Pit Bulls, Bosses, and Anxiety

I once was speaking at a small event in the Heathrow area and had to excuse myself mid-presentation. I stopped talking, thought to myself that I felt like throwing up, held my hand over my mouth, paused as I figured out what was happening inside of me, then said out loud to the audience “I’m going to throw up,” and walked off stage to find the nearest loo. That for real happened. I wished it didn’t, but it did. I have a few friends that covered for me who can verify the unfortunate event. I did throw up and fifteen minutes later came back to finish my talk. When I returned to the stage, I quoted Proverbs 26:11 "As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” as an icebreaker to the awkward incident.

I’ve had this issue with my stomach for years. For some reason, my stomach goes into knots when I’m in new places. It’s like my body hates not knowing what is going on. There is some control freak dilemma happening most likely. The trouble is I like exploring new cities. I love traveling, but this stupid stomach thing always causes problems. It’s happened so many times I started to keep track on an Evernote doc of what I’ve eaten to find any correlations between meals. Nothing was connecting. I had a recent breakthrough on the problem after reading something about the gut being the second brain. I thought maybe this issue isn’t about the food as much as it has to do with my mental status. Perhaps there is some mild anxiety I get being in unfamiliar places. I was introduced to a technique that has been helpful with my gut, but I believe it can also be beneficial for proposing that new idea to your boss. Let me explain. 

In "Rewire Your Anxious Brain” the authors talk about the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is the response your body feels when a legitimate threat is apparent. It's healthy and natural to feel fear when you are in danger. Anxiety is feeling threatened when there is no genuine danger. Fear and anxiety trigger the same parts of the brain. People experiencing anxiety are not overacting. Their body is feeling the full ramifications of being under attack.

So how do you combat anxiety? How do you retrain your body to react as if it’s not in danger? Exposure therapy is the answer. You have to give your body small doses of whatever the threat is to train your body not to panic. 

Let’s imagine you are terrified of dogs and whenever you are around a barking dog you have a mild panic attack. You can’t just mentally trick your brain not to get scared. An exposure therapist would first bring you to a large open space with a small fluffy non-threatening dog. Then after a while, you would learn to pet that fluffy dog in a smaller area. You would continue to grow fonder of dogs by walking the dog down the street. In time you'd introduce that small dog to a more prominent dog. Through each of these little interactions, you are allowing your body to retrained itself that dogs are not inherently animals to be feared. 

Now, what if instead of the crawl, walk, and run strategy with the small fluffy dog you just got thrown into a cage with a giant pit bull. You think that would work? You believe that fear of dogs would melt away in the cage? No way! That experience would most likely make the anxiety worst. 

I think most of us, people who love technology and the church, tend to embrace the latter technique and throw our leadership into a cage with a pit bull.  We need to adopt the exposure therapy tactic. Instead of pitching that all local events need to be canceled and offered exclusively on AltspaceVR begin with a simple technology crawl step. 

By the way, when they say no to your big anxiety filled vision, and they will, you'll get demotivated and fussy about not feeling empowered. Let's be smarter, not grandeur. Less youthfulness and more wisdom. Think small fluffy dog. Build trust with your leadership over time. Let them see small wins and work yourself up to that grander vision, but less anxiety will be occurring when you make that pitch. No need to cause your leadership to hurl their guts up.

Having TUMS handy is a practical backup plan too.