Anxiety. The Most Useless of Emotions

If you are depressed you are living in the past.  If you are anxious you are living in the future.  If you are at peace you are living in the present.” ~ Lao Tzu

My friend, Hal, is a very successful businessman who started a new company a few years ago importing Designer European light fixtures. The company has done well, on the edge of success, but always just shy of obtaining the funding really needed to take off. They struggle to maintain the capital needed to produce the products necessary to meet customer demand. They struggle to meet the Company’s day-to-day needs. If only they could get past that hurdle . . . the level of success would be unlimited. And then, they found an investor. If, and when, the deal goes through, they would go from a small start up with 10 employees to a company worth . . . $140 million. Overnight.

Amazing, right? Except that was three years ago. The deal is still in the works, but legal technicalities, market concerns, this problem, that problem have caused delay after delay after delay. Maybe the deal will be completed tomorrow, or maybe it will never happen and the business will fail. Feast or famine on the turn of a dime, and he just has to wait. And hope. And wait. That would fill me with constant, debilitating anxiety.

But not Hal. I asked him why. “What purpose would it serve? It doesn’t get me any closer to getting the deal done. It would just make me crazy. Anxiety is a useless and dangerous emotion.”

He’s right. Seth Godin defines anxiety as “ experiencing failure in advance.” He goes on to say, “If you’re busy enacting a future that hasn’t happened yet, and amplifying the worst possible outcomes, it’s no wonder it’s difficult to ship that work.” And Thomas Moore writes, “Anxiety is nothing but fear inspired by an imagined future collapse.  It is the failure of trust.” Spot on, both of them.

If you’re like me, you know avoiding the anxiety mindset is difficult. If I’m running five minutes late to a meeting, I get anxious. And I have no rational reason why. What’s going to happen if I’m five minutes late? Most likely nothing. So why assume something bad will happen? I have no idea.

Wikipedia defines anxiety as “a feeling of fear, uneasiness, and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing.”

People facing anxiety tend to withdraw from situations that have provoked anxiety in the past. And that is a dangerous pattern. It causes us to avoid risks or to try new things. That sense of “failing in advance” keeps us from stretching, growing and reaching our full potential.

So what do we do about this?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the following management strategies go a long way:

Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.

Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.

Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.

Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.

Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.

Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.

Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.

Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?

Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.

Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.

Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.

Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.

 And remember, failing itself can be a “success” if you learn from your mistakes. And whatever the outcome, the end world’s not going to end. As they say, this too shall pass. Anxiety is not your friend. Let it crawl back into the hole from which it came.


My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at

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