My Superpower

My friend and fellow entrepreneur Mark Henson, is the founder and chief imagination officer of sparkspace. sparkspace a full-time facility dedicated to helping teams have more meaningful conversations about overcoming challenges, building relationships, and creating better futures. He also wrote a super cool book called Ordinary Superpowers: Unleash the Full Potential of Your Most Natural Talents.

After reading his book I started to think about my own ‘ordinary superpowers’. I think I took a little liberty with his original intent but here goes!

Yes, I have a super power. Yes, it seems to be a natural talent. However, it is most commonly thought of as a weakness or flaw.

My superpower is anxiety.

I am going to weave in a personal story here, but before I begin I think it is important to make a disclaimer. While I do believe the ideas, tools and tactics I discuss regarding anxiety are useful to anyone who suffers from anxiety, I in no way am saying this is a replacement for clinical issues requiring intensive therapy of any kind. Furthermore, there is no shame if someone needs these types of interventions.

When I was in my mid-20’s, I suffered from debilitating anxiety attacks. These episodes would sometimes last hours and even all night long. I remember laying on the floor of my bedroom in the evening and waking up there the next morning…in a fetal position. This went on for many years.

Eventually, I sought both medical and therapeutic intervention. Those interventions made a world of difference and I learned a lot about myself in the process. But at a certain point, and I’m not 100% sure why, I looked at my therapist and told her I didn’t want to be on the drugs anymore. For me, they alleviated the anxiety TOO well, meaning, I felt nothing. Everything in my life became vanilla-this is a problem for someone who enjoys salsa and jalepeño queso dip.

My therapist and I, along with my doctor, worked towards weaning me off the drug while working on the difficult task of uncovering the source of my anxiety (turns out there was more than one). I won’t go into details on the weaning process, but suffice it to say, it was tough, both physically and emotionally. I FELT ALL THE FEELINGS. I FELT THEM ALL AT ONCE. This was difficult to manage. I cried daily, got mad at my husband or kids at the drop of a hat, I had almost no patience and my motivation for everyday tasks was at an all-time low.

This obviously wasn’t working.

I was so tempted to quit. After all, the proof that something works is RESULTS, right? But what if I simply didn’t have the right tools?

Then something amazing happened. I learned something I never knew before:

I am in control of how I experience stuff.

WHAT?

See, up until this point in my life, I just figured I was a victim to my emotions. A feeling happens and I’m stuck with it. And furthermore, someone else was more than likely responsible for the feelings I had. BOY WAS I WRONG! I learned I was actually creating much of my own anxiety by what I BELIEVED about a situation. I assigned specific meaning and context – meaning and context largely derived from my past experiences and internal programming. These automatic thoughts bypass consciousness for most humans.

Something happens, we assign a meaning or make a conclusion, and determine that as TRUTH, when really, we have simply created a truth that was COMPLETELY INFORMED BY WHAT WE THINK ABOUT THE SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.

What if I could think different thoughts about things that happened to me and around me? What if I became willing to let go of my opinions, conclusions and judgments about any given situation or person?

Well, that’s simply revolutionary. And it was the beginning of seeing my anxiety as a tool and an asset, rather than something I am subject to.

Over time, I’ve been able to look at anxiety in a different way and use it to my advantage. That’s why I say it’s a superpower and a gift! I haven’t mastered my superpower, but I’m getting much better. Here are some lessons and tools I’ve gained along the way.

  1. Anxiety is a notification. As long as I view anxiety this way, I take away its power to control me. I put it to work and use it to my advantage. Sometimes it’s an alert I’m not living in alignment with my values. Other times, it’s a legitimate warning of danger! And then there are times it’s simply letting me know I’m not taking good care of myself. Before I would get anxious ABOUT MY ANXIETY. “Oh I’m so anxious right now” giving it more power than necessary. Now I simply view it as a notification, like the oil light on my car (which is actually on right now). That oil light has no positive or negative power over me. It’s just a notification that I need to take action.
  2. Circumstances come in waves. When I experience overwhelm or begin to feel anxious due to circumstances I can’t control, I remind myself to stay calm because this will not last. Rob Bell says it this way: “Dread and panic often come from the feeling that this moment IS ALL MOMENTS.” I have certainly felt this way and it almost always resulted in anxiety. Now I stop, breath, evaluate and challenge…and remind myself this is just a wave. I can survive this wave. I can do hard things.
  3. Think-Feel-Act-Results. I now realize the results I experience on a daily basis are driven by my thinking. I no longer believe that I’m a victim of anxiety. Anxiety is a result therefore I can change that result by working on my thinking. If you believe anxiety is out of your control that too is true. Whatever you believe to be true…is true. So, what do you want to believe? You get to choose. I choose beliefs that calm my anxiety, not exacerbate it.
  4. Anxiety can be an indulgence. This might sound weird and some might disagree but it was true for me. Anxiety allowed me the freedom to avoid important decisions. In a strange way, I got something out of indulging my anxiety. It gave me an excuse to play the victim. Anxiety gave me an excuse to NOT DO just about anything.
  5. What someone else says and does has nothing to do with me. So much of my anxiety was created inside my head as I reacted to other people around me. Maybe they didn’t talk nicely to me; maybe they had an attitude or ignored me. But here’s what I’ve learned: NONE OF THAT MATTERS. What matters is, HOW DO I WANT TO FEEL? Do I want to be mad, offended and upset because of someone else’s actions? Most, if not all people act and speak as a result of their own issues and are doing the best they can. Who am I to judge and make conclusions, especially when my conclusions cause me to be angry and upset! It’s just silly. So much of my pain was created BY ME. No more. When people act in ways I do not like (even if I’m pretty sure they actually mean to harm me) I choose to transcend all of it, not take it personally and remind myself their reactions, words, body language, etc. HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. I do get to choose if I continue to engage someone who is hurtful, but I no longer have to be a victim to someone else’s behavior.

 

So there you go. Anxiety is my superpower. What’s yours?

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