Anxiety habits. These might include anything from biting your fingernails to imagining the worst will happen. While everyone who lives with anxiety likely has an anxiety habit or two, most people don’t think twice about whether these habits are under their control. If anxiety is at the root of your nail biting, surely you’ve got to get rid of the anxiety somehow first, before you can stop biting your nails?
While one might think this would be the case, and it most likely is true that people who are for the most part anxiety-free don’t bite their nails (or have other habits reminiscent of anxiety), there is no reason why you can’t work backwards: start eliminating the bad habits and leave the anxiety ’til the end.
Lately I’ve been trying to follow the practices of the FlyLady.net. If you’re not familiar with this website, Marla Cilley, aka the “Flylady,” a nickname given to her when she joined a cleaning forum way back when, directs women (though I guess it could include men, her audience seems to be all women) across the United States and the world to develop good habits to keep an organized and clean home.
I’ve tried to follow the site before, subscribed to emails, etc., but always found it overwhelming. They would be off decluttering a room and I’d still be stuck with a sink full of dishes. What I realized though, was that there was a ton of motivation waiting for me on that site—I just had to put it to use.
I didn’t necessarily have to follow every new habit or direction, but if I started somewhere and did a little bit each day, then I would be headed in the right direction.
For the Flybabies, as she calls her followers, that starts with a clean and shiny sink every night that you wake up to every morning. The idea is that the sink is the central heart of the home, and when it is clean and shiny, that will eventually spread to the rest of the house. It’s supposed to make you smile in the morning when you see it.
So, I got to thinking, what would be the equivalent for social anxiety? What one habit could you practice every day that would be at the heart of managing anxiety, and would lead you to want to develop other good habits along the way? I thought about the long and hard, because there isn’t too much that is objective like with cleaning your house.
It’s not like you can say:
Okay, I’ve completed my [avoiding negative thoughts/being mindful/insert other helpful tip for coping with anxiety]. No! You’re technically supposed to do those things ALL THE TIME. So really, those are the results of your anxiety being reduced, rather than the cause of it. While of course doing these things will help to reduce your anxiety, they aren’t things you can check off a list.
They’re not like a shiny sink, making you smile in the morning.
So what then, could we do every day, at the heart of getting better, that would spread to other areas of our lives?
The shiny sink is what?—a representation of the opposite of disorderliness, the opposite of being messy, the opposite of being out of control.
So what would be the opposite of being socially anxious?
It has to be a daily habit, remember. We’re not talking about signing up for a pottery class to improve your social skills or joining a book club to be more comfortable speaking in front of others.
Just a daily habit, that over time takes less time to do, but that makes you feel good about yourself, and eventually becomes how you live your life.
Can you think of any things that people who are not socially anxious do on a daily basis?
When I wracked my brain I came up with some ideas:
-leave the house
-make phone calls
-don’t try to be perfect
Some of these are actions, some are just ways of being.
So, let’s pick one.
For simplicity, let’s give this a name so we can stop saying that we want to be the opposite of socially anxious. I like Chris MacLeod’s term “succeed socially,” but that’s not quite it.
What I want is for you to feel good about yourself. Because when you start to feel good about yourself, you will start to see yourself as a person who deserves to be free of anxiety.
To feel good about yourself, do one good deed that helps someone else every day.
We’ll give it a name at another time, but for now I want you to get started on this.
And if you’re wondering if this has any scientific backing, check out the study in the source list.
That’s it! Soon you’ll be moving from anxiety habits to a kindness habit. Let me know in the comments what types of kind acts you did.
Alden LE, Trew JL. If it makes you happy: engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals. Emotion. 2013;13(1):64-75.