Fangirl Dilemma: Sophia’s question

December 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sophia asks,

How does fangirling incorporate anxiety?

Sophia, I had to write an entire book to answer this question (coming soon!). But to give you a concise but worthy answer, I’m going to be pulling truths from Robert Sapolsky’s fantastic book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. (A great Christmas present for the neurotics in your life who need to know why freaking out all the time is going to destroy them.)

Fangirls chase after stress. 

gobackThe thing about anxiety, or stress, is that we always assume it’s bad news. But the reality is that just the right amount of stress is delightful. It feels fucking amazing. We wouldn’t watch scary movies or bungee jump if it didn’t. So as fangirls, we are constantly chasing that right amount of stress, that perfect roller coaster of plot or sky dive into OTP feels that keep us happy.

Fangirling is about the anticipation, not the reward. 

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Think about your favorite fanfic. What are the moments where you feel the biggest high? Usually they’re the ones right before something happens that makes you hide your little head in your sweatshirt. That’s because in our brains, the biggest bursts of dopamine occur before the reward. And this of course, fuels us to keep reading, or keep watching. This anticipation pumps oxygen and glucose even faster to your brain, which is why you often feel as high as a kite the day your favorite show comes back on the air.

We can’t keep track of our dopamine reserves. 

treatWhen some people finish a great movie or an episode on Netflix, their dopamine levels drop back to normal. But sometimes when a fangirl reads the last sentence of a fic, the reserves in her brain have lost count and dip just a tiny bit below normal. She might even experience sadness or irritability.  So what does she do? She seeks out an even greater level of stimulus to achieve the soaring heights of squee. This is called habituation (aka the reason why I could eventually go from only watching 3 Breaking Bad episodes in a row to watching 6).

We become less sensitive to our obsessions. 

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If you bombard your dopamine receptors with Google alerts, fanfiction, gifs, and filmography, they have to compensate, and they do this by becoming less sensitive to the addiction. And instead of wanting to check Tumblr, we need to check Tumblr. Our lives depend on it. They become consumed by it.

Our past and present influence this relationship. 

Our past experiences and environments, even our time in the womb, influence our susceptibility to hairporn. But the immediate anxieties of day-to-day life also play a role. For example, if a rat is exposed to stress immediately before you give him a giant bowl of cocaine, guess what? He’s going to use more of it. Short-term stressors create increases in dopamine, and then the fangirling releases them in huge, crey-filled amounts.

So Sophia, for better or worse, fangirling is one way our brain responds to anxiety. The trick is to introduce as many other alternatives to dealing with stress, like exercising or being mindful, as the ones we choose through fangirling. So rather than cutting off the feels cold turkey, consider the buffet of coping available to you.

Got a fangirl dilemma or question? Ask here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fangirl dilemma: managing anxiety

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Congrats to Bekka for winning the BAMF necklace giveaway! Bekka, if you could email me your info at fangirltherapist@gmail.com, we’ll send it your way.

Now for our fangirl dilemma.

Evey writes,

Thank you for your latest post on anxiety, it made me see not only that I need to undertake some action, but also that I could do it myself! My anxiety has mostly to do with ‘drugs’ like Tumblr and fanfiction and other reading, and I’m going to try and turn off my computer early. Could you please write an example of how you’d proceed from there? I feel like the ‘communicating in a nonreactive manner’ you mention (not only concerning people, but e.g. concerning work, too) is something I need to work on, but I don’t really know how to.

P.S. How does meditating help? Isn’t that a moment when you are not supposed to think at all? How does that solve things?

Thanks Evey. These are such great questions, ones that I’m still trying to figure out myself every day, even as a therapist. But here are a few thoughts.

  • Start small. Delete your Tumblr app for a few days. Stick a post-it on your mirror to remember turn off your computer. Sometimes I leave my phone at home when I walk to the grocery store. ready
  • Communicating in a nonreactive manner looks like establishing one-to-one relationships with others. If this is at work, that means introducing yourself to everyone and making effort to understand people’s goals and their perspectives. That way you’ll be less likely to complain about them to a third person and can approach them directly when you have a problem.
  • And finally, meditation and mindfulness are about paying attention to your thoughts and anxieties in a nonjudgmental way, not wiping your mind clean. So don’t scold yourself if you’re obsessing over a ship, but rather redirect your thoughts to something calming. Never underestimate the power of stopping, taking a few deep breaths, and engaging your five senses.

Easy, right?

responsibility

Evey, change is slow. and change is lonely. So the best thing you can do for yourself is to enlist a friend, fangirl or not, to join you in your quest. The more you can encourage each other, the more momentum you’ll gain.

It also means introducing positive habits before you pull the plug on all the anxious ones. Maybe I want to eat more spinach than chocolate chip cookies, but having them both in my life is better than living sans plants.  So if you want to spend less time fangirling, figure out what’s as worthy of your attention as a really great headcanon. For me, it’s being around the people who love me and working towards my goals. When the important things are the main course, then fic is just icing on the cake. Thanks for your questions, and let me know how it goes! For everyone else, my ask is always open.

Keep on BAMFin,

Kathleen

Treat Yo Self: Why We Cope the Wrong Way with Anxiety

November 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

These days, “Treat Yo Self” is copinga phrase we all know well whether we’re Parks and Rec fans or not. But I find myself shaking my head when I see posts on social media that talk about coping. All too often, we conflate ways of coping with the practices that actually perpetuate our anxiety.

Netflix marathons and chocolate cake are great, but if you’re only distracting yourself from your anxiety, then sooner or later it’s going to find you like an angry Internet troll.  By definition fangirls tend to be anxious creatures, but that doesn’t mean we have to hang up our headcanon to be a little less reactive to the world around us.

There are three basic ways that humans bind anxiety, and here they are.

DRUGS! Alcohol and illicit drugs are certainly one way we cope with chronic and acute anxiety. But anything can be a drug if you repeat the behavior enough.  Therefore many of our fangirl behaviors hijack the brain just like drugs. Not sure whether you’re using fangirling to manage your anxiety? Here are a few hints.

  • Checking social media obsessively.
  • Vigilant monitoring of celebrity’s activity (27 Google alerts, constant tweeting, going to extreme lengths to obtain video or photos).
  • Impairing relationships, work or school progress because of fangirling. If you can’t miss an episode of your favorite show from time to time or can’t get your work done because of your fanfic, then this is a problem.

fangirl dopamine

RELATIONSHIPS! People use their relationships as a way of managing their stress and anxiety. Love and friendship are beautiful things, but when you lose “self” in them (i.e. you’re unable to separate your identify from the other person’s), then it’s only a temporary fix to the anxiety. You’re likely to experience other physical and emotional symptoms in the long run. Here is what managing anxiety with relationships might look like.

  • Sacrificing values or principles to fit in with a group.
  • Acting out of fear of losing a relationship.
  • Seeking constant praise and approval from others.
  • Involving a third person to complain about other relationships.
  • Cutting off a family member because the anxiety of dealing with them is too high.

Drugs and relationships are about distracting ourselves from our anxiety. But there is a third way, and it’s called

SITTING WITH IT! At least in the short term, anxiety won’t kill you. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable, but sometimes just sitting with it can provide us with valuable information about ourselves. Engaging our reactivity rather than pushing it aside is how we grow into mature, nonreactive adults. Sitting with your anxiety might look like this.

  • Practicing mindfulness and meditating.
  • Turning your computer off early before you go to bed.tumblr_ndrsmacG2a1qc1f8uo7_250
  • Not checking your phone when you’re stopped at a red light.
  • Standing up for yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Exploring your unhealthy coping with a mental health professional.
  • Practicing communicating with difficult people in a nonreactive manner.

Not don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to treat yourself with a glass of wine at the end of a long day or call a friend when you need to talk to someone. The goal isn’t to stop distracting yourself–this is an evolutionary mechanism that helps us get through the trials of life.  The goal is to start engaging your anxiety in addition to those distractions. That way when you do dive into fictional worlds, it’s more about taking a vacation than escaping your mind like a refugee rushing for the border.

Not sure where to start? My ask is always open.

Also a reminder that you can still enter the BAMF necklace giveaway until Wednesday evening!

fangirl dilemma: oh the feels

August 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Ph. Don’tknowwhattodo asks,

I recently discovered your site and am grateful for the work you’re doing.  It has shown me how many ways there are to fangirl over something or someone.  For me, a lesbian at odds with the paucity of diverse female representation in media, fangirling has been a way to find representation via subtext.  Yes, it’s cathexis, yes, it’s a way to negotiate desire (especially at times in my life when I’ve been less than comfortable with my own identity), and hell yes it’s about finding heroes.  Smart girls, brave girls, strong girls.  I can understand all this on an intellectual level, and even be OK with the fact that I am a grown professional who spends way too much time on Tumblr.

What I am not as OK with is the feels.  They are impossible to describe to someone who does not experience them.  How is it possible to be emotionally mature (as I strive to be) and still have an uncontrollable crush on a fictional character?  Your advice to channel this energy into productive real-world pursuits in most welcome.  But oh, the pain of it.  Objectively, I know that it is a little bit nuts to swoon over Maura Isles.  Rizzoli and Isles is not even a very good show!  And yet here I am.  Fangirling.  Help.

Oh the feels. I’ll never forget the time I led a therapy group not realizing I had written “feels” on a whiteboard instead of “feelings” until afterwards. Super professional am I.

Feels are a lovely, affordable, and physically safe high when you think of all the other nefarious activities we could doing in search of a delicious rush of emotion.

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I wish I could bottle up the feels I get around Day 6 into a new TV lady crush and use them on days I feel down. The air smells sweeter, I’m lighter on my feet, and I’m grinning like an idiot.

But that initial dose of feels turns into a ravenous monster the longer you go. It takes more viewing, more ficwriting, more headcanon, more gifing to reach the high as your tolerance increases. It becomes a painful chore as we carry the obsession on our back throughout the day.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the feels, my friend. But you can pay attention to what they tell you. 90% of the time when our feels don’t burn out after the first few weeks like a supernova of hairporn, they serve a purpose. And this purpose is usually to disengage or distract us from our own anxieties.

So the best way to tackle feels isn’t to delete all your Sasha pics. It’s taking inventory of your life right now. You seem like a super professional lady, so there’s sure to be some stressors in your life. What are they? Attack them. Engage them. Cope positively. The more you face anxieties head on, the less your mind will need to check out via the nearest ladyBAMF. You can squeeflail like a crazy woman when you need to, but you won’t carry the feels around like a 350 pound gorilla. It’ll be more like a tiny organ grinder monkey with a top hat. Way more manageable.

Enjoy your feels lady! But enjoy the rest of life as well. When you take care of business and your brain, the rest is icing on the cake.

What’s your Story Arc?

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hi kids, 

Just checking in again to see how your 2014 is going! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about using fangirl concepts to craft motivation for the goals that you have for yourself. 

To start, I want you to imagine one of your favorite badass and/or successful characters. Now think of something they achieved or acquired in a book, tv show, etc. Rewind your mind tape a little, and imagine they had internally debated whether or not to pursue this feat and then decided against it. Or procrastinated to a point where the goal or prize was no longer achievable. 

Was this hard for you to imagine? Even if it wasn’t, was it a particularly compelling scenario? Did it make you feel anxious or uncomfortable, perhaps because it resonated with your own insecurities? These types of story arcs don’t exist in fiction, because. . .well because they are boring as hell. Characters may have internal struggles about relationships and romantic love, but when it comes to getting shit done, story arcs are about actively trying and often about actively failing multiple times. 

So today, I want you to think about what you want your story arc to be for this year, or even longer. What if you chose external action over internal strife, even if it resulted in being disappointed? For me personally, there is no worse feeling than knowing I am the only one responsible for sabotaging myself. For more about this, check out chapter 3 in the book. 

Success and failure aren’t different muscles in your mind. They are two sides to the same mechanism, a muscle that is about moving forward rather than being stalled by all the what ifs we use to clog progress. 

Here’s one “what if” I think we could all remember. What if you stopped mentally vetoing the possibilities life holds? And started living your story? 

Feel free to drop a note letting me know how the year is going or if you have a fangirl dilemma. 

Until next time, BAMF it out. 

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