This episode follows Chapter 3, Section 7: Activate Your Unique Skills of “Anxiety… I’m So Done with You!” It is chock full of information, so get out your notebook and pen! In this episode, we’ll look at reconnecting to your personal agency. You’ll learn the following:
- How anxiety disconnects you from your agency
- How therapy unpacks problems
- An empowering daily practice
- How to open yourself up for more joy and opportunities
I discuss how noticing your unique skills empowers you and helps you reconnect to your personal agency. Anxiety wants to rob you of personal agency, so rediscovering it is essential to feeling better.
Therapy is a process that helps unpack the problems you face. As a therapist, I’m looking for ways to deconstruct and demystify what troubles you. Problems make people feel out of control. In this episode, I’ll show you how to regain control.
Reclaim Personal Agency
Your unique skills and abilities will help you beat anxiety and reclaim personal agency. The skills you use affect how you see yourself. They are what makes you, YOU. When you recognize your skills, you feel empowered, happier, and more trusting of yourself. I explain how to find and embrace who you are outside of your problems. This will not only decrease self-doubt, but it will change the trajectory of your life to an easier one.
“When you notice the skills you have and are using, you will have more access to them when you need them. Overall, that’ll help you feel more confident and in control of what you’re doing.” – Dr. Jodi Aman
Listen to the episode:
Resources for Activate Your Unique Skills
- Ep. 3:1 Activate Your Power! “Anxiety…I’m So Done with You!” Teen Podcast
- Anxious Kids Need Skills in Doing Hard Things Part II
- How do you get through a hard time?
- Get Stuff Done! Maximize Productivity with the Right Confidence, Expectations, and Attitude
- Why is it so hard to heal?
- Dealing with Difficultly – Why Kids Need Practice Doing Hard Things – TEDx Wilmington
Transcription of the Episode:
Hey, you’re here with Dr. Jodi, and this is Season 3 of “Anxiety… I’m so Done with You!” This podcast is a teen and young adult guide to ditching toxic stress and hardwiring your brain for happiness. If you’re new here, grab a copy of my book “Anxiety… I’m so Done with You!” because this series goes section by section through the book, going a little bit deeper, giving more examples, and telling more stories. Season 3, which goes along with Chapter 3, expands hope by looking at your skills and abilities.
You are amazing! You have many skills and abilities. However, anxiety does not want you to know that. It tries to block your view of them. But not anymore! In this season, we’ll bring them out into the open, giving you more access to them when you need them the most. As this season progresses, you’re going to envision yourself in a new way––as a person who is able, caring, confident, and determined. Thank you for listening, subscribing, and leaving me five stars on Apple Podcasts. Mental health problems are skyrocketing, especially among young people, and this series will help them cease judging, stop questioning, and start healing!
Welcome to Chapter 3, Section 7: “Activate Your Unique Skills.”
In this episode, we’ll discuss:
- what disconnects people from their personal agency
- how to reconnect to it
- what happens in therapy
- an empowering daily practice
- how to open up space in your life for more joy, opportunities, and love.
Listen to YouTube
This chapter has been pretty full! We activated power, trust, motivation, responsibility, confidence, courage, and then now, your unique skills. I feel as though that sentence is that game, “Which one of these things is not like the other?” because you might be wondering why “unique skills” are on this list. Well, really, all of the––power, trust, responsibility, confidence, and courage are also skills that can be practiced and honed. This book section, Chapter 3, Section 7, covers the ones that are unique to you. Let me give you some background on my thought process when writing this whole chapter.
During therapy sessions, a person comes to therapy with a problem that needs to be unpacked. Unpacking means taking it apart to understand it and how it works. When we experience problems, they affect our beliefs and how we see ourselves. You could think about it as meanings, ideas, memories, trauma reactions, and pieces of evidence construct and build up our problems tighter and more powerful. Problems are often built up like a fortress. They are well guarded by all of this structure and hard to penetrate. So they stay, and they keep control of your life.
As a therapist, it is my job to deconstruct the problem or problems by asking about them, demystifying them, learning their effects on your life, and exposing the particular tactics that it uses to ensnare you. Those are the lies that it tells you to get you to believe it.
You know what I mean. When you are experiencing a problem, it affects many areas of your life and so infiltrates your very identity. I am a loser; I am a mess. I can’t go out.
It easily does this, by the way. It’s not like you have a problem for years before you start saying you are an anxious person. We make meaning almost immediately when we are feeling bad. Those feelings, feel out of control, and making conclusions about them gives us a sense that we have control, but we are not in control; in fact, thinking we are a problem rather than having a regular human experience in response to the situation makes us feel more out of control. And then we have to double down on our control, again making it worse.
Pretty soon, we feel more and more out of control, and our anxiety skyrockets.
What’s happening here is that anxiety is disconnecting you from your personal agency. All of your attention and desperation is given to what the anxiety wants: staying isolated, staying home, self-medicating, avoiding things you used to enjoy, and pulling away from people who care about you. When you do these things, what is in control is the anxiety, negative thoughts, and depression––not you! After a while, you’re convinced that you don’t have personal agency at all! You think that you can’t do anything. You look at your life and assume it’s true, “I can’t.” Meanwhile, anxiety is showing you the things it has kept you from doing, and you take that as testimony that you are that loser that you thought you were.
No. You are not a loser.
Anxiety is tricking you. That’s why it’s so easy to believe the anxiety when it tells you that you can’t because feeling powerless, worthless, and out of control feels like evidence that you, in fact, can’t. However, there are moments when you’re reconnected with your personal agency, and the anxiety goes down. Anxiety doesn’t ever stay the same. It changes. It goes up and down through the day or through the hours, getting worse sometimes and better other times.
When I was young, I didn’t know I had any part in going up and down. I thought I was just lucky when it went away. But that’s not what it was. The times that it went down were when my mind was engaged in doing something, and my brain read this as I was in control and decreased my adrenaline.
One day, I was discussing what was going on with young people with the Chief of Psychiatry at my local hospital. We talked about how we noticed that young people have personal agency (they have lots of skills!) but just don’t know they do. You have skills, many more than you see in yourself. That’s why I wrote this chapter to reconnect you to them. I was hoping you could notice the skills you already have and are using rather than unconsciously taking those for granted. That way, you can recognize them when you use them and track them throughout your day. That’ll help you feel more confident and in control of what you’re doing.
Do people need more coping skills or better access to them?
Parents often bring their kids to me in therapy and say, “My kid needs coping skills.” Yes, okay, they’re in therapy because they’re not coping with whatever they’re going through. Some therapists may consider it their job to “teach coping skills.” I don’t. People have skills already, and it is my job to bring them out. Teenagers have tons of amazing and inspiring skills that lift me up every day I meet with them. The problem is that they’re not consciously connected to those skills, so they don’t see them or think of themselves as skilled.
My job as a therapist is to notice people’s skills and abilities, and model drawing these out through meaning-making and robust storytelling around what you did and who you are. And then, reflect all that back to you so you start to see it too and could weave a new story about yourself outside the problem story. For example, if you told me a story about you sharing your lunch with someone who doesn’t have lunch, I’d probably be curious about what you think that says about you that you noticed that they didn’t have lunch, and then you thought of giving them some of yours.
You might say, “I don’t know, everyone should do that,” but I’d challenge you because, well, it’d be a great world if everyone did that. But they don’t. You might have been the only one at the table doing it (or you initiated it if other people joined). That is unique. It is something that you specifically did, and you could track it as a skill or initiative.
That act comes from your personal agency.
It tells me something about the kind of person you are. I want you to experience noticing this about yourself. So, I’ll ask you, “What does sharing your lunch say about the kind of person that you are?” (Sometimes, though, when you’ve been feeling negative for a very long time, it’s hard to acknowledge something nice about yourself. To circumnavigate that, I’d invite you to name the quality from a distance by imagining that it is someone else. I’d ask, “If a student notices that a classmate does not have lunch, and they offer some food, would you say that was generous? Or, could you say that it’s thoughtful?”
If you agreed, I’d ask, “What kind of a person does that? A generous person? Or, a thoughtful person?” What I am doing in those sessions is taking those skills and projecting them onto the person’s identity. As part of their identity, they can embrace them more. Do you know how I said when anxiety is bad, it superimposes on your very identity? I. e., “I am anxious,” “I am a loser,” and “I am a mess.” In doing that, it dominates so many areas of your life.
If it infiltrates your life when negative, think about what it does when it’s positive! When good attributes are your identity, they will take over your view of yourself. You will see yourself as skilled. You’ll have more confidence in situations and not be scared anymore. Then, anxiety can’t trick you into thinking that you can’t handle life.
Why I believe you ARE skilled
Having had therapeutic conversations with young people for many years has helped me notice that people have unique, beautiful, amazing, and kind skills. They notice when someone’s sad, and they do something thoughtful. They find loopholes, figure out how to climb up and grab something stored high, research how to do something, memorize their lines, make gifts for their friends, break their own personal records, do the nicest thing that makes other people feel loved and cared about, and so many more extraordinary acts.
Don’t take those skills for granted! Not everyone does them. Maybe some people do them some of the time, but they’re not done often because the world would be so much a better place if they were. However, once you start to notice yourself as a skilled person, you will have more access to these skills when you need them. You’ll do them more than you’re doing them now and feel empowered in the process.
The best way to start noticing yourself having skills is to do the practice that I told you about in a different episode. If you still need to start it, I want to prompt you again because it can change your life, and it’s so easy. Do this every night before bed: write down three things you did that day. They could be three initiatives you took, three accomplishments you had, or three tasks you completed. They can be small or substantial. It doesn’t matter. Do this for at least a month, keeping a record of three initiatives daily. Do it longer if you’re depressed, angry, irritable, or anxious. Remember, negative thoughts repeat themselves a lot, so the more negative you feel, the more you need to repeat any positive practice.
After days or weeks of this practice, you’ll feel empowered to start noticing what you do during the day. You’ll be assessing to see if this is something that you could write down later. That means you’ll be noticing your skills and initiatives all day long. Again, here is the simple practice before going to bed every night: Write down three things you did that day. Put in your notes app three things you did, took the initiative, or accomplished. Three things every single day.
Switch the script
Do you know how you notice your deficits and inadequacies all day long? This practice will switch that habit to you seeing your skills and abilities. Those skills and abilities are already there. You would not have gotten to the age that you are without having skills! This new habit will help you decrease your anxiety and depression because you’ll have more access to the skills when you’re feeling bad (when anxiety and depression are trying to tell you that you can’t do anything and that you mess up everything, you won’t believe it any longer).
When you have more access to those skills, you will not only just use them for empowering self-talk, you’ll use them to start doing something to make your day better. Then, your brain will get the message that you’re okay and decrease the adrenaline. Or, you’ll kick off your dopamine and feel better. Plus, you’ll be distracted by the activities and not tumble into the negativity in your head.
Once, a client asked me why she knows it and thinks about it so much when she’s sad, but when she’s happy, she doesn’t notice it. I said, “When you’re happy, you’re out of your head. You’re out there living.” Sometimes people are genuinely happy and happy for a while, and then they get sad again. Then, they think, “I guess I wasn’t really happy.” Because they can’t remember it tangibly, they assume the happiness is fake. This is very, very common. If it happens to you, you might think you’re the only one who has ever felt like the happiness that they felt was fake because hardly anyone ever talks about this.
This is the reason: when you’re happy, you’re busy living, not analyzing it all day. Then, when you’re sad again, which is typical for a human to experience, conjuring up what it felt like to be happy is tough. Plus, the sadness feels so familiar that you put meaning around it that it’s “more real.” That’s why it feels like happiness was fake. People’s mood changes depending on many variables during each day, but when the sadness comes, it feels like it came back. That feels devastating because of how painful it was before. In addition, the original “units of sadness” (how intense the sadness is) might not even be that bad. It may even be small. But, instead of saying, “Hmm, I feel sad today. Okay, I’ll just give myself some TLC. I’m going to keep going!” ––instead of doing that––we attach to the sad.
We give it all sorts of meanings via globs of negative self-judgment and worry: “Oh no! I didn’t get better! I’m too stupid to know that that wasn’t better! I’m definitely a problem! Why do I always overreact? There’s some darkness inside of me because it always keeps coming back. I don’t know how to get rid of it! What if someone sees? Is this my destiny to be sad forever?”
Some of these thoughts are ridiculous when said aloud. It may sound a little bit like I’m making fun of you if you think them. In fact, I almost edited them out because I was like, “I don’t want people to feel bad about that.” But really. We do say that kind of thing to ourselves all the time. They’re awful and mean. They may sound ridiculous when you hear me imitate them, but they sound menacing and true in your head. I’m purposely saying them out loud because I want you to think they’re ridiculous. Not to judge your monkey mind, but to attempt to remove the negative meaning that they hold. Does that make sense? Everything is about the meaning that we make out of it. I’m teaching you how to make meaning that’ll help you feel better and not worse.
Let’s end this episode on a good note and talk about how to open space in your life for more joy, opportunity, and love. This is what you’ll do: embrace your unique skills. You can notice, step into, perform, and identify yourself with them. I know you have amazing qualities because you wouldn’t have grown to your age without them. It’s time you start to see them so that you have more and more access to them. Then, anxiety can’t control you anymore.
The quickest way for you to have joy, opportunity, and love is to take over the reins of your life. You want to be in control instead of your negative emotions controlling you. This is also the way to recover your energetic bandwidth. You have an enormous capacity to do a lot of things, be a lot of things, and have energy for a lot of things. Unfortunately, negativity will happily take as much space as you let it have. However, you don’t want it there because it steals your joy. It is beyond time to take back your energetic bandwidth, little by little, by starting to notice what you do do (your agency).
You don’t even have to change what you do, you just have to notice it, and it’ll change on its own to be more and more what you want it to be. You’ll grow more skills and then step more fully into the ones that you love the most about yourself. That’ll help you get close to people, and because you’re happier, you’re going to attract more positive and uplifting people. You’ll enjoy things again and feel an affinity for something, opening a direction you want to head in your life. Also, you’ll gain purpose and, with that, worthiness. You’ll keep growing, learning, and enjoying yourself, being good to the people around you. And they will be good back to you. Does that sound good? That is full-embodied happiness, and you can have it.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode where I:
- discussed what disconnects people from their personal agency and how to reconnect to it
- shared what happens in therapy
- reminded you of an empowering nightly practice that I really, really hope you try because it could change your life
Overall, in this third season, which goes along with Chapter 3, we prepared you to open space in your life for more joy, opportunity, and love by getting you in touch with your personal agency. That is a perfect segue to Chapter 4 and Season 4. It’s your time to shine. In Chapter 4, you’ll eliminate all those things that hold you back from the self-love you absolutely deserve. Read that, and I’ll see you in the next season of “Anxiety… I’m So Done with You!” with me, Dr. Jodi. Thank you!