Do you have a habit around anxiety? Anxiety can quickly go from a little bit of a worry to a downward sinking spiral of despair. If just reading that led you to think — Wait, now I’m worried I worry too much, consider these two approaches to handling anxiety:
First… Studies show that we can actually re-train our worrying / anxiety habits by scheduling time each day to be anxious. Yes – plan for it. Maybe just before your workout make a list of the stuff you worry about. Only allow yourself 5 to 15 minutes and set a timer. Write it. Speak it into your phone. Leave yourself a voicemail of what you are worried about. What this does is gives you a time to really allow yourself to sink into it. It also gives you a time that you know of so when anxieties start to creep up you can say, “that’s great – I’ll put that on my list of stuff to worry about tomorrow” and do it then. (I like to do my worrying during the warm up of my workouts or during my commute. I obviously don’t write my stuff down unless I’m going through a real rough patch and need to).
Second… I also think it’s helpful to recognize the difference between anxiety and fear. Both are an emotional experience of the unknown future – the belief that something we don’t know or understand is going to happen and that it’s going to be bad. Unlike anxiety, fear is specific. We fear flying because we think the plane will crash. We fear asking someone out on a date because we think they might say no. The benefit of this is that we can often take an anxiety and make it more specific (like in our scheduled worrying time) and say – what is it about this job that I think I’m scared of? Oh, I think I’m going to do a terrible job like screw things up with a client and that the client will say terrible things about me and trash me on the Internet and I’ll never be able to get another job and my kids will be on foodstamps instead of grass fed beef…. It sounds indulgent, howeve,r when we get to what the real FEAR is we can treat it as a risk. What do we do with risks? We manage them. We evaluate the likelihood of occurrence with the impact of occurrence and then choose a mitigation strategy. When we do that we create action. The point is, we can only create action around FEAR, not anxiety.
What if we can’t get more granular? What if it’s so unspecific we can’t turn it into fear? We can recognize anxiety in the body as shortness of breath, caginess, flittering. The experience is cortisol is up. It’s the body saying – hey, be aware, stuff is gonna happen. But who says that stuff has to be bad? Remember the day you got married? Remember the shortness of breath you had before you saw your wife… that moment when you were thinking, is this ok? And it was. And it is. Anxiety and Excitement have a very similar physicality. The difference is that one is expecting something that could be GREAT. And it tends to come with a bit of a smile. When we can shift our bodies into the slight difference between anxiety and excitement, we can see a possibility for an amazing future. (This is usually about the time that my warmup is done and I need to start focusing on running faster, lifting heavier etc…)