The Ikea Story that Kept Me Up All Night

The Ikea “Sex Trafficking” story made me so upset. At first, I felt upset at myself for not being more careful with my kids when I shop (especially at that very same Ikea!) How could I be so careless? But by the time I got to the end of the story, I was upset for a different reason.

As a mom prone to worry and anxiety… As a highly sensitive person who is already very cautious and who is good at imagining worst case scenarios, I believe articles like these are an affront to my sanity and sense of well-being.

You guys, I’m not a helicopter mom on the OUTSIDE. I give my kids as much space and freedom as I can possibly muster. But I’m a helicopter parent on the INSIDE. My rational side knows that my kids are safe here in the U.S. Of A (not 100% safe, but safe enough.) My rational side has read the statistics which say the chances of my kids being abducted in a public place are infinitessimal. But that rational side is at constant war with my primal, mama-bear within. This primal, protective side has it’s place, for sure. But it’s also easily stoked by articles such as these. Some might say, GOOD! A little more worry, a little more caution; it’s all good. I strongly disagree.

Any ounce of worry and energy put toward completely unlikely dangers has trade-offs.

  • A parent’s sanity.
  • Takes our attention from true threats (car accidents, drowning, depression and suicide to name a few in the top 5 causes of child mortality.)
  • Causes us to deprive our children of space and independence (and the street smarts that develop as a result) that will serve them very well in the future.
  • Passes on a fear of strangers that could negatively affect them in the future.

I’m not directing my anger toward this mother. A friend of mine who actually knows this mom pointed out that this mom can’t help her gut feeling. I agree. We all get weirded out in public from time to time. There is this bagger at Sprouts who really creeps me out. The way he looks at my kids makes me choose a different line and leave in a hurry. But the fact that the mom’s hunch or 6th sense was turned into a dire warning to all parents complete with totally misleading titles such as “Mom of 3 Posts Warning to Other Parents: We Were Targets” makes me upset.  Perhaps not the mom’s fault that her story became so viral, but the fact that it did really peeves me.

I also don’t mean to be flippant about child trafficking. It’s horrific and every parent’s worst nightmare. But I think it’s important to note that the odds of it happening to a) young children b) in a public place c) by a stranger are extremely low. 97% of child abductions are by caregivers/family/friends, not strangers.  I’m not sure what percentage of that 3% is sex trafficking, but I’ll get it’s pretty small.

I grieve the “good old days” when I was growing up. I was allowed to walk a mile to the local grocery store at age 8 to buy jolly ranchers. I didn’t fear every stranger I passed along the way. I miss those days of safety. BUT WAIT, those days are still here. The crimes rates are actually lower now. So why are we all so worried? In part, social media and articles like these. That’s why I’m upset.

I found these statistics to be eye-opening (and definitely counter-intuitive!)

My Amish Nights

One of the best lifestyle hacks I’ve implemented over the past two years is to slow things wayyy down after sunset.  Friends joke that I’m an old granny, or even Amish, because we abstain from anything super stimulating at night- no netflix, no music, no bright lights or phones. We even avoid “date nights” or staying out late with friends, choosing instead to socialize during daylight hours. My husband is the one who encouraged these changes.  I fought him on it at first because I didn’t believe him.  My 80 year old mother in law has more of a night life than I do, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me a loser?  But my “boring” evenings have become soothing to my soul.  I’m able to give my body and mind a break from noise, light, technology, and social interactions.  As someone who struggles with burnout and anxiety, these quiet nights are my medicine.

Picture this: On a typical evening after the kids have been lullabied and tucked in, you’ll find us:

  • In our living room with the lights off (Joe actually turns off most of the electricity after dark.).
  • Our phones are on airplane mode or tucked into their radiation blocking wire mesh cages.
  • We have several salt lamps on, because they give off a soothing amber glow, as opposed to standard lights which give off blue light.  Blue light is highly stimulating and can mess with circadian rhythms, hormones, sleep and health in general (If, unlike me, you crave details and want to know the physics behind this idea of blue light, check out this blog post).
  • We’re wearing red head lamps because red light does not interrupt melatonin production.  Joe is probably wearing orange glasses to block any traces of blue lights from his eyes, which makes him look like a Bono wannabe. I haven’t embraced the glasses yet because I’m way too vain.
  • I’m sipping herbal tea.  The fireplace is crackling. Joe is giving our dog Basil a much-needed massage.  She’s a highly sensitive dog.
  • We’re reading, or maybe I’m doing some light yoga, or embroidering a little gift for a friend.

  • While I’m embroidering, we might turn on a podcast to listen to together, and then chat about it afterward.  Our favorite podcasts to listen to together are Radical Personal Finance and a theology podcast called the Glory Cloud Podcast.   I’m planning on listening to Missing Richard Simmons next.   Even podcasts can be a little too stimulating for me at night, so we often choose to read instead.
  • I’m a non-fiction lover, but I read fiction at night to calm my brain down. My typical bedtime books are chick lit (Jojo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, Barbara Kingsolver, and Mona Simpson are some of my go-tos).

I usually tuck myself in before 10pm, and sleep for a good 9 hours.  I’ve mentioned before that HSPs need more sleep!  I wake up refreshed and ready to run my little household. Ready to face the noise, the lights, and the demands of modern life because I know I’ll get a respite from it all when the sun goes down.

I know this seems extreme, but for most of human history before electricity, people used to be forced to relax at night and get tons of sleep.  We’re not weird, we’re just retro.

How do you mellow out after a long day?

 

 

Introversion, HSP, or Social Anxiety? The blurry line.

 

Introvert? Check. HSP? Check. Social Anxiety? Dunno.

I refill my cup of energy with alone time (introversion.)  I am highly sensitive to stimuli of all kinds (HSP.)  But do I often fear being judged or negatively evaluated by other people (social anxiety)?  If so, does that fear permeate most or all of my social interactions?  Dunno.

I will admit:

  • I often worry about what people think of me.
  • I fear saying too much or too little.
  • My nervous, frantic energy around people often causes me to say weird things, stumble over my words, ask strange questions, talk too much or completely clam up.
  • I have trouble sustaining eye contact.
  • I am flustered when introduced.
  • I dread being the center of attention (although a part of me thrives off it, too!)
  • I spend a lot of time during and after social interactions identifying flaws in my social performance.
  • (More symptoms can be found here. )

So often, I feel frazzled inside.  I feel a buzzing sensation in my body which makes it hard to even hold a conversation.  I feel short of breath and my muscles tense. I dread that feeling.  I also dread the criticism I give myself during and after the social interaction. I find myself wondering often, is this normal? Does everyone feel this way?  And if not, can I just chalk it up to HSP or introversion?

Social anxiety wasn’t really on my radar until recently when I read the novel The Husband’s Secret.  One of the characters, Tess, suffers from social anxiety, but covers it with humor, sarcasm, and faked confidence.  Of course, the constant covering up begins to take it’s toll.  I related to Tess’s quirks so profoundly that I started to wonder if I suffer from social anxiety.

Since social anxiety is a continuum, do I have enough of it to be considered a full-blown mental disorder?

I don’t feel socially anxious all the time. Certain people and situations bring the anxiety out of me more than others.  I click with certain people right away. Others intimidate me immediately, and I don’t understand why.  Most people would call me  friendly, warm, enthusiastic, even social. I don’t usually avoid parties or people- I push through the anxiety and try to be present (See this post about party anxiety for proof!) I force myself because that’s the person I want to be. It’s inside me somewhere.

My therapist believes it’s impossible to completely separate HSP from introversion from social anxiety . They are overlapping circles- separate but related, influencing one another.  A Venn diagram with me in the middle. Part of me wants to rule social anxiety out.  After all, while introversion and HSP are neutral traits- good in some situations, unhelpful in others, social anxiety is always a bad thing: something to be cured.  But then again, at least it can be “cured”.  

Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, also believes it’s difficult to tease apart social anxiety from HSP.  One of the FAQs on her website is “Do I have an anxiety disorder or am I just highly sensitive?”  Dr. Aron answered that anxiety is only a disorder if the anxiety doesn’t make sense or is excessive for the particular situation.  For an HSP, the anxiety often makes sense!  We are programmed to be cautious, notice everything, try to predict the future, deeply process our mistakes, etc.  This way of thinking often causes anxiety!  To tell an HSP to stop worrying is like telling an HSP to stop being an HSP.

In social situations, we are very attuned to others’ facial expressions, sighs, yawns, subtle eye rolls, and tone of voice.  If someone is indeed judging us, or offended, or bored by us, we are apt to pick up on it.  We probably won’t forget it, either!  The social “traumas” that everyone experiences during childhood and adolescence- awkward first dates, feeling left out, having fallouts, might make a deeper impression on an HSP, and might make us cautious of any situation resembling those past traumas.

Something else that blurs the line is that overstimulation feels a lot like anxiety.  Overstimulation produces the same physical symptoms as anxiety- quick pulse, sweating, dry throat, headaches, muscle tension. Sometimes I can coach myself out of my feelings of social panic by telling myself, “It’s just overstimulation.  There’s a lot going on right now.  You are doing great.  You’re fine.”  I instantly feel better and find the strength to press on.

So I’m still not sure if I have social anxiety.  My therapist told me the label is less important than the goal: RESILIENCY.  What pep talks do I need to give myself to work myself out of these frazzled states?  Sometimes I can blame it on overstimulation, and I feel better.  Sometimes I can blame it on introversion and make sure I get more alone time, and that works.  But sometimes I have to admit that I’m feeling anxious becauase I feel I’m not good enough, or not worthy enough.  It’s humbling to admit.  I’m trying to figure this stuff out pronto because I want to teach my kids what it means to be confident, authentic people.

Do you feel the need to label yourself?  Do you find labels helpful or harmful?