Anxiety and How to Shoot First and Aim Later

I have to admit that grace under pressure has not always been my strong suit. In fact, one could say that I might have been a bit high-strung in the past. In case you’re interested, I have written more about that here: And yes, high-strung is the term nice southern folks use to describe that one family member who may bark at the moon.

Let me tell you one basic truth about those of us who struggle with anxiety–we all want to be absolutely assured that we have the perfect solution to the things we’re anxious about before we make any changes. True story. If there is a client who will do any amount of reading and journaling homework I assign, it’s an anxious client. However, when it comes time to make even small changes about which she can’t predict the outcome, we will have a full-on meltdown right on my comfortable couch. Now, why is that?

It’s because anxious people suffer from a peculiar kind of creativity–a really interesting aptitude to author a truly infinite number of things that could go terribly wrong and must be addressed before action can be taken. When this spiral happens, anxiety will always get you under its thumb. Your nervous, beautiful imagination will dream up more catastrophes than reality will ever present to you in a lifetime. Shucks. We’re stuck. When framed this way, one can describe even the most ardent perfectionism as a blessing and curse we high-strung folks manage daily. But dang, don’t you want us on your team for Trivial Pursuit? We squirrel away “just in case” knowledge like nobody’s business.

So what should you do about it?

1) Shoot First, Aim Later: I know this sounds counter-intuitive. However, the way that anxiety ruins your good time is by making you believe that you must have perfect responses to whatever stimuli bug you (public speaking, elevators, dating, poodles) or something truly horrific will happen. Unless you’re a fighter pilot or a brain surgeon, that most likely isn’t the case. You need to learn that you can flow with the moment and change course when necessary. Part of how we effect change in this situation is by creating opportunities to challenge the fear, deal with a need to redirect and then keep on truckin’.

2) Manage Body Processes: Many times, the scariest/most embarrassing/most frustrating part of experiencing anxiety is the body processes that come along with it. Sweating, blushing, racing hearts, shaking, stomach aches and a whole host of very physical symptoms can arise to support your brain’s deeply-felt idea that the world may end any second. This isn’t your body trying to pull one over on you–it’s just getting poised to be congruent with your emotional state. Lots of adrenaline would be fantastic idea if the threat were as urgently real as your feelings tell you it is. Therapy and meditation can teach you how to address those bodily sensations so they are not as embarrassing or scary any longer.

3) Develop a “True, But Not Helpful” Stance: It may be absolutely true that in the past you have had some sort of defining event that led to your anxious feelings. It may also be true that you have “always” struggled with a nervous temperament. However, it is not helpful to live your life only between the buoys of the negative things that have happened to you. There are other waters. It may be true it’s total jerk day at your office and every single person will heckle you when you get up to give that speech. But, it’s probably not helpful to prepare for only that outside shot. What if we were able to prepare for something else as well? Maybe only one person heckling? How would you work your speech towards the folks who may enjoy it?

Are you feeling a little nervous these days? Would you like a few more tips about how to increase the juicy parts of your life? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,


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