Do you experience anxiety in your daily life? Have you ever noticed that this anxiety tends to grow in intensity as time passes? Are you worried that it might continue to intensify until it gets out of control?
If you’re someone who deals with anxiety on a regular basis, then you know that it’s no laughing matter. In fact, in the years that I’ve spent studying anxiety, I’ve learned that it actually has a tendency to expand over time and can even threaten to overtake you completely . . . unless you take action.
That’s what today’s discussion is all about: it’s a warning—it’s a flashing neon sign telling you that NOW is the time to act on your own behalf against the crippling power of anxiety.
You might think you can live with your anxiety right now . . . but watch out.
This episode is inspired by a recent conversation I had with a client about what he likes to call his “high-stakes” anxiety. What he means by that is that he has always tended to get incredibly nervous for important meetings and other events (a public presentation, a dinner with the boss, etc.).
Unfortunately for this client, he began to notice a short while back that this high-stakes anxiety was bleeding into more and more mundane circumstances: he’d be up all night worrying about a staff meeting, or he’d get anxious in smaller social events, or he’d clam up around anyone he didn’t already know.
Before long, everyday run-of-the-mill life was starting to feel overwhelming to him in a way it never had before.
Fact: anxiety will take advantage of every opportunity you give it to expand until it has encroached upon every aspect of your life.
I like to think of anxiety like an ant colony: a mass of hundreds of tiny worker ants doing their job so well that the colony keeps expanding until a new queen is created, and a territorial “ant war” erupts in which one side is overtaken.
How does this happen in our minds and bodies? Well, when we begin to feel anxiety around a certain event, we tend to adopt an emotional “posture” that makes room for that event to intimidate us. Over time, this defensive and retreating mentality forces us to step further and further back, creating more and more space for other things to sneak in and intimidate us:
- Oh, you don’t mind being intimidated by this big speech? Let’s see if we can intimidate you with a small lecture.
- Oh, you’re afraid of talking to that attractive person? Maybe you can also be intimidated by a colleague.
- Oh, you get nervous around large crowds? Freaking you out with a friends’ dinner should be a cinch.
As we give in to anxiety and let it take up more and more space, it gains new strongholds in our minds and encroaches on new territories.
As time passes, we begin to feel weaker, giving in to more fears and taking fewer risks. All of a sudden, we look up one day and realize that all of our power has been usurped.
But never fear! There is a way out!
The good news is that this is a pattern that you can change, starting right now. How do you make that happen? By going on the offensive and taking on the role of the aggressor.
When the ant colonies expand, they do so over several years—they don’t just show up one day and start a war. When choosing to change the tide and work as the aggressor against our own anxiety, we have to take the same approach: engaging in small, confidence-building actions that add up to create a new mindset over time.
Let me use an example of what I mean from real life:
Recently, my family was at the beach, and I found myself walking with my sons without any shoes (after all, who wears shoes on the beach?). After a while, though, I noticed that the terrain was no longer soft, cushy sand, but a mixture of stones and sharp shells.
Now, I was in agony . . . but my sons were just fine. How were they doing it?!
Well, when I took a moment to think about it, I realized that I tend to wear shoes all the time, whereas my sons love to walk around barefoot EVERYWHERE. They’ve trained their feet to harden over time, where I’ve trained my feet to hurt from every little impediment.
At that moment, I decided to try an experiment. I would try to train my feet to be “tougher.” The next day, we did the same walk again at the beach. My feet still hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as the day before. By the end of the week, my feet were getting even tougher.
After that, I decided to think of this tactic as a form of training . . . and I took that training home. Now, whenever I go outside for chores around the house or for playtime with the kids, I go barefoot. I have adopted a foot-strengthening mentality of, “bring it on!” When something hurts, like walking over wood chips, I invite that pain in because I know it will make me stronger.
This is the same “offensive posture” mentality we have to adopt when coming face to face with the things that scare us.
Just like I did with the sand, we have to seek out the moments in which we confront the things that make us uncomfortable, and we need to attack them again and again.
It’s not enough to simply take a shot at strength when an opportunity arises—we have to create those opportunities for ourselves, even though it may terrify us.
The best way to think of this is to imagine that it’s a workout. Are you likely to get toned if you only exercise once per month (or even once per week)? NO!
Emotional and mental confidence are the same as physical confidence: they will only develop if they’re exercised on a consistent basis . . . and they will only expand if you continue to push new boundaries.
This is just another form of fitness. You have to work for it, and you have to be willing to get uncomfortable.
So, are you willing to get fit, starting today? Because if you’re not expanding your confidence—if you choose to continue to avoid that work—your anxiety and insecurity are going to expand instead. It’s that simple.
Confidence development is an ongoing process. There is no set point of achievement where you can just give up and say, “I’ve done enough.” It’s a lifelong practice.
Just like with other lifelong practices, though, it can become a habit that provides you with strength and a newfound sense of achievement and purpose. Let’s continue to grow our confidence; let’s continue to expand our strengths and abilities; let’s continue to step into new situations that challenge us in life.
It shouldn’t be a matter of IF—it should be a matter of WHEN. I’ve always believed there’s no time like the present. How about you?
I always love to hear your feedback, enjoy your success stories, and learn from your struggles, so PLEASE share your thoughts and questions below. If you’re enjoying these posts, I also suggest that you subscribe so that you can receive notifications about new content as it’s released.
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.