I’m not sure if anyone has told you, but anxiety is so much fun. Because while there’s ‘bad’ anxiety, apparently we can get anxiety when things are good. An ominous and sarcastic start to my usual cheery blog posts. But, today I wanted to share about something I’ve been experiencing, knowing so many may be experiencing the same thing. I didn’t even know it was a thing we had to contend with. Why is it you’re feeling anxious when things are good?
Life has been good. I’ve been getting out with friends; work has been going well. More importantly, I’ve received great feedback on my book from agents at the Writers’ Festival. However, while I know I should be feeling overjoyed or even relieved, I’ve actually been so anxious it’s as though a set of terrible things have happened instead of good. Today, I plague the question, why is it you may feel anxious when things are good, and how can we go about off-setting them.
Anxiety, What Is It?
The NHS website describes anxiety as a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. It’s something everyone can experience at some point in their life such as during exams or a job interview. But for some, like myself, it can be constant and can often affect our daily lives.
For a solid week (or two) I’ve been out of sync with myself. Because I’ve dealt with it (with a diagnosis) for years, I know when I’m falling into bad anxiety habits. I notice I begin to struggle to sleep, to eat, and I find I’m on edge.
Lately, I thought how I felt was down to having a few stressful weeks and being on the ‘come down’ from it. With anxiety being so hard-wired into me, I know how hard it can be for my brain to differentiate between good anxiety and bad. It’s partly why I’ve been feeling anxious with all the positive things. My brain has been without a focus or a drive, so used to performing to show people how worthy I am or prove I deserve something. Having positive feedback through that for a loop, allowing me to see that my dream isn’t something far in the distance anymore. It’s closer than I think.
Why You’re Feeling Anxious When Things Are Good
For the latter reason above, it took me a while before I discovered that I wasn’t alone. That many people experience anxiety related to good things, and I wanted to share some of them below. I’ve also tried to write a suggestion for how to combat them, but finding something which works for you will always be the best.
As always, I am not a medical professional, just a diagnosed anxiety-sufferer, please always speak to a medical professional about anxiety, you don’t need to suffer alone.
Not Feeling Worthy
We can tell ourselves we aren’t worthy a lot. Whether it’s a new purpose, a job or something else.
My anxiety works to remind me I’m not worthy, that I’m not good enough, and so I go out of my way to prove I am. But, likewise, when I found out I was on the right track, I wasn’t sure what to do with positive feedback. If any of you are fans of the TV show New Girl, Nick showcases this pretty well when he is asking for feedback from Schmidt on his book and recieves ‘No Notes‘.
When you tell yourself continuously you’re not good enough, when someone does it can be jarring and set off a series of emotions you can’t process. In my case, I shut down for two weeks, obsessing over nothing and not knowing why I was so out of order. Our brains tell us because something good has happened, it must mean something bad will now happen, and we begin to tell ourselves we don’t deserve this good feeling because of it.
A good way to combat this is to begin celebrating the small things and talking to yourself more positively and not shutting down compliments. I’m currently trying to write down what I accomplish each day, to remind myself of what I can do and how hard I work.
Being Afraid To Be Happy
For some, change is the biggest anxiety trigger and for those of us who are perfectionists, it can lead to us worrying and wanting to undo whatever good has happened. We may begin to shut down, avoid the work and avoid anything else which will add to our happiness, purposefully choosing to make ourselves sad because we feel this is what we deserve.
Sometimes, the reason for this is because we don’t want to let ourselves down. We don’t want to dream and accept we deserve this after all we’ve done. We tell ourselves by reaching for a new goal, we are abandoning ourselves and what we have. This isn’t true.
Being afraid to go that next step is expected, whether it’s a new job or climbing a step in the direction of something which will bring you joy. For me, it’s my book and for others it can be affording a new car, buying a home or beginning a family. The best way to combat this is to remind ourselves change is inevitable. It will happen whether we allow it to or not. Stopping ourselves from enjoying the ride will only make it more uncomfortable, especially when we’ve done the work to be on it.
Try to remind yourself of a time before when things have changed for the better, which can help reinforce that good change, isn’t always a bad thing.
You Don’t Stop
The saying, ‘If you don’t stop and smell the roses along the way,’ rings true for this one. You may find yourself feeling anxious when good things happen because you don’t take the moment to stop to appreciate where you are. Often, we are working towards a goal, and we tell ourselves we’ll stop and appreciate it when we reach it. However, in most cases, there’s always another goal. There’s always something more we are reaching for.
It becomes very easy to be overwhelmed when we reach a goal, desperately searching for the next thing that we end up in a spiral of stretching ourselves and not stopping.
A good way to combat feeling anxious is to be more reflective, and celebrate even the small things. For example, treating yourself to a bottle of wine because you presented at a meeting or going out for a meal with friends when you land a new job. Reminding and stopping to allow yourself to see that your accomplishment matters will help limit ‘happiness-anxiety’.
Sometimes Feeling Anxious Is Good
While this does sound like I’m going back on everything I’ve said above, sometimes anxiety is a good thing.
For most of us, anxiety pushes us to show up and be our best selves. It urges us to try new things and be more determined. Acknowledging and accepting anxiety is there, may help in managing it. For me, my anxiety helps me do a good job and keeps me ready and available to adapt. I’m also a people-pleaser, and often this means I’ll push to go above and beyond for someone, making me a good friend and employee. However, because of this, I often slip into burn out and that’s when anxiety is bad. Allowing it to dictate decisions and choices is when you need to be aware of.
That, however, can be hard. Thankfully, I visited a brilliant therapist who helped me identify the signs for myself, so either find a good sounding board with someone who you can trust to discover any of your signs or try talk therapy if you feel your anxiety slip through your fingers.
Being aware of this type of anxiety is important so we can help feed ourselves what we need. Our bodies may need more sleep, more food and even more exercise, which can all combat the effects of anxiety; we can begin to be gentler with ourselves, instead of beating ourselves up for a week as I did.
When I wonder why I’m anxious I always find sharing how I’m feeling helps deconstruct my thoughts and often allows me to see through the anxious leaves in the trees to discover the path I’m now on.
Now we know anxiety post-good news can be a thing, it’s something we can be more aware of, and allow ourselves to be more compassionate.
Again I am not a medical professional, just a diagnosed anxiety sufferer. Any advice in this post shouldn’t be used in replacement of medical advice. Please always speak to a medical professional about anxiety, you don’t need to suffer alone.
[References and research articles]