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A Little Help With Anxiety

Anxiety, everyone has experienced it and a little bit of it can be a healthy mechanism to help us accomplish different tasks. Anxiety is similar to stress. However, I would define anxiety as being stress that is in connection with the unknown future. So, let's think about why anxiety exists.

First, like we spoke about already, it is a motivator. When we have a deadline sometime in the future with a seemingly unknown negative consequence then we can develop some anxiety around the situation as a whole.

More fittingly I would argue is when we are faced with a problem we have not recognized yet. It seems like anxiety can set in for no reason when we have no clue what the outcome will be. It could likely be good or bad. However, we still will suffer from anxiety at this point.

Either one of these situations occur as a biochemical response which acts as a mechanism to keep us safe. For reasons of self preservation, our body warns itself of the potentially dangerous situation and tries to talk ourselves out of continuing forward. This can be to protect us from physical bodily harm or to protect us mentally which may include protecting our status, relationships, or any other non-physically related asset that we may want to protect.

So, the next question is what does an anxious person want in that moment? Well, it could be many things. Someone may want to deliver a great speech as they are feeling the anxiety of going on stage. What does giving a great speech mean exactly? I would argue that most people would want to truly want to give the speech and not suffer reprisal of sorts from the audience. They believe if they mess up then the audience members will think he/she is foolish and therefore the speaker will lose status. But, can that speaker control what people think? He/she might perform well in their own mind and the audience might still think it was terrible. Or, they might perform poorly compared to their expectations and the audience may really like it. Who really knows. The person that was anxious is suffering the consequences from his/her anxiety even though they have no control over the outcome of what they are worried about.

Let's imagine another situation. One with an important task to be completed that has someone nervous. Now, imagine we could magically give knowledge and control to that person that gives then all the tools that they need to take care of that problem. How do you think this person would feel now? I would argue that this person would not feel anxious anymore. They would get to work and would know what needed to be done. This hypothetical situation shows that we only experience anxiety when we are in a situation where we do not have control over some part of the situation that we are experiencing.

How can we use this knowledge. Well, one side effect of anxiety is that it causes us to freeze, we halt and do nothing. At this moment I think it is helpful to ask three questions.

1) What is it that I am afraid of exactly?

2) Do I have complete control over whatever this is?

3) If I do not, who does or how can I gain control over this situation?

These questions work because they first make you rationally think about where the fear is actually coming from. Without doing this, you may find yourself trying to solve an issue that isn't directly related to your anxiety which means that is wont fix it.

Next, you identify if you have control over the situation. Sometimes you might. If you identify what the cause of the anxiety is and it is now clear, you might say to yourself, "Oh, I can fix this." This will likely bring your anxiety down immediately.

Finally, if you do not have control then the third question is important because we can often experience that situation where we do nothing or do something to distract ourselves from the item causing the anxiety. This last question allows you to take that hard step that is so important. You ask, who knows how to solve this or what do I need to do to gain control? The answer to this question is the next step and is the hardest to overcome if you were to not try to think of your situation in this logical way. You have now identified something you control that you can do, you can schedule a meeting with someone that can assist or you can get started on the tasks that you identified that you need to do to get enough control to where you will be able to be confident of the outcome and therefore reduce your anxiety over the situation.

I will end with a quote which was the motivation for this post.

" When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn't wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken with anxiety?" - Epictetus

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