Mental Health Matters

      K i c k i n g  A n x i e t y 's  B u t t         

  By Jan Trabue
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor




                 

 Did You Know...?
  •    Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States? They affect 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (source: National Institute of Mental Health).
  •    Anxiety disorders are highly treatable but only about one-third of those who experience anxiety actually access  treatment. 
  •    Those who experience anxiety disorders often suffer from depression. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. 

You feel anxiety bubbling up inside you. You become tense, fearful, and perhaps jittery. Dread overtakes you. Feeling sweaty, nervous, and sick at your stomach, your thoughts swirl in your brain like a cyclone. You are sure you are going to explode. Despite repeated efforts to ignore your heart pounding in your chest and increased difficulty in breathing, the awful dread and sense of urgency that has overtaken you persists. You tell it to go away and try to refocus your thoughts. Resistance is futile. It seems the more you fight this anxiety monster the stronger it becomes. It doesn’t back off, but instead beats you up with even more furor than before. Unable to fight back any longer, you run and hide, finding the nearest escape and isolate yourself, waiting it out, and feeling like you are going to die.

If you are not one who is prone to anxiety, then this scenario probably sounds unreal to you. But it is very real to the 40 million people diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Anxiety can have such a paralyzing impact on a person’s life that living a normal life doesn’t seem possible. You may wish to avoid being around people or in uncertain or unpredictable environments, preferring routine and staying close to home. You avoid stressful situations because you never know if it will ignite your anxiety and create an embarrassing situation for you or one in which you have to stop what you’re doing and go home. 
Anxiety for many is a fact of life. It is in the DNA, the hardwiring, but it does not have to be the ruler of one's life. Though managing anxiety can be difficult, frustrating, and challenging, it can be done. With practice and patience you can learn to manage your anxiety and expand the perimeters of your life’s reach. It does not have to be debilitating. 

In this article I will show you steps you can take immediately to reduce the episodes of anxiety you have and the intensity of each. Most likely, you will not use one of the steps, move on to the next step, then the next. It's not necessarily a linear progression through the steps. Instead, you may use several steps at once. Or you may use a step, go on to others, then come back to that initial one again, maybe even several more times. 

 defy your anxiety!

One of the basic principles underscoring anxiety is that the more you obey it, the more it grows, expanding into every corner of your life and making your world smaller and smaller. As long as you obey your anxiety, you will not be able to shrink it to a more manageable size. I often suggest to clients to take on a mission of defying their anxiety: disobeying it. If that can't be done full out, then do whatever amount that can be done at the moment and build on that. You can also substitute whatever your anxiety is telling you to do as a symbol of your defiance as well. For example, your anxiety tells you to pick at a scab? Resist the urge. Scratch a freckle instead. Your anxiety tells you it's too uncomfortable for you to go out in public? Do it anyway. Or water down anxiety's demand and substitute it with a form of its demands that you stay home, isolated from others and walk down the street. Or to the end of your driveway. Do whatever form of rebellion that you are able to do that can substitute for anxiety's demands. So even if you can't do it wholly, do it partly. If you are able to, get in your car, and drive to the store. Park. Then go back home if you must and count it a win. Your anxiety tells you to repeatedly ask questions? Don't do it. Maybe instead of making a question about what you feel the urge to ask, form it into a sentence and state it as though you are thinking aloud. "Hmmm, trying to decide if I should go out tonight..." Overall, try to resist complying with your anxiety (either by using substitution or blatant disobedience) for 5 minutes. Then 5 minutes more. Then another 5. By the end of the 15 minutes you may discover that the urge to submit to your anxiety has lessened.
Another basic principle to understand is that anxiety is energy. It often manifests itself in picking, pacing, popping knuckles, angry outbursts, crying, and countless other ways. Exercise is a phenomenal energy drainer and can take the edge off so your anxiety doesn't explode quite as quickly or hugely. I recommend daily exercise of some form: walking, yoga, swimming, whatever the activity, just move and deplete that energy.



 first: Rate it 

It's important to rate your anxiety when you are experiencing it as well as monitoring it on a day to day basis.When you begin feeling anxious, quickly make a mental note of its severity on a scale of 1-10. Think about its intensity and how much its disrupting your usual activities. On a scale of 1-10 – with 1 representing minimal, and 10 representing maximum, how would you rate its severity? The number you assign to it is very specifically your own assessment. It’s a number that reflects your perception of how intense the anxiety is. One of the advantages to self rating is that it gives you feedback on the progression or regression of your anxiety. To get that feedback though, you will need to periodically rate your anxiety throughout its life cycle. Once you have mentally rated your anxiety several times you will develop your own definition of what each number represents in terms of your symptoms. Rating your anxiety will take only a couple of seconds. Although I list it as a 'first' step, it isnt  done in isolation of the other steps. Each of the steps, though listed in order, will likely be used and reused in various orders and in conjunction with each other throughout your episode of anxiety. 
In addition to rating your anxiety on the spot when it occurs, I suggest each night you rate your day based on the level of anxiety you experienced in general that day. It is best to record this number in perhaps a notebook for this purpose.  Just as already described, you will use the numbers 1-10 to reflect the degree of severity of the anxiety you experienced throughout the day in general. The severity of your anxiety can be assessed by recalling its duration- how long it lasted- and intensity- how much it disrupted your thoughts, feelings, and activities.

 Rating your anxiety will help you gain control over a situation in which you feel you have no control. It will also help you recognize that there are different degrees to your anxiety. It will help you pay more attention to how you successfully prevent it from escalating. It will help you learn to ‘catch it while it’s little.’ It creates an awareness that anxiety ebbs and flows, expands and shrinks, and that when you are experiencing severe anxiety it will not stay that way permanently. It will also help you to see improvement in the long run. If you typically rate your anxiety between 6 and 9, for example and over a period of time you find that your highest rating is rarely an 8 or a 9, then you know you are making gains. Sometimes its hard to notice improvement in ourselves and writing down your ratings will document your progress, giving you confidence and providing you with information to help you determine what works and what doesn’t. Over a period of days, weeks or month, however long you choose, you might want to graph these numbers to show the ebb and flow of your anxiety and to point out progress.
Below you will find a partial graph of a client of mine. She rated her anxiety each night. She preferred though rather than rating the degree of anxiety, to rate her sense of control, peace, and what she identified as a good day. We also used percentages instead of the 1-5 or 1-10 rating scale. Whether you use percentages, numbers, or whether you rate your anxiety at its worst or at its best really isnt important. What is important is that it makes sense to you. I drew a line at 50% which would represent a half good half difficult day. We felt like if she could achieve anywhere above 50% that is significant progress. You will note the highs and lows. This representation opened the door for us to begin to try to figure out what was contributing to these numbers. What helped to achieve above 50%? What happened that caused it to fall below 50%? Awareness of a problem is half the solution. Rating increases awarenss of your anxiety from every angle! 




next: breathe
 

When you experience anxiety, there are numerous physical symptoms happening at the same time, each impacting the other. The heart may pound, your breathing becomes shallow, rapid, and difficult, and you may develop a headache. One of the first goals in managing anxiety is to get your breath under control. When you are able to breathe deeply and slowly, your heart rate will slow down, and your entire body will begin the process of relaxing. When a person breathes quick shallow breaths, oxygen is unable to be delivered to the brain, causing mental confusion. Breathe deeply and you will be more likely to get control of your thoughts as well. The breathing technique I will describe here is one you should practice every day, even multiple times daily. Practice during moments when you are feeling impatient in the check out line, use it when you become frustrated at yourself for letting a pot of water boil over onto the stove, creating a mess. As you practice it throughout your day on a regular basis, it will become more natural for you. The more you use it, the more quickly your body will be conditioned, or trained, to relax. Control your breathing to control your thoughts to control your anxiety. The breathing technique I suggest is often referred to as the 4-7-8 breathing but any adaptation of it will suffice. In general, though, the exhale is twice as long as the inhale. Experienced breathers can inhale on a count of 8-10 and exhale on a count of 16-20!  Using 4-7-8 as our guide, the breathing would look like this: Inhale quietly and slowly through your nose as you count to 4. Once you reach 4, you should be unable to take in any more air. At that point you hold the breath for a count of 7. The final step is very important. Exhale audibly and slowly through your mouth for a count of 8- even longer if you can. You want to squeeze every last bit of air out that you can. Counting preoccupies your mind, gives you something else besides your anxiety to focus on. By breathing in a calm and peaceful manner, you are basically fooling your body into thinking that you’re already calm and at peace because you are breathing the way you would be breathing if you were naturally in a state of calmness. Do not underestimate the power of your breathing rhythm in managing full blown anxiety or for preventing it from escalating.


Then: thank your brain 


YOUR BRAIN ON ANXIETY
The sweaty hands, the difficulty breathing, nervousness, racing thoughts… these are not imaginary symptoms and they do not mean you are crazy! When you experience these kinds of symptoms, what you are experiencing is your brain on anxiety. It is important to remember you are not your anxiety! Anxiety has a way of convincing you that what you are feeling is very real and true when in reality, it isn’t! Say to yourself or aloud, “This is anxiety making me feel like Im going to explode. But I am not really going to explode it just feels that way because anxiety is changing my perception of things.” In some ways your brain is trying to protect you from whatever danger or threat it perceives exists. Most people will have a red flag thought pop in their head, they can objectively assess its validity, discard it, and move on. But the brain of someone who has anxiety, works differently. Their brain alerts them with a red flag thought and when they begin to assess its validity the brain doesn’t let them move on from it. It stays stuck on it and simmers in their thoughts. It persists until they feel panic, and then things begin to snowball. Really, your brain is showing you love. It thinks its doing a good thing by warning you to protect you. You must tell your brain,
“Thank you for trying to protect me but I can handle it from here." 

  Thanking your brain is one step in the direction of waving the white flag of surrender, which will be discussed next.When you thank your brain, you don't argue with or try to make it stop. Instead, you embrace it, thank it, show it some love, then firmly tell it, 

"I'll take over now."

 

next: WAVE THE WHITE FLAG OF SURRENDER 
              

When you feel anxiety bubbling up inside you, there’s one important first step you must do but you aren’t going to want to do it and that is,wave the white flag of surrender. It may seem contrary to surviving an episode of anxiety but I have found that the more someone fights anxiety, the more it fights back. And the more it fights back, the stronger it becomes! It beats you up with even more furor than before, relentlessly badgering you in your thoughts. When we give up the fight, anxiety tends to begin to dissipate.
You will feel terribly helpless and there may be an increased sensation of anxiety. Try to flow with it. Lay down if you can or sit in a relaxed position, try to consciously relax your mouth and jaw, close your eyes, and imagine you are floating in it and you are okay with it. If your fists are clenched, unfold them. This not only jumpstarts your body into a relaxed state but is symbolic that you are truly surrendering. 
Don't forget to do your  4-7-8 breathing and repeat it for a long as you need to. You are not afraid of it. It cannot actually hurt you. Say aloud, This is not me. This is anxiety. I am not my anxiety. This is my brain reacting to perceived danger. Speak to it statements of truth, described next.

speak truth! 



When under the influence of anxiety, it is often difficult to think rationally. The mind conjures up all kinds of lies and repeats them on a loop. It's important to decide ahead of time, statements of truth that you can easily recall or that you can refer to, written down in your phone or on an index card. Having the statements of truth already recorded or memorized eliminates the difficult task of trying to battle the lies being told in your head by struggling to find a 'truth' that you can hold onto. You can begin identifying what your truths are by reflecting on your most recent episodes of anxiety. What were the truths of the matter? What do you know to be true now -that the anxiety is in the past- that you wish you knew then and could have believed in? The truths you identify will be personal and specific to how you experience your anxiety but here are some examples that clients have used with success:

"This is not fun but I will be okay." 
"It feels like it will last forever but it will stop at some point." 
"My thoughts tend to exaggerate my fears and they aren't grounded in reality."

DISTRACT YOURSELF 

When anxiety sucks you into its bottomless hole it seems nothing can pull you out of it. Anxious thoughts consume you. One strategy you can try is to distract yourself. Distraction is a powerful tool, just ask any mother of a toddler! With anxiety, though, it is a learned art, because anxiety's job is to keep you focused on its symptoms so it will be battling hard for your attention! If you can begin to distract yourself, if even for a few seconds, remember that  few seconds of paying attention to something else is a few seconds' reprieve from the awful feelings anxiety can produce. You'll take what you can get, right? A few seconds of distraction can grow into a few minutes. During this time your body is getting a chance to renormalize: your blood pressure starts to come down, your breathing slows, your heart begins to slow. The target of distraction is irrelevant. Some clients I have worked with found great success in counting the tiles on the wall as a distraction. Others have done mental math, counted by two's as far as they could, and still others have interrupted the cycle of anxiety by distracting themselves with washing their face with cold water or stepping outside. Do whatever it takes to occupy your mind onto something else, something other than your SELF. Distracting yourself gets you out of your head and puts you in touch with your environment, helping to ground you.  If you have someone with you, and if you will be cooperative, they could help to distract you by engaging you in conversation or playing a silly game. Distraction not only allows your body and mind a few seconds or minutes to begin to recover normalcy, it buys time to allow you to move through the cycle and land on your feet. Anxiety will not last forever. It will subside over time and it will end. If the number of hours you have been alive were calculated, it's very likely that the largest percentage of those hours were not controlled by anxiety. So you know how to do this. You know how to live your life with moments of being free from the control of anxiety. You can be encouraged that you can have success and begin to build further upon that success.


 what if and the
SO WHAT
QUESTIONS 

You have rated your anxiety, waved the white flag of surrender, thanked your brain for trying to protect you, distrated yourself, you are breathing long and slow inhales and exhales, and you are speaking truth to it. Now what? 
 Now it is time to ask the WHAT IF and the SO WHAT question. 
The purpose of asking the what if and the so what questions is to put anxiety in its place, to let it know that nothing it says to you will intimidate you. These questions also help to put things into perspective for you: to see that its not the end of the world, though it may feel like it. You will notice the answers to these questions do not exaggerate or lie.They are grounded in truth. It's important to be truthful and admit pain and suffering but to also state the opposite side of that coin: that you will some how get through this. I find that blending the two sides of the coin- the good and the bad- is much more realistic and effective. Rarely are things truthfully all of one side or the other. Here are examples of what I am talking about. 

Anxiety
: your head is pounding, something must be terribly wrong with you!
Client
: So what if my head is pounding? That's a natural physiological response to stress. I'm human and my body will respond in human ways.
Anxiety
: Your stomach is hurting and its never going to stop!
Client
:So what? I won't like it but I will deal with it if that happens!
Anxiety:
You're going to vomit!
Client:
What if I do? What's the big bad thing about that? It will be unpleasant for a few minutes and I might be embarrased but hey human beings vomit sometimes. 


Whatever the answers are to the questions what if and so what, it will not be your untimely death.

Learning to manage and shrink the level of anxiety in your life requires a comprehensive approach. In addition to the strategies described above, self care is extremely important. Self care truly is the foundation necessary for all the other strategies to be effective. Self care can include, eliminating as much processed, packaged foods as you can from your diet, appropriate and regular exercise, getting enough sleep, getting outdoors, engaging in activities that bring you happiness, and avoiding unhealthy and dangerous habits and addictions. Appropriate medication and therapy are also a huge part of the equation. Collaboration between your doctor, your therapist, and any one else who is a vital part of your life is important as well.
A final suggestion of something you can do as you reflect on your anxiety in general is to develop a life cycle of it.

THE LIFE CYCLE OF YOUR ANXIETY

Reflect on a recent anxiety episode you have had. Break it into blocks of time where any transitions occurred (such as eating breakfast, turning on tv, changing the baby's diaper, etc... It might be 15 minute, 30 minute, even a few hours increment of time. That is fine. There is no wrong way to do this. Rate your level of anxiety for each increment of time. Plot on a line graph numbered 1-5.  Examine what was going on then. Look at the time frame it began to recede. What made it recede? When was the anxiety at its peak? How long did it last? What were you telling yourself at that time?
The following illustration shows a life cycle for an episode of anxiety one of my clients had. She was 12 years old at the time and experienced anxiety about going to school. The life cycle of an anxiety episode…helps you to identify what you did that helped to alleviate it and it reassures you that it will subside. There is a beginning, middle, and an end. I would encourage you to rate your anxiety noting precipitating factors and then diagram its life cycle.
In the following illustration of a 12 year old client, you can see her anxiety occurred in the early morning. I had her tell me her morning routine for getting ready for school. The time blocks I used were transitional times in her routine. Also, I had her rate it on a scale of 1-5 which can sometimes be easier for people, especially children. She reflected on her morning from the moment she awoke at 5:50 AM. I asked her to rate her level of anxiety for each time block and she indicated it on the graph with a dot. Then I connect the dots to provide a visual of the rise and fall of her anxiety episode. This gave us valuable information. For one, it let her see that there is an end to anxiety. For another, we were able to go back for each time block and analyze what was going on during that time frame, what she was telling herself, what symptoms of anxiety she began to notice initially, and most importantly, what she did to address it, if anything. When she couldnt remember, I asked for her best guess. You can see from the image that at 7:40 is when her anxiety (referred by her as worry) was at his highest, or prime time. This was the time when she had to get out of the car to go into school. We were able to talk about strategies she used such as distraction, breathing, telling herself the truth about the matter, using humor, & surrendering, that helped her to shrink the intensity of her anxiety. 









__________________________
march, 2017
__________________________

WHEN YOU DON'T FIT IN
BY JAN TRABUE
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor


If social rejection had a voice it might say to others, "You
ignored me as if I didn't matter; you treated me as if I were a
freak; you made me feel that I didn't belong; and you made me
feel that I wasn't good enough. I don't care anymore! I don't
want to be your friend anyway! I'll show you that I don't care!" 

I DON'T FIT  IN... I FIT  OUT
Everyone experiences social rejection from time to time. It happens when you are in a conversation with someone and they abruptly wrap it up and scurry off because they see someone else they'd rather talk to. It happens when you walk into a group of people and no one looks up to acknowledge you. It happens when you contribute to a conversation and no one responds. These events happen to all of us periodically. Most people feel a bit put out when they experience these episodes of being shut out, but can easily shake it off.




WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
You might be one of the many people who seem to endure more than their fair share of social rejections. Perhaps it seems most of your life you have felt invisible. Perhaps you have felt that you were different from others; you're not quite able to put your finger on why, but you seem to have a hard time fitting in. You wonder what is wrong with you. You replay in your mind, on a constant loop, conversations and interactions you have had, analyzing every word and every action trying to figure out what you did wrong. But the thing is, you didn't do anything wrong! And there isn't anything wrong with you either! You're just a regular human being with the same need to belong that everyone has. The need to belong is as old as mankind. It is essentially, essential for physical and emotional survival. Guy Winch, PhD., Author of Emotional First Aid tells us, "Humans are social animals; being rejected from our tribe or social group in our pre-civilized past would have meant losing access to food, protection, and mating partners, making it extremely difficult to survive. Being ostracized would have been akin to receiving a death sentence. Because the consequences of ostracism were so extreme, our brains developed an early warning system to alert us when we were at risk for being "voted off the island" by triggering sharp pain whenever we experienced even a hint of social rejection."  



BEING HIGHLY SENSITIVE:
A Blessing & a Curse

If you feel like you don't fit in, it's very possible you have some  of these common traits with others who feel the same way: You have a kind heart and would make a great friend; you are highly critical of yourself and that criticism often applies to others as well; you are a highly sensitive person, who overthinks, overanalyzes, and jumps to conclusions. All of this mental activity, that plays out incessantly in your head, is exhausting, both mentally and physically. This only keeps you tied up in your head, feeding into your feelings of  self-consciousness and inadequacy. You may often misread social cues, overreact or under-react in social situations, may talk too loudly, and you may have been described by others as being immature. You may blurt something out without really considering how it might put the other person on the spot or frame them in a bad light. Let me repeat: There is nothing wrong with you! Your social awkwardness may be a manifestation of several internal factors including your interpretation of your experiences, self-doubt, dissatisfaction with self, and a tendency toward a negative general outlook. It is simply how you are wired. 

WHAT SCIENCE SAYS
Chronic social rejection can set in motion a chain reaction of hurt, anger, revenge seeking, isolation, apathy, and depression. Studies are clear and consistent in their findings: When a person feels socially rejected repeatedly, they experience increased incidents of anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy, apathy, and sadness. They don't have adequate impulse control and show increased signs of aggression. According to DeWall (Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011), rejection takes a physical toll as well. People who feel rejected repeatedly have poor sleep quality and their immune systems don't function as well as those people with strong social connections. Furthermore, constant social rejection can make a person suspicious, hostile, and even antisocial. When a person experiences rejection repeatedly over an extended period of time, their emotional system may shut down, leaving them emotionally numb, not just to their own hurt feelings but to the sufferings of others.
Did you also know that studies show reoccurring social exclusion leads to a substantial drop in intellectual performance? The ability to logically reason, make inferences, or draw
conclusions are notably impaired. It may surprise you to know that there is a strong link between rejection and pain. We know from researchers that there is evidence that the pain of rejection is quite similar to the pain of a physical injury. MRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated
when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. In other words, the body's response to a broken heart is the same as the body's response to a broken arm! the pain is very real, can be debilitating, and very powerful in its ability to transform a person's entire outlook on life and thus, their success and happiness.

 You may dress or change your appearance to represent how different you feel inside. You flaunt it and are proud of it because this is what gives you strength: relishing in being extra bold in being different, a kind of 'rubbing it in the face' of all those who rejected you.

I JUST WANT TO BELONG
Chronic social rejection, then is a very real and serious phenomenon indeed. Because the need to belong is basic in your human makeup, denying your desire to belong, while may preserve your pride, only projects you further in to the dark hole of hopelessness and despair. How do you handle these feelings of repeated social rejection? I have observed two basic responses of how people handle repeated social rejection. Some respond by becoming better, and others respond by becoming bitter.

CHOICES 
BETTER OR BITTER?

Let's talk about the latter category first. It is understandable that you would become bitter after constantly being excluded and treated as if you are irrelevant. You feel confused, you scrutinize and analyze everything you say and do trying to figure out what is wrong with you! You feel hurt. Hurt becomes anger. Anger becomes depression. You may seek revenge, not even against a particular individual but at the human race in general. You may tend to gravitate toward others who demonstrate similar behaviors. Oftentimes these others are not your best choices for friendships. They may contribute to your negative outlook and feed your anger toward people. Your desire to be wanted and accepted clouds your ability to recognize that this friendship may not be in your best interest. You may dress or change your appearance to represent how different you feel inside. You flaunt it and are proud of it because this is what gives you strength: relishing in being extra bold in being different, a kind of 'rubbing it in the face' of all those who rejected you. 
If social rejection had a voice it might say to others, "You ignored me as if I didn't matter, you treated me as if I were a freak, you rejected me repeatedly, you made me feel that I didn't belong, and that I was not good enough. I don't care anymore! I don't want to be your friend anyway! I'll show you that I don't care!" 
I have noticed over the years in working with people who feel rejected, and in my own person experience of living a life of invisibility, a common rule of rejection has emerge:

The degree of hurt you feel is equal to the
     intensity of your
"I don't care" mantra and
     the degree of your withdrawn,
or obnoxious,
     and rude behavior.

As an educator, I always knew the student who proclaimed the loudest, "I don't care," was the student who actually cared the most. Caring stems from the human need for love and acceptance. Caring for others opens the door to new levels of joy and fulfillment that won't be experienced living in a vacuum. Less caring in life = less joy in life. There is no shame in admitting that you care. Or that you are hurt. you may think you are so clever in denying that you care and that you are hurt, but it shows in your behavior, even when you don't realize it. You may as well be wearing a sign on your back that says,
Pay attention to me!

"I DON'T CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK"
Another statement I heard often as an educator was, "I don't care what other people think!" This statement is more difficult to dispute. On the one hand, we don't want to be stifled in living our lives, fearful of judgments from others, but on the other hand, the fact of the matter is, people do judge us based on our appearance and behavior. If we are too far out of the mainstream, we may be sabotaging ourselves from having access to the greatest range of jobs, relationships, and self-fulfillment. so caring what other people think then, while not obsessing over it, pushes us in a direction of self-growth and greater opportunities. Caring what other people think to a reasonable degree provides us with accountability so we don't get too far off base, thus setting ourselves up for failure.
Of course not all individuals who experience repeated social rejection will necessarily
become hardened and bitter. Some may take a different path and become better because of the hurt. They are determined to figure out a way to create a social network for support, friendship, feedback, and personal growth. They have determined they want to make their life count and they will not be stopped by social rejection. They know their life's higher calling and are driven by fulfilling it. They seek friendships with those who may also identify as being different from others but do not engage in self-destructive or socially alienating behaviors. This often requires a great deal of patience to find others they click with who don't mind their oddities, who can accept their social awkwardness and see and appreciate the value of the person inside.

 Discover your 'why' and
keep focused on that;
build your life around it.

 The need to belong, to be loved and accepted will drive us to do surprising things. I understand this because I know in my own life how it propelled me into a lifestyle that was destructive, addictive, and hurtful not only to me but to my family. I am not proud of the things I did. I understand that having felt like I didn't fit in was the driving force behind my actions. In reflection on this period of time in my life, and in my experiences counseling thousands of children, I have composed the following practical strategies you can integrate into your life to help you find that place where you belong.
1) Seek out others who will build you up, accept you for who you are, appreciate your value, and recognize your inner gifts. Notice that I said, "seek out" others. This means you can't sit around, holed up in your room, and wait for someone to come to you. You have to go to them. Many times. Make it your mission to make a new friend with someone who is a positive person, kind, and would reciprocate with their friendship to you.
2) Try to create snippets of positive vibes in your interactions with others throughout the day. It may be something as simple as an upbeat verbal exchange with the cashier at the fast food counter. Oftentimes, these exchanges can easily begin with you complimenting the person. Creating snippets of positive vibes will remind you that there isn't anything wrong with you and just as important, that it feels nice to be nice!
3) Discover your 'why' and keep focused on that while building your life around it. Recognize and accept that your calling in life may not be to fit in at every social situation. Not everyone is a charismatic person that everyone clamors to. We all have different gifts. Find yours. What is the reason for your existence? Consider your purpose in life from a local perspective as well as a global one. Your role in life may be to serve in the background, to be a listening ear for someone, to create art for others to enjoy, to repair things with your hands, to inspire others with your music or poetry. Whatever your why, find it, find ways to live out its mission, and you may begin to see life differently. Do not neglect the importance of finding your why! It holds the power to your fulfillment in life!
4) Find what you love to do and do it.  Whether it's gardening, exercise, pets, reading, or photography, find that activity that sucks you in and causes you to lose all track of time. Doing what you love, especially if it's something that adds meaning to your life- or someone else's life- will soften the blows of social rejection. It could also be  a bridge to fitting in with others who share similar interests.
5) Identify the core people in your life who truly care for you. You know who they are. They're the ones who will come to your funeral when you die, visit you in the hospital when you're having surgery, or help you out in a time of need. Stick close to them if at all possible. Never let them get too far out of your reach. They will remind you that you matter!
6) Change your rigid thinking. Just because something was the way it was then, doesn't necessarily mean it will be the same way now. You are not made of bricks, unable to bend and change. Rigid thinking narrows the possibilities in life for you. Be flexible in your thinking and you won't get bent out of shape. Be flexible in your thinking and you will be better able to reach your goals.
7) Be a people watcher. Learn from others how they are able to quickly brush off a social snub and carry on i a positive manner. Identify people you admire who can smoothly navigate those social situations that typically find you tucked away in a corner somewhere glued to your phone. Notice their willingness to be a good listener, to ask questions, to be complimentary, to bounce the ball of shared communication back and forth without being a ball hog, dominating the conversation, and not dodging the ball either! If you are willing, you can learn the nuances of social interactions.
8) Finally, accept who you are. When you sincerely embrace who you are, there is no hint of anger, rebellion, vengeance, or carrying a chip on your shoulder. The journey to embrace who you are is grounded on humility, being teachable, and a desire to fulfill your life's purpose. Honestly accepting who you are can be a long distance journey, even a lifelong one. It includes being willing to identify areas that you can improve in, areas that will serve your purpose better, that will not sabotage your personal growth. Accept who you are while challenging yourself to grow in areas that are not easy or even comfortable. Find or create environments in which you can develop your why.

Finally, you are going to continue to feel awkward in some social situations, but try not to avoid all of them, it's just not good for you. You are are not an island. Yes, you will be left out at times, but do not interpret that to mean that you don't matter! It isn't true. These things will happen. Such is life. Humans aren't perfect and they will ignore you at times. Take a few slow and long, deep breaths and remind yourself-
there is more to life than this moment.
Refocus on your why and march bravely on, my friend.






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