“Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say.”
― Mitch Albom
If you took a peek at last week’s posting, you might recall the mention of the three most common responses to stress: flight, fight, or freeze. The thing is, there are a variety of stressful situations, and not all of them are life-threatening. A lot of them happen in social situations as well – especially when talking is involved.
Some people get really quiet (aka. freeze):
Socially Comfortable Person:
“Hey! I’m Anna. Nice to meet you.”
Socially Awkward Person:
**smiles in what they hope is a genuine way – but they kind of look like they have to poop instead.**
Other people try to talk, but they lack confidence, so they tend to ‘backpedal’ a lot of what they say (aka. flight):
“So I was thinking that it’s because of the weather…Well, maybe not entirely because of the weather… I don’t know… What do you think?”
Other people feel this urge to keep talking, whether what they have to say is relevant/interesting or not (aka. fight):
“So the light bulb went out in my refrigerator…”
If you read last week’s post, you might remember which one of these I am…
Yep, I’m a fighter.
Want me to join in on a social gathering? Or take part in a personal conflict?
You can count on me!
– to not. EVER. shut. up.
The thing is, I clearly know that I do this…. You’d think I’d be able to just stop.
It’s always done with good intention. Usually, I end up rambling for one of a few reasons:
- I’m excited or happy about something, and I want to share that joy with someone I care about.
I’m all for sharing joy, but sometimes, I just don’t bother to think about whether or not they will think whatever I’m talking about is as interesting as I do. Then, when they don’t respond like I was hoping, I just keep rambling, hoping to suddenly gain their interest.
- If I’m in a conflict with someone, I tend to expect certain responses – or at least hope for them.
When a person responds negatively, or with silence, I tend to want to ramble then too, in the hopes that “maybe I just need to clarify some of my points”, then they won’t be upset. Or “maybe, if I keep talking, they’ll eventually tell me what they’re thinking.”
- If I’m in a typical social situation… I HATE awkward silences.
Awkward silences are evil. They almost always initiate my rambling sequence. It’s probably because, the moment that silence begins, I jump to the worst possible conclusions:
“…Oh, that’s it, they hate me.”
“Whatever I just said has offended them.”
“I’m just so boring!”
…. cue the nervous blabbering!
And to make matters worse…
Because I’m aware that I do this, but can’t seem to stop myself, I tend to obsess about these conversations later:
“Remember that thing that you said? That was stupid, huh?”
“No one is ever going to invite you to anything again, because you’re so boring.”
“That girl was laughing at you. Great work.”
Eventually, I just couldn’t handle the stress of these situations, but I was determined not to avoid social situations altogether because, you know, it’s not healthy….
I tried being silent first.
Any social situation I entered, I tried not to speak unless someone spoke directly to me.
But then, I noticed that I wasn’t really helping the conversation along with that approach. People who knew me well enough assumed that I was angry or ill or unwilling to talk. Then, they would find a way to exit the conversation, or phase me out of it out of politeness – which was the exact opposite of what I wanted.
I wanted to be included.
But I didn’t want to bombard people with my thoughts and feelings either.
I decided to take a different approach…
On days that I knew I would be interacting with people, I would be sure to journal beforehand. I would put my pen to paper (yes, a pen and paper), and just start writing out my immediate thoughts. At least once per week – sometimes as much as every day – I would pour my dramatic little heart out.
I used to journal as a kid, when writing out your angst was all the rage. Every girl in every kid/teen sitcom used to do it. But as a kid, had found that it wasn’t just fun, it made me feel better. I wasn’t old enough to really understand why yet. I’m not even sure I entirely understand now. But now, I don’t really care why it works, only that it does.
In fact, the result was more than I had hoped for.
On days that I journaled, I noticed that I didn’t feel the need to tell people every little aspect of my life, or express every single feeling of stress or sadness. In fact, I felt less stress, less sadness.
Now, journaling has become almost like a meditative practice for me. I write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes, I’m surprised at what comes out, usually because I wasn’t even aware that a certain thing was bothering me until it comes out on paper.
And the great thing is, I never get anxious about what I write. I don’t ever have to get anxious about someone judging my thoughts and feelings, because only I will ever see them. That thought is an absolute relief.
“But I don’t have the time”…
Since I’ve begun journaling again, I’ve mentioned it to a few people, and I’ve been surprised at how many do the same thing. Others said they would like to, but didn’t have the time. To me though, it was worth finding the time.
And there are so many options!
Some people I talked to hated hand-writing, so they would record an audio journal, or type it out on a computer.
Some people preferred to write in simple bullet points – basic thoughts and feelings – while others liked the eloquence of writing out long paragraphs.
Even the reasons that people journal vary:
Some want to organize their thoughts, such as for a project or speech. Or bounce around ideas for a new creative endeavor – like a “mind map”.
Some want to organize their life. So they’ll write out their goals or tasks for their day. I know one friend that says she can’t go to sleep until she’s done this, or she lies awake thinking about everything she needs to do that day.
One married couple I know has an “adventure journal” – where they write out their individual accomplishments and new experiences throughout the year, then share it together every New Year’s Eve.
The Possibilities are endless!
Let’s face it: we’re all just trying to find ways to manage our crazy. Journaling is one of mine. It’s either that, or I word vomit on everyone I meet.