Five Ways to Manage Anxiety in Risk Taking

I've had anxiety my whole life and it has a tendency to come and go in waves. I've suffered through phobias, social anxiety and OCD. I've lain awake in bed worrying about trivialities and I've had panic attacks because of legitimate triggers. My anxiety remains constant, but also ever changing- it looks different from one day to the next, from one crisis to the next. There is one consistent trigger when it comes to my anxiety and that is risk. It all became crystal clear to me in a conversation with my mom. My anxiety was through the roof at a family dinner and I needed to be alone in a dark closet in order to help myself calm down. I had no idea where the anxiety was coming from, of course. It always takes completely losing it to figure it out. All I knew was that my irritability left my nerves raw, my neck and face were sore from clenched muscles and I could barely breathe. I sat and pondered what could possibly be the problem. Sure I was stressed about finding new furniture for my new gorgeous office and yes there were some issues with the sign posted outside of said office. These alone are not enough to causes a massive panic attack. My mom came in to check on me, momentarily left when I seemed completely irrational then returned to sit on the floor and comfort me. When I was finally able to release the buildup of emotions with a big cry, she said, "Levana, you know this always happens to you." What? What happens to me? What could my mom see that I couldn't see myself? She said, "Whenever you start something new, you panic."

Ohhhhhh. Then it all came flooding back. The hysterical phone call I made from Israel to my mom when I first moved there. I ended up loving it. The angry, irritable phone call to my mom after my first day of grad school when I bitched about what a mistake I made. I have an amazing career because of it now. Emotional, panicked calls to her before adopting both of my kids. The best two decisions I have ever made. And now, the new office.

At first glance, the new office doesn't seem like such a risk. I've had my practice for the past two years and have slowly been building a wonderful base of clients and referral sources. But my overhead has been low, if non existent and I continued prioritizing my kid's and husband's schedules over mine. I remained flexible, attempting to cause no inconvenience to anyone but myself, being the good little people- pleaser that I am. Moving to this new office meant that I needed capital, time and help from others. I would be taking a professional and financial risk in paying higher rent and committing myself wholeheartedly to this dream of a successful practice treating people with anxiety. So much anxiety for me. Oh, the irony...

Risk is a common trigger for anyone to feel nervous and anxious. Getting married, buying a home and having kids are risks with unknown outcomes. The risk is that moving out of one's comfort zone might lead to something scary, bad or uncomfortable. Anxious people don't like risk. Taking a risk means something unexpected might happen. Something bad. Something that can't be controlled.... *shudder*.

People who are risk takers are more optimistic than the lot of us anxiety sufferers. They focus on the thrill of the unknown and believe that something good will come from the chances they take. Not us. We focus on the worst case scenarios, the disastrous after effects. We have difficulty looking objectively at the facts and the positives in taking a calculated risk. That's why so many anxious people and perfectionists become paralyzed, avoiding success for fear of failure.

OK, so now that I gathered my wits about me and realized what is going on, what should I do? Good thing I am a therapist because I can figure this out by asking myself, what would I tell a client who is going through the same thing? Here are five ways to cope with risk as an anxious person:

  1. Calm your body down. When your heart is racing, your breath is shallow and you are sweating like you are in the middle of a spin class, it is impossible to think clearly. Your body is in fight or flight mode and it thinks it's in danger. Take deep breaths and focus on your surroundings. Notice what color the walls are, what the room smells like, what your chair feels like, etc. This exercise, known as grounding, will bring you back to reality and into a frame of mind in which you can be more reasonable.

  2. Make a pros and cons list: After you've calmed your body down, it's time to calm your mind. Writing a list with objective points can help you visualize the reality instead of fantasizing about the worst case scenario. This list might make it clear that you are facing a risk that you shouldn't take or encourage you that you don't have so much to lose. Either way, you are making your decision based on facts and not emotions.

  3. Talk it out with someone you trust: Who do you admire who has accomplished the thing you are setting out to do? Who do you trust that can look at your situation objectively and give you honest feedback? It may be a family member or friend, or even someone in the community who you look up to. You can build your confidence by getting the reassurance you need from someone who knows.

  4. Limit your use of the internet for problem solving when possible: The internet is amazing- it brings the world to our fingertips and makes it effortless to find out everything about anything. But sometimes it is too much, especially when you have anxiety. It is easy to get caught up reading horror stories about risks that went wrong. Reading about freak accidents, uncontrollable weather and unpredictable people can all throw our anxiety into a tailspin. Make sure that when you are doing your research online, you are focused on the facts and not anecdotal stories of things unlikely to happen.

  5. Work with a therapist specializing in anxiety: This is always my advice for people struggling with any type of anxiety (including myself!). In therapy with a trained professional you can learn amazing ways to increase your well being and improve your quality of life. You will learn how to identify your triggers and what coping techniques are best for you. These skills set you up to make the best, most rational decision for your future.

As for me and my risk taking anxiety in moving to my new office? I followed my own advice and and am totally relaxed and optimistic about the future. I feel confident and good in my decision to expand and elevate my practice. Now on to the next thing to freak out about....