Why Am I Anxious About Nothing?
by Adam Cole
When we’re trying to determine the scariest thing we can do today, sometimes it’s just “get out of bed.” Even though I’m a high achiever with daily goals and visible progress, great clients and a supportive community, I can get into a mood where it all just feels wrong. It’s not so much depression as “stage fright” where all the world’s a stage!
Well, what do you do about that? Can our approaches to stage fright work on just getting through the day?
Table of Contents
|Knowing Your Trigger
|Fringe Benefits of Thinking About This Stuff
|It’s Going to Be Different For You
No, I’m not talking about the famous horse. Imagine you’re walking through a ruined city. Collapsed buildings everywhere, broken water lines spouting like geysers, cars askew on their sides. “What could have caused this?” you ask.
Well, an earthquake, right? But while that answer is correct, it’s not exactly sufficient. What caused the earthquake?
You can find out from this article from the USGS that earthquakes are triggered by two huge land masses rubbing against one another. It’s a little like snapping your finger: the two masses “grip” one another as they try to move in different directions, and once the force of that grip is overcome, the masses are forced to let go, resulting in the release of a lot of energy (the snap, but on a big scale!)
So the most accurate answer to what caused the city’s collapse is the energy released from the release of these plates. That’s the trigger, and everything you see was a result of the trigger.
That is to say that the trigger can be really specific: two plates release, and lots of cities are shaken to pieces.
Knowing Your Trigger
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my triggers, and I mean a lot. Because I’ve learned after years of working on it that once I know my trigger, it puts all the other feelings I have into perspective. If they’re all a result of the trigger, then the only thing I have to address is the trigger, so I’m putting out one fire instead of dozens.
What’s my trigger?
Glad you asked. My primary way of dealing with the world is “problem solving.” It’s a useful skill, but when I come up against anything I perceive as an unsolvable problem, I get very anxious.
That anxiety spills into all my thoughts, making everything feel horrible. It’s like the way clouds obscure the sun. Even though they’re blocking a single source of light, everything goes dark.
What kind of problems are “unsolvable?”
For me, running out of time registers as “unsolvable.” If I have a performance coming up then I can only prepare so much before the clock runs out. I can address the problem of time by practicing, but I can’t solve it because at some point I have to move on.
Having a bill to pay that exceeds my current cash flow. Being in a fight with someone who won’t talk to me anymore. These are all unsolvable in the moment, and they trigger me.
Knowing the trigger does two things.
- It allows you to let go of any shame that you’re “not taking care” of every little thing you feel.
- It provides you the opportunity to prioritize your energy on something important, rather than just obeying your feeling that everything is terribly wrong.
When I know that I’m being triggered by an upcoming performance, I know that most of my doom-and-gloom thoughts are actually bunk. I’m not really losing my mind about which pair of socks I want to pick today. I realize that any anxiety around “the perfect socks” is just fallout from my initial trigger of the performance.
Of course, some things do need attention. I still have to make dinner, and that’s a solvable problem. What’s funny is the trigger can make me feel like it’s unsolvable. I’ll get caught up in the feeling of anxiety, when what I really need to do is start problem-solving my meal.
The feeling is so strong that it keeps me from doing the simple steps I need to move forward. If I know I’m being triggered, I can ignore feelings that don’t belong to the problem I’m solving and go and see what’s in the pantry. In some cases, just knowing the trigger reduces the anxiety!
Fringe Benefits of Thinking About Your Trigger
Getting good at identifying your triggers can come in handy in situations where you have real problems with real anxiety.
For instance, I do get anxious before I perform. Just about everybody does. Knowing my “unsolvable problem” trigger really helps here.
I can identify several unsolvable problems around performance when I am accompanying someone.
- I am not in control of what piece I am asked to accompany, nor when I must play it.
- Whatever time I have to practice and rehearse is limited by my health and events in my life. I am not guaranteed enough practice time.
- The performer may ask for changes prior to the performance (i.e. “Can we do it faster?”), and may give me very little time to make them happen. I may be unable to rise to the occasion due to my skill level and the fact that I am human.
- Anything may happen in the audience during the performance that might throw off the soloist or myself.
Knowing that these problems are, in themselves, unsolvable, I can still address them.
- In my practice time, I can gain familiarity with the kinds of pieces I am usually asked to perform.
- I can learn to be efficient in my practicing so that whatever time I have is used as well as possible.
- I can practice self-compassion with myself for not being perfect. I can also prepare for “worst-case scenarios” such as practicing above the marked tempo.
- I can practice “distraction games” at home.
In all cases, I am taking care of the trigger with specific strategies, rather than trying to address the fear with general solutions like “deep breathing.”
It's Going to be Different For You
This is my trigger, and these are my strategies. You might not have the same sort of issue with unsolvable problems. For you it might be relationship expectations, planning issues, or any number of other things.
Just like I outline in my “Seven Step Coach Approach” and my book, How to Solve a Big Problem, you start by thinking about who you are. Then you think about what you want to do. It’s amazing how many people fail to answer those questions before trying to deal with their anxiety.
It’s also reasonable to recognize that sometimes you need help, someone to guide you through that process. If I can help you, please reach out to me.