Anxiety wields a proper noun like a hurricane or an ill-favored in-law.
This morning It showed up because I hadn’t finished writing an article to post today. I had reviewed a bunch of drafts and started a really good one, but none were ready for your attention. I made a commitment to get two into your inbox each week, and I want to keep it. Last night, after my bout with Doubt, I was exhausted, and I just couldn’t whip any of them into shape. Late in the night Anxiety came without even knocking.
Then it dawned on me. Many of you suffer from anxiety, too, and understanding how I deal with It might be helpful. What follows are some notes, brief if you consider the size of the subject.
Please let me know what you think.
My current picture of Anxiety.
Anxiety is something I will probably always experience. I’ve explored many of the behaviors that may create Anxiety, and I’m fairly aware of how to dismantle them before they get out of hand. (This website is full of those techniques.) The problem is that Anxiety comes even when my situation isn’t creating it.
Unlike sadness and anger and joy, my Anxiety rarely has a cause. It used to find root in reasonable explanations, but I’ve managed the big stressors in my life. My schedule is under my own control. I eat well. I exercise. I rest well.
For me these days, Anxiety is free floating. It’s a chemical issue like caffeine, like blood sugar, like hormones that get out of whack. I now take a small amount of therapeutic chemicals to counter the major mood swings that came when my life fell apart. I’ve learned to cope with the small swings that happen all the time.
I now view Anxiety as an unwelcome visitor with no purpose other than to side swipe my self esteem.
Unshackling Anxiety from my behaviors
Anxiety was once a signal that my soul was raging a deep conflict.
For a couple decades working with skilled therapists I unraveled the old stories I unconsciously told myself whenever I started to feel Anxiety— stories that created conflict in my decision making and kept me in binds.
The stories showed up through my shadow roles.
There was the Sapper whose role was to detect and dismantle the bombs that had fallen on the village. The Sapper made appearances at my jobs. As Sapper I could see the systemic problems within a company that employed me, describe them to the company heads, and offer solutions they were clearly unwilling or unable to implement. Because I was good at this, I raised Anxiety for everyone in the room to match mine. I was no longer alone in my fears that the bombs would eventually and maybe soon explode. I got to feel needed.
What I learned from playing with the role of Sapper was that it was my observations that were the bombs. If I hadn’t made them, nobody would worry about them. Companies exist partly because they don’t pay attention to the bad stuff that will probably happen. Their leaders don’t need some smart ass pointing it out! I quit that role much to my relief, and theirs.
There were other shadow roles that operated from Anxiety. Treadmill Guy’s job was to just work harder when I got anxious. At some point I had elected him president of my life. I impeached him. There was also The Righteous Disappointed, Seducer, and Compulsive Clarifier.
One or all of these roles kicked in whenever I felt Anxiety, and I got very skilled at playing them. I had to know them very well before I could find more fitting jobs for them. Treadmill Guy knows how to work very hard. That’s handy, but it’s not a leadership role. Clarifier is helpful in almost every relationship, business and personal (as long as he doesn’t do it compulsively), and Seducer is much more lovable when I’m not manipulating someone out of Anxiety.
When these roles try to take over, I notice, and I re-assign them to their rightful purposes.
And yet, Anxiety visits and needs to be addressed.
I no longer attach old stories to my Anxiety. When It visits I don’t try to explain that there must be money problems or relationship problems or self-worth problems that create Anxiety. Those stories throw gas on the Anxiety fire.
I don’t try to douse Anxiety; I can’t. But I do try to deprive Anxiety like I might a stray cat at the door. Go somewhere else for your meal!
Today I turned Anxiety away with two methods, and they worked. First, in 2 minutes I planned my day with a very realistic Do List. Then, I wrote this article in the hour I had before my next appointment. Done.
Goodbye Anxiety. See you soon, I’m sure.