I want you to imagine you have just finished building your dream house.  It has been a huge expense both financially and time spent, but the big day has arrived and you and your family move in.  As you are unpacking you notice there is a For Sale sign on the house right next door.  This saddens and concerns you as you had met your new neighbors, Bob and Sally, and having good neighbors had been one reason why you had agreed to purchasing this particular lot to build your dream home.  “Damn, I wish I would have known” you think feeling a slight agitation and the pesky surge of uncertainty.  You don’t like new variables showing up in such an unpredictable way.  You carefully selected this lot, with a park on one side and neighbors you spent time getting to know on the other.

Bob comes out to help you move a few things in and you ask about the For Sale sign, trying to hide your frustration.  Bob apologizes for not having called but explains that it happened suddenly, his company is restructuring and he and his family will be moving within the week.  Struggling a bit to empathize you say, “Be sure to pick someone good for us, will ya?”  Bob smiles weakly and tells you it will be his company that will be responsible for the sale of the house.  Again, you can feel the prickly vine crawl up your neck as you often do when you feel a bit out of control or disappointed.  But you have a new dream house to decorate, kids to get enrolled in school, and a life to live.

Weeks go by and one day you arrive home from work to find that the For Sale sign is now down.  Two weeks later a moving truck pulls up followed by three to four trucks crammed full of people.  As you sit on your porch and force a smile towards what appear to be your new neighbors, you have a sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach as they keep piling out as if emerging from a clown car.  Dear God, how many of them are there?  You wave but no one waves back.  Maybe they just didn’t see me, you think.  You stare as upwards of twelve people start pulling furniture off the moving truck and out of the beds of the various trucks.  You find yourself cringing as they unload an enormous neon beer sign and what appears to be a cat carrier with at least two felines inside.  You slink further as you notice the two dogs who after just a few moments have proven themselves to be “yappy.”

You catch yourself going down the negative rabbit hole and decide that you will only think positive thoughts and give them the benefit of the doubt.  You climb off the porch and approach the oldest gentleman who you assume might be the leader of this brood.  As you reach out your hand you say, “Welcome!  Looks like we’re neighbors.  We’re the Johnson’s and my name is Sam – are all these your kiddos?”   The man looks at your hand but doesn’t shake it.   He turns his head to the side and spits, looks back at you and says “some of ‘em.  Our names Whiff….” but is quickly distracted by two of the teenage Whiffs putting a couch in the yard and sitting down for a cigarette.   “Get your lazy asses up and stop stealing my smokes” he snarls at the kids.  You try hard not to notice the fact that they flip him off as they get up and put the cigarettes out on the lawn.  Next thing you know a woman is handing you a lamp and says, “make yourself useful.”  You are so stunned at her rudeness that you take the lamp and do as you are told.  Inside the house there are two younger Whiffs who appear to be arguing over a Nintendo that they have plugged into the TV – the only thing in the living room beside the smoke scented couch their older two siblings have finally deposited in the room as they light up again.

You notice a woman sitting on a chair in the kitchen and you go in to introduce yourself.  Lori, she smiles and says as she extends her hand.  Finally, you think, some normalcy.  But Lori quickly lets you know that she and her family are just here to get her in-laws (the Whiffs) settled.  Lori gives you the brief low down:  the Whiffs are a family of seven and came into a bit of money when the oldest Whiff won a workers comp claim from a fall at his job.  Mrs. Whiff, according to Lori, “tries hard but it’s not easy being the mom of five boys and a husband with a quick temper.”  You can feel your breakfast rising in your throat as Lori whispers, “Best of luck to you” and quietly ducks away.

Over the next six months you begin to grow weary of the smoke, the grime, the breaches to the home owners association guidelines (at least YOU feel they are breaches), the incessant Rap music and the yelling that comes from the Whiffs.  Your wife and kids aren’t thrilled either but somehow, they seem to not let it get under their skin.  Unfortunately, for you it starts to be all that you think about.  You wake up in a bad mood as your Saturday morning launches off with a bad ACDC rendition on one of the older Whiffs electric guitars.  Christmas morning was ruined as a Whiff apparently obtained a drum set from Santa and you couldn’t even enjoy your peppermint coffee as the distant thump, thump, thump wafted through the walls.  Their two unruly dogs seem to only like to poop on your front lawn and hide their bones underneath your expensive perfectly coifed landscaping.  Thursday through Saturday nights there are huge Whiff parties in their backyard complete with sounds of people cheering as they throw horse shoes, the retch of someone throwing up in the side yard, and the night ending with either shooting bb’s at cans in the backyard or shooting off a few firecrackers.  You have caught the youngest Whiff peeing in the driveway on more than one occasion.  It’s a complete nightmare.  Still, you can’t understand how your wife and kids seem relatively unphased and have urged you to let it go.  But you can’t.

You are now obsessed with the Whiffs.  Even when there is a quiet morning you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  You have gone over and used every tactic you can possibly come up with to get them to change their ways.  You have tried to be curious, be kind, to ask nicely.  You have contacted an attorney, the head of the home owners association, other neighbors.  Everyone can see the problem, but no one seems as bothered by it as you are.  You have fantasies of moving or of setting fire to their home.  You want to find a way to get rid of those damn Whiffs.  They are noisy, they are relentless, they are annoying, they are scary at times with their drunkenly manned fire pits and they are literally driving you crazy.

You  no longer enjoy sitting in your own backyard with your family for a family dinner because you are hypervigilant and just waiting for the Whiffs to come out into their backyard just a few yards away and fart or belch loudly, thus ruining your time.  You are unable to throw the football to your son in the front lawn because you can’t stop thinking about the piles of garbage bags smelling a tad rotten that line their driveway after their last Whiff get together.  You can’t open your windows for fear that you will hear the oldest Whiff say something rude to his wife or be grossed out by his daily snort and spit as he sits on his front porch drinking beer and barking at his children.

Your spouse has been pleading with you to tune them out.  She has grown exhausted by you constantly hounding her saying “Do you hear that?  I think they are doing that on purpose!  Is that bothering you?”  Your own kids have said “let it go, they aren’t going to change.”  You talk to your work colleagues about it at lunch, and bore your buddies with it as they try to get you to enjoy a round of golf.  You are consumed.  You are on edge.  You are no longer enjoying your beautiful home and your beautiful life.  You have been Whiffed.

What are the Whiffs in your life?  We all have them.  The annoying thoughts, feelings, sensations that co-opt our attention, agitate us, worry us, scare us, annoy us, shrink our worlds and turn us into a shell of who we once were.  Here are a few common Whiffs (what if’s) that have been the nemesis of many people I have worked with (and I know more than a few of these whiffs personally):

What if I am not successful?
What if I make a fool out of myself?
What if no one likes me?
What if I mess up?
What if go crazy?
What if I die?
What if I can’t ever stop thinking this thought?
What if I can’t let this go?
What if I never feel good again?
What if I can’t handle this?
What if someone I love gets hurt or dies?
What if I hurt someone?
What if I am not a good person?
What if I can’t control myself?
What if I get trapped?
What if I don’t know exactly what to do?
What if someone finds out just how dumb/lazy/lost I really am?
What if my kids die before me?
What if something happens to someone I love?
What if someone knew what I was really thinking?
What if I had to get on an airplane to get to one of my kids?
What if I have another panic attack?
What if I have some disease?
What if I can’t stop thinking that I have some disease?
What if I am depressed?
What if I am terrible at this?
What if I don’t know how to fix this?
What if I can’t save them?
What if I have to live with this regret?
What if he/she doesn’t really love me?
What if I don’t really know if I love them?
What if I don’t really know myself?
What if
What if
What if……..


These are just a few of the hundreds and hundreds of “whiffs” that people grapple with in their lives.  Everyone experiences whiffs.  However, they become a problem when they move in, take over your life, claim the prized and precious real estate in your head and consume you while shrinking your world, your life, and your sense of self.

When the Whiffs have this sort of power, we start experiencing what we call disordered anxiety, or what I like to refer to as sensitization.   Anxiety in and of itself is a normative human experience.  It’s healthy to be a bit anxious before big speech, a big game, a big test.  In fact, it has been shown that brief and moderate levels of anxiety actually help people perform better.  On the other hand, disordered anxiety,  is when the whiffs (your worries, fears, obsessions) are front and center, and are disrupting your life.  The intrusive thoughts/feelings that accompany sensitization don’t require a healthy level of attentiveness, they pull you into a hypervigilance that keeps you from being able to engage healthfully in your work, play and relationships.  The Whiffs are now running the show.

While you might not be able to control the whiffs – you are in control of how you respond to the them.  Do you act like Sam and focus on them to such an extent that you push away anything positive?  Are you spending so much time asking or telling other people about your Whiffs that you are no longer living your life?  Are you giving up your own backyard party because you can’t stop preparing yourself for the fart or belch that might be coming from a Whiff across the fence?  Have you grown so weary of the Whiffs that you forget what it felt like to experience peace, joy and your own company?

If so, are you willing and open to learning some valuable tools and skills to manage the inevitable Whiffs of life?   Are you open to learning how YOU are actually responsible for why the Whiffs are getting so out of control and why your life is becoming so small?   Are you willing to take the chance on adopting a new mindset?   A mindset that will help you get to a place where you can truly SCREW THE WHIFFS and get your mind, body and life back?   If your answer is yes, then please stay tuned and/or reach out to me at jenniferswanphd@gmail.com if you are interested in personal mentoring/consultation in gaining skills and strategies to navigate the wide array of symptoms – including the unruly Whiffs – that come with nervous system sensitization.