Anxiety and Fear Being Among Unknown People
That’s a great topic. It’s going to lead to an answer that might be counterintuitive - just a heads up!
You see, anxiety is a tricky thing. When we have it, all that we can ever think about is how on earth we can get rid of it. The solution, unfortunately, is an easy one: Just quit. Just leave. Just don’t say anything. Just don’t go.
It’s really that easy. And I think you know that solution already. What’s so devious about it is that it actually works. Until we realize that we just missed out on something that was important to us.
And here’s the flip side of anxiety. Something I love anxiety for: it is the clearest, most unambiguous indicator that something is very, very important. Think about it: are you anxious that while you are reading this, your dinner is getting cold? Probably not so much. Now, what if your daughter had spent two hours in the kitchen making you the most amazing dinner, while you are stuck in traffic trying to get home in time. Are you anxious about your dinner getting cold now? Of course. It’s freaking important!
So if anything, being anxious about your daughter’s school events speaks for you. Obviously, they are very important to you.
That brings us to the next tricky thing with anxiety: it’s extremely difficult to control. You can’t just pace up and down your living room mumbling, “Just chill out, just chill out, just chill out!” to magic the anxiety away. And that’s ok. Because here’s something very important: the amount of anxiety that you feel (or the lack thereof) is a very, very bad benchmark for a fulfilled life.
The example I love to use is: if having no anxiety means living a fulfilled life, then a couch, Netflix and a bowl of ice cream is your ticket to victory. That doesn’t sound right, does it?
What then, is a better measure?
Here it is: Are you doing what’s important to you?
You see, while you have little to no control over your emotions, you have a lot of control over your actions.
Let’s try a thought experiment. It’s a school event, and you feel a little too anxious to go. But oh no! Now you’re getting an email from me - I have taken your dog hostage, and that doggy’s going to be my dinner this evening unless you send me some proof that you’ve been at the event. (If you don’t have a dog just play along, ok?)
Would you go? My guess is that you’d be anxious as heck - but you’d go.
See, you can’t control the anxiety. But you can control your actions.
Ok, you can have your doggy back, I wasn’t going to eat it anyway.
Now, I’m not saying you need to go and be the life of the party. But could you go and stand in the corner with a smile? Or could you go for the first 30 minutes, and then allow yourself to leave when the alarm on your phone goes off? Could you make a deal with yourself where you only need to say “Hi” to one person there?
That’s the last tricky thing with anxiety: there’s no way around it, or over it, or under it. There really only is through. But you don’t have to go through it all in one giant move. You can chip away at it, one small action at a time. Just like your comfort zone grows, so your anxiety shrinks.
And you know what: if you could go to your daughter's school events, sit there and clap at her performance, would it matter so much if anxiety still sat on the chair next to you throughout the entire evening? Maybe, one day you might even turn your head to it and say, “I don’t mind that you’re here. At least you show me that this is important.”
About the Author
Michael Herold is a life coach based in Austria and Germany and works at The Art of Charm, a L.A. based company where he is using evidence-based psychotherapy to help clients overcome their social anxiety through playful exercises. If you’re strolling through the shopping streets of Vienna and you hear someone howl like a wolf in a shopping mall, or have someone ask you for a high-five or tell you a really, really bad joke - it’s probably one of his clients!
Michael is also a public speaker and speaker coach. He has spoken at TEDx, in front of members of parliament, universities and in once in a cinema full of 500 kids high on sugary popcorn. Clients he has coached for presentations have been featured on NBC, Fast Company, Forbes and the Oprah Winfrey Network.
In a previous life, he has been a character animator working on awardwinning movies and TV shows like “The Penguins of Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda”. That was before he realized that helping people to live a meaningful life is much more rewarding than creating Saturday morning cartoons (even though the long nights in the studio allowed him to brew his own beer in the office closet).