The Anxiety of “Enough”

The problem is not what mother did not do_ the problem is her feeling that she has never done enough.”

To be human is to feel that you are not enough. I can’t think of a better word to describe my anxiety. Am I giving my daughter enough attention?  Was that email I sent nice enough, or not clear enough? Am I eating healthy enough to live long enough? Am I doing enough to help keep this country from careening further into chaos? Who the hell knows.

The anxiety of not being “enough” can emerge when you lack a solid, realistic definition about who you’re trying to be as a human on this planet. Because when you don’t have one, you tend to evaluate yourself based on how you feel at any given moment. So if you feel like a bad mother, you must be one. If you feel unqualified for the job, this must be true. This is exactly why feeling incompetent can sometimes get you into more trouble than being incompetent. (more…)

It’s Time To Turn Off Your Anxious Autopilot

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In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, George decides to do the opposite of everything he’s ever done. He stops ordering tuna on toast at the coffee shop. He goes up to a woman and tells her he’s unemployed and lives with his parents. Hilariously, he finds that this seems to work, at least for a while. “Yes, I will do the opposite!” he declares.

When I’m anxious, I think of my automatic functioning as my tuna on toast. It’s comfortable, it’s safe, and it works fairly well most of the time. It’s what my anxiety would have me do to keep my relationships stable, and to get the most praise and approval from others.  The problem is, I often don’t like the taste it leaves in my mouth. (more…)

25 Ways You’re Borrowing Self from Others

Relationship systems are small economies. Look closely at your family, or your workplace, and you’ll see that there is a good amount of borrowing, lending, and trading of what Dr. Murray Bowen called “self.” When people close to us are in distress, we lend our abilities, our calmness, and our confidence. And when we are anxious, we borrow them from others. This system of borrowing and lending can be very effective at stabilizing relationships. But the constant, automatic borrowing of self takes its toll.

I often marvel at how much “self” a person loses when they get married. When I lived alone, taking out the trash was a manageable chore. Now that my husband handles this task, it feels like a Herculean effort when he’s traveling. I can navigate well when I’m driving alone, but put him in the passenger seat, and I might ask his opinion on the route. What is it about adding another person into the mix that can weaken our calmness and capacity?

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Instructions for Living in a World on Fire

INSTRUCTIONS FOR LIVING IN A WORLD ON FIRE

The other day, one of my publishers posted a picture of my book, Everything Isn’t Terrible, on social media. I try my best not to read people’s comments, but I couldn’t help but notice one:

The planet is BURNING, DROWNING, DYING! We need to STOP looking at ourselves, like the NARCISSISTS we are AND BE PROACTIVE about why we were put on this Earth.

While I appreciate the passion and urgency of ANGRY COMMENT person, I have to disagree with them. Looking at ourselves, and harnessing our ability to act outside the bounds of a panicked, reptilian brain, is exactly what makes us human. And it’s exactly what will save us and the planet from ourselves.

It’s a common sentiment these days that if you’re not angry or anxious, then you’re not paying attention. Perhaps this is true—it’s impossible to read the news and not feel fearful or hopeless. How we choose to respond to these facts, however, is more interesting to me than the degree of our panic. Because when we feel panicked about politics or the environment, often our reactions become more about relieving the anxiety we feel in the moment than about generating thoughtful, reality-based solutions to the world’s problems. (more…)

20 Ways You’re Going to Have an Incredibly Anxious 2020

Happy New Year’s Eve! My book, Everything Isn’t Terrible, is finally out in the world today. So scoot over to your favorite independent bookstore and grab your copy. You can also get it at AmazonBarnes and NobleIndiebound, Target, or wherever you buy books.

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I have another essay for you today, over at Thrive Global. They call it “Try These 7 Mindshifts to Have a Less Anxious 2020,” but my working title was, “20 Ways You’re Going to Have an Incredibly Anxious 2020.”

2019 is on the way out, and self-help season approaches. As a therapist, I’ve always thought it cruel that we try to force radical change on ourselves the week after most of us have mega-consumed carbohydrates and material goods. Self-help books flood the bookstores, demanding that we live simpler and calmer lives, when most of us are still trying to find closet space for gifts and recover from encounters with family.  

I don’t like to ask my therapy clients how they’re going to live a calmer 2020. That is a softball question. It’s easy to answer, but daunting to operationalize. Instead, I ask them, “If you weren’t paying attention, how are you going to have an incredibly anxious 2020?” 
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Breaking the Cycle of New Year’s Resolution Disappointment (and book news!)

 

How Will You Start 2020?

It’s officially crunch time! My book, Everything Isn’t Terrible, is available in now!

I don’t have an essay for you this week, because I’m working on several essays that will be featured in online publications next month. I’ll be sure to share them with you, so keep your eyes on your inbox! You can also follow me on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter for updates, book events, book giveaways.

I have gotten so many new subscribers to this newsletter in the past few months. Thank you to those who are forwarding it to friends and coworkers and sharing the links on social media. I’m proud that I managed to write 25 free newsletters for you this year, with a new baby and a book to write. And I wanted to take some space today to make sure you didn’t miss some of my favorites in 2019.

How do you want to grow in 2020? Do you want more authentic or calmer relationships? Do you want to be guided more by your own principles than by societal narratives of success? Do you want to be a person who can thoughtfully respond to local, national, or international crises? Browse through the list below, and see if any of these 2019 newsletters can help you start that thinking.

Do you want to give your children or family the gift of calmness by increasing your ability to self-regulate your emotions? Read my newsletter about The Gift of Self-Regulation.

Do you wanted to be guided more by your own thinking than by other people’s reactions? Read my newsletter about Being an Inside-Out Person.

Do you want to build stronger one-to-one relationships that don’t revolve around superficial conversation? Read this newsletter.

Would you like to be more curious and less anxious at family gatherings? Read this newsletter.

Would you like to spend less time obsessing about what other people think of you? Read this newsletter.

Would you like to be less anxiously focused on your kids, your career, or your dating life? Read my newsletter about Anxious Attention Vs. Thoughtful Attention.

Would you like to step back and stop managing your spouse so much? Read my newsletter, Moving Mountains of Underwear.

Would you like to act less helpless when you’re anxious? Click here.

Would you like to share more about your life with your family? Click here.

Would you like to stop overfunctioning for everyone else, and be more responsible for yourself? Read my newsletter, 50 Ways You’re Overfunctioning For Others.

Do you want to be a better resource to your siblings? Read my newsletter about Understanding Your Siblings. 

Happy Holidays, and I’ll be back soon with more news!

Kathleen

The Trouble With Fixing Your Family

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Last month I wrote several newsletters about observing your anxious functioning around your family. So I thought it would only be fair if I shared one of my observations with you.

My grandmother does not recycle. And this behavior. . .well it drives me absolutely crazy. Recycling is not the norm in my hometown. I watch people use plastic shopping bags like water, and or drink their water from tiny plastic bottles they toss into the trash, and I feel anxious and overwhelmed.

Being hyper-focused on “fixing” a family member’s behavior is one way that we try to manage the anxiety in the room. And now that I have a kid who has to live in the world we leave her, I’ve found that my reactivity to waste has ramped up. So over Thanksgiving, I acted as though teaching my grandmother to recycle would singlehandedly save the planet from doom. It sounds silly, but anxiety often raises the stakes in our brain, obscuring reality.

So what did I do? I found myself vacillating between two reactions:

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Bring Your Measuring Tape to Thanksgiving

Next week’s newsletter is a little early, because I’m heading to Tennessee tomorrow for Thanksgiving. American readers, I hope that you have a lovely Thanksgiving, however you spend it! If you’re planning to buy my book, consider stopping by your local bookstore on Small Business Saturday, and tell them you want to preorder Everything Isn’t Terrible.

Imagine you’re walking into your next family gathering. As soon as you open the door, your brain is scanning for potential threats and comfort zones. It locates those you don’t enjoy, or others whose names you can’t remember. Your veer away from the cousin who likes to stir up drama, and move towards an aunt who is sure to offer comfortable, familiar conversation. Without even thinking, your anxious autopilot has grabbed the controls and is directing your behaviors.
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Want to Have a Less Anxious Thanksgiving with Your Family?

When an entire family is gathered for Thanksgiving, it’s easy to go on the defensive. Who’s going to ask you intrusive questions? Who’s going to bring up politics and make everyone tense? Who’s going to drink a little too much, or offer unsolicited advice?

I often ask my clients to consider how they can approach family gatherings with curiosity instead of anxiety. To see these events as laboratories instead of haunted houses. For many people, it’s a rare opportunity to see how a family functions on a larger scale. You cram everyone together, pump them full of carbs, and watch the family do what it does best—try very hard to manage the anxiety in the room.

Families all employ a number of fairly predictable strategies to calm things down. And the less surprised you are by them, the less people will seem like villains out to get you. Like you, they’re simply reacting to the tension of togetherness with the behaviors that feel the most comfortable.

Do you expect to see any of these behaviors at your family gathering? (more…)