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Growing through Life Change: Turning Anxiety into Action

Growing through Life Change

Salon Topic at The Belizean Grove/Tara Fall Mini Conference in Washington DC
September 27, 2013

Handout:

Anxiety can be debilitating and it is not uncommon to get trapped in a downward spiral. Yet anxiety, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing – It is probably the most powerful and sensitive emotion we have, and it especially packs a punch when it comes to adapting to new situations. We need some anxiety to function – and are at our best when we feel just the right amount of anxiety to maximize our energy. When Anxiety is put into action, it gives these uncomfortable feelings an outlet in action and the action works towards solving the problem that’s causing the anxiety in the first place. Here are a few steps to harness this powerful emotion and spur action.

1) The first step is self-empathy. Show yourself compassion for how you’re feeling. There’s a reason. You are not crazy. What are you upset about? What is reasonable to be upset about? Recognize it, and respect it. Do not waste energy fighting it, wishing it weren’t true, or wondering if you’re wrong. If you are feeling anxious, your body is trying to tell you something. Your job is to listen, and not argue with your body. You have enough on your plate already.

2) Next step is mindset. Changing our mindset gives us encouragement. We all  know that at some level we have to act. Finding the courage to take action is sometimes the hardest part. This is where vigilance over your mindset comes in. In times of stress, when action is needed most, we cannot afford to be negative. We cannot afford to feel defeated. We must be strong, and finding the positive helps us do just that.

Pay attention to your mindset. Are you viewing the situation as terrible, or a reflection of your failures as a person? Hopefully not. Look instead for ways to see the situation as an opportunity. What is in front of you now that wasn’t before? And how is it positive? What changes can you make you weren’t able to make before? Where is the positive? Where is the growth? Not only is this mindset adaptive, according to Carol Dweck, but changing it, even if consciously, just might provide you the courage and the willingness you need to put your anxiety into action.

3) Take action: Your mindset overhaul buttresses you to face the truth and readies you for action. But what to do? What are the first steps? What could you do today? Right now? Take a deep breath, and Like Nike says “Just Do It”!  And if you can’t quite do it alone, borrow courage and get support. Use your support system. Figuratively take a friends hand and “do it” together.

4) Momentum: Notice how manageable taking a first step can be, and keep going. Look behind you at steps already taken for encouragement, not at the climb ahead. Let momentum build, and let your action fuel more courage. Your courage in turn will fuel more action.

5) Self-Esteem: With every courageous step, with every action amidst anxiety, there is growth and self-esteem. Self esteem flows from stretching ourselves and succeeding. It even flows from stretching ourselves and stumbling, so long as we get up and keep stretching. Self-esteem is not about doing things that are easy: it is earned. It is also there for us when we need to call upon its strength, and over time protects us from the destructiveness of self-doubt. Building on our successes, self-esteem in turn delivers needed confidence and courage when anxiety next strikes again, over time diminishing anxiety’s cruel cycle.

Anxiety, at its best, is an invitation for growth. When we allow it to fuel adaptive action, we set ourselves up to feel the best kind of calm: satisfaction and self-respect.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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