This is part 2 of this 3 part series of posts on anxiety.
In part 1, I…
- noted that anxiety was a tool
- discussed the concept of toxic anxiety
- introduced the ideas of what-if questions and catastrophising
In this post, I will discuss the three “secrets” that enable you to turn your anxiety, as a “doom sayer” which can sap your energy into a “motivator” which can propel you forward.
Secret #1: There is no “You verses your anxiety”.
Fact #1: You create your anxiety. It is a part of you.
While our emotions, including anxiety, are often experienced as happening to us because of the emotional process which gives rise to them, the fact is that we, through our perceptions and our thoughts, actually create and give meaning to our feelings (feelings and emotions are, for our purposes, the same).
In brief, the emotional process involves our subconscious scanning of our surroundings for possible threat and the subconscious reaction to the situation which prepares our bodies to “deal with” the perceived threat. This “reaction” is the “feeling” we experience. The second part of the emotional process involves, our conscious efforts to give a label to and make sense of the feeling and choose how to respond to the situation in which we find ourselves.
When you choose to view your feelings as either happening to you or as beyond your “control”, you disempower yourself. To do this is to view yourself as powerless and as controlled by your anxiety.
While this may be a common way to view feelings, it is, nonetheless, incorrect.
Secret #2: Anxiety, as are all feelings, is just a tool.
Fact#2: Emotions evolved as tools which early (and modern) man could use to help him (or her) “survive”.
For our cave dwelling ancestors, survival involved living long enough to reproduce.
For us, survival means getting through the day, dealing with modern stressors such as work, commuting, dealing with others, and coping with social media. These are all psychological threats which are different from survival threats. While they might feel as though they were the same, they are not.
When you view your anxiety as a tool, your attention will shift from a sense of being controlled by the tool to figuring out how to make get the most out of what the tool can do.
As an example, you may not be very good at getting the most out of your cell phone or computer. And, you may even get annoyed at it. As an author, I tend to get annoyed with the automatic spell checker in Microsoft Word. The spell checker is useful when it corrects a mistake I might have made but it is a nuisance when it corrects a sentence I have written that I know is correct.
Anyway, you do not see the computer, your phone, or the spell checker as an autonomous entity. It is just a tool, doing what it is programmed to do and well within your ability to understand and effectively use.
Secret #3:You can learn to “master” your anxiety as a tool and utilize it to improve your life.
Fact #3: The function of anxiety as a tool is to alert you to some future event that might need your attention.
It probably would not surprise you to know that the US is surrounded by an electronic perimeter the purpose of which is to give an alert that an incoming missile, or plane, is approaching the country so that appropriate action can, if warranted, be taken.
If an alert is sounded, an attempt is made to identify the perceived threat before an errant passenger jet or flock of geese is blown out of the sky. If the threat is genuine, then appropriate defensive actions are initiated.
Your anxiety, as an early warning alert tool, functions in a similar manner.
Depending on how you define a particular threat, you may perceive the action of another person or an upcoming event as a threat and your anxiety level will send you an alert when a threat is perceived.
The problem is that your sensitivity to a perceived threat can lead you to misrepresent what is actually occurring and to inappropriately react.
As an example, you are scheduled to attend a meeting when you get to the office in the morning with the head of the company for which you work. You believe you deserve a raise and are thinking about asking for that raise during your upcoming meeting. In the middle of the night, you wake up and are very anxious about your morning meeting.
You find yourself in a whirpool of negative what-ifs…
- What if the boss is critical of you?
- What-if she thinks you are being too aggressive and your request changes how she views you and the work you do?
- And so forth.
Your anxiety has done its job..
- There is some uncertainty surrounding the morning meeting
- The meeting does represent a potential risk
- There is a potential threat.
You have gone “beyond” the facts and are catastrophising. You have turned the anxiety toxic.
You can, however, choose a different path in dealing with the alert your anxiety has given you. Just like the professionals do with the radar alert, you can check out your alert before going off the deep end.
I will give you four steps to help you do this in the next, and final, post in this series.