Do you know the difference between good and bad anxiety? This is the perfect time to find out. Learn the difference in Dr. Wendy Suzuki’s new book, Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion. Want your own copy? In a WAM first, we’re offering a special giveaway!
The first 3 people to sign up 5 friends for the WAM Weekly will receive their own copy of Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion.
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Read an excerpt from Good Anxiety below.
ANNE: HOW TO NURTURE AN ACTIVIST MINDSET
Anne is seventy-eight years young. A native Californian, she plays tennis year-round, is active in real estate, swims, and does yoga. She goes out three or four evenings a week—dinner with a friend or two, to the library to hear an interesting speaker, to the movies or theater. She’s always loved being physically active, enjoying how it makes her feel healthy, energetic, and “on top of her game.” But now something has begun to change; she is often irritable, feels easily overwhelmed by things she used to take in stride, and worst of all, feels like she can’t do anything about her situation. Even though she has two daughters who love her and want to take care of her, she pushes them away, resenting the intrusion. Her daughters try to convince her that she is doing too much and needs to slow down.
Anne insists that “I’ve always been this way. This is just the way I am.” But in quieter moments, she knows something is up. Lately she’s finding that she’s pushing herself out the door; she resents the invitations and dreads the events on her calendar. Anne continues to believe that all this activity is good for her—this has been the precise strategy that has worked for decades. She had to stay active in order to manage her anxiety. Yes, she admits to herself, her body and brain are slowing down due to aging, but if she lets go and starts to change any one of these relied-upon habits, all hell will break loose. In fact, she’s terrified to stop moving.
It’s probably easy for you to see from the outside looking in that Anne would benefit from slowing things down a bit: rest more, balance physical activity with slow-moving relaxation exercises, not push herself to go out so often in the evenings. But what’s got her stuck is her belief that her activities define who she is. If she stops, won’t she just go to pieces? So she pushes on, afraid to make any changes.
These habits—exercise, a busy social life, and an engaging job—are what she has always relied on to feel purposeful and centered. She didn’t really associate them with lessening her anxiety for the years that she was maintaining her busy schedule. But now that her activity level is being threatened, she does feel anxious and as if she is losing control of her life. Her busyness has helped her cope with anxiety for years, buffering against the stress. Now she has to slow down and look at what these changes are really saying: that she has become more anxious.
Like many of us, Anne did not want to admit that she felt anxious. Her idea of herself was very much anchored by feeling physically and emotionally vital and even-keeled. But when Anne got sick with pneumonia, she was finally forced to slow down. Yes, she felt terrible. She could barely lift her head off the pillow and all she wanted to do was sleep for about two weeks. But this slowing down had a silver lining: It forced Anne to admit how weak she felt and how anxious she’d been feeling for a while.
For Anne, the flare-up of anxiety was a warning signal that it was time for a change. She hated feeling so depleted and decided her daughters might have a good point; what used to feel good didn’t anymore. She decided to embrace the slowdown just to give it a try. Her illness gave her a good excuse. She could tell how the longer and deeper sleep that came with her recovery made her feel just a bit better every day. She also decided to explore what amount of sleep would make her feel best once she was fully recovered instead of just going back to her old habits. She noticed that she actually felt a hit of relief not to have to be out with friends all the time, attending lectures and dinners and galas. By creating some space between herself and her activities, she was able to take the time to re-assess whether she was seeing them for what they were or seeing them for what they used to mean to her before her situation shifted. She gave herself permission to realize that the downtime felt good and helped her feel stronger. She decided instead of immediately going back to her social schedule, she would pick and choose those events that she was really excited to attend, which would automatically whittle down the number of engagements on her calendar. She did start to feel an itch to get back to regular physical activity and believed that was a good sign, but there too she decided her strategy was going to be experimental rather than prescriptive. She was going to slowly add back tennis, one day at a time, and let her body tell her when the number of games per week was enough.
In this case, Anne was forced to relearn a valuable lesson: We are constantly changing beings, and we need to be attuned to our changes in order to adapt. Trying to doggedly stick to an old routine just because she had always done it that way was hurting Anne, but her fear was preventing her from taking the time she needed to reassess and make a new plan. She had discovered a core idea behind the activist mindset: When you believe you are able to adapt, you will feel yourself thrive while you adapt. Her daughters could not believe the change in Anne—she had always been a force of nature and still was, but the new elements of deep self-awareness, optimism, and her belief that she could still learn gave her an added confidence to make her life wonderful—especially at the ripe young age of seventy-eight. Indeed, Anne discovered another advantage to the superpower of mindset—the power of self-experimentation. She found that when she listened to her body and tried different things to optimize its response, she not only knew what her body needed but felt more in control of her health. In the end, this realization may have been the best gift she could give herself: “Nobody is going to call me an old dog who can’t learn new tricks.”
From GOOD ANXIETY by Wendy Suzuki, PhD with Billie Fitzpatrick. Copyright © 2021 by Wendy Suzuki, PhD. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.