This post is about anxious thinking and how it can lead to anxiety.
In it—the post—I’m going to create two different happenings of the same event. The only difference will be in the perspective.
One of the examples is fictional.
The other… is fictional too. But if I work really hard and believe in myself I think the outcome can be met.
Setting A: Beauregard Bradford Didier IV is about to deliver a speech at a sales conference. He was asked to present because at times he composes himself well and he seems to take his job seriously. Very seriously. He knows this is a big opportunity and he has affixed that burden upon himself; especially now as he paces the atrium adjacent the conference room entrance. He takes a peek inside, holding the doors a few inches ajar, and notes the entirety of his company. They are waiting in rows of lined and columned chairs. Restless. A colleague from his territory walks by and says, “Beauregard, you look nervous. Just calm down, man.” Beau turns to note his co-worker and gives him a passing nod. Just calm down. Yes, just calm down. You need to speak well and address pertinent issues. Upper management is here. Calm down! Beauregard Bradford Didier IV steps back from the door and notes the pit in his stomach. He is pitting, too. Anxiety. He recognizes this emotion and then suppresses it. Calm down. Calm down, you’re not anxious! He closes the door and then his eyes, telling himself he is in fact NOT anxious. Quickly, he sends a blind copy DM to multiple targets—Sup, bout to go give this keynote, hmu*—because that’s the type of guy he is and then opens back up the doors. Beauregard walks into the conference room (NOT anxious).
Setting B: Beautron is about to deliver a speech at a sales conference. He was asked to present because at times he composes himself well but always is pleasant. He respects his job, and is grateful for his opportunities, but nothing good ever comes by way of force. He takes what he receives, mindful, and connects to the resources and energy that pervade. He knows this presentation is a great opportunity and is thankful. Never fearful, though. He stands in the atrium of the hotel, near the conference room entrance doors, and performs a couple athletic knee tucks. He lunges twice, engaging the core, and then meets the door, which he partially opens, peaking through. He notes the entirety of his company, waiting in columned rows of chairs. Dope. A colleague from his territory walks by and says, “Beautron, just be calm, you got this.” He turns and offers reciprocal notice, “Thanks, man. Should be fun. Just laugh really loud if start bombing.” They dap up, like amiable bros do, and then part. Feel these nerves. Use em. Anxious, yeah, but excited. Always excited. He is about to open the conference doors and enter but sends a quick text message to his Mother—About to deliver a presentation, Mom. Thanks for all that you have done for me. I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t respect your grieving process when Larry, our house cat, passed away in 2012, That was insensitive. You’re the best! Pulls back his shoulders, standing tall, and breathes deeply from his lower belly. Opens conference doors. This is dope.
*** “Dope” is a colloquialism, btw, for something that is good, or cool, or exciting. Just FYI if you weren’t sure, or are old. Beautron isn’t about drugs.
*hmu= hit me up. Like, send me a message, or engage my contact information.
Outcome A: The presentation went according to schedule. It was not really memorable, or endearing, but these events are all about optics, anyways; please the right people. Beauregard Bradford Didier IV held the stage firmly, masking sweating palms, and spoke sternly. He had a few jokes in his pre-meditative holster, but because of nerves, and the pit in his stomach that persisted, he decided to suppress anything that he could not firmly control. He hated that he felt so nervous throughout but he got it done. His boss and regional managers met him in the lobby bar half an hour later and told him that it was a job well done. He left the conference feeling good about his career prospects and future. Unfortunately, months later, Beauregard will be arrested—undetermined cause—and correlatively mishandled in prison. Good things don’t happen to people who suck; or are fueled by extrinsic validation.
Outcome B: Wow, what a fun fifteen minutes! Beautron began shakily, but after he verbalized his internal trepidations to the audience, he hopped down from the dais and took a sip of beer from the glass of his regional manager. LOL’s from audience. He spoke genuinely, cementing underlying foundational themes of honesty and mindfulness, and he worked the room. Anxiety became excitement, enabling him to connect with his audience on a more vital level, and he met the opportunity through that exact lens, realizing truth. Years later, Beautron will amass a collection of inspiring essays and anecdotes—routed in Zen, honest principle—and businesses will recognize the applicability. He will continue to speak publicly, too, always improving, always altruistic. His wife, Emma, will relocate from Europe and continue to make great films driven by his unrelenting love and support.
I am Beautron. The outcome B is basically my vision board, in as many words, that I look at in the morning when I wake and, in the evening, before I sleep.
Without a recent redirection of personal and interconnected belief, though, I could have become Beauregard. I have sent DM’s like that in the past and that’s not OK.
Across the range of books and podcasts within the worlds of psychology and performance, two things pair in ubiquity to form modern happiness: a concerted perspective shift and a present awareness. They are the themes I’ve found to be the most common and the most easily applicable.
I’d like to explain that now, real quick, through a cursory visit to our evolutionary brain.
Anxious thoughts also seem to be the biggest societal problem on the macro—on a personal level for me, too—so anxiety will be the ball carrier getting us to the goal-line; it was why I used the allegorical example(s) I did.
Anxiety, or anxious feelings, are part of our bodies’ survival instinct. It/they are something that registers as a chemical response. Without getting too anatomical, or just all up in the workings of the nervous system, the same “fight-or-flight” instinct that kept us alive millions/thousands of years ago is still rocking today. Anxiety just happens to be where we feel this (fight-or-flight) the most, now, as it the most common communicative medium our ancestral brain uses.
Back then, in our origin years, the communication was more instant-death-fear-based, as tigers and weather and terrain brought the noise. Now, things like public speaking and social interaction and “likes”—amongst others—illicit the same chemical inducing survival response. The portion of our brain making those decisions, trying to lead us to survival, cannot, and does not differentiate between the type of stressor. It doesn’t know a failed speech realistically won’t kill you (unless you’re a terrorist). To that part of the brain, a speech at a Marriot Courtyard is big animal trying to rip off your face. It (amygdala, fight-or-flight chemical response) is driven solely by our propagation, and it is blind.
Big speech in front of company. More money. Potential mates will be about it. That will help with reproduction and the furthering of our genes. I’ll make you nervous now and heighten your senses so you do well.
This type of terrain is similar to where your boy Duk Duk got swiped by the lion last week. It seems conducive to a predatorial attack. Let’s get real alert, pupils wide, and slowly gtfo* of here.
The chemical response to both of the situations, even though they are thousands of years apart in completely different worlds, is the same.
Which isn’t a bad thing, either.
Luckily, we have evolved in other areas, in other portions of our brain. And through that evolution, in that part of the brain—the neocortex—we can do certain things; two certain things that I mentioned like a thousand words back that seem to make people the happiest…
Perspective shift and present awareness.
A perspective shift, in response to anxious thinking, and present awareness, work in unison. Symbiotic. Like the egg and the chicken quandary, it could be argued which one comes first but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Both are needed.
Being mindful, or presently aware, means you are in tune with both your body and the things around you. In this instance, you take note of the anxious, pitted-stomach type feeling, and you note it exactly for what it is. You do not suppress it and you do not try to distract yourself from it. The nervous system of the human body is the most intelligent, advanced system on the planet. These feelings of anxiety, or nerves, were created by you, in the surviving-mode process we just explained. If you suppress them, or ignore them, your amygdala (conductor of the fight-or-flight) will become pissed, taking it personally, and make the stress response even stronger. The message will be sent again, and, in time, metastasize as chronic stress. Which sucks.
Instead, live in your body and let be what it is you are experiencing; present and aware. Breath into the stress, and the nerves, and then understand that this is actually an advantage. It is premium fuel unto which you can tap into. Your body is trying to help.
Note what it is, the anxiety, tipping the cap to our evolutionary survival response, and then make the perspective switch. You are not anxious of death, or survival, as your body is trying to signal, but you are excited to improve. You are in a Marriot Courtyard, and you are safe, if you’re a Gold Elite member, like Beautron.
Today, in each instance fear is triggered, it is result to a situation in which you have not yet reached confidence. You have not yet established neural circuitry making the act part to you. Your body and mind is still reactive. But you’re not dying, or in danger.
I promise (unless you’re a terrorist).
I’d also be super remiss to end here and simplify anxiety in such crude matter of fact form.
I wouldn’t, and won’t, do that.
But, and I swear on my marriage to Emma, simple is always better and simply understanding anxiety is the best place to start.
Simply, live and feel what your body is telling you. Know your evolutionary origins. Know that external validation, or success contingent upon external validation, is always where you will meet most stressors.
As you feel that stress response, and you feel your body react, acknowledge and simplify.
Understand who you are but never lose sight of who you want to be. Your body and brain will help you get there. Millions of years ago your autonomic responses led you to survival. Now, aware and enlightened, they are leading you to thrive.
It is ok to feel anxious.
It’s just a lot better to live excited.
*gtfo = get the F out. You knew that.