Are you smart enough to be anxious?

How to worry like a Pro.

Like most people, I like to wake up in the middle of the night with fright.  I was terrified that I forgot to send a work email and mused over all the things I got wrong during the day ( or over the course of my life.) Then I mentally rehearse everything I have to do the following day.

Once I have freaked out over that enough,  I glance at my alarm clock and fret that I’ve only a few hours left to sleep.  This can take some time to properly worry about how I will function during the day with very little sleep.  On a good night, it can go from worrying that I will be tired in the morning to not being good at my job, not being good enough generally, and eventually unemployment!

6:30, my alarm goes off.  Have my breakfast, coffee and toast, and I worry about how tired I am.  Jump into the shower and go over everything I must do during the day.  I might remember an argument or something that upset me.  The shower seems to be an excellent time to run over this, almost like a movie in my mind: pause, rewind, play, pause, rewind, play.

Over-tired and at work.  The perfect combination for paranoia :)  Feeling overwhelmed at this stage, everyone else seems to sail through their day.  “They must know I’m not performing as well as them.”

Back home and having dinner.  Great time to discuss my tiredness, fears and worries relating to the day that has just gone.

Early evening.  Time to worry if I will be able to sleep. Here we go again.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

If it does, most of this “stuff” we do not need to do.  The problem is we see it as usual, part of being human, and, in a way, it is.

We (you and I, and everyone else human) are smart enough to do this.  It may not sound too bright when you think about it, but the fact that we can think, plan and way up to different options in our head means that we can worry and run through all the possible worst-case scenarios we can think of.  Some of us try very hard to be like this.  “If I expect the worst, then I’m not disappointed.”

I decided to write this post while looking at a tiny spider in my bathroom.  It has been there for about one week.  Each time I try to catch it, it has gone, in a flash, back into a little crevice that I can’t quite reach.  I got thinking about it this morning.

The spider has a tremendous automatic response.  It won’t think about it, but it detects some danger – me, and immediately responds in less than a second and gets out of harm’s way.  I should point out that I have no intention of harming the spider, I am there, armed and ready with tissue to place him in the garden, but he is faster than me!

This has been re-enacted several times a day for the past week.  I see him.  Get the tissue.  He’s gone.  This is probably not fun for him, but the difference between the spider and myself, it won’t keep him up at night.

He will not lose sleep worrying about what he has done wrong, to make me chase him every day.  Nor will he imagine giving me a piece of his mind about my behaviour.  He will not discuss it with his friends.  He reacts when he sees the tissue, and then life returns to normal.  He does not possess the wonderful gift of intelligence and thought that you and I have.

The difference between fear and anxiety.

The spider (let’s say for the point of making an example) gets a fear response.  Then carries on.  You and I, however, can get the same response when something happens.  It does not have to be as dramatic as something much bigger than you coming at you with a massive piece of tissue.  It can be anything that upset, frightens, or hurt you.  Only most of the time, we do not go back to what we are doing.  We think we worry; we re-hash it in our heads.  We make bits up and imagine conversations that have never taken place.

We are smart enough to be anxious.

If you would like to read more on the development of an anxious mind, you can do so here.

  • Fear is what we feel when presented with something dangerous.  It is an adaptive, appropriate response developed for survival.
  • Anxiety is what we do to ourselves.
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