If you have days or moments (or years) during which you feel like your anxiety is in charge, or you’re stuck in patterns of self-criticism, double and triple-checking yourself, worrying about the future… then today’s interview is for you.
I talked to Dr. Chloe Carmichael, author of the new book Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety. With her doctorate in clinical psychology from Long Island University and her years of private practice in New York City focusing on issues including stress management and self-esteem, Dr. Chloe delivers a great piece of news: anxiety and nervous energy can be your superpowers when you learn to harness them for good.
In this interview, we discuss what our anxiety may be trying to tell us, and what strategies we might use in the moment to harness its power for good.
So, what is anxiety?
“I really think anxiety gets kind of a bad rap sometimes,” Dr. Chloe began. “People will often come and say, ‘Hey, Dr. Chloe, how do I get rid of my anxiety?’ And I want to explain that the goal is not to get rid of it. It’s a gift from mother nature. We get it for a reason. … It’s actually a big source of energy. We just have to learn how to point [our anxiety] in the right direction. So, I think of it as that kind of heightened sense of awareness that we have when we realize that there’s some kind of a challenge or a situation that we don’t yet have fully resolved. And it’s that little tickle from mother nature saying, ‘Hey, let’s see how we can figure this out.”
In other words, anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s offering us insight and information that’s ours to pay attention to and make sense of.
How might a mental shortlist soothe an overactive mind?
Dr. Chloe describes the “mental shortlist” as a great strategy for calming the mind.
“Having an active and tenacious mind can be a great thing until it starts to get in our own way,” she explains. She goes on to describe a case from her book in which a man was trying to prepare for an important meeting at work.
Once he had done all he could to prepare, he couldn’t seem to quiet his mind.
“He reached a point where he was just spinning his wheels, but he [couldn’t stop] thinking about it. And when you have a strong, powerful mind, your cognitive habits can be pretty hard and strong. So, to help divert himself and use that mental energy for something better … what we do is we come up with a new mental shortlist. … We think of five things in advance that we know are going to be much better in productive uses of our mental energy. And I encourage people to have the mental shortlist. … It could be getting a jump on your birthday and holiday shopping.”
Telling your mind to stop thinking about something only causes you to think about it more. Instead, the mental shortlist redirects your mind to something else, something more neutral and productive.
What might you put on your mental shortlist?
What can a mind map do for an anxious mind?
Dr. Chloe also shares the story of “a stressed-out lawyer named Matt.” He realized at one point he had invested so much of himself in his job and his family that he had let go of taking great care of himself.
“He was frustrated because he felt like he wasn’t living the life he intended when he became a lawyer … and he started to find himself really resenting his job.” So, Dr. Chloe invited him to make a mind map about his career and what it really meant for him.
The technique is described in more detail in the book. But it helps you organize—and see the connectivity between—the different moving pieces of your life.
Through this technique, Dr. Chloe helped Matt to recognize “because of this income that you have, you could actually have a personal trainer come to your office and help you to train right there. … And maybe we need to build your communication skills so that you and your wife can … make sure it’s clear to the children that dad is working in order to take care of us. That his time at work is not in competition with our family, [but rather] in support of our family. “
So, with this mind map, he was able to “streamline his energy and use it to do things like workout or plan family vacations instead of just criticizing himself.”
We discussed these tools—and several others from the book—in our interview. There’s something so empowering about recognizing you don’t need to conquer your nervous energy; you just need to hear and then harness it. It’s an essential part of what’s made you successful to date.
There is much more wisdom to be discovered in the book. Listen to our interview for more great insights. And then pick up your copy of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.
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