It’s time to dismantle one of anxiety’s biggest myths.
An argument I hear frequently from friends: “Anxiety helps me. It helps me get things done on time. It helps me get the house clean. It helps me be good at my job.”
I say to them what I’m saying to you now: fear of fear — excess cortisol and adrenaline surging through your body — does not help you to be better at your job or family life. The campaigns you’ve mounted to avoid hormonal physical punishment may lead you to believe that you are better and stronger as a result of your struggles. But the truth is that’s just YOUR STRENGTH shining out despite impediment. That’s not anxiety’s good work.
Why accepting this truth is important.
It’s the first step toward superpower activation. If you have anxiety or you’re a perfectionist, like I am, you already spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to “fix” things. But in order to find the change you seek, it’s your relationship with anxiety that needs to change.
I cannot stress enough how difficult it can be for those of us with generalized anxiety to believe this is true. We have justified and internalized our own thought patterns for so long that changing them can feel as awkward as practicing a foreign language aloud. But believing this core truth about anxiety — that it is not helping you out in any way — is a crucial first step.
It does help you in one way, though.
If anxiety isn’t helping me in the way I thought it was, can I learn anything from it? Here’s how I think of it: instead of fighting against the cortisol and adrenaline surges, I try listening to them and allowing them to come and go. These hormone surges can be an incredible insightful tool. Once I learned to tune in to them, boundless wisdom awaited me. “Don’t take that job!” “Don’t hang out with that person anymore!” The absence of the surge also held great information: “You are happy in this place.” “You can see how others are reacting based on their own fears.” “You can approach things differently.”
It’s time to break up.
To get to the place of tuning in, you have to give up your old co-dependent relationship with your buddy anxiety. If you’re keeping it in a tightly wedged fixed place where it’s an obstacle to overcome, you might be keeping yourself from claiming the insight you deserve (you’ve worked hard for it, after all).
Originally posted Feb 9, 2016. Updated August 16, 2017