When Shoes Are Hard

by lizclark on October 30, 2013

Recently, I met a boy who couldn’t tie his shoes.

ArM Grandfathers Shoes 2

 

He was old enough to know how, but he still struggled.

I was volunteering in my church’s kids’ ministry when I met him.  By the time I reached him, he was in tears.  I kneeled down to help and heard an unexpected response:

“No!” he said quickly, “I can do it!  I do karate!”

I let him wrestle with his shoelaces a while longer, speaking softly and encouraging him.

He kept looking up at me, saying over and over, “I do karate!”

As I sat beside him, I realized that his struggle seemed familiar.

In front of him was a task that he felt he should be able to do.  He was embarrassed and frustrated that he couldn’t do it. He reasoned that if he was capable of doing something much bigger (karate), he should be able to tie his shoes.

What struck me as even more familiar was the way the boy approached the problem.  He was facing a small struggle in the grand scheme of his childhood, but in that moment, it was a very real struggle for him.

Yet, he avoided the problem altogether.  He fiddled carelessly with the shoe laces.  He looked at me, at the other kids around him, at the wall…anywhere but his shoes.  He refused help and talked on and on about something not related to his problem.

Sound familiar?

I call this the “anxiety snowball.”

We start to feel stress about a problem.  But, instead of using the stress as a motivator to deal with the problem…we distance ourselves from the problem and start thinking about the stress and anxiety itself or our inability to solve the problem.  Then we shame ourselves for doing so.  The cycle continues.  The more we stress, the more ashamed we feel and the less we work on fixing the actual problem.

The “anxiety snowball” will prevent you from getting life done, if you let it become a habit.  Don’t let it.  Like my young friend, you’ve got a big life ahead of you – a life worth living and enjoying.

The next time you’re faced with a problem, remember these quick tips to prevent the “anxiety snowball”:

    1. Breathe - The problem you’re facing is not the sum total of who you are.  It may be big, but take a breath and don’t let the problem be in charge.  That problem is not the boss of you!  Take a few deep breaths and compose yourself.
    2. Focus – What is the real problem you are facing?  Let go of the emotional uncertainty or shame you may be feeling and think about the actual problem.  In the little boy’s case, he simply needed his shoes tied.  But, he was bringing all sorts of anguish to the problem that was not productive.
    3. Ask – Once you’ve identified the real problem, ask yourself, “What do I need to do or learn to fix it?” If you can’t do or learn something to fix it relatively quickly, ask for help.  No one can do everything.  We all have different gifts and talents – reach out!

Have you ever experienced the “anxiety snowball”?  How do you deal with it?

 

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Morris October 30, 2013 at 1:47 AM

Me and the anxiety snowball are real tight. A few years in consulting would solve this pattern, you would think. Instead, it only made things worse. I am slowly learning to breathe and focus; still not so good at the ask part. Thanks for breaking this down so simply

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 6:55 AM

Chris, I think we all struggle with that part – I know I certainly have! Thank you for your feedback & encouragement. :)

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Paulina October 30, 2013 at 2:10 AM

Wow… I can totally relate to this. The “distancing ourselves from the problem and shaming ourselves for doing so.” Thanks for giving us a practical step-by-step way for meeting challenges and not letting anxiety get a hold of us. =)

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 6:57 AM

I’m so glad it connected with you, Paulina! Thank you for your feedback and encouragement! :)

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Isabelle October 30, 2013 at 5:13 AM

Ahhhhh. The anxiety snowball. The only part about snow I don’t like! LOL. Unfortunately I have “avoided” altogether in the face of shame. The post speaks to me and thank you. I particularly appreciated:

“The problem you’re facing is not the sum total of who you are. It may be big, but take a breath and don’t let the problem be in charge. That problem is not the boss of you! Take a few deep breaths and compose yourself.
Focus – What is the real problem you are facing?”

Thank you. I am going to share this post with my 10 and 8 year old nieces. I think it’s a great piece for kids too as you really captured this young man’s feelings and his anxiety felt so real. I’m sure kids would really relate too and this is a great lesson. Thank you!

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 6:58 AM

Isabelle, thank you so much for your feedback and encouragement! Let me know what your nieces think – I love the way kids connect with stories. so glad this connected with you!

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Joy Haynes October 30, 2013 at 8:05 AM

This is great insight, Liz. Happens to me often. Until I can get a hold of it. Your suggestions are perfect. I am making a note near my desk to remind me of these steps. Thank you!

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Joy, I am so glad the suggestions helped! I try to keep it simple as I certainly don’t need to think about a long list when I’m facing that snowball myself! :)

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Tammy Fuller October 30, 2013 at 8:42 AM

This is such a great example. I’m going to share your link because I think this will be helpful for so many?

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Tammy, absolutely! Feel free to share with anyone who you think could benefit. Thank you so much!

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Anita@ Losing Austin October 30, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Oh yes-

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Anita@ Losing Austin October 30, 2013 at 10:05 AM

hit submit too soon, sorry about that.

Oh yes, I know this snowball well. You give such real steps to help conquer it, and sometimes we just need the reminder.

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 10:28 PM

Thank you, Anita! I hope the steps help you next time the “snow” starts to pile up! :)

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April Best October 30, 2013 at 1:23 PM

YES, just recently I have been having a hard time learning to teach a class of 17 first and second graders on wednesday nights at church (they are crazy sometimes) and I keep saying “I am a social worker, I can do this” then the next week is good with the kids, the week after is a disaster…”I am a social worker, I can do this, I don’t need help” all the while I am crying at home late on Wednesday nights because I love these kids and want them to have fun and don’t want to be mean :)

Yep, Liz you are all up in my head again!

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lizclark October 30, 2013 at 10:34 PM

April, I can so totally relate to that struggle! You are a rock star. If I’m up in your head, then I’m in a good place. How do I know? Because it’s April BEST, not April Just-Kind-Of-Okay. :)

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