If you are like many high-achievers out there, you suffer from occasional, or perhaps more-than-occasional, bouts of anxiety.
You feel anxious as you rush through your day at work that you won’t get it all done.
You feel anxious as you head over to your brother-in-law’s for dinner that it will feel forced and awkward like last time.
You wake up at 4a anxious that you are getting old and don’t have as much to show for your life as you would like.
Anxiety feels terrible, and you wish you could just turn off your mind and make it go away. But it is rarely that easy. Anxiety can be like one of those Chinese finger traps: the more you struggle with it, the stronger a hold it gets on you.
So I have found that one of the best strategies for dealing with anxiety, like many things in life, is to actually appreciate it. To see the beauty in it. Let me explain.
You can think of anxiety as being made up of two other emotions:
Anxiety = Care + Fear.
Let’s start with care. You are anxious about getting your ToDo list finished because you care about doing a great job. This is perhaps because you care about the cause you are working for. Perhaps you care about feeling talented and accomplished. Perhaps you care about looking good in front of you boss. Perhaps you care about earning money so that you can live a life that you care about. All of this caring comes from a positive place. It comes from your desire to have a life that you love, and that aligns with your values.
Think about something that you really don’t care about. How many moments have you spent being anxious about that thing? For example, I really don’t care about professional sports. How many moments of anxiety have I had about the winning record of the local baseball team? Exactly zero.
Acknowledging this caring component gets you in touch with who you are and what is important to you. It makes you feel alive, and in love, and in touch with your heart. All very very good things that really should be appreciated. So use your anxiety as an opportunity to identify and simply savor them for a little while. Thank you, anxiety!
The second component of anxiety is fear. Going back to the ToDo list example, you may be afraid that you will “screw up” and do a bad job. You may be afraid of looking bad in front of your boss, or that she might “find out” that you are not as great as she seems to think you are. And then you might be afraid that it would cost you a raise. Or, even worse, get you fired! You may be afraid of losing the stability and quality of life you have right now. Whenever you have something you care about, you risk of feeling scared that it will be taken away.
Once you find what you are afraid of, the best way to deal with that fear is to acknowledge it. Far too often, we simply want to avoid it. We eat, we party, we date, we watch Netflix, we overcommit— we do everything we can think of to not have to face our fears head-on. The problem with this strategy is that our fears are running the show. In avoiding them, they have power over us.
Instead, by being willing to truly examine your fears for what they are, you can begin to actually deal with them. Ok, so you are afraid. That is understandable, and quite ok. What is going to be your strategy for dealing with the fear? Maybe you will:
let it hang out for a while, and get comfortable living with fear. It certainly won’t kill you, and many successful people have fear as a constant companion. It means that you are up to big things that you truly care about… and would hate to lose.
mitigate the impact of that fear by coming up with a good Plan B that you can fall back on if Plan A doesn’t work out.
have a good long conversation about your fears with the people in your life. Who knows what sort of input and guidance they will share with you?
Regardless of your exact strategy, simply calling out the fear for what it is, allows you to deal with it.
Deconstructing anxiety into care and fear then, allows you to transform a snarling, energy-draining beast into a cute puppy and a scaredy cat. Each one is somewhat endearing on its own, but put in a room together can become a barking, hissing, stressed out mess.
What are you anxious about? What do you care about, and what are you afraid about? How does identifying those two shift “the hold” that your anxiety has on you? Write a note and share.