The tank is on empty. I’ve been running for only about an hour and a half now and I’ve still got over four hours left in this race. My anxiety is on high alert. I’ve been training in 60 degree temperatures, but, lucky for me (that’s sarcasm by the way) the weather on this glorious morning is already in the 80’s … and I’m only an hour and a half in. I’ve already changed my shirt, re-filled my water bladder, and I KNOW it is a bad sign to be feeling that all-too-familiar sluggishness that usually comes during the late stages of an endurance race. No gas and I’m breaking into walks … walks that I didn’t decide on. Needless to say, that anxiety I’m feeling? Well, it’s giving me anxiety and that’s not gonna work.
Everything that I know about endurance sports is that they are about planning, making smart decisions, and building a great mental game to deal with the adversity of uncomfortable emotions. This is one of the major reasons I love them so much, and probably one of the most important things I feel I get out of them, because the way you feel about your emotions determines the actions that you take.
But, at the moment I’m in it and anxiousness is telling me that, with this much left to go on the race, it’s time to slow down and change my plan. My relationship with this anxiety for many years has been an adversarial one. I should ‘get over it’. I need to ‘overcome’ my anxiety. Controlling it was another option I’ve tried. After much trial and error, and many bouts with it, I’ve come to this conclusion:
I need to change my relationship with my anxiety.
Alan Watkins, a leading physician and neuroscientist in the study of emotions, puts it best; he said most of his colleagues don’t even know that there is a difference between feelings and emotions. I have to say, I didn’t know this truth for most of my life. The main difference is this: on a physiological level emotions are simply energy in motion in your body. They can develop for all sorts of reasons, or just simply because of regular or irregular bodily functions. There are techniques (ex. breathing regulation) and other tools you can practice to help that energy in motion flow in your body, so that you feel more comfortable. But, one of the major ways we can change our physiology and energy in motion so we can have the information they provide at our brain’s proverbial fingertips at all times:
You can change how you feel about them.
If anxiety is your thing, meaning it’s a thing that seems to come up for you a lot in your life, then how you feel about it is going to determine how long it lasts in your system, and the intensity and duration that you’re going to feel when it’s there. That’s the great thing about feelings. You get to choose them. While an emotion is the physiological energy in motion that’s coursing through your body because of a catalyst like a cheeseburger you ate at midnight last night, or a blaring horn from a guy who thinks you cut them off, the feeling is your take on it. Your perspective on that energy in motion.
For me, on race day, one of the things that I pull on is the fact that a little bit of anxiousness has always led me to sharpen my focus. It always brings my attention to the full picture of the situation I am in. Think about it. If I didn’t know that I was overheating, or that I was having trouble early on in the race how could I adjust my efforts and still complete something that was important to me?
Like most of us, I really don’t like to feel uncomfortable emotions. But without checking in from time to time on what they’re actually telling me, and, instead, just trying to get rid of them because they don’t feel good, I begin to develop an emotional prejudice against them. The truth is I most likely would run myself into the ground without that little bit of anxiousness, because I wouldn’t even know that I was having a problem.
Your emotion might be fear, shame, or self doubt that you are having an almost ‘adversarial relationship’ with. Whatever emotions scare you, here are a few things that you can do to change your relationship, and therefore your feelings about those emotions, so they can become a blessing rather than a curse.
Is this emotion useful?
OK, granted I know this isn’t an easy question to ask yourself when you’re actually in the midst of fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, but just knowing that it’s useful in the task you find yourself in sometimes is enough to bring that emotion into perspective. Once that happens, you can then bring your mind back to the task at hand, because it’ll be less overwhelmed by the emotion. Charge yourself to not just try and rid yourself of that scary emotion, but rather to figure out if it is useful to the situation that you’re in.
How is this emotion useful?
Much of the time an uncomfortable emotion like anxiety isn’t just showing up in your body because it has nothing else to do. Challenge yourself to take a moment and examine the possible benefits they may be providing you in the moment at your in. For me that anxiety I was feeling was letting me know that I needed to slow up, take in more fluids, and make a game plan for the next 4 hours.
If appropriate, take action based on what that emotion is telling you.
It’s true that sometimes we are rolling mental film in our brains, running thoughts in our heads that keeps anxiety or fear alive long past their use. If this is the case, then we need to roll different mental film that can change the way we feel. Sometimes feeling the pain of an emotion we don’t particularly like, has us bee-line to this option before we consider the actions that our emotion might be suggesting. Consider taking the action that your fear or anxiety might be suggesting. First, it might be exceptionally helpful for whatever situation you’re in, and secondly, most of the time (again, unless we’re running that mental film) it would allow the emotion to dissipate naturally on its own.
I decided that the anxiety was helpful, providing valuable information for me. I choose to take action based on what my anxiety was telling me. I embraced the walk and made it a decision not to run until my anxiety lessened. I ate some food. I remembered that this race was about time, not a distance. I took the pressure off by reminding myself that I could always walk if I had to for the next four hours (although I knew in the depths of my mind that probably wouldn’t happen). I took action on what my anxiety was telling me, and watched it dissipate over the next half an hour, got my legs back (somewhat :), and got a slow run going again.
This week, challenge yourself to acknowledge an uncomfortable emotion that comes up for you around something you need to accomplish. Allow it in like an old friend. What’s it trying to tell you? Is it good information? How do you feel about the emotion once you’ve considered what it is telling you? Is there an action you can take that will help you achieve the activity you need to get done based on what that emotion is telling you? After you take that action, consider if you feel differently about that emotion now. I’d love to hear how this challenge goes for you! Enter your experience in the comments below!
If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you. Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk.