I’ve been finding it helpful to think of anxiety and excitement as the same thing. They are both in anticipation of something, and they both make you feel a bit jittery or sick. Having an anxiety disorder, or any extreme manifestation of it is a different beast; but day to day excitement and anxiety feel physically the same as each other right?
is it simply the meaning we attach to these feelings, that determines whether they are negative or positive?
When I’ve started feeling nervous about doing something, for example an interview, I think ‘could I re-label this as excitement?’, and whilst my heart will still be racing, instead of an impending sense of doom, I feel a little smile.
Taking drugs or going on a night out involves a whole cycle of anxiety and thrills to bounce between. You know when you get into the cubicle toilets, and look in the mirror and think, ‘am I even enjoying myself?! I just feel pretty fucking frazzled and sketchy… I could have been at home eating a sandwich from the safety and comfort of my bed’ … Why would we put ourselves through all of that again the next weekend: because it’s the buzz that makes us feel alive.
And this is the same feeling that chasing your dreams gives you. Or doing something because you feel you should, even though it scares you. Small brave acts, little gambles, give you these rushes. It doesn’t have to be something grand like quitting your job, it can just be asking the homeless dude if there’s anything he would like from the shop, being more honest with your manager, trying something different in bed. If we view anxiety and excitement as often interchangeable; things that seem scary become more achievable. Instead of running from the thing that brings up feelings of fear, we can go towards it, because perhaps it’s just excitement welling up in us. And if we have more of this in our life, we have less need for substances.
Even the things we think are amazing, meeting your heroes, a dream job, festivals, are just a mix of positive and negative rushes. Best to do away with seeking ‘good’ feelings all the time, and simply seek ‘alive’ feelings. (And ones that don’t give you hangovers or withdrawal).
You might be thinking that you’re anxious as hell and certainly do not need any more of it, and that maybe getting smashed or overeating is your way of numbing everything. Our environment now has a lot of mild background stress; traffic, the news, deadlines (nature is helpful for counteracting this), but maybe there is something deeper that you need to address. I’ve suffered from anxiety in the past and spent a lot of time and money trying to sort it, but actually there were just some serious changes I needed to make in my life.
Our prehistoric ancestors would have been hunting large prey, climbing trees to get honey, wandering into previously unseen and potentially dangerous areas. Even sleeping in a tent can feel pretty risky if it’s windy. We now don’t have the option to be running around avoiding tigers, but if we took more small risks, might we take less substances?
Exhilaration is what we crave. Which is one of the reasons being in nature is so beneficial; staring into the horizon from the top of a hill or dodging through trees in a forest is exhilarating. Looking at the front of a tescos is not.
See nervousness and excitement as the same thing, where appropriate, and you might notice that you can be a lot braver than you thought you were. And all of this in turn might lessen your need to cram yourself with substances at the weekend or food and booze in the evenings.
Then if you want to get trashed every now and then, in the name of ‘fulfilling your evolutionary need for thrills’, I support you.