Dr. Kathleen Smith is licensed professional counselor. A graduate of George Washington University and Harvard University, she also works as a freelance writer on the topics of mental health, anxiety, and relationships.
My daughter is turning one this month, and I’ve been thinking about the role that anxiety has played in my functioning this past year. How much has my anxiety clouded my perception of her distress and her development? When have I been able to gain some degree of objectivity to determine what her real needs are and aren’t?
My ultimate goal is to strengthen my ability to switch from anxious attention to thoughtful attention in times of stress. Here are a few ways that I can tell the difference between these two modes: (more…)
When we feel distressed, we want to find and eliminate the cause as quickly as possible. In our search for an explanation, we often focus on the people closest to us. You may begin to think, “If that person would only do X, then I could feel better.”
Have you ever said something like this to someone close to you?
It is impossible to tell how mature a person really is. This is because everyone borrows a little bit of “self” (i.e. their maturity, their calmness, their motivation) from others.
Washington, DC is full of high-energy achievers. A number of them end up in therapy when whatever has bolstered their sense of self has disappeared. It might be an adoring boss, or an encouraging romantic partner. Sometimes it’s an administration change that leaves many without their important personas. People are quick to borrow the appearance of maturity from their achievements, their jobs, their relationships, or even political or religious groups.
But at some point, positions, organizations, and people will disappoint you. And you may find that your mood, health, and overall functioning will take a nose dive.
A two-person human relationship is about as steady as a two-legged stool. We often look to family members, coworkers, and friends to calm us down when we’re angry, disappointed, or confused by another person. When we pull in or focus on a third person to manage our anxiety, we are activating what is called a triangle.
When you start to look for triangles in your day-to-day life, you’ll find them everywhere. How many of these examples feel familiar to you?
People often tell me things they have never told anyone. It’s quite useful to talk to someone who won’t criticize, lecture, or panic. What people don’t realize, however, is that it can also be useful to talk to the very people who might.
After people relay their challenges to me, I ask them whether these challenges have been shared with family members. Here are some common replies:
This week I’ve been thinking about how we keep score in our relationships. It’s a common complaint from therapy clients. “I always call my mother. She never calls me.” Or, “I don’t want to be in a one-sided friendship, where I’m always the one inviting him to go out.”
Keeping score is one way that we maintain distance in anxious relationships. A seemingly self-absorbed parent, an inconsiderate sibling, or a radio silent friend are convenient excuses to reduce contact. It’s easy to label one person as the problem, but often both parties are participating equally in the behaviors that maintain this distance (or sometimes conflict) that keeps them from a closer relationship.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to be in the same room with a person in distress. Maybe it’s a kid who cries over confusing homework instructions. Or a friend who can’t decide whether they want to break up with their partner. Perhaps it’s a spouse who feels overworked and overlooked at their job. As a therapist, for me it’s often a person who feels anxious or depressed and wants to feel better as quickly as possible.
When I was in kindergarten, stepping through my piano teacher’s front door felt like entering another universe. I was excited to learn a new language and show off my developing skills to others. Eight years later, I dreaded my weekly lesson. I had stopped practicing, and every week I was struck by temporary amnesia. I believed I could just show up and sight-read my way through increasingly difficult pieces. My progress stalled, and I quit before high school.
Working on being a more mature human, especially in your family, is a lot like playing an instrument. If you’re only calling your parents once a month, or making a single “duty visit” home for the holidays, you may find yourself clunking and wincing your way through relationships. (more…)
I have spent many years working as a writer. But I have never been as excited as I am right now to share my work with you. My book, Everything Isn’t Terrible, is dropping on December 31st. If you’ve enjoyed my weekly anxiety letter, then I absolutely believe that it will be a resource to you. The book is a helpful and humorous guide to shedding your anxious habits and building a more solid sense of self in our increasingly anxiety-inducing world. It’s a wonderful guide for what’s certain to be an anxious 2020!
But here’s the thing–I’m way too excited to make people wait until New Year’s Eve to start reading it. So if you preorder the book and submit your receipt, the folks at Hachette Books will send you one of my favorite chapters to read right now. It’s called “Your Parents,” and I tell the story of Grace, a young woman who wanted to be less reactive and more mature around her anxious mother and distant father. It’s one of my favorite chapters from the book, one I think that will resonate with pretty much everyone.
When you preorder, you’ll also get some very cool bonus materials to supplement your reading of the book. I created an anxiety flow chart you can reference on days you feel reactive or worried, and I wrote some other helpful little materials you can print out and hang on your fridge or mirror.
So how can you start reading Everything Isn’t Terrible today?
1. You can order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, and many other retailers. You can buy it anywhere, but I especially encourage you to support your local bookstore in person or online. The book will be available in hardcover, digital, and audio form.
2. Once you’ve ordered, click here to submit your proof of purchase (before 12/30*) to receive bonus content and the sneak peek! Proof is simply a picture or scanned image of your receipt. The easiest way to do it is to take a picture with your phone.
Thank you again for subscribing to my newsletter, and following my thinking about anxiety, relationships, and my work on myself. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about the preorder materials or the book. I’ll be back next week with a new letter, but you can check out the archive and see what you’ve missed.