of the blessings in your life.