Harnessing Anxiety For Success

Hand pointing at a Anxiety word illustration on blue background.
Chloe Carmichael 2020

While often we talk about stress and anxiety in a negative way, Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D. says it can be harnessed for good to live a more balanced and meaningful life. In her newly released book, “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety” (St. Martin’s Essentials, March 23, 2021, $26.99), she outlines nine anxiety tools designed to alleviate worry, redirect focus and stay anchored in truth as a way to successfully navigate through life.

Carmichael is a NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist who has a master’s degree and Ph.D. in clinical psychology and earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in psychology from Columbia University in New York. She entered the field of psychology after years of working as a yoga instructor to stressed-out New Yorkers who were looking for more than literal balance, but mental balance in their daily lives too.

Carmichael, who is known to her audience as Dr. Chloe, says after years of helping high-functioning, highly successful people in therapy, she pinpointed that there was something about the anxiety within them that was also helping them become so successful. She describes this as “nervous energy” in her book and outlines nine anxiety tools that can help capitalize on that energy and use it for its healthy purpose, which is, to stimulate positive actions.

She shares an excerpt of one of the chapters in her book.

From Nervous Energy by Dr. Chloe Carmichael. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Part II: The Techniques

Worry Time

DIY: Put Worry Time to Work in Your Life! 

This one is super simple! But it can be deceptively simple. The trick is to make sure you actually block the time in your calendar, enter every worry item into your list as soon as it starts gnawing at you, and dutifully arrive ready to worry at your appointed time (or at least reschedule it if something urgent interrupts your worry plans).

Decide how much time you need to worry. Every situation is different, but common choices for clients in my practice range from ten minutes per day to a single sixty-minute session per week. Kate went far above this amount, but she had a very practical reason for this. The point is just to assess the overall quantity and importance of your worry material and then reverse-engineer how much time makes sense for you to spend on it.

Plan the time into your calendar. This step is crucial! If you’re really someone who loses time and energy to “wheel spinning” worry, then take this opportunity for change. Please don’t say to yourself, “I can ballpark this—I need to spend about fifteen minutes per day, so I’ll just aim for that and trust it will pan out.” The whole reason that Worry Time works is that the part of your brain that needs confirmation and detail will not rest till it knows that for certain there is a specific time that is totally dedicated to uninterrupted worrying about whatever material tends to get stuck on your mind. At the very least, try it for a week and see how you feel!

Build your worry agenda. Throughout the week, add to your agenda of worry-worthy items whenever you feel the need. No item is too big or too small. (If an item truly requires urgent attention, then of course you should address it as soon as possible rather than postponing it till Worry Time.) Don’t get stuck trying to evaluate whether or not something is worthwhile; if it’s on your mind, just deposit it onto the worry list and be done with it till Worry Time!

Sit down and worry. I mean it—sit down at your appointed time with a pen and paper, and write/think/research about your worries. If you discover you really need more time to explore a particular topic, add more time for that issue into your calendar at the end of your session. But oftentimes, clients find that the simple act of sitting down to review whatever random issues have popped into their minds and onto their worry lists throughout the week seem quite manageable at best (and maybe a little silly at worst—which is actually good news, too, if you think about it) when they actually focus on those issues in a rational, focused state of mind. This step can also pave the way for increases in mindfulness and metacognition: for example, reviewing your list in aggregate may guide you to notice that your worries all tend to cluster around certain themes or occur in certain patterns.


What if there are problems I can’t solve?

Let me reframe this as a helpful insight: congratulations to you for getting clarity about this rather than engaging in Sisyphean worry about problems you cannot solve. Please see the Zone of Control technique! You are better off focusing your energy on problems you can solve than problems you cannot solve. If there are worries that you cannot solve but which must be solved, it is still an accomplishment that you’ve realized the need for help. Talk your situation over with trusted friends, family, or professionals to see if you can get some support solving the problem.

What if my worries seem silly when I actually review the list during my Worry Time?

That would be great news! Enjoy a good self-compassionate chuckle as you thank yourself for using the Worry Time technique instead of spinning your wheels on those “nonissues” at the moment when they initially seemed like such a big deal. For extra points, practice mindfulness to see if you can figure out why they seemed like such a big deal at the time. Were you under stress? Were you talking to someone who makes you feel insecure? Don’t force yourself to worry about the “why factor” too much, though; it’s fine to just have a good chuckle and move forward!

What if it’s hard to redirect my attention away from the worry once I’ve written it into my worry list?—like, if I still keep thinking about it.

You can either try the Mental Shortlist technique or see the very next item in this troubleshooting list.

What if I have a genuine “worry emergency” that can’t wait until my next scheduled Worry Time?

Good awareness on your part! Worry Time helps you put boundaries around worries that are mere “mental chatter” draining your moment-to-moment energy. If you have an awareness that one of your worries is not in this category but is a legitimate issue that needs your immediate attention, then please—by all means go ahead and focus on it right away!

From Nervous Energy by Dr. Chloe Carmichael. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. To purchase  “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety” visit: www.nervousenergybook.com

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