This Isn’t Easy, Part 2: Anxiety About the Future

A few weeks back, I wrote a blog about running a company, having a family (who were all really sick at the time), and just living life in today’s world. The gist of the article? None of it is easy.

After I wrote it, I received a ton of responses. Some of you told me about similar issues you’re facing. Others gave me encouragement. But what I heard most often was a request to share details about how I keep the wheels on the bus when everything starts feeling really chaotic.

So I’ve spent a lot of time recently evaluating the things I do to keep myself in check—and productive—amidst the never-ending demands. It’s given me a lot of insights, so I’m going to share a few areas I’m working on over the next couple of weeks in hopes that you find something useful in it.

First, Anxiety

For most of my life, I’ve hated my anxiety. When I felt it, I would do everything I could to push it down. If you want to know how I’ve typically dealt with anxiety about the future instead of addressing it directly, this song in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon sums it up perfectly.

When you start to get confused
Because of thoughts in your head
Don’t feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead

So I started to ask how I might shift my relationship with anxiety and if a shift might improve not only my internal life but all the relationships around me, too.

Driving the Car

Stress is a physical response to an actual existing threat, and typically an experience that’s pretty short-term. But anxiety is more like how our bodies warn us of impending danger in the future. It’s fear. And it’s the topic I’m going to focus on today. One of the best analogies I’ve ever heard on anxiety comes from Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks about the fact that all of us have anxiety, and will continue to have anxiety if we’re human.

She doesn’t give instructions on how to get rid of anxiety. She points out that we have a choice in how we relate to it. We can either have the anxiety drive us, giving it a front seat in our lives and allowing it to dictate how we feel and act. Or, anxiety can ride in the back seat. We can actually use it as a positive tool to help us. It can share useful information with us about where we are going, what we want in life, and how to get there. But it doesn’t get to dictate our direction, and it definitely doesn’t get to paralyze us from driving forward at all.

Riding in the Back Seat

So I’m working to keep anxiety in the backseat, and here’s exactly what I do in order to keep it in check and out from behind the wheel:

Think and Act in the Present
I can only control what is happening now. Not 30 seconds ago. Not 30 seconds in the future. Now. This has been the most powerful tool for me. When I start getting anxious about what might happen, this mental tool allows me to stop and go, “Yes, there’s a good chance that could happen. What can I do at this very moment to prepare for it?”

Brandi, on our team, shared another tool she uses to ask herself a similar question. When things feel out of control and she’s anxious about the future, she’ll actually sit down and write or type out answers to the following questions:

  1. What do I not know?
  2. What do I know?

The answers to the first question have everything to do with fears: Whether a relationship might end, whether she’ll lose stable income, etc. But the answers to the second question have everything to do with really important things we all need to remember: How we’re loved, who we’re loved by, and all the things that we genuinely have to be grateful for. It grounds her in the things that matter, even if she might lose something really important to her. And it’s a tool she learned from a talk by Glennon Doyle Melton.

Spend More Time with Peers to Talk About Mostly Non-Business Things
Once a month, I hang out with a group of three other people who are at similar life stages to discuss what’s going on in our lives. We go through how our families are doing, what’s going on with our kids, how we’re dealing with travel, and how our work life is going. It’s a way to share what I’m anxious about and get people’s cognitive, objective views on things I’m afraid might happen.

Spend More Time with Peers to Talk Mostly Business Things 
Then, every other week, I jump on a call with a few friends who are all CEOs. We discuss specifics about business, including both wins and challenges. But we don’t start by talking about our companies. We actually spend the first 30 minutes of the call meditating. Yes, meditating. Why? Because there is so much going on in all of our lives that it allows us to just stop, breathe, and reflect on everything going on in our businesses. It also makes the last 30 minutes of the conversation very productive. And, like the tools above, it not only helps me hear other perspectives that calm my worries, the meditation also helps ground me in the present.

See a Counselor
There are times where I need to dig deep. Where I really need to understand what’s going on, deep under the surface. And those are the times where I go to see my counselor. Because—honestly—it’s sometimes easier to share my wildest fears with someone who legally can’t share anything I discuss with anyone else. They’re a third-party that I pay to just support me and who is obligated to have my best interests in mind. It takes serious work—I can’t just show up and expect change. I have to be open and honest, and I have to go often enough, over a sustained period of time, so that they understand what’s really going on. But having someone to really talk through specifics with is invaluable.

Relatedly, it’s Mental Health Awareness month, and because mental health is a really, really big deal for founders, we made a Founder Wellness Pact two years ago. All GAN Accelerators use it when working with their cohorts and GAN has a contract with a counseling practice where we pick up 50% of the costs for counseling services used by any GAN Startup. Please, please use it.

Bring Things Up with People Immediately
I love my colleagues. But there are inevitably times where we have conflict. And I usually find that this situation causes me the most anxiety because a) I want the problem to be fixed, and b) I truly don’t know what the outcome will be (leading me to worry about the future, which causes the anxiety). So I try to bring up problems with anyone on my team within 24 business hours of feeling an issue come up.

4:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
My anxiety decreases dramatically when I’m working out and getting outside. So I start work at 7:30 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in order to leave the office at 4:00 for a workout. You’ve seen the studies for why working out is so helpful. And you’ve also probably seen that putting these times on your calendar is a lot more successful than just telling yourself you’ll do it. So I not only put it on my calendar every week, but I also keep those times consistent.

Do Nothing on My Drive Home
My drive to and from work lasts 12 minutes. During this ride home, I don’t do anything. No phone calls. No texts. No radio. It’s my time to switch mental gears to try to let all of my anxiety go and get into the right mindset before being with my family.

Now, Your Turn

How do you deal with anxiety in ways that feel healthy and productive for you? You can tweet them to me here.