Life is Awkward

I think for most people, awkward is mostly a neutral term.  Awkwardness is an inevitable part of daily life; nothing to lose sleep over.  It passes and everyone moves on.  My husband is not really phased by awkwardness.  He sometimes chuckles and gets a little kick out of it.

Not for me.  Somewhere along the way, awkwardness became something a little more dreadful.  Awkwardness can often feel pretty intense, anxiety provoking, even painful at times. I consider myself HIGHLY awkward.  I tend to avoid awkward situations whenever possible.

But life is awkward.

  • Small talk
  • Talking on the phone
  • Lulls in conversation
  • Failed punch lines
  • Confrontations
  • Introductions
  • Reunions
  • Misunderstandings
  • Asking for help

These are all part of life.  I can’t spend my life in my comfort zone. My big dreams include living abroad part time, relocating our family to the countryside, forming a closer community or “tribe”.  There will be awkwardness for sure as cultures clash and we start everything anew. I want to embrace all that instead of fear it. I know a big part of me wants this, awkwardness and all.

So lately when I feel awkwardness is just around the corner (say, I see a stranger approaching me on the sidewalk), I breathe, adjust my stance (usually this means uncrossing my arms and relaxing my butt muscles!) tell myself to lean into the discomfort, and let it play itself out.  It’s really nothing to dread.  The more I lean into it, the less awkward I feel and the less awkward it is.

Awkward first dates can lead to true love.  Awkward introductions can lead to soul mates.  Awkward parties can lead to awesome memories.  Awkward incidents often become the funniest stories we tell.  Awkwardness is the spice of life 🙂

Why Does Empathy Scare Us?

I grew up in a family where our “bad” emotions (jealousy, anger, rage) were not validated.  My parents weren’t unkind people, but true empathy was not their forte.  We were a highly emotional bunch of kids, and we were told, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, to brush it off, stop crying, don’t be so dramatic, smile and be nice.  I think they truly believed that was the best way to handle negative emotions. As a highly sensitive child who struggled with a lot of fears, bouts of melancholy, and anxious feelings, I never felt fully understood or free to express myself.

I became a parent and stumbled upon Janet Lansbury’s writings about respecting babies and children.  She suggests staying unruffled during the craziest of tantrums, and acknowledging and validating the ugliest of emotions.  This seemed radical to me, but I tried it. Instead of my go-to strategies of distraction or just shooing away the feelings (“You’re ok! No more tears!”), I really leaned into them.  I said the feelings aloud and made them even more real. “You are sad that I had another baby.  It makes you angry and makes you want to head butt your brother.  I understand you are sad and mad, but I will not let you hurt him.”

Empathy and validation absolutely works with my kids.  They simmer down quickly and seem to have good emotional intelligence for being so young. There are few grudges, little anger bubbling underneath the surface.  Best of all, we’re on the same team.  But it took a lot of getting used to for me.  In fact, such radical empathy felt scary.  To not contradict, correct or ignore negative emotions seems indulgent, too loose.  Shouldn’t we stand our ground as parents?  Shouldn’t we re-train a child’s emotions?  Isn’t that our job?  As a Christian, old testament verses are sometimes thrown around as proof that we need to spank, punish, and control.  Yikes.

When Sisi needed surgery for her broken elbow, she and I were both frustrated by the way the doctors are nurses distracted and redirected Sisi instead of listening to her fears and questions and answering them straight, even if she didn’t like the answers. It was then that I realized my radical empathy and straight talk was truly counter-cultural.

 

Here’s the thing. I think about how I like to be comforted.  Does it really help for someone to tell you your feelings are wrong, immature, and you just need to get over it?  To give you lectures or advice that you’re just not ready to hear? Do you like being ignored or banished when you are having your adult tantrums (and we all have them, right?) No.  We just need someone to say, “You sound really upset.  I’m so sorry you are having such a hard time.  I’m here for you.”  How healing are those words?  The older I get, the more tragedies I’ve experienced and the more I realize that’s ALL you can say most of the time.  There are just no other words. Assuming I am not abusing, lashing out  or manipulating you, please don’t try to rationalize or punish me in my sadness, grief and moments of near-insanity, because you will get nowhere.

I have a loved one who suffers from a severe mental illness.  During flare-ups, this person’s thoughts and emotions are in another galaxy.  In the past, I have tried to convince, contradict, correct, distract.  All the things we try with tantruming kids.  But like tantruming kids, my loved on is not in a frame of mind to hear my great reasons and arguments.  Rather than convince this person to get help and get back on meds, I pushed the person away even more.  I became someone not to be trusted.  How very sad.

The book I am not sick, I don’t need help! by Xavier Amador reminded me so much of Janet Lansbury’s strategy, but applied toward those struggling with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  The book argues that poor insight into their own symptoms is a symptom of the mental illness itself.  This means that a schizophrenic or bipolar person is not just being irrational or stubborn when they say they are not sick, don’t need meds, or suggest something crazy like aliens are speaking to them through a blink 182 song on the radio (I’ve heard it.)  They truly believe this, and there’s no way to convince them otherwise.  It’s wasted breath.

Next time I get to talk to my loved one, I will stop saying “You need help.  You are just paranoid. Your plan is not going to work.”  Instead I will say, “Tell me if I’m hearing you right.  You don’t want to take meds because they make you feel terrible and you don’t think  you need them.  You don’t want to stay put because  you think someone is following you.  It must be scary to be in your position right now.  Nobody likes to feel followed.  I’m here for you.  I love you.”  And then I’ll wait- weeks, months maybe, until my loved one is ready to hear me and my wise suggestions for his/her life.   (Of course, if someone is a harm to himself or others, it’s important to step in and force help. But this should be the last resort.)

So radical empathy isn’t just for tantruming kids.  Or grieving adults.  Or mentally ill loved ones.  It’s for every single person.  Let’s not be afraid of radical empathy.  It will make the world a kinder and more emotionally intelligent place.

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?

 

Lifestyle Design for the HSP

I have a mustache.  No, not that kind.  I’m a mustachian, meaning I subscribe to the philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache. Which is this: save a huge portion of your income (50% or more if you’re a badass!) invest that money wisely, and then retire early while living a humble but fulfilling life doing whatever you love to do.

I came upon his blog 6 months ago when I was finally ready to make radical changes. I was already disillusioned by the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that is considered “normal” in southern California (hence this post).  I had already decluttered my house and my schedule pretty drastically.  I had already come to embrace my highly sensitive nature, and the idea that taking care of myself meant saying no to many things-  obligations, social media, mindless consumption, etc.  This led me to the question- what do I want to say YES to?

My answers:  family time, deep (face-to-face) friendships, my Christian faith,  nature and healing, peace and quiet, .

Mr. Money Mustache’s blog has inspired me to make design my life around these YES’s.  If my family can get off the rat wheel, be freed of the bottomless pit of consumerism, allow our money to work hard for us, then we are truly free to design the lifestyle we want (and need).  It’s like hippie meets savvy investor.  This mustache suits me well.

So here is our dream… In 3 years, you will find me on a 5 acre plot of land living in a small guest home (or tiny home or yurt- TBD) while building our dream home.  Joe will take a 2 year sabbatical to build our straw bale house, but we will all help, including the kids, because it will be the world’s coolest homeschool project.  We will grow much of our own food, raise chickens, the whole deal.  After that 2 years of building, Joe will either work a computer IT job remotely from the comfort of our homestead, or start a completely new career doing one of the many things he’s amazing at (too many to list.).  Of course, there are many steps in between.  You can read this Mr. Money Mustache post for the basic steps we’re taking.  

My message to HSPs who feel trapped by a certain lifestyle,  who long for a simpler life that engages all 5 senses without bombarding them, maybe it’s time to dream big and jump off the wheel.

 

 

Camping is Stressful and Awesome

camping-is-stressfulI just returned from a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Forest.  It was an awesome trip, but I had to apologize to my whole family for being such a complainypants.  I was pretty stressed out and I think I set a bad tone for the trip.  The point of a camping trip is to relax and unwind, right?  It just showed how much control I like to have over my environment, and you can’t control nature.

So why do I camp?  Many HSPs have a special connection to nature.  Open spaces give us permission to slow down, daydream, and breathe.  For example, a day at the beach tingles all 5 senses just enough to keep us pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed the way city life can be.  I also believe strongly in the benefits of physically grounding oneself in nature– digging your feet in the sand, hugging a tree, wading in the water, bathing in sunlight.

As a kid in suburban California, I never got to camp.  My dad was not interested, and my mom was too busy working and holding the family together.  My one and only camping trip took place in 7th grade when my best friend’s hippie family invited me on their backpacking trip in the high Sierras. I’m sure they  didn’t realize what a dead weight I would be.  I remember complaining.  A lot.  About: being devoured by mosquitos (they always like my blood best!  So unfair!), ear pressure and faintness from high altitude, being afraid of slipping off the side of the mountain or falling off the log bridge, etc.  With that family, I’m still infamous for being a complainypants on that trip.  They love me nonetheless, and understand that I’m a product of suburbia.

As an adult, I make it a priority to camp.  My daughter loves it. She’d chose a humble camping trip over a fancy hotel trip any day.  As an HSC, I see her thrive in wild, open spaces.   I am hoping my kids will be rugged and confident outdoors like my husband is, and camping regularly will help nurture that quality.

matteo-nook-1

But let’s be real- camping is called “roughing it” for a reason.  It’s not easy, and nature can be scary, especially for someone who is highly sensitive.

Things that stress me out about camping…

  • Packing light, but not too light.
  • Mosquitoes. Why do they love me and my daughter so much but barely touch my husband and baby? Do mosquitoes like HSP blood more perhaps?  Just a hypothesis 🙂 Also my bites become golf ball sized welts.
  • Fear of wild predators (bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, etc.)
  • Keeping the tent clean and uncluttered and mosquito free.
  • Going potty in nature.  It’s just sooo hard for me.  Perhaps a gadget like this pee funnel might help next time?thanks for your support!
  • Making sure the kids are safe and comfortable.
  • Dangers in general, like falling off a cliff.
  • Worrying about food poisoning because the cooler didn’t keep things cool enough, or I didn’t wash the dishes well enough.  This amazing germ busting cloth helped ease my worries about the latter.  I used this cloth to clean EVERYTHING on this trip, including myself and the kids.
  • Worrying about breaking the rules of the park or getting yelled at by the park rangers. I’m such a goody goody.  I also fear accidentally setting a forest fire.
  • General discomfort of being sweaty, itchy, too hot, too cold, dirty, smelly, etc.

I read this list to my husband and he couldn’t believe all the things going through my head on a camping trip.  He’s the ultimate bare-footed, tree-climbing, rock-scrambling outdoorsman. It’s hard for him to even imagine being stressed in nature.  I’m hoping that by camping several times a year,  I can desensitize myself to some of these worries/fears/discomforts because camping is totally worth it.  The best things in life aren’t always easy, right?

When you read this list, can you relate?  Do you have a complicated relationship with camping, too?

camp-site cholla-garden-2   pesto view

Why Am I Homeschooling?

Hello again!   It’s been many moons since I checked in on HSM.  I’ve been busy gardening, propagating succulents, reading all I can about investing (I have truly entered my 30’s), and homeschooling my Kindergartner.  We are “unschooling”, so that basically means just continuing to be curious and do life together.  I’ll share more about unschooling in the future.

why-im-homeschooling

So why am I homeschooling?  I think my reasons aren’t the typical ones.  I am a devoted Christian, but I’m not homeschooling for moral or religious reasons.  I’m not homeschooling to shelter my children from bad cultural influences, either.  I’m not homeschooling because the public schools around me suck (they don’t- they are very highly rated.)

For me the decision was easy. My education priorities can best be accomplished outside of the traditional school setting.

  1. Sunshine, fresh air, immersion in nature on a daily basis.
  2. Preservation of sleep cycles and slow daily rhythms.  I want my kids to sleep in, nap, enjoy a healthy, leisurely lunch without rushing. The go-go-go lifestyle just doesn’t suit HSP parents or children very well.
  3. No busy work.  My kids have more important things to do, like play.
  4. Cultivating a natural love of learning!  This means let learning be the reward, instead of sticker charts, grades, pizza parties, etc.
  5. More hands-on learning. Internships, field trips, classes in the community with people of all ages, starting their own small businesses from a young age.
  6. Travel-schooling/world-schooling. Our dream is to spend large chunks of time in other places, and a regular school schedule would only hold us back.
  7. Permaculture education. In 3 years, we will be designing and building our own straw bale home and permaculture garden!!! What could be more educational that building your own home?
  8. Risk-taking, free-thinking, even failure, will be encouraged.  I’ve read a lot of inspirational autobiographies and they all say the same thing:  take risks, learn from your failures, don’t play it safe.  The typical school tells you what to do, how to do it, and expects you to do it well, if not perfectly.  This is too much pressure for conscientious HSPs who already veer toward perfectionism.
  9. Steering clear of the rat race.  I will not be teaching my kids that the key to a happy life is to study hard, get good grades, go to a good (expensive) college, get a good job, buy lots of nice things, and work forever to keep buying nice things.  I believe that’s the path most schools train you for.  The rat race begins in Kindergarten.  I hope my kids aspire to more than that.
  10. I just want to.

I’m not gonna lie- there are some things about homeschooling that make me nervous.  I wish I could say I’m 100% confident in my choice, but I’m not yet.  We’re just starting out, and figuring things out as we go. Sometimes I wonder…

  1. Could homeschooling cultivate laziness and lack of discipline?
  2. What about socialization? Social capital?
  3.  If my kids decide to go to college, will they be ready and qualified for it?
  4. Will my kids be isolated from other races, religions, and socio-economic classes?
  5. Will I get worn out and wish I could have a break?
  6. Will outsiders judge me if my kids are not learning the same things on the same timetable as everyone else?
  7. Will my own interests and passions bias my children toward my passions instead of their own?

I believe there are solutions to each of these worries.  I hope that as I find my groove, they will no longer be an issue.  But right now I have to process them.  I welcome any thoughts!

 

I Don’t Enjoy Roughhousing With My Kids

don't like roughhousing

Is this an HSP thing?  A woman thing?  A me thing?

When my daughter wrestles, jumps and crawls on me it can really stress me out.  I have such a low tolerance for when she accidentally kicks me, grabs my neck, or pulls my hair.  The bigger she gets, the harder this time is for me.  I feel like such a wuss.

As I learn more about my HSP tendencies, I can totally see why I don’t like (and have never liked) rough play.  HSPs can be more sensitive to pain.  We might worry more about injuries.  We might be more ticklish, and need a little more personal space. I definitely prefer quiet, calm play- puzzles, origami, art projects, reading.  I always joked that I’m a nerd, but I think I just like to be calm within my own body. That’s how I liked to spend my time as a kid, and that’s how I’d like to play with my kids.

I wish it weren’t so because she just loves to play that way.  She’s always asking for “wild time on the bed” which is a routine we’ve done since she was an infant.  It’s our time to bounce, roll around, have pillow fights- to burn off excess energy before bed.  It was easy when she was a baby, but now she’s bigger and is a firecracker of flailing limbs.  There are lots of articles about the benefits of roughhousing, and I see firsthand how much joy it brings her.  She is in the BEST mood after some wild play with me, dad or friends. I know it’s necessary and good.

Is it ok that I don’t like playing in this way? Can I honor my own needs/preferences, or am I depriving my kids of something essential? Can I leave the wild play to dad, who genuinely enjoys it and doesn’t worry as much about injuries?  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Party Anxiety

party anxiety tipsWhy can’t I be good at parties?

I ask myself this all the time.  I sometimes leave parties thinking I failed somehow.  Like I didn’t make a good enough impression, connect well with others or make good small talk.  Maybe I felt overstimulated and worried that others could totally tell.  As I’m driving home, I might replay an awkward scene in my head and wish for a do-over.

The weird part is that I’m usually at parties with people that I actually like, and it’s fun.  I laugh, I chat, I give hugs.  But I still leave with a heavy feeling in my heart, a sense of failure. A sense of missed connections.  And I feel drained and ready to sleep for 10 hours straight.

It makes me wonder:

  • Where does this performance anxiety come from?  Parties have always been a bit intimidating.  Even as a young child I had mixed emotions about parties- equal parts excitement and dread.  I think I tried to suppress these complicated feelings by being super outgoing and excited.  To this day, I can feel myself overcompensating at parties by being very social, trying to talk to almost everyone in the room, and being one of the last to leave- almost to prove to myself and others that I’m “good at parties”.  I totally suppress my HSP introverted side.
  • Are people really judging and evaluating me, or is it in my head?  Possibly, but not likely.  Most people are probably enjoying themselves too much to care, or are equally self-conscious and inward-focused.  Anyway, what does it matter?  You’d think in my 30’s I’d learn to stop caring what others think of me.  But since HSPs are especially empathetic, we’re good at picking up on others’ reactions.  It’s hard not to wonder how others’ are perceiving you, and if they are picking up on your anxiety.
  • Why do I get so overstimulated at parties?  I remember in social psychology learning about the cocktail party effect- the ability to tune out irrelevant background noise and focus on the conversation at hand.  I suck at this.  My brain has a hard time separating the relevant from irrelevant stimuli. I take everything in- the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and social cues- and that can be draining.    It takes so much energy to focus on the person I’m talking with, and even if I’m having a nice conversation my body might feel on edge.  This overstimulation produces a fight or flight reaction in me, which makes me think I’m stressed and anxious even though I may not be.
  • Am I missing the whole point of parties?   While my ideal social scene is a coffee shop with 2 or 3 girlfriends sharing deep conversation, parties are a totally different vibe.  Just because it’s not my favorite scene, are parties worthwhile?  I think so.  Each party has a purpose- to celebrate a person or event, to catch up with pals, to just enjoy some treats and keep each other company.  While I can occasionally connect in a deep way with people at parties, this is not guaranteed.  And that’s ok.  Togetherness for togetherness’ sake can be a good thing!

My solution:  This holiday party circuit, I decided to honor myself in these ways.

  • Plan ahead: This is such an introvert thing, but if you’re not a fan of small talk, maybe make a list of 3 or 4 possible answers to the question, “So, what’s new?”  My recent go-to’s: baby just turned 1, just got back from Costa Rica, signed up for Stitch Fix, planted my winter vegetables.  Much better to give a specific answer than a blank stare or “Oh, nothing much!”
  • Pep talks on the way to the party (and during).  I mean literally talking to myself on the drive.  I say things like, “You feel a little nervous about the party.  That’s totally ok.   It might be noisy and crowded, but you can handle it.  Take a break if you need to.  It’s ok to just grab a drink and sit on the couch.  It’s ok to just observe.  No one will be judging you; they have other things on their minds.  It’s not a popularity contest.  You were invited because someone wants you there.”  This helps so much!
  • It’s ok to just sit and watch for a while.  To get your bearings.  It’s actually kind of bada$$ to be zen and quiet in the midst of a chaotic party.  Get a drink, sit down on the couch. Let others entertain you. Chances are, when you’re ready, you’ll find yourself in a conversation and it’ll be swell.  No need to force it.
  • Take a breather!  Go to the bathroom.  Step outside for some fresh air.  Leave early if you really need to.  You came to the party and made an appearance even though it took some courage, leaving early is not a sin.
  • Pat yourself on the back when it’s over.  Don’t do what I used to do- replay all the awkward moments and chastise myself.  Instead, think of some good moments- funny things that happened, cool people you met, a delicious appetizer you enjoyed.  You are a work in progress, and you’ll have many parties ahead to keep sharpening your party skills.

These intentions have worked!  I’m not totally cured of my party anxiety, but at least I know where it comes from and how to help curb it.  I really did enjoy myself at all the parties I went to this holiday season, and did minimal Kristin-bashing afterward.

Did you experience party anxiety as a child?  Do you experience it now?  How do you cope?