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Anxiety is not a clean burning fuel

I’m exploring how using anxiety as general purpose fuel for action is not a sustainable strategy.

Anxiety is a feeling that’s a demand for attention. Anxiety is a beautiful natural response designed to get you to get off your butt and go foraging, because you know that if you don’t, you’re gonna run out of berries (or oat milk, depending on the time period).

In my body, anxiety feels like this urge, somewhere around my chest and diaphragm, that tightens and also makes me feel more alert. If I feel tired, when I get anxious I can suddenly go do something and that doing something feels better than not.

One tactic recommended for dealing with anxiety is to use it as fuel – anxiety demands action, so why not respond with such? Using my anxiety as fuel helps me achieve, set goals and make projects and complete them. By “complete” I mean “stalk with ruthless abandon until you can check the task off the list.”

Anxiety works as fuel, but sometimes it burns like coal and leaves residue in its wake … and that residue builds and builds until you don’t realize that you’re not burning the anxiety anymore, but burning off something deeper inside yourself that grows ever so slowly back.

Every day, I wake up and listen to myself and ask what I want to do today. On many days, I hear that jolt of anxiety and “should”s start to raise their voice. My chest tightens and I take some time to sit with myself and recognize that my alarm system is a bit overactive. After all, anxiety is still a feeling, and can pass (feelings are like weather, they’re not always forever).

Practicing this for a few months, I’m sometimes anxious about not wanting to do anything. I want to accept this as a fallow period, a time when what I might need the most is to do nearly nothing for large stretches of time. I’m also trying to pick back up daily (ish) writing practices, and creating and sharing on occasion (hello).

I’m trying to stop and listen when I feel the anxious feeling in my chest, not always dive headfirst into action, into “I’ll let myself rest when…”, continuing to burn burn burn until I feel like a husk.

If I don’t burn anxiety as fuel, what makes the engine run?

This I don’t know, but maybe some writing and creative practice will help explore it.

One Reply to “Anxiety is not a clean burning fuel”

  1. You write beautifully! I can hear the meditative silences in between your words – the ones that help transmute everyday experiences into something approaching insight. Its great!

    I hope you are well.

    –Jim

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