Updated: Jan 18
Anxiety is a feeling I’m deeply familiar with.
I used to feel a whole lot of it. I used to spend a lot of time and energy resisting it. I also used to try to use anxiety to get me to do things I thought I should be doing.
In some ways, my whole life used to basically be me doing this big, elaborate dance with anxiety. I would tell it to leave me alone and then I would ask it to help me hurry up and get some stuff done because a deadline was coming up. I wanted to get rid of it, but I was also afraid that if I did get rid of it, then I’d never do anything productive ever again.
Because I thought that my anxiety, and my high-achieving perfectionist tendencies, were the key to my success.
Here’s the thing, though. Anxiety does not make good fuel.
Yes, you can use it as fuel, but there are side effects. Burnout is one of them. Another one is that your achievements will feel like anxiety, because the destination feels like the journey, and when you use anxiety to get there, then that’s what being there will feel like. I’ve gone through this cycle many times, and I’ve seen my clients go through it as well. The lie anxiety tells is that we’ll feel much better once we x, y, z. But then we do x, y, z, and we still feel anxious. Sometimes we even feel more anxious.
This makes it seem like anxiety is the enemy, but it’s not. On its own, anxiety is a set of thoughts and feelings we have about things we see as potential threats. The human brain evolved to scan for threats, and anxiety is part of that. And the anxiety itself is harmless.
But when we think anxiety is a problem, like I used to, then we compound the anxiety with our thoughts and feelings about it. When we become anxious about our anxiety, then we’re dealing with exponential anxiety, and that can be difficult to handle, because left unchecked it will just keep going.
Interestingly, the solution that I find to work the best is to accept and allow the initial anxiety. When we’re used to either pushing anxiety away or trying to burn it like fuel, this approach can feel weird at first, but it works. It’s like the old self help book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways, but instead it’s allow the anxiety and carry on.
This is kind of like exposure therapy. If you have anxiety about public speaking, you expect the anxiety to show up when you’re going to do a talk. You don’t fight it. You don’t suppress it. You just allow it to be there without allowing it to take over. When you expect anxiety to show up and it does, nothing has gone wrong. You don’t need to be anxious about the anxiety. You can just see it as your brain trying to keep you alive in the ways it evolved to, even if those ways don’t make the most sense in a corporate presentation.
As a coach who started out as a coaching client, I’ve done this work myself, and I continue to do it. The things I do in my business now are possible because I’ve learned to allow my anxiety and keep going. And when anxiety showing up isn’t a problem, then you can try doing all kinds of things. You can start the business of your dreams and speak in front of people and have difficult conversations. Not because your anxiety is gone, but because you know how to handle it when it arises.
Kori Linn is a burnout coach for womxn in tech. She teaches her clients how to crush it at work without work crushing them. Follow her on social media: