Ask Mr. Happy Work – Is Anxiety a Sign That I Shouldn’t Do Something?

Welcome to another edition of “Ask Mr. Happy Work”, where you ask me questions about work, careers, education, life, (or anything really), and I answer them!

Today’s question is about anxiety and whether or not it’s a sign you shouldn’t do something. If you’re feeling anxious… is that the universe trying to tell you not to do something?  Or is the anxiety caused by something else entirely?  Let’s dive in a take a look!

Ask Mr. Happy Work – Volume 4

Is Anxiety A Sign I Shouldn't Do Something?

Hi Mr. Happy Work. I’ve been wondering something for a few years now but never found a good answer from other places or people I’ve spoke to.  If you feel anxious about doing something… do you think that’s maybe a sign you shouldn’t do it?

For example, over the last several years I’ve felt very anxious about a lot of things in my life.  I’ve felt anxious about going to work.  I’ve felt anxious to work on some entreprenurial side projects I’m hoping to pursue.  I also did a one month certification program a few months ago and was anxious nearly every day about it.

Part of me wonders… Could my anxiety about these things maybe be life’s way of trying to tell me I shouldn’t be doing these things, or maybe they aren’t right for me? I mean, don’t you think that you would feel good about doing something if it was the right thing to do?

It’s so weird to me because a lot of these things I WANT to do, but as soon as I try to go do them I get terrible waves of anxiety. The anxiety is often so bad it stops me from doing it at all, or makes me feel very uncomfortable the entire time I am doing it and I usually just have to push myself through it or give up.

Why do I feel this way?  Do you think I’m pushing myself down the wrong paths?

– Anxious About All I Do

Hi Anxious About All I Do,

This is a really insightful question and it’s a great topic to discuss.  My short answer to the question is:

No, I don’t think anxiety is a sign you shouldn’t do or pursue something.

Sure, there may be SOME instances where anxiety is correctly telling you that you’re pursuing the wrong thing, but I feel that this is not the case the majority of the time.  Anxiety more often stems from underlying factors, not the actual thing you’re likely associating the anxiety with.

Imagine feeling anxious about a first kiss with a date.  It’s unlikely that the anxiety is because of the actual act of kissing.  Kissing someone you’re attracted to is great!  The anxiety comes instead because of the fear of possible rejection or embarrassment, or the worry that the kiss may somehow negatively impact the relationship.  It’s not the kiss itself causing anxiety.  The kiss itself is actually a good thing but anxiety from the other factors is preventing it from happening.

I also have a personal anecdote I can share that further highlights this.  My journey through college to earn my degrees was FULL of anxiety.  More often than not, just the thought of trying to get some school work done caused anxiety to swell up. There were also times I wanted to throw in the towel and quit.  However, I knew that earning my degrees was a necessary step towards the goals I wanted to reach, and I stuck with it to graduation.

BEST DECISION EVER.  My college degrees have provided more opportunities than I ever imagined and my quality of life has been significantly better because of that.  College was the right path for me but the anxiety was there just the same.  Had I let my anxiety deter me from pursuing this goal, I would have never been able to have the opportunities I have now.  I would also likely feel a lot of regret from not accomplishing my goal.

And this applies to many various pursuits of life.  As an Academic Advisor, I can safely tell you that most people struggle to get through college but that it helps their lives tremendously once they graduate.  Other times, people feel anxious about their jobs but determine the anxiety is actually from a toxic work environment, a horrible commute, or unrealistic expectations and excessive overtime.  They may begin to feel that the job itself is not right when in actuality their anxiety stems from factors disconnected from the actual job.  They can find that same job at another company and love it!

What are the REAL Reasons You’re Anxious?

When you start to look carefully at the various things you feel anxious about, you can usually find underlying factors that are the true source of the anxiety.  You mention having anxiety about work and pursuing entrepreneurial side projects.  What exactly is it about these things that are making you anxious?  Is it actually the work or project, or are there factors or fears associated with the work and projects that are causing the anxiety?

This would be my biggest recommendation for you.  Take a deep dive into the goals you have and the things you’re trying to do.  Look at them from start to finish.  Are there any fears you have?  Doubts?  Is there anything you feel hesitant or uneasy about, and why?  For the things you have accomplished (the one-month certification program you mentioned), how do you feel about that in hindsight?

This is a great starting point to see what’s actually causing you to feel anxious.  Perhaps, in rare cases, you actually do come to the conclusion that the thing you’re trying to pursue is actually not the right thing for you do.  At least now you know!  In most other cases, however, you can identify the factors that are really causing anxiety.  Once identified, you can then begin to find ways to work through the anxiety by managing the root cause that is causing it.  You may even find ways to eliminate the anxiety entirely.

Working Through the Anxiety

In most cases, anxiety to pursue the important goals and pursuits you have in life doesn’t go away completely.  That’s why it’s critical to find effective ways to moderate your anxiety and find strategies to work through the tougher parts of the journey.

I always recommend revisiting your “reason why”.  Why are you pursuing the thing you’re working towards?  Embracing your vision and always remembering the end goal and what life looks like for you once reaching that is a great defense against anxiety.  It helps you put things into perspective and also helps you recognize that your anxiety is only a temporary hardship to a great future benefit.

It’s also worth doing some self-reflection to determine what your current tolerance for anxiety is.  Is the outcome of your goal better than the cost of your anxiety?  That being said, it’s not good if the anxiety you’re experiencing is having a very significant and negative impact on the quality of your life.  If your anxiety was potentially causing you to have thoughts of self-harm, for example, you shouldn’t push yourself to keep going until the anxiety itself is further addressed and managed.

I personally recommend Mental Health Counseling for treating anxiety.  It really helps for working through the root causes of anxiety. It provides pathways to solutions and better outcomes.  Counseling can also give clarity to the things you really want to do and helps put things into a better perspective.  In some cases, it may be determined that medication could be helpful for managing anxiety, especially in the early phases of treatment or if the anxiety is particularly bad.  Counseling can often be exactly what people need to work through the more challenging parts of life.

Summary

While I don’t have the specific details of your situation or the things you’re pursuing, there’s nothing that sticks out to me as a significant reason not to pursue these goals.  Anxiety can be a normal part of the process and it often comes from underlying factors, not the actual thing you’re pursuing.  Do some self-reflection as we discussed and see what the core causes of the anxiety are.  From there, you can better determine if the thing you’re pursuing is actually the right path to be on, and you’ll also be able to identify opportunities for working through the anxiety.

Best wishes for reaching all your goals in life – you can do it!

Yours Truly,
– Mr. Happy Work

Do you have questions about work, careers, education, life, or anything else you want to know?  I want to hear from you!  Send your questions in today!  

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