How did you stop comparing yourself to everyone?
September 24, 2018 2:46 AM   Subscribe

I have recently realized that a lot of my anxiety stems from comparing myself to other people ALL THE TIME. This was recently triggered by a parents' event at my kids' school. How can I keep this from affecting my life?

I have struggled a lot with anxiety over the years. I've never taken medication, but I have seen a few therapists. I did find CBT somewhat useful, but not the panacea I thought it would be. (And I hated arguing with myself all the time.) The short time I was able to do meditation did help. Mostly, I am just a functioning person who worries a lot.

I've recently realized that most of my worries stem from comparison with other people -- their jobs/houses/lives, etc. I was recently at a parents' event at my kids' school and I was going mad in my head comparing everything about our children -- their speech (one of my kids has a language delay, and it's really obvious when around other kids), their clothes, their activities, their names, the streets they live on -- I was jealous of it all. An this wasn't a braggy affair -- these were just people I know telling me ordinary stuff about their lives in casual conversation.

I left feeling depressed and absolutely ridiculous. I know you never know someone's life -- they are probably going through divorces, job losses, all sorts of worries of their own. I know my life is pretty darn good. But I just keep thinking -- if I had chosen this, done X, lived Y, gotten a job like that, everything would be great.

Instead, I feel like an asshole all the time, and make myself miserable over nothing, but nothing I'm doing now is cutting through it. It makes even ordinary social events miserable for me. Kids' stuff in particular seems to trigger it. My partner is not like this at all and can't really understand.

So, did anything you do/read/think about etc help you work through this? I'm open to any advice at all!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
If you struggle at this sort of level all the time, I can't imagine why you wouldn't try meds in consultation with your doctor.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 AM on September 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Deleting all of my social media accounts really helped me through something like this.
posted by fso at 5:09 AM on September 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

When I start comparing myself to other people, I try to step back and imagine a positive group we're both in. For example, if I'm in the pool and I realize I'm comparing myself to the far better swimmer in the next lane, I try to zoom out and remember that we are both in the group of People Who Dragged Themselves To The Pool. At the parents' event you describe, you might think of yourself as being in the group of Parents Who Cared Enough To Come To The Event. (This could turn into an unhealthy approach if it leads to feelings of superiority, but for me, it generally leads to feelings of equality and stops there. YMMV.)

I think it's great that you've turned to AskMe for advice on this. I think this is something a lot of people struggle with, and I'll be following the thread with interest. But if the suggestions here don't end up making you happier, I wanted to say that it might be worth trying therapy again. You describe yourself as "functioning" and therapy might not be necessary for you, but it doesn't mean it's not helpful. Like, sometimes you might need a doctor because you're bleeding to death, and sometimes you might choose to see one because you've got an irritating rash that won't go away.

This sounds like it's the mental version of a rash, rather than a deadly wound -- but if it's making your life less happy, and you aren't able to fix it on your own, it might be worth looking for a professional who can help you be happier.
posted by yankeefog at 5:57 AM on September 24, 2018 [17 favorites]

If meditation helped, why not try it again? A great yoga teacher really helped me with a lot of this, though I was generally comparing myself to myself rather than other people, and it was basically because she gave us the message over and over again that we were enough, just as we are, flawed as we are. You are enough, just as you are. Meditating with that phrase helps me a lot.
posted by lazuli at 6:08 AM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

After I got divorced and was raising three kids by myself, I did this too. All those stay at home moms with chefs and cleaners and tennis lessons and beach houses and in-home gyms and spas and the ability to get their kids to far-fetched extracurriculars and incredible vacations---I ended up giving myself a pretty severe case of social anxiety and for a while couldn't leave my house.

CBT helped a ton but my therapist and I came up with this phrase which really stopped me in my tracks: How would my kids feel if they knew I was comparing our family to other ones and we were coming up so short that I was jealous of them?

That type of thinking would have devastated my kids. It helped me reframe those thoughts but seeing how unfair they were to me and my family. Sometimes, I'll see a friend's kid going on a $14,000 house-building mission in Central America as a community service activity to put on their transcript, but instead of feeling jealous my kids couldn't ever do that, I think, "Well, that's an interesting thing to spend your money on; they must be desperate to get that kid out of the house."
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:19 AM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

YMMV, but I fixed this problem simply by replacing "everyone" with "myself yesterday." I had a very late start in life for various reasons and it would be a miracle if I was able to catch up to most people at this point. But there's one person I can definitely do better than-who I was in the past. If yesterday I was a messy wreck that didn't even have a clean pair of undies well by today I can be a person with clean undies! If yesterday I was a sloth sitting at home waiting for a job offer today I can be a proactive person who goes to the gym and reads a book about Winston Churchill and sends out more resumes. I ask, who was I last year, last week, whatever and who do I want to be today, next week, next year. Start thinking of yourself as many people instead of just one and try to beat the person you were back then with the person you are (or could be) right now. You'll start to feel a little more control over your life and feel more purpose when you see yourself as your own self as the competition and there are so many ways we can choose to be better today than we were yesterday.
posted by fantasticness at 6:29 AM on September 24, 2018 [16 favorites]

But I just keep thinking -- if I had chosen this, done X, lived Y, gotten a job like that, everything would be great.

It might be helpful to read up on happiness research a bit. Generally speaking, once people reach a certain level of income in order to meet their needs, the trick to being happy is to enjoy what they have, not reach some apex of having gotten or done X or Y.

This is something you can actually work on. It might seem counter-intuitive, but you could try keeping a gratitude journal and briefly noting 2-3 things every day (or even one) that you are grateful for. When I read your post, I see that your kids are generally healthy, it sounds like you live in a nice neighbourhood with a school that has a sense of community. This is not to beat you over the head with your first thoughts and feelings - those are just thoughts and feelings, they come and they go for all of us.

The question is which thoughts and feelings are you going to give space to grow and inform your days. If you can turn from that moment "wow, that meeting made me feel really insecure...what good happened in my day, anyway?" it might help.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:45 AM on September 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

For me, when my mind starts going down that track, it’s a sign that I am depressed – an effect of the depression, not a cause. For whatever reason (or no reason) I’m unhappy with my life at that moment, and I look backwards for all the points where I could have made decisions that would have landed me somewhere else. Maybe it’s the same for you – your anxiety looking for something to latch on to.

I think it’s useful to think about this because it is important whether the problem is actually envy, or if the envy is just a symptom of some other problem.
posted by Kriesa at 7:51 AM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

My extended family likes to tell me that I was a really smart teen and they expected big things from me and lots of success. The implication is that by choosing to have a family instead of a high-paying career, I am a failure.

In some ways, they might be right. I don't make a lot of money. It's a struggle affording five kids. But in other ways, they are idiots. I have so much joy in my life from these kids and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

When I feel like comparing myself to other people, I just acknowledge that I made the choices I did on purpose and have no reason to feel bad about it.
posted by tacodave at 3:49 PM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is a Buddhist meditation about the nature of suffering - that all beings suffer, and wish to be free from suffering. All beings endure birth, aging, sickness and death; having to endure what they don’t like, being parted from things they like, and failing to satisfy desire. Since every single last being suffers in this way, we are all equal in our desire to be free from suffering. So, at the heart, we are all the same.

There is no perfect state at which you’ll suddenly be ok and free from suffering, unless you are enlightened. If you think otherwise, then you’ve fallen for advertising!

On a more practical note, I felt that way about my kid who is very verbal but also more timid than his peers (although this is fast disappearing since he turned three). Instead I try to throw myself into the art of loving flawed human beings in all their depth and intricacy. Feel it in your heart. How your kids are is OK. Meditate on that. People have flaws and are loveable.

Lastly I’d ask myself where did I learn that I’m only loveable when I feel perfect or in control. Was I often negatively or favorably compared to someone else growing up? (My mom did this with my sister and now does it with our kids, UGH!)

Your choices are ok, who you are is ok, your kids are ok, don’t buy into advertising.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:19 PM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

24 of us have Favorited this and I find that helpful to notice. I like the saying "don't compare your insides with others outsides." Also "compare and despair."
posted by soakimbo at 9:16 PM on September 26, 2018

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