Over a decade ago, Yale researchers discovered that there is a gene mutation for chronic worrying. The irony being that if you’re a worrier, you may as well not fret about it because it’s in your DNA – but, being who you are, you will do anyway.
Those who fall into this camp may recognise what California-based psychologist Dr. Kelly Vincent terms as an “anxious achiever” within themselves. In a new post on Instagram this week, Dr. Vincent, founder of the Nourished Wellness Group, sums up the common daily thoughts of an anxious achiever. And her perceptive diagram will be instantly recognisable for anyone who’s been stuck in a cycle of worrying and “doing”.
As Dr. Vincent points out in the caption, we may also sell ourselves the toxic, but ever-so familiar, myth that “if I get it all done THEN I’ll be able to relax”.
The obvious problem with this mindset, Dr. Vincent explains, is that, “it never gets ALL done. Life is full of tasks, obligations and to-dos”. And trying to keep pace with this never-ending list means that we “deprioritize rest/recalibration/stillness. We just don’t have time for those things”.
“As a result, the nervous system is constantly activated, which leads to feelings of overwhelm, depletion, fatigue, and exhaustion,” Dr. Vincent writes.
Of course, many of us have long felt the pressure of “doing” rather than “being”. But that struggle is especially intense right now, at a time when the World Health Organisation is reporting a staggering 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.
From the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to a cost of living crisis and the aftereffects of Covid, it’s unsurprising that many of us are feeling on edge at the moment. This backdrop makes the anxious achiever side of us even more pent up; and more convinced that we’ll feel better by constantly churning through tasks (while simultaneously berating ourselves for not managing that feat).
The outcome of this attitude, of course, is quite the opposite. Instead of getting more things done and feeling better, we merely feed the anxiety to get more things done. And in doing so, we push ourselves to the point of exhaustion and burnout (a condition that is already booming, thanks to the prolonged stress of Covid).
Dr. Vincent explains that the way to counteract this anxious thought cycle is first by developing awareness of it. “The key is to begin to notice these tendencies, these thoughts, these emotions, and these behaviors,” she writes. “Take a step back and recognize the habitual patterns.”
By carving out this kind of objective distance from your thoughts, you stand a better chance of catching and even challenging them as they arise.
Dr. Vincent also recommends developing “micro-stillness practices” as an antidote to the anxious achiever. For example, habits such as slow breathing, a walk in nature or some simple yoga exercises can all encourage the mind to stop racing and just be.