Have Fun with your Anxiety


Photo by: J W Foster

Why do people with “Anxiety” ignore the benefits of their condition? In the past I’d done the same thing.  Even though I am a psychologist, I have struggled with “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” all my life.  I would commonly fall into the anxiety trap of “Thought”  I could and should perform better. Good was never good enough. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that anxiety is not always a bad thing.

Think about it…

There are few people more reliable than individuals like us who obsess about doing the best job or who just worry in general.  Get it?  Generalized anxiety–worry in general?  A little psychologist humor to help you remember one of the few hallmarks of this condition.  The other symptoms include feeling fatigued, “keyed up” and easily irritated.  Muscle tension is also common (like headaches and neck pain) as is trouble sleeping.  What a great combination, huh?  It’s called “Feeling T-he T-hree T-s”…

  • T-ired
  • T-ense and
  • T-oasted from lack of sleep

But let’s get back to why anxious people are so cool.  Who would you rather have working for you?  The guy who says, “Screw work. Let’s play.” Or the one who says, “Geez, I hope I can get it done in time for corrections.”  Or, “How did my boss say she wanted that to look exactly? Maybe I should stay a little longer and get some extra work done on that project.”

Who would you pick if you were the boss?

I know, I know, you are going to say, “Yeah, but that guy/gal is also the one that takes 30 minutes to send out a simple email because they keep checking it over and over to make sure they are not offending anyone, or making sure the spelling and grammar are perfect, or that the salutation is “just right.”  To those of you who complain about this I say, I still want that person working for me because I prefer to put out great products and that does require quality control.  I’d rather lose a little efficiency than spend more time making up for costly mistakes or pissed off customers.

I hope you are starting to get the picture that anxiety, is a double-edged sword.  It pushes us to excellence while sucking the life out of us!

But, what if we could celebrate and revel in that super sharp side of the sword while casting away our panic? And what if you could get that same great worker without losing the efficiency?

Consider what it would be like if we could just give ourselves permission to slow down and enjoy each moment.

Anxious Person:  “YEAH RIGHT…How am I supposed to do that?”

Here is one way.  Picture yourself as a Lamborghini, which as you probably already know is a super expensive sports car.  Have you ever driven a luxury vehicle with a rocket ship engine?  Ok, neither have I.  But, I have driven a sporty luxury vehicle long enough to know that when your foot touches the gas pedal, the first thing you feel is the whiplash from your neck jerking back from the responsiveness of that engine.  Next thing you know, you are already at your destination when  you thought it would be great if you could just make it through that yellow light.

So why am I talking about sports cars as a metaphor for anxiety?

It’s because the anxious person shoots through time at the speed of a Lamborghini.  A perfect example is the time I went to the supermarket and asked if I could write a check for more than the bill.  The cashier said I could write it for $20 over the total charge.  Just like any self-respecting person with generalized anxiety, I had my checkbook out and ready to go.  I didn’t want to keep people standing in line behind me.  When the cashier told me the total, say, $227.60.  I started calculating this sum + $20.  Well, within seconds I started to feel panicked because I hadn’t summed it up.  I could feel the sweat pouring down my face and I thought about how stupid I must look to those around me. “People must be thinking, ‘Geez, can’t this woman do simple arithmetic…what’s wrong with her.”

Well, of course I could add.  I have a Ph.D. and I went to medical school for two years after that.  If I were in a room all alone with no one pressing the gas on my super responsive race-car nervous system, I would have figured out the total  in a couple of seconds.  The irony is that it really was only a couple of seconds before I started to feel panicked about not calculating fast enough.  I was shooting through time in my mind at the metaphorical speed of a Lamborghini!

Now picture people with low anxiety or “LA”.  I say “low” because everyone has some form of worry or they wouldn’t be alive (more on that in another post). LAs are like the Honda Accords of life.  You press on the gas pedal, and they will get you where you want to go but not as fast as that sports car.

So how can you use this information?  First, knowing you are a Lamborghini can give you pride knowing that you think faster than those without anxiety.  Most of the time at work, I had already mentally run through 10 scenarios and likely outcomes before the assignment was even finalized.  Again, the double-edged sword of thinking fast can help us solve more problems but it can also make us see problems when all we need to do is slow down and have faith in our abilities.  This leads us to the second reason to think of ourselves as a luxury sports vehicle.  If we know we tend to run faster and perhaps “hotter” than the Honda Accord, we can use that to give us permission to slow down, breathe, tap the breaks–and accept that we can still get their  faster than most LAs.

Next time you are in the supermarket, at work or doing anything that gets your nervous system/engine revved, remind yourself that you are a Lamborghini and enjoy the ride.

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