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My ‘New’ Anxiety Hack Might Help If You Struggle to Start New Things

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New is hard for me. New jobs, new environments, new people, new anything is difficult as someone with anxiety. Whether it was starting my new job at the library, or choreographing for the first time at community theater, new is hard. And I want to be there. These are all things I love, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Often how I “want to feel,” like I’m having fun, doesn’t match up with how I actually feel — incredibly nervous. And that contrast can only add to my tension. I feel like I “should” be enjoying choreographing for the theater. I love dance. But instead, I’m terrified about leading a group of people and teaching them what I came up with. Similarly, it feels like I “should” be enjoying myself as I train at the library. This is where I really wanted to work, but instead, I’m so scared.

For me, these feelings of unease don’t go away after one of two times of being in that new situation. It can take weeks, even months to feel comfortable and like I can enjoy myself. And this length of time to adjust can make it unappealing to start something new. After all, I’ll have to be uncomfortable for a while first.

Yes, I’ve learned in therapy to look at what is the values-based decision. I compare, rather than just listening to what anxiety wants, what do my values want? If I always listened to anxiety, I would never leave my house. Still, it can feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders when I’m first approaching something new. That unease can feel unending.

So, here’s how I approach it. I set a limit. I give myself a number of times I will try the new thing. Often I use the number 10, whether it’s tutoring a new student 10 times or teaching 10 dance classes, or some other metric. You can set your own goal. But then I make a deal with myself. I will do the scary, new thing 10 or however many times. I cannot quit before then. If, after 10 times, I am still not enjoying it, then I can make other plans and drop the obligation, if possible.

Usually though, after 10 times, several weeks have passed and so has the discomfort. I have found my swing of things. But if I didn’t, I still have this way out. This both forces me to stick it out a little longer than anxiety wants and see if I will become comfortable, and also takes off the pressure of having to do this new activity for the foreseeable future. That, in itself, helps me adjust more quickly.

I only implemented this plan within the past few months, so I haven’t had a time yet when it “failed,” or I quit early. So far, I’ve continued with everything new as it became old hat. I hope this method works for you too.

Photo by René Porter on Unsplash

Originally published: October 29, 2021
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