Think you’re anxious about that test, that meeting, that upcoming high school reunion. Think again. It’s what we tell ourselves about an event, not the event itself, that’s usually to blame for stress. The good news is that when we figure this out, we can reduce anxiety in no time. Here’s how it works.
Think of the acronym “ETC” – as in it’s not the event, it’s the “etcetera” of the event that causes anxiety to rise. Event. Thoughts. Consequences
E. The Big Event. “I’m invited for dinner with friends.”
T. Thoughts. “I’ll say the wrong thing. People will notice I’ve gained weight. I’ll be dressed differently than everyone. I’ll make the event awkward.”
C. Consequences. Stress increases. Self-consciousness increases. “I’ll make an excuse to not show up at all.”
This hypothetical young lady tells herself that going out makes her anxious. But going out isn’t the problem. It’s her thoughts, the “etcetera,” that make her anxious.
Without stepping foot in the restaurant, she’s made four different assumptions, all negative, about what will happen. Without exchanging a word, she’s given herself reason to worry about everything from her clothes to her waistline. She’s coronated herself “Queen of the Awkwards” without so much as a conversation.
However, let’s say Nervous Nelly gets herself to a Therapist and begins to recognize that her unfounded predictions and tendency to assume the worst are what results in her ongoing anxiety about social situations. She focuses on her thoughts, not the event, as the root of the problem. She starts to challenge these thoughts, testing and exploring them ever so gently. When she gets the guts to go out, she finds that her friends say nothing about her weight and that conversation flows without the awkward silences she imagined.
If our heroine had continued to focus on going out as the root of the problem, she would have refused more and more offers and found herself living the self fulfilling prophecy of feeling socially isolated and awkward.
Focusing on the actual, not perceived, root of our stress allows us to make changes and get results. Just a few sessions with a trained professional can help you identify the “etcetera” in your brain holding you back from the life you want. Make an appointment today!
If you’re new to Saint Louis—meaning you’ve arrived in the last thirty years—the holidays can be tough. Suddenly you find yourself seemingly alone amidst people engaging in the same holiday traditions, with the same people they’ve celebrated with, for decades.
It’s not you. It’s Saint Louis.
In a town where “what high school did you go to” is asked, straight-faced, to fifty-year- olds, living here without family is no picnic.
Saint Louisans are friendly. They just may not need new friends. They’re shopping with sisters. They’re lunching with friends from elementary school. They’re out Saturday night with high school buddies and brunching Sunday with Grandma. Their plates are full.
Don’t get me wrong. Locals enjoy people from other cities. But locals don’t need these people. Who’s helping with carpool? Who’s coming to “Special Persons Day” at school? Where are we eating the holiday meal? They’ve got it covered: family. No worries.
It’s the needing of friends, not just the liking of them, that changes them from Saturday night buddies to people at the holiday table. NEED is what pulls friends closer and makes them family.
In Chapel Hill, where we lived for eight years, we’d have celebrated every holiday alone if we hadn’t made close friends. Most folks in Chapel Hill are transplants. Transplants need each other. They need each other to show up and cheer at their kids play; help drive when Mom and Dad have the flu; listen to their tot brag about their soccer participation trophy; stay with the toddler when the new baby is born. Without friends, transplants are alone.
Now we ‘re the ones with family in town (if in-laws count for my West Coast husband). Our ER support group is in order. We have back up drivers and Grandparents at the school play. We know where we’re going for Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s the holiday season. It looks charming but it can get really lonely. The non-locals in our midst 1) really need a place at the holiday table and 2) might contribute heartily to our lives if we pull them in.
We locals should call someone who doesn’t have family here. Invite them for a holiday meal. Move grandma down one chair. We might end up making a great new friend, even if we don’t really need to.
When’s the last time you were stressed doing something you love? Stress thrives in the void between our values and our actions. So when we’re doing things that reflect our values, stress is squeezed out. But as the space between our values and our actions grows, stress happily fills in. Stress is natural outcome of disconnect between how we live (our actions) and what we believe (our values); so the closer the two come, the less opportunity for stress.
Viewing stress through this lens provides us a road map to reduce it. When I noticed my stress level rising, I looked at my daily schedule for the source. Though I value exercise, I hadn’t worked out in a week. Value/action disconnect. When a friend noticed herself losing her cool, she found that though she treasured quiet time with her spouse, they hadn’t been out alone in over three weeks. Value/action disconnect. And when a super-anxious client with a strong Catholic upbringing mentioned she hadn’t been to church in years, she realized the value/action disconnect could be responsible.
Stress thrives in other places, too. Our values and actions can be perfectly aligned and we can feel stress from illness, conflict, powerlessness, pain. But stress in the value/behavior disconnect is more within our control to relieve. It’s not about a perfect alignment every day. We can all tolerate periods of stress, but when it becomes too intense or too chronic, it’s time to recalibrate.
So how can we limit value/disconnect stress? Think about your values and what’s important to you. Check that this is reflected in your day-to-day. How closely your values and your actions are aligned? Then start at the areas with the highest disconnect and make a plan to take one step towards closing the gap. The client above decided to go to Church once a month. The reconnection to the religious community and habits she valued relieved stress tremendously. The tighter the connection between beliefs and behavior, the less space for stress to live.
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.