This week, I’m learning a heck of A LOT about my own anxiety. I really didn’t realize how bad mine was until a dear friend of mine told me about the Daring to Lead podcast with Brene Brown and Amy Cuddy last week. I listened to it and highly recommended if you haven’t listened and have anxiety. They talked about “pandemic flux,” which Amy wrote about in a Washington Post article.
Amy talked about how anxiety often makes us want to escape out of situations that make us uncomfortable. And our anxiety makes us think that life will be so much better in a different scenario (a better job, a better neighborhood, a better relationship, etc), yet studies show that we aren’t as happy as we think we will be when we make the actual change.
This really connected with me. It’s like I’d been hearing this for the first time, even though I was diagnosed with anxiety years ago and have been in therapy for it along the way! Dots were connected for me. It explains why I’d often say, “I hate my job,” and then obsessively start looking for a new one. My anxiety had convinced me in the past that a new job would be better off than the current level of anxiety I was feeling in the moment of a tough day. I can honestly say anxiety was a contributing factor of why I chose to leave my last corporate employer after ten really good years there. The going was getting tougher and my anxiety convinced me that I could not take it anymore and another job would be greener on the other side. It’s also why when I got to my next corporate employer and realized things weren’t as greener on the other side as I had envisioned, I instantly wanted to go back to the comfort of the company I had just left (I did not by the way and can now see the good in that decision not to go back).
Fast forward to today. My boss, at my corporate job, asked me to have lunch with him since he was in town. We had originally planned for tomorrow, yet he reached out at 10 am today to ask if I could make it today instead. I said sure. From the point I agreed until I left my house, I really couldn’t concentrate. This was the first time I was going downtown since Monday, March 9, 2020. What will I wear? Where will I park in downtown? How safe will I be? What will I order on the menu? All kinds of anxious thoughts popped up. I even thought my boss was having lunch with me to give me a pink slip (I know, can you believe that craziness?)! My anxiety convinced me that there was truth to that because I was recently promoted and feel out of my comfort zone. Like big time.
My instant reaction as I started to feel more and more anxious, was to put on my running shoes and escape (meaning, come up with a reason I can no longer make it and let my boss know). My anxiety had me use running shoes before. I could use them again.
As I got in the car to drive, I could feel a heightened sense of anxiety. I fell into my body and really felt where it was showing up. As I drove closer to downtown, I felt this push against my shoulders. It was almost like my anxiety was trying to protect me and hold me down, saying, “Turn around. Go back to comfort. Your running shoes know the way. It’s a familiar path that has been traveled many times.”
I tuned into these feelings in my body. It’s the first time I really did that during an anxiety “episode”. I drove slower as I approached downtown. It was like I was trying to slow the pace of my beating heart. I was calming myself with a slower speed. The last time I drove this route over eighteen months ago, I was driving really fast with music blared to tune out any sensations in my body. I was a stress ball of anxiety and didn’t want to feel it or hold space for it. I realized that on my drive in silence today when going at a slower pace (i.e. the speed limit).
As I turned down the familiar street that leads me right into the heart of downtown, I started to tune into my surroundings. I tried to be present. I noticed new things on that road. The yellow leaves on the tree. The fountain flowing with water in the sunshine. The beauty of an old building. The beauty of the cobblestone street in a portion of the road. The beautiful flowers outside the one hotel. These were there before. I just never noticed because I was purposely avoiding the present moment before.
Being present as I drove, allowed me not to “sweat it” when I got into the parking ramp and realized I made an immediate wrong turn, which forced me out to the street again. I had to drive around the block, but some streets were closed and under construction, so it literally took me ten minutes to get back to the parking ramp entrance. I arrived at my parking spot just before 12 noon. We agreed to meet at noon. As I walked from my car, my boss texted me to say he was at the restaurant. “It took longer than I expected to park so I’ll be there shortly,” I responded without any worry. And I was off.
I was proud of myself for today’s adventure. It made me realize how these small little wins are really big for me. It made me realize that it’s important for me to tune into my body even more. It made me realize how important it is to understand the effects of my anxiety on my life and my decisions. It made me realize it’s important for me to realize when my anxiety is at play and what’s going on.
I learned so much in this adventure today. While my anxiety tells me that I should look for another job because of the tough things my boss is asking for me to do, my body tells me that it will feel heavy, yet the answer is not in finding a new job at this point. That’s no longer the answer. The answer is to tune in and lean in, no matter how hard it will be to do so. The more I show up for myself and do the opposite of what my anxiety tells me, the more confident I’ll become! It is absolutely time to throw out those old running shoes and stay put in the discomfort!
What will change in your life if you were to lean into the discomfort of your anxiety?