Category: Quality of Life
Eric Barker offer a well researched post on how to deal with social anxiety. Here’s an excerpt:
- Mindfulness recommends “noting” troublesome thoughts like fear. Recognize and accept them to let them go.
- Neuroscience advocates “labeling.” (Frankly, this is a lot like noting but backed by some PhDs and an fMRI.)
- Stoicism has “premeditation.” That’s when you ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and realize it’s not that bad.
- Neuroscience also recommends “reappraisal.” This is reinterpreting your feelings with a new story that makes them less scary.
A random bunch of tips? Nope. So what do they all have in common? You gotta use your brain. You gotta think. Some might reply, “I am thinking, I’m thinking about all the awful stuff that could happen if I embarrass myself. In fact, I can’t STOP thinking about it!” But you’re not thinking. You’re reacting. Fight or flight. Like an animal would.
Here’s something Barker’s article that I didn’t appreciate. Intense mental focus “smothers” anxiety.
When your thinking brain — the prefrontal cortex — is highly engaged, it slams the brakes on feelings. And you can use this trick deliberately. Anything that gets you thinking actively can smother anxiety.
This makes perfect sense, given the limited scope of attention. If you fill your head with challenging problem solving, there simply isn’t room for anxiety. Barker suggests that one thing to focus your mind on is your fears–face your fears, and it will keep anxiety at bay. Barker reminds that we are not our thoughts. Therefore, instead of saying, “I’m feeling anxious,” say say, “There is anxiety.” Instead, note the existence of scary thoughts.
I’ll keep this advice in mind.
Societies worldwide are suffering epidemics of mental illness because “human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart,” writes George Monbiot at The Guardian.
“Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.” The consequence? “[P]lagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness.”
Kim Stark has made a career of talking to strangers. She made it her task to try to understand why she does that, in this TED talk. She has decided that it is better to use one’s perceptions than to use categories, such as the category of “stranger.” Using this category means that we are not treating others as fully human. There are other benefits. Some studies show that people are more comfortable opening up to strangers than to people they believe they know. We expect that people we know understand us–we expect them to read our minds. Not so with strangers, with whom we start from scratch. Sometimes they do understand us better. Maybe we need strangers, but how should we interact with them, how do we balance both civility and privacy, which are the guiding rules in the U.S. In other countries there are other rules. In Denmark, many folks are extremely adverse to talking to strangers.
Stark offers and exercise that involves smiling, and then “triangulation,” commenting on a third person or a thing. Or engage in “noticing,” such as complimenting the other person on something (and you can most easily talk to a stranger’s dog or baby). Or engage in “disclosure,” sharing a personal experience, and this tends to cause the “stranger” to reciprocate.
Stark’s main message is that we need to stop being so wary of strangers and to make a place for them in our lives.
At The Atlantic, James Hamblin follows up with his own explorations on talking to strangers.
ALAIN de BOTTON: We marry the wrong person because we fail to focus on excellence in resolving conflict
Alain de Botton has written an extremely insightful article at the NYT on why we marry the wrong person.
What do we traditionally look for: During a perfectly romantic date, we propose marriage as an attempt to bottle up romance forever. Or we act Machiavellian, seeking to find someone for strategic advantages. There’s nothing bad about any of this, but it leaves out a critically important area of concern.
Alain de Botton urges that we not overlook that we are all dysfunctional, and that dysfunction often is left unexplored until after the vows are uttered.
We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?” Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.
For instance, we tend to seek those things that traditionally make us happy, but many of those things are things from our dysfunctional childhoods:
What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.
Yes, this will no doubt offend. The carnage on the street has got to stop.
The happily ever after trope goes something like this: Love, marriage, children, happiness. However, that is not what the statistics show. “Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting.” The source of this sad passage is “Decades of Studies Show What Happens to Marriages After Having Kids,” in Fortune Magazine. The statistics show that having children drives a married couple apart more than it brings them more closely together:
The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.
Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse.
As a person who is divorced and dating, it was with special interest that I read Eric Barker’s latest on “5 Shortcuts To Bonding Deeply With A Romantic Partner.” These shortcuts appear to be legit and powerful, maybe too powerful. Thus, one should be cautioned to not use these shortcuts on the wrong person or you might end up in a long-term relationship with the wrong person (I’m thinking of two things in particular: the task of staring into each others’ eyes for an extended period and a list of personal topics that, it is claimed, will rocket the relationship forward).
One of my biggest take-aways, though was this:
John Gottman, the #1 guy on making relationships work, says 69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. These problems don’t go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year. Via The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:
Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.
The above finding would seem to be a warning to choose one’s potential partner exceedingly carefully because most of the conflicts of a relationship will remain conflicts for the entire relationship. On the other hand, I sometimes think and laugh at this episode of Seinfeld.
Barker’s advice, which he carefully compiles from many other sources, is something I will have at the ready, appreciating its power to send two people spiraling off into the wrong direction together. One the other hand, these suggestions might serve as a tempting dose of jet fuel for what is already a good match.