Recently some friends and I found ourselves discussing a topic I am quite familiar with — anxiety. As working moms of young kids, our anxieties stemmed from different places, but the overarching theme was the same: we want to cope with it better.
Chewing and spitting — a totally unhealthy, disordered eating behavior — had been my coping mechanism prior to seeing a therapist in 2008, and it was something I successfully nipped in the bud via a lot of self-talk and blogging over the course of a year. Ever since, these two things have long been my outlets for coping with anxiety — which is why I’m happy to be writing again — and, over the years, I’ve come to see my anxious mind as a strength.
And so I shared with them the Cliff’s Notes version of what my therapist so many years ago told me — that an anxious mind is actually a strength.
Whereas I’ve always considered being anxious a bad thing, she was surprisingly encouraging, explaining how being an anxious person can be such a positive attribute: anxious people tend to excel at school, are successful in their jobs. She explained that even as children, anxious people tend to not step out of line often or get into trouble; they are perhaps overly conscientious and afraid to make mistakes, which usually carries into adulthood. And in her mind, I need to accept my hardware, my anxious (vs. laid-back) self, and not seek to change it.
To illustrate, she used the analogy of two computers, a Mac and a PC. For the sake of argument here, let’s say the anxious person is the Mac. You can’t run Windows on a Mac and expect it to work; it might be the same software but we all know different hardware works differently on different models. On a PC, it works like clockwork, but a Mac? No such luck.
Likewise, anxious people think a mile a minute; our brains are hard-wired to do that, to process all these things at once, and we’re not necessarily capable of “chilling out” or “slowing down” or “not worrying about it” like our more laid-back PC counterparts. It’s our DNA; we’re not cut from the same cloth so to expect us to change is simply not going to happen.
What we can change is our thought process; how we respond to things, given the limitations of our hardware.
Eight years later, I am still working on that: accepting the limitations of my hardware. But as time goes by, I really do see my anxious mind as a strength at times.
Backing up a bit (because I’m in an analytical mood right now), I’d always been an anxious person — since I was a small child — but my anxiety basically manifested itself in weight issues in my early 20s.
Though it sounds ironic, my disordered eating spiral was created in the wake of success on Weight Watchers back in 2004, and fueled by anxiety and the fear of gaining it all back. Prior to joining, I never had any food issues. I had weight issues (I was 20-30 lbs overweight for the latter part of college and into my early 20s) … but I didn’t have food issues. The restriction, over-exercising, chewing and spitting, and even midnight eating all began AFTER being successful on the program.
I don’t blame WW itself for any of this; I made the choices to do the things I did and I own those decisions, however unsavory they were at the time. The program taught me a ton about portion control, eating better, and eating until satisfied … But although I succeeded at the program — living within its parameters, following it to a T, thanks to the downside of my anxious nature and fear my new body was “on loan” — I created a monster; a self-fulfilling prophecy that I’d gain it all back.
You may be saying, “Then why the heck would you join again now?!”
Because this time I believe I am soaring with the strengths of my anxious mind vs the weaknesses of it. Because the “worst” I had been fearing then did happen: that body was on loan and I did gain most of it back (gained back 20 of the initial 35 I lost in 2004 over the years). And you know what? I was OK! The world did not end. In fact, my world only expanded: I went on to have two healthy pregnancies … and lost the baby weight without too much trouble both times.
[What I’m working on losing now is what I gained since getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight after Ben was born — all my own doing. No babies to blame ;)]
I’ve joined because I work well in parameters. I love journaling and writing things down. I love data. I love analyzing my FitBit stats, comparing WW and MyFitnessPal … this is the stuff I’m good at. So why fight it?
Some people can lose weight by eating intuitively or by following a spartan diet. I am not one of those people. I still suck at eating intuitively and I love food too much to eliminate entire food groups for the sake of a diet. It needs to be something I can do for the long haul. So for me, personally, WW worked back then and is working now. Why? Because I’m actually following the program — using one of my own strengths and acknowledging that little fear of failure that’s always in the back of my mind.
Likewise, anxious people aren’t good with sitting still — which very much suits my fitness personality; I like to move and feel better when I do exercise vs when I don’t (with the exceptions of being sick — like now — or being on vacation). So that means I remain active, which also fits the program well.
Right now, my anxious nature is an asset at this weight loss game and I really hope to continue down this path of seeing it as a strength vs a weakness.
Of course, the anxieties my friends feel are very different from my own, but I did want them to realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a bit anxious. We can cope with anxiety better by acknowledging it exists and finding ways to see the positive in it: It can make us steadfast employees, really nurturing moms (yep, Jewish mother over here!), and super-reliable partners/friends. We’ve got your backs.
And as we manage our anxiety, we’re working on having our own, too.
How about you? If you’re an anxious person by nature, do you find it is an asset or a liability — and does it change depending on the aspect of your life you’re speaking about?