I was having dinner with one of my closest brothers earlier in the week. The restaurant he took me to (he’s a London native and knows the land better than I) was extremely popular and highly reviewed, but we were surprisingly able to get a walk in. In fact, the place was only at 25% capacity.
He apologised and said the place was usually much more crowded and he assured me it was a great restaurant, but when I told him I much prefer quieter places now anyway, he was shocked.
“This is London, you’re here for the crowds and the hustle! And you love clubs!”
But I explained how recently, when I’m in crowded places, I seem to have developped “Shrek Syndrome”. I knock people over, I spill peoples drinks, last week a woman literally walked face-first into my shoulder and almost knocked herself out. I’m basically a clumsy Viking without a battlefield.
This particular brother of mine is a Psychology graduate and loves to discuss Mindset topics as much as I love to write and teach about them, so naturally, we dove into this further.
Here’s the problem – I was at the very beginning of creating a new anxiety, one that if I wasn’t careful, could become deeply rooted. An irrational worry about being too cumbersome and clumsy for busy crowds.
And as I discuss in my book, when you allow low self-esteem, low confidence, or anxieties and fears to control you, you lose the opportunity to experience life, love and adventure!
The Birth Of A New Anxiety
We discussed how one incident had compounded until it had become an anxiety: Each time I walked into a crowded bar or venue, I had started to think back to “What” had happened the last few times I was in a crowd. I became nervous of repeating the same “what” and began to fixate on it. I started to picture the expression on each of the peoples faces who’s evening I had fucked up by throwing their drink down them, by bruising their face, or in one case, by literally just knocking them over because they walked square into me and fell over backwards.
And it’s a shitty feeling to know that you just ruined someone’s night.
I was increasingly creating a list of “Whats”, which became a pattern, which then my simple-brain extrapolated into a future worst-case-scenario. My mind had created an anxiety of those “Whats” repeating themselves every time I now walked into a crowded place.
But as we discussed the situation and mental triggers over a feast of steaks, salmon and pâté, we both concluded one thing:
I could only cure this anxiety if I moved away from the “What” and fully embraced the “Why” in each of these scenarios.
Focus On The Real Consequences
Leaving my own example for a minute, consider the fear of needles (belonephobia). It’s an anxiety that affects around 2% of the population severely, and as many as 10% in a less serious way.
When asked why people with this phobia are asked why, they usually say they are “just scared of them [irrational fear] and they hurt [rational fear]“.
No matter how much you dig, the only rational consequence you will hear is the pain of the needle itself (or similarly, the fear of not knowing how severe the pain will be).
Sure, a needle hurts – a bit. Especially with a really clumsy nurse. Needles drawing blood tend to hurt more than receiving an injection, but even then, how much does a needle really hurt?
As much as trapping your finger in a door? As much as biting your tongue while chewing?
Both of these scenarios hurt way more than a needle.. and yet we don’t all have a fear of closing a door or of eating food.
When we look at the anxiety of a needle as the fear, or fear of the unknown, of the physical pain of the needle going in, we can quickly see that it’s really not a big deal. The consequences are around 2 seconds of sharp “Ouch you evil mother fucker!!!” followed by a weird 5-10 seconds of “Umm, what’s that strange sensation?” followed by 5 minutes of “Oh a lollipop! Strawberry, my favourite! Awesome!”
(Okay maybe only my physician still gives me a lollipop – benefit of being a big guy is that people usually give you a lollipop when you ask…)
Going back to my anxiety of being a bull in a china shop (Myth – debunked!). My friend and I talked through each scenario and instead of thinking about my worries, my ‘worst case scenarios’ and blaming myself, we just examined the very practical consequences.
- I spilled 4 guys drinks (I knocked one guy and he was so small he kinda just domino’ed into the rest of his friends). So it’s 4 spilled drinks – $60.
- I knocked into a girl, she got a bump on her face. She probably forgot about it 2 shots of tequila later.
- I knocked a guy on his ass. He obviously felt embarrassed, but a few seconds after standing back up, there was no lasting consequences.
I kept feeling like I’d ruined these peoples nights, but in reality, I’d actually ruined about 30 seconds of their night…
Move your Mindset To Another Perspective
When you’ve rationalised your anxiety to the literal consequences/outcomes, you can start to examine it from another perspective. The goal here is to remove yourself and your worry from the situation, and see the bigger picture.
When you worry about needles, your first step was to rationalise the specific cause of the fear: the pain (or the unknown pain, i.e. how much will it hurt?). We thought about the specific consequences – a few seconds of pain followed by maybe a dull ache/bruise, but nothing too distracting.
The next step is to move your Mindset and the way you think about this to a totally different perspective and to see the overall picture:
- Did that injection just cure an illness that could have killed you?
- Did that plasma donation just potentially save someone’s life?
- Did that blood test just potentially identify a serious illness early enough to treat it?
- Is the nurse actually trying to hurt or, or could she just be fairly new?
When you consider the other things at play, they can quickly make your own fear seem petty and inconsequential.
In my case, I considered the alternative perspectives.
These people had all come into a crowded bar, just like I had. They knew that one of the possible risks of being in a busy bar is that drinks might get spilled. You might bump into people. People might bump into you.
It’s not because people are aggressive and mean – it’s simply an inevitable consequence of putting so many people together, with alcohol, in a closed space.
But ultimately, everyone has gone out to have a good time. To chat through their week with friends, to date a cute girl, to meet cute guys.
Using The ‘Why’ To Unravel Your Anxiety
After mapping out the full scenario and laying out the facts, I was able to dig into the “Why” in my anxiety of crowds.
My anxiety was caused because of ‘what’ I had done, but once I knew ‘why’ those things had happened each time, and why it really wasn’t as big a problem as I thought, I started to unravel my anxiety. I rationalised and became mindful of the situation.
I started to open my mindset again to my Zero Fucks Given attitude and also prepared myself to be more mindful if the situation occurred again.
Most anxieties can be cured by rationalising the situation down to the practical consequences and then digging into the bigger perspective to understand “Why” you are afraid and how to become mindful of that fear. Then, with a process of relaxation, distraction, rationalisation and/or Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy (CBT), you can easily eliminate the anxiety from your life.
Featured image: Banshee, Copyright/courtesy of Cinemax, cinemax.com/banshee/