Anxiety and Motorcycle Racing

Most therapists who treat anxiety disorders realize that part of the dynamic of anxiety is that clients becomes anxious about being anxious, and this sends them into a negative spiral further complicating the disorder. They feel a victim of their anxiety and that it has no positive attributes. The challenge for therapists is to find a way to depathologize this and to reframe anxiety as a neutral or even a positive event. One possibility is to develop the belief that an anxiety reaction is a signal that their body is being overly challenged or overwhelmed by stress. I had a friend who raced motorcycles and talked about the strategy he used to win races. He said you never figure how fast you can go around a curve on a racetrack, until you spill. Maybe you can go 70 miles an hour with no problem, but if at 72 miles an hour, you crash, then that is probably the best you can do, at least for the moment. So sometimes we never know how much responsibility, stress, or worry we can take on until we crash. Our mind can tell us that we can do more (especially if we are Type A personality), but if our body has an anxiety reaction, it is telling us, “No, we can’t go that far.” The wisdom of the body, therefore supersedes the brain telling us to do more. The anxiety forces us to pay attention and slow down or stop. So, an anxiety reaction is a good thing, if we pay attention to it. Mark was an accountant for large corporation and was responsible for producing voluminous reports that supposedly were needed by management in order to make financial decisions. He soon realized that many of the reports went unread, and yet he was being asked to do more of these reports in addition to his constantly increasing responsibilities. He came to therapy after having a breakdown at work during which he became nervous, short of breath, could not concentrate or focus, and broke out in a cold sweat. Mark’s employer sent him to the ER and insisted that he get checked out medically, which he did. The doctor diagnosed him with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In therapy, I suggested to Mark that he had taken on more than he could handle. At first, he did not believe this was possible. “I have to do my job, or I will get fired. The company asked me to do this and so I have no choice.” I could see that in his mind there was no way for him to set a limit or create a boundary. I asked if he ever refused to do a report or task. “Oh, gosh, no. I couldn’t do that.” I told him his body was telling him he had reached his limit, and that he could risk further health complications if he did not listen to it. I urged Mark to tell his supervisor this, and we discussed a way for him to negotiate a lighter work load. Interestingly, his supervisor had no idea the scope of the Mark’s workload. They were able to sit down together, eliminate some reports, and develop communication between them that would signal to the supervisor that Mark was being overworked. He had obviously crashed and now he was beginning to see his anxiety as a friendly warning to slow down.