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An Exercise in Self-Soothing vs. Avoidance

Yesterday I had a therapy appointment. Aside from the normal anxieties about having a baby and running my own business (all par for the course), I had a question that had been on my mind for a little while.

I had noticed that each day when I mentally reviewed my calendar for that day, any event I had later on or even multiple events such as training clients back to back would lead to feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and a little discomfort. None of these were debilitating and I never really minded seeing clients, but the thought of leaving my house was just not as exciting to me as staying home and working.

From those thoughts, usually had in the morning after my workout, my next thought would go to my normal routine of breakfast — eggs, a Trader Joe’s English muffin with peanut butter and cherry jelly, and a hot mug of black tea. Immediately upon envisioning that routine and the ritual of brewing and sipping tea, I would feel a wave of relief and happiness that overshadowed the hesitation I felt with the rest of my calendar for the day. It seemed slightly odd to me that I would experience SUCH relief from the thought of sitting on the couch and drinking tea.

On the surface, there wasn’t anything terribly abnormal about this, but the reason that my brain flagged it was because the cycle felt eerily similar to one that I would go through almost a decade ago.

While living by myself in my addiction, I would often ruminate on how I was falling behind in my pharmacy work, I had an upcoming exam to study for, and how I was going to continue affording drugs and alcohol. I would become overwhelmed with problems and no solutions, then remember that to make that feeling go away all I had to do was stay at home and get high. The feeling of relief and happiness was almost identical to the one I was feeling about making tea.

Thankfully, my unwillingness to forget my past makes me hyper vigilant to any indication that I may slide backwards. Not so thankfully, it also causes me to overthink and panic about what is “acceptable” and “not acceptable” behavior (in my mind). Through exploring the issue with my therapist, she simply pointed out the fact that I had replaced a destructive behavior with a positive one and there was really nothing to be concerned about.

My “more positive,” learned self-soothing behavior wasn’t really an issue, but figuring out the difference between that and avoidance was. I am a chronic procrastinator and avoider (not a word). I have accepted my procrastinating tendencies and understand that that’s how I work the best. My problem is not with that, but with the avoidance — something that actually DOES get me into trouble and manifests in the form of inactivity, failure to set and aim for specific goals, and just not making the most of myself when everything I need is right in front of me.

In the same way that “giving myself grace” doesn’t work for me, I am learning to set attainable goals and boundaries around my work life. I can enjoy my morning routine and start the day on a positive note, but I have to set a time when that routine needs to end so that I can be productive in my day. Without work boundaries and timelines for myself, I will play minesweeper for an hour straight and stare at my computer blankly, pecking around for what it is I should do next.

There’s no specific take home message here today, but if you’re anything like me, it’s important to understand the spectrum of what constitutes self-care and soothing vs. avoidance for you. By understanding the spectrum, it’s easier to figure out the motivations for your behavior and see what (if anything) needs to change in order for you to be your most productive self.

So here’s to the overthinkers, the avoiders, the introverts, and the recovering addicts who will always have to work a liiiiitle bit harder to stay on track. You got this. 🙂

2 comments on “An Exercise in Self-Soothing vs. Avoidance

  1. Interesting post, Erin! I have to admit, sometimes I tell myself I’m self-soothing when I’m really trying to avoid something. You’re right, it’s important to understand where the first ends and where the second starts!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com
    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog recently posted…Are You Still Wasting Money on Expensive Hotels in London?My Profile

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