I suppose I could have just as easily called this post, ‘Doing What You’re Supposed To Be Doing’.
People suffer from anxiety. And it’s often because they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Now, please bear with me for a moment and I’ll explain.
The specific kind of anxiety I’m talking about here is what might be called ‘free floating’ or ‘general’ anxiety. (Not to be confused with the psychiatric diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, though there is some commonality.)
The reason we often feel so ‘out of sorts’ or ‘generally anxious’ is that we’re disconnected with ourselves.
‘Oh boy’, you’re saying, ‘there goes Ferraioli again with the stupid disconnect.‘
Well, sorry, but, you’re right, I am talking about that again!
You see, the problem starts when we’re very little kids. The adults around us have their own problems; they’re distracted, busy, depressed or anxious, self-absorbed, addicted (alcohol, shopping, work, etc.), or whatever else.
They’re not particularly in tune with the kids, and certainly not practicing LVAC®. (You might recall that LVAC® is my mnemonic/acronym which stands for Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment.)
What most of us got in childhood was reverse-LVAC, in other words, Comments FIRST!
“Don’t do that!”
“Why did you do that!”
“Why are you doing that!”
“Get over here!”
“Don’t talk to me like that!”
“Don’t talk to your father/mother like that!”
“I said so!”
“You never listen!”
“How many times have I told you…!?”
In addition to various punishments and punitive tones, we dealt mostly with the agendas of the adults through their various Comments about our behaviors or our words.
THIS is where the disconnect begins, which is a lesson to us parents today with our own kids. If you want to promote a healthy, whole child with less anxiety and therefore less disconnect within themselves, learn and practice LVAC® with them!
The process of Listening, Validating, and Asking open-ended questions helps the child finish their full thoughts and feelings within themselves and with us.
When we short-circuit this process by Commenting first instead of last, we make the child lose their internal emotional bookmark, i.e. where they were going to go with their thoughts and feelings.
This latter process is THE most important one to allow our children to participate in because they learn about themselves as they’re trying to talk to us about things. Short-circuit the one and you also short-circuit the other.
Now, back to our anxiety.
One of the long-term side effects of not getting enough of an LVAC® approach is that disconnect we were talking about a minute ago. Well, guess what?
That disconnect is also a disconnect from ourselves in terms of what we 1) want, 2) don’t want, 3) like, and 4) don’t like.
If we’re disconnected from those fundamental aspects of who we are (in fact, I call those four things The True Self), how can we really know what we’re supposed to be doing anymore or ‘where we’re supposed to be’?
Now you see?
If I’m so disconnected from my internal world that I no longer have a sense of what I should be doing that would truly represent who I really am, in other words, what I really want and like, then I will suffer from free floating anxiety.
Now you say, ‘Okay Ferraioli, but I can’t exactly go back to my childhood and get any of your “L-VAC” can I now!?’
You’re right again!
So here’s what we have to do to beat that free-floating anxiety: begin to pay attention to what your instincts are again.
Since childhood created the disconnect, we must use adulthood to re-connect with ourselves by cultivating, in a Deliberate sense, like you would at your job, a sense of who we are again.
Start to listen to the little voice-instinct in you; the one that says, ‘I’ve got 10 million things to do today, but what I REALLY want to do is XYZ.’
This may be hard at first. In fact, it may be very hard indeed.
You may find yourself having to make some difficult decisions. Model airplane club not doing it for you anymore? Drop it and see what grows for you next. Weekly get together with the ‘fellas’ turning into a drag? Let it go and see what comes up in your heart to do instead. Book club draining you? Ask yourself why and if the answer is that it just generally doesn’t do it for you, then it must go.
The point of all this is that it will take courage and a Deliberate attitude and focus to help your disconnect heal.
Once you find out where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing, whether that means for this moment, for this day, or for the longer term, your anxiety will diminish.
Keep in mind that at first you may actually experience an increase in anxiety because you’ve spent years, maybe decades following a beat that was never actually yours to begin with (remember all those disconnect-producing Comments you dealt with and internalized somehow or another?)
Let’s use a quick example.
Say you’ve woken up on a Saturday morning with tons of things to do and you’re about to go through your list in a robot-like fashion and ‘get it all done’.
That may be very appropriate in some cases, but let’s also say that, upon examining your list and deciding what’s absolutely vital (e.g. child care issues, home maintenance, paying bills, health care issues, etc.), you come to some items that are neither vital, nor of particular interest to who you really are. Yes, who you really are actually counts now and we need to make room for it.
Nobody said tackling free floating anxiety would be easy.
Now, if you’ve decided that some of those items could go, take some time to be with yourself and ‘listen’ to what you ‘hear’.
A friend of mine once told me that, no matter where he was or how packed his schedule seemed to be, he could always narrow down ‘one absolute thing’ that he wanted to do that day. He would always try to make that thing happen, no matter what, and, he often found that the other, less important things would fit their way in around the ‘one thing’ anyway.
Life is short.
Let’s you and I make sure that, in addition to fulfilling our various, vital obligations in our lives, we also practice tuning in to ourselves to find out what we are supposed to be doing as well.
In other words, let’s actually live too, shall we?
All the best, and decreased anxiety to you,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)
Cobwebs and Ugly Wallpaper