Living with anxious thoughts

I’ve known for a while that doing something scary or challenging makes me feel pretty good afterwards. This can be for a mix of reasons; the adrenaline rush, being glad it is over and the pride that you actually managed to do the thing. In my opinion, this rush is usually best when you aren’t looking back and thinking about how you ‘performed’ in the situation. Take, for example, jumping out of a plane. You’re going to be shit-scared beforehand, and then afterwards, feel absolutely, wonderfully, exhilaratingly fantastic. On top of the world! You’re not going to wonder about whether you did a good job, you’re just going to feel really fucking great for doing it.

Annoyingly, what I realised through the process of pushing myself into situations I find hard, relating to the social anxiety I experience, is that often you don’t necessarily feel that great afterwards. For example, in a group discussion where I spoke up much more than usual, I don’t get a wonderful rush. Instead, I might think I did something in a clumsy way or I didn’t explain myself well enough. I am embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes I can get pretty obsessed with one thing I said, and think about it over and over again. This is a real shame – I would much prefer to focus on the achievement rather than picking away at all of the things I could/should have done differently.

Can you think of a situation you have recently found challenging because you felt it required you to behave or come across in a particular way? It could have been a meeting at work, a social event, spending time with your family. Did you look back on it and critically analyse how you did? (if not, good on you. Maybe read on to understand what your peers/colleagues/pals might be going through).

Less surprisingly, you might feel pretty uncomfortable in the moment, whilst you are actually out of your comfort zone. Whilst you’re giving a presentation or at a party where you don’t know many people. This is something I am thinking about a lot at the moment. For example, if I am spending a day with my colleagues and we are having a number of conversations which I find challenging, I can feel pretty uncomfortable, as someone who is worrying about a number of different things. I might worry about how I said something or what I am going to say, which can drain my energy and distract me from being present and taking part.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

― Corrie Ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook

The cherry on top of the cake (and some would say I have ordered these points in an illogical way!) is the worry you can experience before something that is a challenge for you. The dread, the anxiety, or the thoughts of what could go wrong, rather than looking forward to the possibilities that this situation might uncover or bring to you or you could bring to it. What I want is an excitement for the unknown and a deep-seated knowledge that I will be able to handle whatever is thrown at me AND really knowing it is okay if I can’t handle it or if I make a mistake, I am just a flawed human. If people don’t get that, are they worth worrying about too much?

I am interested in the techniques we can use to try and help alleviate these different types of worry. How can we exist in some states of discomfort without it completely draining our energy and headspace? I don’t think anxiety or discomfort ever disappear, but we can find ways to deal with them so they take up less of our limited resources. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) definitely helped me with this; for the worry before an event, through the use of small experiments, challenging my predictions. Also for dealing with how the event went, by using balancing thoughts, rather than falling into thinking traps such as catastrophising or all-or-nothing thinking. I have also been trying out this great app called Youper to keep track of how I am feeling in the moment and help spot patterns that are contributing to the mood I am experiencing. The speaking course I wrote about last week also helped massively, particularly with letting go of control. I will write about these in my next posts.

I would love to hear from people about whether they have any techniques to help with any of those types of worries – before, during or after something challenging. I also think that much of what I have mentioned is linked to people wanting to avoid shame, which is something else I am keen to explore.

P.S.. I have never skydived or parachuted but I would like to. I would feel AMAZING (after)

P.P.S. Thanks to my sister, Sara: for proofreading and the opinions you contributed x