Is anxiety an attribute?

I’ve always had anxiety. I would always worry what would happen next, what if, what do I do when x happens? These questions were always running through my mind and I hated it.

I was listening to a podcast, I believe it was Tim Ferriss, and he was saying how anxiety is about dwelling on the future and depression is dwelling on the past. I had never really thought about it that way. Of course, those are just the definitions, but I had never stopped to think about what the word anxiety meant.

I started to realized that anxiety was a result of thinking too much. When you think too much, you’re bound to run into “what if” scenarios that cause you anxiety. But I see this anxiety as a benefit.

Long-term thinking and creating plans

My family had money growing up, but as I got older, I realized we were starting to skirt by. I’m sure my parents didn’t want to break the illusion of a happy, upper-middle class life for my sister and I, but I wish they had slowed their spending down. I never wanted for anything, but I really never asked for much. My friends would go out to eat, and I would snack before because I didn’t want to spend the $20 my parents gave me to go out. Instead, I would save that $20 for another time.

Long story short, I found out later on that my parents had no savings or retirement. They lived in the present and did not save for the future. Their home is not paid off, and bills keep coming in. After moving out, I get the occasional call to help out here and there. I know I don’t want this future for myself.

My anxiety about money at a young age has followed me until now, and I don’t think it will ever go away. I forgo many things like eating out, going to movies, having a car, upgrading my laptop, buying snacks at the grocery store. I see every dollar I spend as money that isn’t going to be around for the future.

There is a good and bad side to this money anxiety. The bad is that I am frugal to the point of being cheap. I may want to order sweet tea at a restaurant, but I will just ask for water instead. The good is that I see things and possessions as unnecessary beyond the basic needs like a bed, a few outfits, shoes, etc. I don’t go shopping, I don’t remember the last time I bought a piece of clothing. I am able to forgo many things and not indulge myself, I almost never “splurge” on something. I am happy with a simple lifestyle because I know it will ease my anxious mind. My partner and I plan to build or buy a tiny house in the future which will cost less than the down payment for a typical home.

Because of my worry about having money, I was able to create a plan for now and the future that has actually cured much of my anxiety. This anxiety pushed me to think hard about what is essential for my future (a simple, stress-free life) and how to achieve it.

Think about the hard things

I’m not sure if all anxious people think about this, but I sure do. What if the worst case scenario happened? What if I lost my job? What if I had to move back home? What if I got sick?

Anxiety forces me to think about these hard questions, because they are constantly running through my mind until they are resolved.

I have to confront my fears for days and weeks until the event happens, and usually once it’s over, I look back and realize it was never as bad as the worst case scenarios I had created for myself.

One of my biggest fears (as it is for many people) is public speaking. No matter how many presentations I had to give in school they always terrified me. My voice quivers when I talk in front of a crowd, and knowing this I always imagined people hearing it and laughing or saying something mean. But nobody ever did. I’m sure a few people realized it was happening, but nobody ever made it a big deal.

Since I was anxious about it, I would do my best to practice and practice to ensure I was getting everything right and would remember my lines. Of course, once it was my turn to speak I forgot everything and had to read my notes, but never did anything bad happen like I had anticipated for weeks beforehand.

The detriments of anxiety

Anxiety helps me think through fears I have about the future, helps me prepare for it, and forces me to create plans and backup plans, but there are downsides.

One issue, like I mentioned before, is that I stress out about an event (like a presentation) the moment I find out about it. This causes me to only think of this issue until it finally happens. There will be times I forget about it, but then the thoughts come racing back and I have to constantly think about this future endeavor.

Another problem is that for a worry that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, and if I don’t have a plan, it can cause me stress from time to time. It will just be a recurring thought that comes into my mind, forever reappearing until it is resolved.

Because I can’t get rid of my anxiety, I created these benefits to make it not so bad. I do see some upsides to it, given all the downsides that come with worrying about the unknown. Would I get rid of my anxiety? No. I think my confidence in my future plans and my ability to think long term is due to overthinking. If I didn’t have this nagging train of thought going through my mind, I would never confront my future and would try to remain in the present as often as possible.

I see many people that are stuck in the present or past, unable to tackle their future head on. They put off thinking about next week, next month, or 10 years from now. They just worry about right now and what will happen today, or possibly tomorrow. There are problems with this way of thinking and I think we could all use a little dose of anxiety every now and then.