1.The mysterious, complicated, mushed-up kind of anxiety:
You wake up and for seemingly no good reason you feel anxious. The sound of the shower turning on makes you jump; you feel a creeping anxiety as you leave the house; and the anxiety ebbs and flows in waves throughout the day. It’s an ordinary day, and you just feel a nervous panic as you navigate your regular daily rituals.
2. The “I’m going after big things” kind of anxiety:
You went after a big promotion at work and you’re going in for your first day. The day starts with a big meeting with your new team, and already there are fires to put out. After that, you’re heading to a strategy session with your new boss, and her boss, the CFO of the company, and they’re both eager to hear about your new plans. You’ve prepared and prepared, but there’s a lot that’s new, and you know there are going to be some adjustments. You don’t sleep well, and all through the morning butterflies are doing aerobics in your gut. You forget your notes for the big meeting and have to run back home. You spill coffee in the break room. You are seriously anxious.
The first kind demands a lot of scrutiny, and it’s unclear what, if anything, is going on in your life that this anxiety has to do with. Chances are, it may be hard to find.
In the second example, it’s pretty clear that the anxiety is directly related to the demands of the new job.
Remember that anxiety, for all of its distortions in contemporary life, has quite useful biological origins. In the days of the cavemen, when preparing for a woolly mammoth hunt, the set of physiological intricacies that we now understand as anxiety gave our hungry ancestors an added boost in acuity, strength and attention.
The anxiety present when heading into work for a new job, while it may be by-and-large unpleasant (and even unhelpful), is anxiety that grows out of wanting more. If you didn’t go after that promotion (or go on the hot date, or apply for the great graduate school program) you probably wouldn’t be feeling anxious. In this sense, the latter form of anxiety is anxiety that you have produced.
What’s important about that?
If you’re swimming in anxiety that’s a direct result of something you’ve signed on for (like a promotion) it’s an entirely different experience than that muddled kind, and that brings with it new sorts of opportunities. You can understand that it’s roughly (pleasant or not) how you’re supposed to feel; nothing is malfunctioning. In doing so, the anxiety can be seen as something to expect, and to take full ownership of:
“Oh, I get why this is happening. This is mine. I made this.”
“Sure, I feel anxious, and that’s uncomfortable, but it’s what I signed on for. It’s happening because I’m create more in my life.”
Staying closely connected to what we produce emotionally is a critical and powerful thing. Emotions aren’t just things that happen to us, and they’re also not problems we have to avoid.
Even the unpleasant ones are surely not evidence that we’ve done something wrong. They might be a pretty good indication, in fact, that we’re doing something right.