The Ghost and Ghosted

There’s another side to ghosting that is often overlooked but needing our attention.

*Jackie liked her date the way you appreciate a jacket on a cold day: He was comfortable but not someone she saw herself with. However, by the end of their dinner, he expressed he was “smitten” with her.

Despite knowing her attraction to him held a verbal equivalent of “meh,” she felt—what many of us feel at times—an inexplicable pressure to give him another chance.

On the second date, the distance between Jackie’s lack of attraction and her date’s attraction for Jackie had grown. 

“When can I see you again?”

Jackie could feel her throat tighten, unable to find the ability to say the words aching to form:

Look, there is not going to be another date for us. I think of you like a brother. End of story.

Well, that’s what Jackie wanted to say. Instead, she said:

“Yeah, let me look at my calendar.”

She dodged a kiss with a yawn.

Jackie is a divorced mom with 3 daughters who works full time as a neonatal nurse. She barely has time to date, but the time she spends dating is nothing compared to the physical and mental hours wasted, pretending there is potential with someone. 

A people pleaser, Jackie decided to text Mr. Smitten and tell him she met someone (a lie).

            “I thought that way, I could enjoy a potential friendship with him.”

            Mr. Smitten called her immediately, his voice sounding like someone losing a limb. “Oh man, did you really meet someone else? Oh man. That hurts. But can we be friends? I mean, I’m really attracted to you, but I promise to stay in my zone.”

            Again, Jackie could feel the tightening in her throat. She wanted to say:

What is the point of us developing a friendship when we both know you want more? 

            Instead, Jackie agreed to meet Mr. Smitten for lunch the next day.

            When we try to live for others, altering our lives to satiate others, we are doing two detrimental things:

  1. Telling ourselves (and the world) that we don’t matter.
  2. Hurting the very people we are trying to “protect.”

If Jackie allowed her truth to come out, it would be kind to both parties. Something simple yet direct like:

You seem like a great person, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that x factor that is so important in a potential romantic relationship. I wish you only the best.

There’s often this unspoken sense in the digital world that the words we use don’t have an effect on people looking on the other end of the screen. Perhaps this is a common reason people in the dating world (and otherwise) “ghost” someone. But people pleasers are just as likely to ghost someone—not wanting to face the potential disappointment they will cause the other party.

Jackie didn’t ghost Mr. Smitten. She lied to him and herself, hiding behind a story to prevent dealing with the potential fallout of truth. In a way, she became a ghost to herself, rejecting the idea that she mattered.

Mr. Smitten deserved to know there was no romantic potential, so he could move on and meet someone who felt about him the way he once did about Jackie.

We humans are wired to avoid pain and discomfort, so it’s no surprise that ghosting offers a “quick fix” to avoid dealing with the potential anxiety that comes with confrontation. But there’s that other, more clandestine side of ghosting we need to watch for as well: lying to ourselves and by extension, the other person in the dating equation. It’s better to rip off that emotional Band-aid now than string someone along, hurting two people in the long run. 

Each of us matters. When we remember this, we stop lying to ourselves and others. The desire for truth eclipses fear of confrontation—the real ghostbuster;-)

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Our Brain’s Mad Lib

Ironically, knowing our brains’ tendency to focus on the negative is the key to a happier life.

            He was cute—really cute. A mop of dark hair with the sweetest brown eyes. For weeks, my friend talked about her new coworker, the one who asked if she wanted to meet after work sometime.

            The date was set for a Friday on a Tuesday. From Tuesday on, *Samantha could barely sleep or eat. 

            “I’m so nervous. What do I wear? What if he only meant for us to get together as friends? What do I say? What if he changes his mind and isn’t attracted to me?”

            The day finally arrived. I assumed I wouldn’t hear from Samantha until later that night. But Samantha called me before the sun even set.

            “You okay?”

            “Yeah,” Samantha said. Her voice made me think of tires losing air. “I’m not attracted to him.”

            Say what??

            “He’s not much of a conversationalist. I tried to engage him. He was so boring.”

            “Back it up sister, you thought he was so cute. What happened?”

            “He took off his mask.”

            Well then.

            We may not be in Samantha’s shoes, but we have certainly all experienced what psychologists refer to as negative bias. Our brains receive external information and literally wire the positive and negative input into different hemispheres.

            “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking…information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them-than happy ones.” (Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass)

            So, while Samantha was thrilled that the cute guy at her office asked her on a date, her brain was flooded with its Mad Libs’ tendency to fill-in-the-blank what ifs with worst case scenarios. Her brain’s negative bias created a rush of worrisome thoughts that manifested in difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite.

            I had my own negative bias: when Samantha called me when she was meant to be on the date, my brain did its own Mad Libs negative bias: Did “cute guy” stand her up? Did he do something inappropriate? Is she in danger?

            The idea that Samantha just might have decided to end the date early didn’t occur to my brain. 

            But what about how “really cute” Samantha’s coworker was? There’s negative bias there, too. Afterall, a good portion of her worry stemmed from a fear that “really cute” guy wouldn’t find her attractive. So, her brain took the meager view one third of a man’s face and made him a Greek god, out of her league, aesthetically “above” her. 

            It’s important to realize that it was Samantha’s brain creating the Mad Libs in the genre of a horror movie. It’s also important to remember the brain is an organ—no different than the lungs or kidneys. The brain has specific functions just as our bodies’ other organs, but it need not define us.

            So, knowing our brain is wired toward the mental gymnastics of negative bias, what can we do? The Buddhist monk, Henepola Gunarantana suggests a compassionate reckoning of sorts with yourself:

            “Somewhere in this process [self-analysis], you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking gibbering madhouse on wheels, barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The real difference is that you have confronted the situation they have not.”

            Becoming mindful, cultivating self-awareness—including our brain’s hardwired tendency to focus on the negative, is actually the key to mental freedom. The challenge isn’t our negative thoughts; the challenge is remembering that we can choose not to believe them; the challenge is remembering we are not our thoughts.

            Source: https://skillpath.com/blog/positive-fight-natural-tendency-focus-negative

Want to Face Your Fear?

Most modern-day anxiety is a by-product of our ancient brains. Like the whac-a-mole game, the mind’s alarm system is doing what it’s designed to do. Discover what happens when you don’t play the game.

There are countless tips and tricks to consider when it comes to overcoming a fear. Everything from imaging exposure to the big “F” to taking it on the anxiety-producing source in increments.

Let’s say you have a fear of elevators. You might imagine pressing the button to the elevator, hearing the doors swoosh open, and stepping inside the machine, all while you remain at home. Or perhaps you stand in front of the elevator one day and the next, press the button to go on, observing any anxiety that shows up (i.e., a racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.) with each increased exposure.

Whatever tactic you choose, there are two things worth noting:

  1. You have to SIT WITH any discomfort to overcome said fear.
  2. The fear isn’t real.

Fear is generated by the thoughts we think based on the experiences we have. Fear is your mind playing tricks on you in order, (so the mind falsely, well thinks) to protect and help you survive.

There are those who love a scary horror flick and loathe the idea of public speaking. Yet both activities manifest some kind of adrenaline. It is the mind’s interpretation of each event that makes all the difference, determining which you perceive as fun and which as frightening.

The brain is an organ, no different than the heart or kidneys. It has a job. It thinks. Our ancestors depended on the mind to protect us, flooding us with flight-or-fight catecholamine activity to help us survive a grizzly bear heading toward us. 

But we are no longer living as our ancestors did. There are no wild beasts coming after us as we sleep in a field. Our brains, however, have not adopted to our modern-day world of indoor plumbing and central air. 

Our brains aren’t cruel. They are like puppies with a new chew toy. As Dr. Amy Johnson writes (author of Just a Thought):

Our minds are “a very smart machine that isn’t always wise, but it loves you.”

Fear can’t sit still when you face it. It changes form. The emotion we feel is real, but the thought behind it can change. You can talk to your busy mind as you would an overtired child whose had too much sugar:

“I know you [mind] think I’m in danger, but it’s really okay. I got this.”

If you sit long enough with the fear, the fear will morph into something new. The fear of touching an elevator button will change to the fear of getting on the elevator to the fear of allowing the elevator doors to close. Your mind will continue to generate new ways to protect you since that’s what a mind does.

Discomfort shows us “psychological experience is being mistaken for something solid, personal, and true…. When we get lost in our mind’s narrative and temporarily forget who-we-are, which we often do, we feel discomfort. Discomfort is the built-in alarm that alerts us to our misidentification.” Dr. Amy Johnson

Take comfort in the discomfort; allow your beautiful mind do what it is meant to do, knowing it is manufacturing worst-case-scenarios to unnecessarily protect you. Watch it compare, compete, create negative bias, warn, exaggerate, and sit with any negative sensations that may arise within your body. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you notice new fears pop up. Just like the original fear, your higher self knows they are all illusions.

*Source: Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind

Did You Hear Yourself?

Something as simple as paying attention to the words we frequently use can potentially alter our psychological and even physical states for the better.

Next week, my aunt will take a plane trip with her adorable eight-pound dog. For the past few months, the “meat” of our conversations has involved her dog:

“I’m so nervous. I’m not sure the dose is enough to make her [the Maltipoo] sleepy for the plane, but I don’t want to give her too much.”

“I’m worried she [Maltipoo] will get sick on the plane.”

“I’m scared TSA is going to change their ruling and say she [Maltipoo] weighs too much, and then they’ll make her go in with the luggage.”

My sweet aunt’s focus on her adorable canine is understandable. Yet, I wonder if she ever noticed the Robin’s egg blue of the sky in late August or the turning of the leaves in October. Chances are, her tapestry of fear and worry prevented her from enjoying the giggles of her grandkids, or the aroma and taste of her morning java.

Last week, I counted the number of times my aunt used words connoting fear around her dog. This was a 10-minute conversation. How many times did she utter fear-based language? 8. Here were her words: scared, anxious, anxiety, concerned, and worried. These were highlighted and interchanged with qualifiers like awfully, terrible, worst, and horrible.

My aunt is a kind woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. She cares, often so much so, that she loses sight of her own wellbeing. She literally loses her mind to the things we can’t control (i.e., the upcoming plane trip with her Maltipoo).

When we focus externally on the world around us, without taking stock of how we interpret it, we can lose our way. Hyper-focusing on the what ifs in our external world prevents us from appreciating where we dwell in the present.

Scientists have long written of our inability to multitask:

“We’re really wired to be mono-taskers, meaning that our brains can only focus on one task at a time….When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing 

two things at once, but instead, we’re doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching.” Dr. Cynthia Kubu

So, my aunt may look like she’s washing the dishes, or playing with her grandchildren, but she’s really not there. She is distracted by the what ifs, focusing on the very thing that is neither here nor in her control.

The topic of my aunt’s hyper-focus of what ifs is currently her dog, but the subject has changed over the years: a friend’s cancer diagnosis, the pandemic, the presidential race, personal finances—you name it, she’s articulated it in detail and at length.

Regardless of the topic, it is one steeped with those fear-connoted words above. The effect of those words on her psyche is powerful and ranges from insomnia to overeating.

There is a power we all possess in the way we interpret the world around us and the words we use. Even if my aunt doesn’t believe it, a simple shift in mindfulness, in focusing on what is literally in front of her, can help stave off her what if Doomsday scenarios. Since we can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, wouldn’t it be better to notice the sound of the rain outside your window than the idea of something terrible happening in a future that hasn’t arrived?

Mindfulness helps us slow down and recognize the words we use both aloud and silently. Here’s a quick exercise to see mindfulness in action:

While you’re reading these words, become aware of your forehead. Is it tense or relaxed? Notice your shoulders, are they back or rolled forward, loose or tight? Take a moment to breathe into your forehead, your shoulders—even your jaw. 

How do you feel? Chances are, while you were focused on the activity above, you didn’t worry about feeding the dog, responding to an email, or second-guessing what you said to a colleague yesterday. You were blissfully present.

When we are present, we appreciate more, we slow down, we become aware of the words we and others use. Listening to ourselves and other—not just hearing but truly listening—is a powerful honing device for the soul.

 Source: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/science-clear-multitasking-doesnt-work/

The Silent Thanksgiving Guest

The silent Thanksgiving guest is with you always. You bring this guest with you to the table. It is with you during the holidays and beyond. It is YOU, the observer, growing aware of your mind’s interpretation of experience.

Thanksgiving always conjures up the image of tables laden with ruby cranberries and plump, caramel-colored turkey, replete with pumpkin pie. Family is gathered around the table, hands extended to pass a generous bowl of sweet potatoes. A cozy fire flickers in the background as laughter bubbles up around the autumnal room.

Well, that’s the image anyway. The Hallmark-meets-Williams-Sonoma-catalogue of the idea of Thanksgiving. The Norman Rockwell of family, of loving comfort and filial security.

The reality is often quite different. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association:

“Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling ‘extreme stress’ come holiday time.”

The reality can involve anything and everything from experiencing the recent loss of a loved one to not getting along with your in-laws yet having to break bread with them.

The change in routine, the potential long-distance travel, the anxiety-provoking reunion with family members—some or all of the external factors can make the cozy image of Thanksgiving morph into a Haunted House of horrific possibilities, where you will be thankful for just surviving the family gathering.

So, how can we experience the feeling those Folger’s House coffee commercials exude around the holidays?  And what are those feelings anyway?

According to coach and speaker, Dr. Amy Johnson, feelings are our interpretation based on the interplay between our left (thought) and right (feeling) brain:

“…feelings are fluctuations of energy to which our mind attaches words and stories. Our left-brain interpreter labels and defines the energy dancing through us. So, when we talk about feelings and emotions, we’re experiencing two things: the movement of energy plus our mind’s commentary on that energy.” Dr. Johnson, Just a Thought

Let’s apply Dr. Johnson’s left-right brain awareness to a potentially stressful Thanksgiving situation now. Your flight to visit your family is delayed. You speak to your aunt on the phone to let her know about the delay.

“You’re not going to make it?” she asks.

“I don’t know. The flight’s delayed.”

“Are you wearing your mask? Are people wearing masks there?”

“Yes.”

“This is terrible.”

“I’ll call you when I know more.”

“Yes, call me as soon as you know.”

You recognize words (left brain) that come to your mind when you reflect back to the talk with your aunt: judgmental, anxious, bossy.

You recognize feelings: tired, nervous, frustrated. 

But now, aware, you can interpret your feelings a different way. You don’t need to tell the same habitual story about your aunt and her effect on you. You can interpret your feelings as excitement to see your aunt and her frustration at the situation as a hunger to see you. 

Remember: our heart races when we are on a roller coaster and in physical danger. It’s our interpretation, our mind’s deciphering of the left-brain language our mind uses that makes the difference.

Thanksgiving, steeped in years of familial habits—er, traditions, offers a powerful opportunity to practice Dr. Johnson’s mindfulness while in the company of loved ones who just might (inadvertently) push a habitually hot emotional button (or two). 

So, when you find yourself stressed about how moist the turkey is or upon hearing the banter in the family room grow louder with politics, go inward, and consider a different interpretation for the energy you are feeling. The labels we give our experiences aren’t “real”; it’s only the mind “doing what minds do” that makes it feel real. Each of us has the power to create a different interpretation.

The silent Thanksgiving guest is with you during the holidays and beyond. It is YOU, the observer, growing aware of your mind’s interpretation of experience. You can make peace with this guest at any moment—not just this November 25th. Figuratively break bread with your mind’s interpretation of what you are experiencing. Our feelings manifest in our body as energy; when we consider our left brain labels through a different lens, we can change our very experience.

Source: https://www.claritychi.com/holiday-stress/

Where Are You?

When we react to another’s drama, we run the risk of losing ourselves.

You know those days that make you feel like you’re walking outside on a soap opera set? The sky is the color of a robin’s egg, the air feels fresh and smells like autumn. That was today.

Unfortunately, the picture-perfect weather didn’t prevent two people in their cars at an intersection from fighting. My car idled just behind one of the cars as the drama unfolded.

One man got out of his truck.  I couldn’t hear him, but his arms were flailing. The other man got out of his car, a menacing expression with some kind of metal pipe in his hand.

My stomach and shoulders tensed up, and I felt a prickly heat across my chest. 

My teenaged son beside me looked calm, gazing at the scene before us with the aura of a modern-day Yoda. 

“Mm…I wonder who got there first.” He said with the pondering stillness of a Buddha.

The men were standing close to each other now. The tension between them fierce.

This is how it happens. Death by stray bullet. Gunfight at intersection, news at 11…

The above is where my mind went. I felt a strong, irrational urge to tell my son to duck. 

“It doesn’t really matter who got there first,” I said.

And just like that, the angry men returned to their cars, and we made our way to the intersection, the tense moment behind us.

Hours later, I am thinking about today’s tense moment. In a way, I wasn’t much different than these angry men: I wasn’t enjoying the beautiful day, I was lost in a moment of what if anxiety—another flavor of negative emotion. It was only my son who could observe the scene without taking it in.

We go through our daily lives, exposed to a myriad of “angry intersections”—moments when our environment is tense. At those moments, we can observe but we don’t need to react or become the stressors around us. Easier said than done. My son helped me realize that I’d stopped observing and started reacting; his non-reactive reaction reminded me that we all have this choice within us. 

When we try to detach and observe—even the negative reactions around and within us—we spend more time living in the moment. We can enjoy the beautiful day without getting sucked into another’s angry intersection.

The TV of the Mind

Who is running the show of your life? It need not be your mind.

On a recent trip to New Jersey, the flight was delayed significantly. We departed on time, but our plane hovered for a couple of hours over Virginia, waiting for the storm over Newark to pass. 

One of the passengers beside me, a man from Florida sighed loudly. “I’ve been up since 4 in the morning. I am exhausted.” It was the third time he announced this since our plane first took off. Now there was an edge to his voice.

The pilot announced we were now flying into Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to refuel and “wait for further instructions.”

“Man, I’m hungry. And tired. I’ve been going since 4 this morning.”

The woman between us nodded her head. “Oh, wow.”

“Yeah, I’m in construction. I need to help with the remodeling from Ida in New Jersey.”

“Oh, what kind of construction do you do?” the woman asked.

An hour later, the pilot announced that we would be idling on the plane “just a bit longer.”

If the man and woman’s dialogue could be heard as music, the man’s words sounded painful, whiny, out of tune; the woman’s speech was soothing and buoyant. 

Hours passed. I listened to the growing tense “music” of the passengers around me: some were downright heartbreaking (a baby’s cries) while others were pleasant (a couple’s laughter).

The music shifted between the man and woman beside me: the man’s complaints morphed into humor (“Mother Nature’s gotta’ do what she does”) and then finally curiosity.

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“Bombay.”

“Oh wow, did you miss your flight?”

“Yes, I think so.” Despite her mask, I could feel her smiling.

“What will you do?”

“I will get the next one.”

“Man, how long is that flight?”

“Sixteen-hours.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It is nice. I enjoy it.”

The normally 3.5-hour trip lasted 10 hours before we landed in Newark. By the time we deplaned, the “I’ve-been-up-since-‘4am” man was jovial; the woman from Bombay, appearing as content as she was from the start of our journey.

I wondered: what makes people experience the same event so differently? It was also not lost on me that the woman bound for Bombay influenced—for the better—our Floridian companion.

If we think of the mind as a TV, we can objectify the mind. We can watch the thoughts, but we don’t need to act on those thoughts. We can observe the facts as the peaceful woman on our plane did:

The plane is delayed.

We do not know where or when the plane will land.

We can choose to be aware of the facts of a situation—however unpleasant if not downright painful at times, without reacting to them.

In Martha Beck’s book, The Way of Integrity, the life coach writes candidly about her past struggles with anxiety. Her way out was through: through observing without judgment, through allowing without reacting:

“Clearly, my thoughts caused suffering. So, I didn’t obey them. Instead, I watched and questioned them until they dissolved.”

We possess this ability. We can choose to react or to grow still. We are not our mind, and our mind is not in control. We are the observer of the mind, the observer of life.

When we watch a dramatic movie, we can lose ourselves in the scenes and characters. We can literally forget that we are watching a movie, so drawn in we can become to the setting and actions of the story on the screen. But at any moment, we can become aware that we are merely the observer of the action on the colorful monitor.

When life feels unpleasant or downright painful, we can grow still and observe. We can watch without becoming the negativity or suffering.

The Dish that Calms…Everyone

There IS something we can do to tame our frayed nerves RIGHT NOW. It’s free and lowers inflammation and our flight or fight stress hormones.

If the world were a person, it would need to see a therapist…PRONTO! Between COVID-19 and its ever-growing variants, politics on everything from abortion rights to gun laws, climate change—you name it, the discussions are more heated than a tea kettle screaming with boiled water. Throw in the omnipresent specter of social media and economic uncertainty, humanity is at an exhausting, precipitous crossroads.

It’s not surprising that the global effect of so much uncertainty over a sustained amount of time causes tempers to flare and spiritual bank accounts to feel depleted. On an individual level, anxiety and depression emerges, and mistrust of “Others” grow (whether it’s the person in line at the post office or the governor of one’s state). 

While it was before my time, the polio vaccine protected millions of American children in 1955. According to historians, back then many Americans deeply respected science.

“After World War II, you had antibiotics rolling off the production line for the first time. People believed infectious disease was [being] conquered. And then this amazing vaccine is announced. People couldn’t get it fast enough.”- David M. Oshinksy, medical historian at NYU and author of Polio: An American Story

Compare the absolute faith of Americans in 1955 regarding the polio vaccine and science in general to Americans fractured, ambivalent feelings toward the COVID vaccines available and recommended by both WHO and the CDC.

Where’s that therapist for humanity when you need one?

There IS something we can do to tame our frayed nerves right now. It’s free and lowers inflammation and our flight or fight stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).

What is this simple, free, and highly beneficial thing that helps each of us and those around us?

Kindness. Yes, giving someone (even a stranger) a genuine compliment or speaking compassionately to yourself reduces inflammation and boosts our emotional wellbeing.

“Many scientific journals suggest that there is a strong link between compassion and the vagus nerve, which regulates the heart and controls inflammation.” -Gabrielle Bernstein- Miracles Now

The vagus is the longest nerve in the human body and makes up our sensory and motor fibers. When we demonstrate an act of kindness to ourselves and others, we are literally helping to regulate our heart.  According to Dr. Fredrickson and Dr. Kok, “people with a higher vagal tone have better overall heart health, lower levels of inflammation, stronger social bonds, and tend to exhibit better emotion regulation.” Psychology Today

So if you want to start feeling good, turn off the news and start appreciating the good you see—in yourself and others. Serve up kindness to those around you, offer a generous dish of self-compassion and watch its miraculous effect grow.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/03/988756973/cant-help-falling-in-love-with-a-vaccine-how-polio-campaign-beat-vaccine-hesitan

Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/kindness-towards-oneself-and-others-tones-your-vagus-nerve

The Momentum of Stress

What can we do when the negative momentum we’ve talked ourselves into feels like a train we’re doomed to ride forever?

*Lia is a 6th grader who takes her academics seriously. She will turn in her work for assignments days before they are due, sending emails to her teachers to confirm that she did what was asked of her correctly. Lia has yet to earn less than an A in all her classes. She is personable, astute, and kind.

Unfortunately, there’s an invisible but real force taking over Lia’s life: anxiety. She has trouble sleeping, finds herself breaking down in tears over things that before wouldn’t have bothered her, and describes herself as unable to “stop the worrying” that haunts her throughout the day.

 Lia is not alone. Several of the middle school students I have the gift of working with are manifesting signs of anxiety and depression in the almost ubiquitous cloak we know too well: stress. And while there’s good and bad stress, our perception of those stressors makes a world of difference.

Lia met with me last week after class and talked about her inability to “stop the worrying.” 

Lia referred to herself as someone who “struggles with anxiety.” Her self-diagnosis alone powerfully affects her perceptions. So, the world around her offers up opportunities to worry, thus creating more domino-like effect, stress-inducing scenarios for her. Lia’s belief in her self-diagnosis has created a momentum of anxiety that feeds on itself like a rat snake.

The same domino effect of negative self-talk can manifest in depression. When we are regularly telling ourselves it’s hopeless, things never work out for me, or a slew of other fatalistic misconceptions, the Universe mirrors back to us “proof” that our belief was correct.

So, what can we do when the negative momentum we’ve talked ourselves into feels like a train we’re doomed to ride forever?

Think of a spinning top. What happens when gravity starts to take over? It finally teeters to a stop. When anxiety or depression hit a high point, know that it too will pass. You cannot remain in the high anxiety or low depression forever.

Typically, we wake up with a fresh start, a new day for a new momentum. Baby steps.

Lia asked, “How do I stop my thoughts?”

“Get out ahead of them, before the momentum starts on that train to worry. Do one thing that pleases you today. Write three things you are grateful for each morning you wake up and each night before you go to bed. Listen to music you like.”

Whether a teenager or a grownup, we all experience stress. Yet while stress is unavoidable, building momentum in the direction of peace is in our control. Stress is a continuum, and our self-talk determines whether we take a harrowing ride on an uncontrollable track or experience an adventurous journey.

Lia has altered her label since we spoke last week. She is no longer someone who “struggles with anxiety” but now refers to herself as “conscientious and capable.” And that altered shift in her perception is the foundation for a rewarding momentum.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the person.

Small Talk: Benefit or Risk?

Knowing who you are engaging in small talk with can sometimes make all the difference…

            I recently went for my second vaccine shot. The verbal warnings from well-meaning others streamed through my head like a bad TV montage:

            “Take off from work the next day—you’ll need it.”

            “It felt like an invisible weight was pulling me down.”

            “It’ll hit you about 12 hours later. You’ll see.”

            “I wanted to die.”

            So, it’s no surprise that I approached the nurse (*Jenny) a little nervous.

 My anxiety typically manifests in a desperate need for small talk. There is this comfort, however fleeting, found in small talk for me. And according to a 2018 study by psychologist Mathias Mehl, my instinct to schmooze is understandable: 

“Small talk…is associated with more happiness than one usually experiences when one is alone.”

            I certainly didn’t want to be alone with my mental montage of dire physical warnings. I needed to focus on the sunny room of the vaccination site and the warm smile of Nurse Jenny.

            Too late—I already saw the almost comically long syringe. Too late, I asked Jenny how she was, inquiring about her children as well (a small detail I recalled from our earlier dialogue the few weeks prior) as I turned my head away.

            Too late—Jenny let out a big sigh—a hot air balloon puncturing and plummeting fast:

            “My husband is an awful man—just awful. He’s been cheating on me and now he’s suing me in our divorce. I just can’t—”

            Too late—Jenny’s emotional turmoil was let out on my arm.

  I saw stars.

            “Why does that hurt so much?” I asked.

            “Oh, you poor thing—I’m so sorry. You’re bleeding. I hit a vein.”

            Once the blood was cleaned up, Jenny wrote her name and number on a neon Post It.

            “Call me. We need to get together—go for dinner.”

            Somehow, a Small Talk Attempt to ease my anxiety had caused Jenny to think we were…Friends? Therapist (me) and patient (her)?

            Mathias Mehl’s findings regarding our tendency to find happiness through small talk may be true, but if that small talk signals another to lay down on the metaphorical Freudian couch, perhaps we need to refrain from trivial banter with people holding sharp objects…

 Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/202001/why-small-talk-is-big-deal