It’s 7:09am on a Sunday morning, I have a cup of tea in my new mug that only cost me £1 and my stomach still aches in the aftermath of anxiety. It can do that can’t it? After a particularly difficult time with anxiety, it can feel like I’m left with it, my insides balled up like a crumpled piece of messed up paper while my brain continues to race with it’s own conclusive thoughts about how everything went. That’s just anxiety though, that’s just what it does.
It’s how I know anxiety to be for me. I expect anxiety 3 days before an event, sometimes even weeks. I anticipate how my body will change and react as the time gets closer, from nausea and headaches to stomach cramps and light headedness; all of the delights that come with an unwanted mental illness. I predict every possible outcome, mostly all negative, as my brain has a last ditch attempt at convincing me that this time anxiety is too much, the situation is too dangerous and maybe this time I need to just take a time out.
But what if I don’t want a time out? What if I want to do things that, although they make me anxious, could bring me a lot of fun, good opportunities or just get me out of the house? What if, despite all of the physical aspects that come with anxiety, I don’t want to just sit in the house on my own, wondering what other people are doing or what I could be missing out on. What if through my own brain convincing me that everything will go wrong, there’s a portion of me that’s thinking, instead, that everything could go right?
Can you convince yourself that something is a great idea, while at the same time convincing yourself it isn’t?
Recap: I’m a freelance designer and I recently opened an online store selling various design prints that I’m intending to grow over time. If I were to do a very shameless plug I’d suggest you visit @hopeandheal_ on twitter and instagram to check it out, but I’m not about that life so I won’t…
Aside from that, I work as a graphic designer for various companies, and recently decided to give networking a try. For the anxious mind, networking triggers all of the typical anxiety responses such as the paper gut, racing thoughts and the “oh god why are you doing this” brain response which collectively are used to show us what a big mistake it can be and or me, it’s the brain response that I am most interested in, because that’s where choice lies.
I know deep down that networking would be good both for me as a person and from a business perspective; it brings me into situations where I can develop my social skills and allows me to interact with various other businesses who may need design services. In thinking this, I realise that I’m already convincing myself that maybe networking would be a good idea…? And if that is the case, how far can I get convincing myself even more?
I knew I wanted to go, and I knew it was the right thing to do, so my main focus wasn’t to get myself through it, but to change my thought pattern and convince myself. I was going to the networking event. I began answering the questions my brain kept asking:
Q: What if you feel incredibly sick?
A: I’ll go outside for some air
Q: What if you get stuck there and can’t escape from the 5th floor
A: It’s networking, not a high security prison
Q: Everyone there will think you’re a moron
A: I might think they’re a moron, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt
Q: You’re not the right person for networking
Q: Wait, so you’re really going to this thing??
The alarm went off at 6am, I got myself up and dressed in my best chinos, my whitest converse and my least creased shirt that isn’t a little bit too tight and off I went. All the while saying “This is going to be good, go with the flow and see what it’s about”. I was running different eventualities through my mind with a rational answer and questioning my anxious thoughts before they took hold. My stomach was aching, I felt slightly nauseas but that was OK. I was OK.
I got to the event with very minimal anxiety. I went into the room, I took myself to the coffee machine and within 30 seconds I was stood talking to someone using caffeine and hope as my fuel for conversation. I stood talking for an hour before sitting down to watch a keynote speech from a local business. I then talked for 30 minutes after to more businesses, handing out business cards, bigging myself up and drinking more caffeine laced cups of confidence.
As everyone left, I packed my things and began walking down the stairs. After getting lost twice trying to get out of the building because someone can’t label doors correctly, I finally found the door I’d entered, and that was it, my 2 hour networking meeting was finished. No aftermath, no cramps, no “Thank god that’s over”. Just a sense of pride that I’d actually done it, and with no help from anyone or anything but my own brain, with one side questioning the other before rewriting the conclusion: You might just enjoy it.
So can you convince yourself it’s a good idea, when you’re already convinced it’s a bad one? I think you can. The brain is such a powerful thing, evidenced in all of the physical feelings that come with anxiety. It’s your brain that’s creating that. So if it can create it, can it take it away? If it can tell you something is dangerous and convince you that it’s true, can it convince you that it isn’t?
I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to do it, until I convinced myself I could, and I did it.