Ritual and Friendship Calm Anxiety

Last week, we didn’t just travel to San Jose for the BlogHer. We also spent time before and after the conference with a friend I have known since childhood, in a beautiful city called Santa Cruz. She lives a beautiful life filled with gorgeous rituals, often surrounding incredible food. The week taught me that this kind of ritual and friendship calm anxiety, for me. Watching her include my son in her favorite activities reminded me that I can actually calm my anxiety without taking a time out from motherhood, as long as my kiddo is willing to participate. He’s an easy-going guy, so I can really see this working!

Example: having met the Goat Milk Latte in Santa Cruz, I am now obsessed with the rich, creamy, earthy goodness. My extended family has a coffee roasting business, so I have some pretty amazing coffee at my house. Walt says a word that sounds like “cough” for “coffee” and most mugs he points at get named “Mama.” This is already a ritual I enjoy, so I just explained everything I was doing to Walt and told him to listen to the sounds and smell the smells. What do you know? It worked!

Hario ceramic cone pour-over coffee "maker" with a Chemex filter (I accidentally bought the bleached ones and prefer the unbleached), sitting atop a mug that was a gag gift from a BFF, with my little quart of goat milk and my Hario hand-grinder that I use to grind my Tonyan Coffee. We love that thing - the crank, the sound - it's fabulous.
Hario ceramic cone pour-over coffee “maker” with a Chemex filter (I accidentally bought the bleached ones and prefer the unbleached), sitting atop a mug that was a gag gift from a BFF, with my little quart of goat milk and my Hario hand-grinder that I use to grind my Tonyan Coffee. We love that thing – the crank, the sound – it’s fabulous.

But that’s not the only way friendship calms my anxiety; that would just be a ritual inspired by a friendship. Here’s the real lesson I learned about Friends Around Whom I Feel Less Anxiety: brutal honesty.

You would not believe (or maybe you get it, because you do it to) how much time I spend thinking about what other people are thinking about me. I understand, with my rational brain, that other people really don’t spend that much time thinking about me. My experience visiting my California friend smashed into my experience I had when another friend visited us here in Connecticut, and there was a big BANG! as I realized what these visits had in common: I felt like I was on vacation from anxiety, because I trust these women to tell me what I need to know. Am I talking about something that upsets her? She’ll tell me. Am I being a bad listener? She’ll let me know. Does she really want to eat that kind of food and not the kind of food I have suggested? She’ll say so.

When both people in a relationship, friendship or otherwise, trust that boundaries will be respected and honesty maintained, no one has to worry that doing or saying the wrong thing will cause a major break! I don’t worry, anymore, that I’ll say or do the “wrong” thing. Of course I will; everyone does. The real anxiety comes from worrying that my mistake, inevitable as it is, will result in some sort of silent distancing and… let’s not indulge that fantasy. Essentially, I don’t want to relive high school, where I never knew that people were talking about me unless I could actually HEAR the gossip or someone filled me in that their was gossip. “So and so doesn’t like you.” ::shudder::

How did I end up carrying that around with me, all these years later? Because I was raised by a man who did the same thing. The most common mind game my emotionally abusive father played was, “I know that So and So Doesn’t Like Me/You/Us because…” The stories were frequent, long, complicated, and convincing. At least 50% of the dinner conversation in my home centered around this nonsense. Of course, the same “logic” was applied to me, later on. “Because you said this, I know that you feel that and think this other thing.” Nauseatingly complicated. Anything you say can and will be used against you. And so, for me, I fully relax only when I know that my words and actions will not be used against me, later. It turns out that I’m good at convincing myself that this is true only around a few people in my life.

I think it’s universal that Truth is the best way to fight anxiety. Anxiety lies – the one thing that everyone I’ve talked to about generalized anxiety seems to have in common is that we lose our ability to prioritize. Going to the grocery store and answering email, even when there is no important email and there are hungry family members to feed but no food in the house, these two tasks seem equally important, to the anxious mind. And so, I really value the people who can speak up and say hey, I think you’re incorrect, and please note this truth over here. It takes a LOT of energy for me to sort out what’s input from the world outside and what’s an invention of the anxious mind inside my head. The people who save me time and energy by sorting that out for me are just so nice to be around.

Especially when they don’t look at me sideways for feeling so passionately about goat dairy.

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