Since I work with so many high-achievers, this question comes up a lot. And it’s a really good question, because it shows that you’re thinking about your relationship to anxiety and stress.
My short answer is: Anxiety can be useful from time to time. But kindness is a better long-term strategy.
I like to think of it in fitness terms.
Let’s say you have really strong quads, because you train them every day. But because that’s all you do, they become over-developed in relationship to the rest of your system — your hamstrings are underdeveloped and your psoas is tight — so your overall system is out of balance.
Living that way is limiting, and also makes you prone to injury.
That’s why you need to cross-train. So that your entire system can come into balance and you can dial-up the strength and flexibility of these other parts of yourself. That begins to unlock new levels of power and play — because now your strong quads are matched by strong hamstrings and open psoas, increasing overall function because these parts are working better together.
Most people have over-developed anxiety. They rely on it for too much. They over-train.
The cross-training (or counter-pose, as we say in yoga) is kindness towards yourself. Compassion towards yourself.
How to develop those? Well, there are lots of ways but my go to is with meditation and mindfulness.
If your experience and deep belief is that you need anxiety in order to push yourself to succeed and get things done, then you may feel extremely resistant to anything that reduces your anxiety — like exercise, meditation, or mindfulness.
Even if you know intellectually that living in a state of constant stress and anxiety is undermining your physical health, your personal relationships, and even your happiness. . . At a deeper level your survival instincts will always sabotage your effort to reduce anxiety because of a belief that it is necessary for your continued success and self-worth.
It’s just how we humans tend to operate.
The good news is that we can test those assumptions and update (upgrade) our underlying operating system.
That’s why I’m a big fan of small steps. And I advocate for trying things out for yourself. Try a little bit. Notice what happens. Adjust as necessary. Find what works for you.
And enjoy the journey.
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