Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Talking Back to Anxiety

Anxiety can come upon us at both expected and unexpected times. In my consultation with others who are particularly susceptible to visits from anxiety, I have found it useful to formulate a "script" to cut short anxiety's "lecture".

Someone much more adept in social graces than I once shared some great advice for what to say at a party, networking event, or other mingling opportunity when you find yourself talked into a corner by someone who can't read your more subtle cues that it's time to change conversation partners. She suggests you look across the room, tell the other person there's someone here with whom you've been looking forward to connecting, and then politely excusing yourself. That's it! Problem solved: conversation ended.

Her advice is effective because you use the exact same script no matter who you're talking to. Having a script before you go avoids the problem of having to think on your feet.

Anxiety is a lot like a dominating conversation partner. It does not read your more subtle cues that you do not want to engage in this conversation further. It doesn't understand that you aren't always interested in what it has to say. It thinks it's always right and isn't good at hearing from others why it's wrong.

I've had the pleasure of working with some very creative anti-anxiety script writers. Each tailored his/her script to counter particularly salient points in anxiety's message. Some particularly tactful scripts I've heard, include: "I am not in charge of how others see me"; "I am okay with the way my life is right now"; "I am taking a break from listening to you"; and "Thanks for your input, anxiety, but I am the expert on what's best for me." Perhaps one of these scripts might help to extricate yourself the next time anxiety starts to talk you into a corner.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Children, Anxiety, and The Monkey Mind

In my former work as a teacher, and in my current work as a therapist, I've noticed a growing trend toward children with paralyzing anxiety. These children are incredibly concerned with "getting it right": saying the right thing, dressing the correct way, getting the right kinds of recognition (e.g. grades, etc.). I have some theories about the dominant culture influencing this need for correctness (standardized testing comes to mind), but I've also been wondering about the more subtle ways we adults feed this anxiety for rightness.

I posted earlier about the "monkey mind": that part of your brain when let loose can be limitlessly creative and non-judgmental--a mind freed of its "editor". I'm seeing children as young as 7 or 8 completely cut off from their "monkey mind". They cannot access their ability to create or make-believe because their anxiety over rightness has closed the door to their monkey mind. When taken to the extreme end, these children are cut off from the lifeblood of resiliency: hope. It makes sense. Hope asks us to imagine a different future, one that does not exist in our present. When social anxiety teaches us that imagination and creativity are bad, those "monkey mind" muscles atrophy. Eventually, we forget how to use them at all.

I'm wondering how we as adults model to children both our creative "monkey" sides and our analytical "editors". How do we show both are of value? What are the subtle (and not so subtle) ways we demonstrate that one is preferable over the other? How can we stop ourselves from denigrating our "monkeys" and cultivate a more active "monkey" practice? What in our culture discourages our "monkeys"? And what feeds our "editors"? If our "monkeys" and our "editors" were brought into balance, what would that look like? How would others (children, included) perceive us? How would we know our "monkey" and "editor" muscles were exercised equally?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why Parenthood Counts on a (Political) Resume

Putting political beliefs aside for a moment, I want to address this notion that Sarah Palin is not qualified for the vice presidency because she is raising five kids while serving as Alaska's governor. For once, I would like to hear anyone acknowledge that working parenthood paired with public service is EXCELLENT preparation for higher office. A working parent of five knows something about diplomacy. (e.g. "Those are my Legos!" "No, they're mine!") She must also be able to conduct research on a variety of subjects (e.g. which schools and teachers are best for her kids). She must be able to follow detailed itineraries (knowing when and where to pick up and drop off kids at sports practice, music lessons, playdates, and child care.) And it goes without saying that she is well-practiced in areas of patience, empathy, and discipline. While I may not agree with the substance of her beliefs (uh, Sarah, that abstinence stance really doesn't seem to be working out for ya...), I cannot argue that she lacks the organizational wherewithal to pull off the job. It's time to put aside the notion that parenthood only prepares one for the duties of home and family life. Indeed, the lessons learned are applicable to other esteemed offices.