Anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE birthdays. This Friday I’m turning 29! How did that happen? Given this milestone, I thought I would take some time to reflect on my battle with my arch nemesis anxiety throughout my 20’s, and how we’ve learnt to become friendly roommates.
Alright, so you want the details? I hear you!
**Insert dramatic music**
I was 22 when I worked out what triggers my anxiety, but it took until 28 (almost 29!) to learn how to manage and channel it. I’m proud of myself every single day for working this out!
My first realization was that I have two energy level settings: Super high energy and super low energy.
My super high energy level is my favourite energy level. It’s a sign that everything is right with the world and that I am in my happy place (although in public situations I’ll almost always try to appear to be high energy, even if I’m feeling low).
My super low energy level setting is reserved for when I’ve been hit by anxiety. When at this energy level I need to retract and recharge, until I have dealt with the commitment that triggered my anxiety. The sooner I deal with it, the sooner the anxiety passes.
What triggers this anxiety? I’m glad you asked.
My trigger is “not exceeding expectations” – either my own, or what I perceive someone else’s expectations are. Essentially, I always want to surprise someone with a better result than they were expecting. I guess you can think of it as “competitive” people-pleasing.
Here are some of the strategies I’ve come up with to manage my anxiety:
- Commit selectively. I only make commitments (whether it’s work or personal) if I believe I will be able to exceed expectations in a sustainable way without burning myself out.
- Always show up if I have committed to something. If things don’t go according to plan, and I won’t be able to exceed expectations on a commitment, I still “show up” – whatever that means in the context. Sometimes good enough has to be good enough, because the anxiety will fester and get worse until I eventually show up. Showing up, communicating, and resetting means my time in the anxiety zone is substantially reduced.
- Communicate and set expectations as early as possible if I see things not going according to plan instead of moving mountains to exceed the goal on time. This tricks me into having the expectations changed before it becomes a problem.
- Have a high-level overview of my commitments and triage them. Only do one thing at a time, in order of what is most important.
- Share the load, don’t try to do everything myself. In a work environment I’m at my happiest when I’m delegating, only doing quality control and offering advice on work instead of being in the engine room myself. (That said, I do like jumping in the engine room occasionally for fun!)
The reality is that I will always have anxiety, but the “rules” above have helped me avoid being overwhelmed by it, and I’m pretty damn proud of myself. I’m sure future me will thank 28-year-old me for starting to figure it all out.
This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.
To book your first call visit: https://my.efriend.org.au/preregistration/