Four hours ago I felt jittery, a bit anxious, like I wanted to hunker down, do nothing except eat an enormous bag of peanut M&Ms. Now I am sitting here with some cool running bling, feeling like I could take on the world and envelope its global population in a sweaty post-run hug.
I can’t say what in particular made me feel triggered, perhaps I am a little tired or stressed. But I do know that when I feel this way, I want to shut myself off.
I nearly talked myself out of doing my first ever nighttime 10k running race because of this bubbling anxiety. The temptation not to go was almost overwhelming. Fear does this, it’s an unpleasant emotion caused by physical or emotional threats real or perceived.
This worry manifested itself in visions of getting lost in the woods on my own (on Halloween, I might add) or that all my running mates would collectively ignore me (fear is goddamn irrational and brings out our own inner demons).
What I’ve learnt is that I can choose how I respond. I can do what it wants – that is to shut down – or I can give it the finger.
I have learnt that ‘shutting off’ is counterproductive because there’s nowhere for that anxious energy to go. I know I will regret talking myself out of doing things and probably chastise myself. Who needs enemies when you are your own worst one sometimes?
Have you read the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway? It’s a seminal book written by Susan Jeffers that was first published in 1987 and remains completely relevant today. It provides tools and tips to help readers strike out and shake off apprehensions.
Susan talks about ‘five truths about fear’. One states that ‘the only way to feel better about yourself is to go out… and do it!’ She says: “With each little step you take… a pattern of strength develops. You feel stronger and stronger and stronger.”
That’s what I did tonight. I felt the fear and did it anyway, one step at a time.
OK, this may have meant sitting in my car when I arrived worrying for a few minutes and then collecting myself, but I went. If it means a little time to gather yourself, so be it.
I listened to my rational, calm voice reminding me that this would be good fun, a new experience and my running buddies, one of which was organising the event, are lovely and fun and warm (they really are).
I heeded Susan’s advice. I took little steps. I stepped out my car, got to the start line, chatted with friends and as the race started, I took more steps, covered more ground, more miles, and felt stronger and stronger and stronger.
The event was beautifully organised: Runners’ headlights strung out like a twinkly ribbon of lights beneath a velvet-black sky. The warm October air was filled with chatter, laughs, words of encouragement and the occasion whoop. I ran with lovely friends and a woman I’ve never met before and we talked loads. There was no way I could’ve got lost unless I was exceptionally stupid.
My anxiety evaporated and was replaced by a warm fuzzy glow of happiness (except up those hills). This would never have happened had I succumbed to my feelings earlier tonight.
Sometimes all it takes is feeling it… and doing it anyway. One step at a time.
(PS: Couldn’t resist the temptation of the peanut M&Ms afterwards though!)