Fear is the root of my anxiety

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Fear is the root of my anxiety

Postby heathen1981 » August 31st, 2013, 3:36 pm

One of the things I've learned is that fear is the main cause of my anxiety, so much so that it paralyzes me. I don't take risks of almost any kind because of the fear of failure. I feel like even the smallest risk would cost me everything.

I'm studying to be a journalist, and the only way to get better at it is to write. I'm so afraid that I'll make a critical fact error (a big no-no in journalism...usually) or that I'm going to write something and no one will ever see it, or they will and say that it sucked.

I would be so much farther in a career if I didn't have this powerful fear of failure. I'm presuming I'm not the only one. How do you guys handle stuff like this?
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Re: Fear is the root of my anxiety

Postby AlbertFiennes » September 1st, 2013, 8:43 am


I read your intro post in the other thread and it sounds as though you are quite a bit younger than me. I'm 50, female, and have a career as an academic. I majored in journalism as an undergraduate. I worked for the school newspaper for a year and then quit because the deadlines in addition to coursework deadlines were making me sick with anxiety. I had similar fears: I would make a mistake, the article would be criticized or picked apart as bad, all of that stuff. I pursued graduate school because there were ideas and issues that mattered to me and I wanted to learn about them deeply so that I could do the kind or scholarship or work that would help make the world a better place. A very lofty goal for someone consumed by anxiety and fear. [How can I expect to make the world a better place when my own life seems to be circling the drain?!!] I still wrestle with these issues. Even now, I am dealing with a new anxiety crisis that is sending me back to therapy because I have a proposal due in October and I'm sick with fear that I will somehow blow it.

Here is what helps. The fear of failure is based on a focus on outcomes. Research on how people achieve success shows that people who focus on their work and effort as they are doing it, rather than thinking about what success or failure will look or feel like, are the people who succeed. And this "focus on the present effort in the moment" stuff matters regardless of whether the work you are doing comes easily to you or not. So, paying attention to the present moment and your effort right now, that is where your learning and success will come from. That is where the magic happens.

If you fear making a factual error and that is paralyzing you, begin with a list of the facts you do know and how you know them. What are the names of people involved. Check the spelling. Check the key background information. What was said? Who said it? Make your list as complete as possible. If there are questions you have, make a list of the things you don't know but want to know. Don't judge whether the list of facts is a good one or whether you "should" know the stuff on the don't know list. Focus on making those lists. Just pay attention to that work. If it feels difficult, then that's a good sign because it means you are making an effort an effort and effort is necessary for learning to occur. And learning is a good thing. It has longterm payoffs. So, keep working.
If you need to ask people for additional information to check your facts or to get information for the "don't know" list, start e-mailing or calling people. Be polite and respectful, for your sake because that is what you want people to associate with you. Don't necessarily expect them to be polite or respectful back. People who are not helpful may not be helpful for a lot of reasons. None of those reasons have anything to do with you. Asking questions and asking for further information or clarification is not a sign of ignorance or failure. It's a sign that you are doing a thorough and careful job. Asking is a sign of hard work. Give yourself credit for identifying questions and have gratitude for the opportunity to ask the questions.

Of course, what I am describing requires you to have the cognitive resources to tune into the present. You are experiencing some significant stress and have recently experienced a very significant loss. Depression and anxiety disorders deplete cognitive resources so it is important to reach out for help: therapy, medication if needed, and support like you are doing here in this forum. Visit the university health services at your campus for support as well. Lots of institutions offer therapy and other kinds of resources for managing stress and anxiety related to classes and coursework.

I've learned that getting grounded in the present helps a lot. I breathe in and out. In and out. And I notice if that brings any change. Usually, I feel a little more space in my chest and a little bit of release. I pay attention to what is right in front of me. The monitor. The keyboard. The desk. These are resources that are there to help me work. They support my work. I am grateful for that. I think about the people I can ask for help and I identify specific questions or tasks I can ask them to help me answer or accomplish. I bring my awareness back to what I know and keep working from there. I go to therapy. I eat nutritious food. I avoid any substances or activities (alcohol, other drugs, internet surfing) that will diminish my cognitive resources. I notice when I start drifting into comparing myself to other people (something that brings the anxiety roaring back), and I breathe again and focus again.
I notice when people talk in critical, negative ways about their own work or about other people. I remind myself that everyone struggles with maintaining a healthy frame of mind and breathe again. And focus on the things and people that support my effort.

The magic is in the effort. Whether it's the effort of working on an assignment or the effort of staying with therapy and following a treatment plan that doesn't lead to immediate results. We learn from the effort and the learning is where we find gold.

Good luck to you! You are on your path and you are asking for help. Stay with the good effort.
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Re: Fear is the root of my anxiety

Postby gfyourself » September 1st, 2013, 9:39 am

Great post Albert!
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Re: Fear is the root of my anxiety

Postby AlbertFiennes » September 1st, 2013, 4:21 pm

Thank you! I wrote a reply twice and tried to post it, only to have the text disappear due to 1) not being logged in the first time and 2) somehow inadvertently deleting it the second time. I considered abandoning the reply. Writing those words out 3 times this morning was its own form of therapy! Have a good holiday weekend.
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Re: Fear is the root of my anxiety

Postby heathen1981 » September 1st, 2013, 7:58 pm

I appreciate the wall of advice, Albert!

I am too focused on the result, and take little pleasure in the process, because my mind is focused on what benefit I can get if I complete this job. I've been unemployed for nearly 4 years and in the past year, I've struggled with keeping food in the fridge and a roof over my head. Anything I put any effort into starts with the question, "Can I get some groceries for finishing this?" or "This could get me another month's rent." The pressure I put on myself to complete the task becomes too unbearable, and I never finish or even start it.

I've also recognized that in the short manic episodes I have, I become overconfident and highly motivated. I come up with awesome ideas for new things to do, only to abandon them once I come down from the episode. Sometimes I'll invest money and time into a project I concoct during one of these episodes, and then never pursue it afterward. I'm left with crap I spent too much money on and can't return.

My writing is a whole other story. As a journalist, I'm supposed to be able to look at an issue or a story, research it, find a new angle, and write about it. I find myself not being able to concentrate long enough to do any of that. My brain is on my food and rent, or whether or not I should write anything at all because no one will see it and everyone who will see it will think it sucks.
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Re: Fear is the root of my anxiety

Postby algernon » October 21st, 2013, 10:57 pm

Don't waste your life in doubts and fears: spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Spend yourself.....

I'm floating about the forum and found this thread (fear is the root...) under this topic (anxiety) and I thought the exchange between Heathen and Albert is most helpful. I posted Emerson's words to relate.

Albert has mindfulness understood and in significant practice with a strong grasp on the harmful thinking we can muster that projects a distorted embellishment onto the task at hand, our work. Those damn expectations and inner words of needless pressure set into the future.....classic grounds for worrying.....along with comparing ourselves to others....

The magic is in and comes from the effort.....those words are divine to consider, and me an agnostic! And as a humanist, I think that particular "magic" that Albert identifies is about as real as magic can be....

Effort is like a salvation and I know what it's like to be frozen by fear, stuck and reduced to be just another victim.....and yet I've faced many trials and fears that I've knocked out by.....effort!

And why this dichotomy in my history? I don't know.

What I can do is what we all should move to do. Make an effort to do SOMETHING! Pick up, clean up, go for a walk....and yes, yes....be mindful of the present moment, anchor there....the breath and all things from mindfulness and meditation practice as best we could.....

I love the reference from someone who said, "go capture a little victory"....or words to that effect....shave....take a shower....knock out something long undone and stagnant in your house, or car or job, even a 10 minute task waiting for months or years to be finished. "Activities of daily living" are always good to accomplish if they've been neglected.

I'm grateful for this little thread and I hope that people writing and reading it will try what Albert has well stated....."effort"......from that is the magic.
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