I’m going to go there – I’m going to mention the ‘A’ word. By that I mean ‘Anxiety’.
This subject gets a lot of airtime these days and with good reason – we are now in a world that provides fertile soil for the potentially anxious mind, and most minds certainly do have that potential. Our brains are hardwired to assess and dwell on risk, or as author and psychologist Rick Hanson says
“Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
To-do lists galore, rising expectations (particularly of ourselves) and so many balls up in the air at one time. Add on to that an environment of open source opinions at the ready, full of judgment and comparison – all watering the little seeds of anxious thoughts we might be carrying. It’s prevalent in our home lives as well as our work lives because, let’s face it, the two are intertwined like siamese twins.
I saw this picture the other day (see below).
Does this look like a familiar thought process to you?
I know this process oh so well. Particularly as a small business owner, where I’m the CEO, and by that I don’t mean ‘the big cheese’, I mean ‘the only cheese’ aka the Chief Everything Officer. This creative process has been a daily, sometimes even hourly, process for me. I’ve gone through this loop so many times in the past 8 months since I started my business that I’ve questioned whether I’m bipolar on many an occasion.
As well as calling it ‘creative’ lets also call it what else it is – it’s anxiety. Maybe not paralysing, rocking in the corner, unable to function anxiety, but anxiety nonetheless.
I’ve had a relationship with anxiety for most of my lifetime. I believe that type A ‘try hards’ (which I’ve historically been) often have anxiety lurking in the shadows of our mind somewhere, and it’s important to realise there is no shame in it, but also it’s something worth exploring to see how we can manage it better.
I didn’t know anxiety for what it was, as I’ve been such a high functioning anxious type, but I see it now so clearly and I also see how anxiety and my unwillingness to explore it have held me back. It has held me back in my belief in what I can and can’t do, what I have or haven’t done, but also in my ability to build relationships with others as well as merely surrendering to being my true self.
Anxiety itself is a vulnerable process. Since leaving my corporate role as a senior leader last year I’ve spent time getting to know myself better and that includes looking at my anxiety.
Exploring my anxious mind has been bloody uncomfortable let me tell you, but I made a choice not only to get up close and personal with it but also to redefine how I look at it. This little retrospective allowed me to see that as much as my anxiety did indeed at times hold me back – it also propelled me forward in many ways too.
The anxious mind is not without purpose. It makes us aware of risks, it is also a clue as to what we do and don’t want, and what is or isn’t important to us. We need to understand that so we turn out actions to what matters most to us.
Anxiety is the voice in our head that can be a guide when it’s balanced with all the other voices in our head, but an utter rogue when it takes command and control.
We all have voices in our head, and if you are saying ‘what voices?’ aha that’s one of them. These voices are our thoughts, our advisors we carry with us everywhere, but it’s important to remember that that these voices are not us. This is why I have been such an advocate for practicing mindfulness, as it guides us to notice the thoughts but not be a slave to them.
The mind can make a wonderful servant but a terrible master.
So I’ve taken back control of the anxious voice in my mind and given it a name ‘Annie Anxious’. Annie and I still hang out on regular occasions. I don’t see her as something to be fixed more a key stakeholder to be managed. She doesn’t like it when I ignore her, so when she whispers in my ear, I always acknowledge her, thank her (not out loud – I’m not that much of a weirdo). I say to Annie “Thanks for the heads up – your opinion is noted” and then I make a decision to move forward, or not, based on what’s in my gut and my heart. The answers usually lie there if we stop and really notice what they are telling us.
So if this post and the little creative process outlined in the picture above, resonates with you. If you notice that your mind also goes through this circuit – with your inner voices regularly telling you conflicting messages ranging from ‘this is awesome’ and ‘you’re awesome’, to ‘this is shit’ and ‘you’re shit’ or whatever they might be saying, remember – those voices are merely thoughts, they are not you and there are not facts.
A THOUGHT IS NOT A FACT!
You have to take control though and make a choice over what thoughts and voices you choose to listen to and what ones you acknowledge but then file away. You have to be conscious and aware enough to notice, seperate yourself and make the right choice, based on what really is truly most important to you.
As for me I will continue to keep Annie Anxious close, I’ll listen to what she has to say, as sometimes it’s valid and often drives and motivates me to do some of my best work, but rather than me sitting at the “i am shit/ this is shit’ end of the spectrum I’ll be aiming go hang out in the ‘I am awesome/ this is awesome’ zone as much as I possibly can. I hope to see you there.