This is the first of a three part series of posts focussing on the emotion of anxiety. I will discuss what anxiety is and how it is different from other feelings, how to understand it as a tool and how to master and strategically employ it in your life.
I hope you find it helpful.
Have you ever worried about something that might happen in the future?
The “focus” of your worrying might be…
- an upcoming exam, interview, or presentation
- what might happen if you ask someone out on a date or ask for a raise
- what could go wrong if you aren’t perfect (however you define this)
- something you did in the past that might “go bad” at some future date
- and so forth.
For nearly everyone, the answer is “yes”.
The reason for this is that worry (also known as anxiety) is a normal emotion.
Every emotion communicates to you how you are perceiving the situation in which you find yourself. This is the “message” of that emotion. When you recognize and utilize the message of an emotion, you are beginning to strategically deploy that emotion as a tool in your life.
The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat in our future.
Every emotion can be viewed as a tool that has a specific application or purpose. Examples of common tools include your cell phone, your TV remote, the hammer in your tool drawer and so forth.
The “purpose” of anxiety, as a tool, is to alert you to an event so that you can prepare yourself to deal with it.
But, sometimes, the emotion of anxiety can become “toxic”.
Something is toxic when it can seriously hurt you. Other words for “toxic” include poisonous and dangerous.
A substance, action or even a person can become toxic even though it may not always be this way.
Think about water….
- You need it for survival
- It’s really great when you are thirsty.
Did you know that if you drink too much water in too short a time that you can experience what is called water toxicity. While you can google it, you are not very likely to experience it. My point is that water is an essential element that if consumed in too great an amount becomes toxic or harmful.
Similarly, anxiety, as I will discuss below, is a very useful emotion which, if experienced at too high an arousal level can become toxic or debilitating.
So, at a high level of worry, you might find yourself…
- paralyzed and unable to take any action.
- losing sleep
- unable to think about anything else
And, it seems that…
- there is no way to break free of your anxiety and
- your anxiety has become an inner “doom forecaster” that seems to be controlling you
- you are caught up in a whirlpool of “what-ifs” as in “What if (this or that) happens?”
- you are also, probably, catastrophising.
This is toxic anxiety.
Regarding “what-ifs” and “catastrophising”…..
- A major problem with “what-ifs” and toxic anxiety is that they involve catastrophising. When you catastrophize..
- you focus on the worst possible outcome that could occur
- you tend to react as-if the “worst possible outcome” is a certainty
- you do not think about other, less disastrous possible outcomes
- The result of catastrophising is..
- that you do not have any answers to your hypothetical “what-ifs” (because there are no factual answers) and
- your lack of an answer is viewed as another issue about which you need to worry.
- you’ve gone deeper into the whirlpool.
- As I will discuss below, using anxiety as a strategic tool involves using what-ifs to focus your attention on constructive solutions.
So, what is anxiety?
Anxety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there that may hurt me.
Anxiety differs from..
- fear, its present-based cousin. The message of fear is that there is a threat that will injure me,
- depression, its pathological cousin. The message of depression is that my situation is hopeless, I’m helpless to do anything about it and I am, therefore, worthless, and
- anger, its warrior cousin. The message of anger is that there is a threat out there and I am prepared to go to war to eliminate it.
The two “faces” of anxiety..
Anxiety that has become toxic is called distress. This is anxiety as a “doom sayer”
The other face of anxiety is called eustress. This is anxiety as a “motivator”. When you view anxiety as eustress, you are using this emotion as a strategic tool.
Think about an upcoming interview for a job or a test in a course you are taking. You get nervous, anxious, or stressed about it and use that nervous energy as a motivator to prepare for the interview or exam.
When you approach your anxiety as eustress and use the energy it provides, you are strategically deploying this emotion as a useful tool.
In part 2 of this series of posts, I will talk about how to turn anxiety from a “doom sayer into a “motivator”.
- There are 3 secrets and 4 steps.
See you in the next post.