Help me stop being so paranoid
October 22, 2006 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop being so paranoid and/or self conscious.

I tend to dwell far too much on things, and get paranoid about them. As a perfect example, I tend to worry about conversations I've had with people when I'm a little tipsy (or sometimes drunk) with, say, people I work with.
I do suffer from anxiety anyway, so that really doesn't help, but I would love to have some kind of mental checklist or mechanism to put into use to prevent me caring so much about what I've said to people. Because I don't actually offend or hurt anyone - more often than not I just make ME look either quite stupid, flirtatious or bitchy, and not even to a great extent. [And even as I'm writing this I'm wondering whether that's completely wrong and everyone thinks I'm fine - because I'm often told I'm very well liked by everyone, and have a lot, lot, lot of great friends, so theoretically, I could be just being paranoid, right NOW] I think it's just that I say things sometimes which other people won't even remember, but I dwell, and dwell, on, "God, I wish I hadn't said that." How can I just GET OVER IT without just doing what most people would tell me and "don't think about it" (which is very unhelpful)

Also I'm (honestly) not saying I drink a lot, it's just that I work in a company of hardcore drinkers (no, seriously) and socialising in pubs/bars happens a lot with them, so it's likely that this kind of situation will continue to arise. And this isn't even JUST about drinking situations - I get like this all the time. So, er, please don't say "don't drink" or "don't talk to anyone". That's not really practical or helpful. =/
posted by trampesque to Human Relations (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well if you're in a group of heavy drinkers and you aren't much of a drinker, you probably don't have much to worry about. I assure you that in any time in my life I could be characterized as a "hardcore" drinker I learned about all the pertinent details from other people, much later.

Really though, people generally are much looser in the lip when drinking, whether or not they get really trashed. I think that anyone besides the stone cold sober expect it. Usually people are amused when you say outrageous or ridiculous stuff (especially if you're taking it seriously). No one hangs on your every word, sober or not, and it's not a matter of not thinking about it, but realizing that other people probably don't think about it.
posted by shownomercy at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2006

I would speak to a professional about your anxiety. You may even want to consider a medication to control it. There's plenty of meds on the market that aren't as strong as paxil that can help take the edge off.

If you go the medication route you'll need to moderate your alcohol intake. Not quit cold turkey but curtail the amount some.
posted by photoslob at 10:49 AM on October 22, 2006

Agree with photoslob. You might have a low level version of obsessive compulsive disorder (it's not just about handwashing - some people just have obsessive thoughts). This is something you'd have a lot of trouble dealing with using will power alone. It's really difficult to stop the ideas that pop into your head.
posted by fcain at 11:11 AM on October 22, 2006

There's no routine you can get into, you just have to get used to ignoring that little voice.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:13 AM on October 22, 2006

I used to feel similarly, especially around my heavy-drinking co-workers. To some extent, I think I just grew out of it, as one tends to grow out of most self-consciousness. Realizing that no matter how paranoid I was, people still seemed to genuinely like hanging out with me, so how bad could I have been? did help. It's less "Don't worry about it" than "Realize that you've seen over and over again that no one else is worried about it, and figure that's therefore more likely the case this time, as well."
posted by occhiblu at 11:38 AM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

What helps me is to 1) remember that everyone else was sloshed, and said stupid shit too, and 2) ask a sample of people that were there, "Did you notice I was an asshole?" and people always say "No, we were all sloshed, you didn't stand out."

Try it, you'll see.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:45 AM on October 22, 2006

This isn't so much for the paranoia, but for the anxiety and worrying.
What I usually do if I am worring that I said something weird, or if I think that someone thinks badly of me is to accept it. Go further even. Assume and accept the worst. Think about what life will be like now that you have said the stupidest thing you could have possibly said. I find it to be relieving. I think, "that's not so bad." Then I think about it in a more realistic way and compare it to other situations. "At least I'm not addicted to [insert substance], at least I am not starving or homeless" I am assuming you are not any of those things, but really I mean you should just put everything in perspective.

But, when interacting with the people you are worried about try not to let on that you are assuming the worst, that was for your own piece of mind and has nothing to do with the actual situation.

This may backfire for you, use with caution.

posted by bobobox at 11:50 AM on October 22, 2006

What has worked for other people in the responses in this thread are similar to what happens during cognitive therapies (sometimes called cognitive-behavior therapy, CBT). Cognitive therapy is about retraining your brain to not see danger in everyday situations, and to stop producing a flight or fight stress response when it's not required.

You are setting up a loop for yourself. You enter a situation thinking that you might say something wrong. This causes your brain to subconsciously be on alert for danger. The way you have perceived your coworkers/friends to react to what you say/do in the past colors the way you observe them reacting in the present. You may perceive that they don't like what you are saying when in fact they are just neutral, or even too drunk or anxious themselves to react in a way you think proper (remember, even if it doesn't seem like it to you, some of those people might also have anxiety! It may be why they drink so much, some of them...). This perception leads your brain to think that you were right to predict danger in this situation. And so each time you enter a similar situation again, your brain knows that it needs to watch out for dangers, as it has been "proven" that these situations are dangerous.

Cognitive therapies work to break you of this cycle by retraining your brain to show that there is no danger, or rather to be realistic about where danger exists. The therapy also works to show you what your stress/anxiety triggers are, as sometimes they may not be apparent to you. You may have other triggers besides these social events, or leading up to them, that you are currently unaware of, but they may come out as you discover patterns to your reactions. Medications such as anti-anxiety meds (benzodiazepines) or some anti-depressants that work on anxiety can be good if your anxiety is extreme enough so behavior therapy can only be started with a little medical help, but often with this therapy, meds are not needed.

Your conscious thoughts in this therapy, through working with a therapist and through "homework", act as messengers to the parts of your brain controlling your stress responses. You are not so much thinking your way out of the problem as you are using your thinking as a tool to alter your subconscious pathways.

You may also want to have a physical checkup. If you have a thyroid issue, for example, this may increase stress. Or any other physical issue connected to your stress system.
posted by veronitron at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

CBT = cognitive-behavioral therapy, sorry. I went through it for OCD, I used the book Stop Obsessing! by Edna B. Foa for homework exercises. Actually the book helped me far more than the therapist.
posted by veronitron at 12:21 PM on October 22, 2006

I have come to believe that I'm never really good friends with someone until the friendship is "consummated" by getting really drunk with them. This letting your guard down, that causes you so much anxiety, can be viewed as an opportunity to set aside those masks we wear during daily life, and really get to know someone.

I know this probably doesn't help your anxiety, but viewing drinking with people this way has helped me not to fear what may come out of my mouth during those unguarded, drunk moments.
posted by jayder at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2006

Alcohol always makes me feel paranoid. I mean, always. Even when I'm incredibly rational about the two drinks and my behaviour, I wake up the next day miserable. After 20 years, I figured alcohol and I just weren't working out, so I don't do it very often.

(If it counts, I do get anxiety and depression as well).
posted by b33j at 2:28 PM on October 22, 2006

If someone says the last tune played on the radio was boring, do you feel as though you personally had something to do with it? That's just an example of some of the stuff I used to have to deal with. My partner calls it "personal responsibility for the heat-death of the universe".

What happened: various pressures increased in my life until on Bastille Day 1993 I had an epiphany: "some things are not your fault". That was the end of it, just as if someone had thrown a switch.

I don't know how to elicit such an epiphany another way, and that's a pity, because it was a pretty bad time. Maybe you'll have better luck at it than I did.
posted by jet_silver at 2:28 PM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

You can just ask people, "I hope I didn't seem like a bitch...?" They'll probably say you were fine. After the 97th time of having your fears soothed, you'll start to realize you can relax.
posted by salvia at 2:37 PM on October 22, 2006

I've started taking a big burly B-Vitamin complex for this. That sounds nuts, huh? But I know that I have anxiety, and it gets much worse, with the same guilt and or paranoia you're expressing as a hangover symptom, when I drink to excess (which is a level different for each of us). B-Vitamins in your system are beneficial to processing stress, but get wiped out by alcohol consumption. It's an easy way for me to make a noticable difference.

Don't start considering anti-anxiety meds yet. They must be a last resort. They are very powerful and addictive. I really think they should be used for panic attacks and that other ways of controlling day-to-day anxiety buildup can be found. Just imho.

Try heavy doses of positive self-talk, for instance. In a mirror. In the morning. While hungover, even. It's silly, yes, but it can work very well. Something like "I had a good time last night, and everything is okay. Even if I did something embarrassing, everybody will forgive me and love me all the more because I am a fun, nice person who is accessible and imperfect. I am really pretty awesome. Lucky me." And then a little touchdown dance. It's not silly, baby, it's true.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:48 PM on October 22, 2006

Along the same lines of the recommendation for CBT, Feeling Good by David Burns is often recommended for anxiety.
posted by catburger at 3:33 PM on October 22, 2006

I do suffer from anxiety anyway, so that really doesn't help, but I would love to have some kind of mental checklist or mechanism to put into use to prevent me caring so much about what I've said to people.

OK. Here's my mechanism:

Give yourself permission to be imperfect. You are anyway. But really believe that you have the right, once in a while, to be less than 100% pleasing to other people.

Try to remember, whenver you start to judge yourself harshly, that there are no cut-and-dried rules to socializing. It ain't chess.

I see that you are really hung up on the approval of other people. How can you be sure that they're in a position to appreciate you, what you say, what you have to offer? You could have a razor-sharp, beautiful wit but a guy with a IQ in the room temperature range, who thinks fart jokes and Howard Stern are just too damn funny, won't be able to appreciate it.

Do you tend to see social situations as black-and-white? Do you tend to believe things like: "I'm OK, sort of, unless I step out of line, in which case I am worthless." If so, you really need to ditch that habit. There's a lot of ambiguity, a lot of grey areas, in human relationships.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:00 PM on October 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Medication should be the very last resort...
posted by RufusW at 6:14 PM on October 22, 2006

Remember that other people don't spend nearly as much time thinking about you, and what you said or how you look, etc. as you do.

We all have situations like the ones you describe -- you think back on saying something and realize that it could have been taken as an insult when you didn't mean it that way, etc. And most people have times when they dwell on stuff like that. (I still remember something I said to a good friend when I was about 12, which came out as the meanest thing in the world. I feel bad about it to this day. But she doesn't remember it at all.)

Probably 90% of these cases of "oh no, i really shouldn't have said that" are exactly like this. The other people don't notice, or they correctly write it off as just a brain fart or something you said when you were drunk or whatever. To give yourself perspective, think about the other people -- they have perspective up the wazoo, in that they mostly don't notice when you say something a little bit wrong. If you are mostly a good friend, that's what they will notice, not the occasional dumb comment. (Unless you are hanging out with people who deliberately try to make you feel nervous and uncertain about your position within the group. The only solution for that is to find a different group.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:49 PM on October 22, 2006

A useful tool you can use is to imagine the absolute worst that could happen. Often you will find it's something you could conceive of accepting. There's a lot of freedom in "the worst case scenario". Imagine yourself standing "cool and composed before a million universes".

Then, act as if the worst is in fact, happening. What helped me with my anxiety was just to assume that I WAS making a fool of myself, that people WERE thinking certain things about me. From there I realised 2 things: A.) I couldn't change that, so B.) I didn't care. And then all that mattered is what I thought, and whether I was enjoying my time socialising with these people. (On preview, this is pretty much what bobobox said)

To expound upon a point further: It doesn't matter what they think, only what you think. And in this case, the problem is indeed that you have thinking-problems, compulsive patterns, etc. So forget about the rest of 'em. Concentrate on clearing up your head. I used to compulsively imagine that my head was filled with nothing but clear aqua sea. (I mean literally that in place of my brain was this beautiful glittery sea sloshing around!) I would walk around all day visualising this. It worked. (After a few months.)

Remember.... they're just thoughts. Try to concentrate more on "doing", or on actively thinking, i.e., visualizations. I know it's painful and energy sapping, and so you're resistant at first, but it gets to a stage where you really have no choice!

A technique I learnt from a therapist a few years ago was to view anxiety like a glass filling up. And to learn to recognise when it was filling up, and when there was a danger of it spilling over. When you notice it filling up, you take some time out & visualise emptying it again. Use breathing, etc. It sounds hokey, like most techniques, but this stuff is helpful.

The main exercise which ended up completely ridding me of my anxiety was this: Perceive your anxiety as just something you live with: like a headache or a bung leg. You can't help it's existence, but it doesn't have to dictate your life either. It is a simple health problem. Don't get anxious about being anxious... just accept that the anxiety is there, always running in the background, and concentrate on more important things. After a while, the constant act of accepting and pushing the issue of your anxiety to the background, actually allows you to subconsciously do it by default.

Enfeebling your anxiety like this in favour of more productive patterns of thought, really stop it from coming back altogether. It loses it's power.

I apologise if you are not at a stage in your anxiety where this can be of any help, and please know I am not trying to advocate some kind of quick fix. This is simply what worked for me, but only after seven consistent years of anxiety! Good luck with finding your own way, trampesque (ps, great username).xox
By the way, if you're ever freaking out and want to talk out your anxieties with someone who's been anxious before, my email is in my profile.
posted by mjao at 3:21 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am in a very similar situation as you (and I don't drink for financial reasons, otherwise, I would be putting down $100's/week like everyone else...) But I am very shy normally, and don't talk much, because of the same reasons that you stated above.

I have to realize that everything that I say is not going to be perfect, and everything people hear doesn't particularly mean that they will pigeonhole me into 'the type of person who would say things like that all the time'.

One thing that I do, is hang out with one particular person, then ask them later offline about what people might have thought about a particular conversation or comment, and remedy those that need it, with clarification or apologies.

Especially where vomit is involved.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 1:23 PM on October 23, 2006

I would love to have some kind of mental checklist or mechanism to put into use to prevent me caring so much about what I've said to people.

This may help. It's in the book catburger recommends, a great book based on cognitive therapy. You'll find that most if not all your anxious thoughts are built on these errors.

I also like jason's_planet's answer.

Ultimately you can't read people's minds, nor can you change the past, so either you do something about it and check it out with people, or you let it go. The David D. Burns book will help you do that I think.
posted by Ira.metafilter at 12:08 AM on October 25, 2006

« Older PCLWhydoIcare?   |   SpoilerFilter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.