134: The Experience Of Being Human: A Closer Look At Anxiety
Anxiety is simply being human. It is typically more present in the build-up to the event rather than in the event itself. In this episode, Thane Marcus Ringler helps us regain realization that being anxious is a very natural feeling for humans. Giving you a taste of his own anxieties, he shares some examples where he has overcome his anxiety and found inklings of hope. He also discusses the different elements that impact anxiety and shares some exercises or tools that may allow you to rationalize and conquer your anxieties and fears.
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The Experience Of Being Human: A Closer Look At Anxiety
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Personal Perspectives On Anxiety
I’m going to share a few thoughts from me. I’m excited about getting to share a few thoughts day on a topic that I think is important in today’s day and age and the world that we live in and the things that we experience as human beings. I want to share some thoughts, some of my experiences and some perspective on the topic, this thing called anxiety. That is our topic. What a loaded word and topic in the modern day we live in. I’m going to attempt to broach the subject in a very small way, but I want to put some words to this arena that has been on my mind a lot as of late. My goal is to share a bit of my own experience and some of the things that I’ve been hearing and learning from others with regard to anxiety.
In no way do I claim to know it all or to have the answer or even know what you may be experiencing or going through yourself. I do believe that anxiety and depression, for that matter are both intensely personal as much as they are universal. I believe that some people experience these realities in a much deeper and more challenging way than others. I also believe that every human experience both to some degree or extent at some point in their lives. To put some words around what anxiety is and offensively, the rudimentary definition of anxiety is fear, angst or excessive concern about the future. It can be fueled and often is fueled by past experiences. It is largely future-oriented. To move from the theoretical to the practical, I want to begin by sharing a few stories of times of my life when I experienced anxiety.
One of the most examples for me was in the realm of speaking. When I launched my book back in 2018, I started promoting the speaking I wanted to be doing. After putting in some legwork, God blessed me with my first speaking gig in Kansas City. This was not some major keynote or high-paying development day, rather it was a pro bono, break-out session at a Collegiate Entrepreneurship Conference. I say this to show that it wasn’t something glamorous. There wasn’t any pressure other than the self-inflicted pressure and regardless of what happened, I would still learn and grow from the experience, which is very easy to say now. Yet, I still remember that night not being able to fall asleep very quickly, waking up with my heart racing, feeling like I was walking through a movie instead of real-life and feeling an overall sense of unease and sereneness to the whole day.
I also remember being a jerk to those around me in a day or two leading up to the event as I frantically tried to cram and prepare while simultaneously feeling unprepared and unable to catch up. I felt as if everyone was against me and didn’t understand the pressure I was under. The amazing part of this experience occurred when my breakout session began. I remember being nervous, anxious and high-strung all the way up to the moment before I spoke my first words. The most amazing thing happened when I dove in. All of a sudden, when it was go time and all the build-up was over, I felt myself locked into the moment, experience, opportunity, and all that nervous energy was now used toward communicating information in an engaging and clear way for those who were listening. This whole experience was exhausting, but it was amazing to see the shift that occurred once the event had begun and that experience can often be true with anxiety.
It seems that anxiety is always most present leading up to the event or scenario that is the source of that anxiety, usually with growing intensity up until the moment of the event where scenario taking place. Once the thing itself begins, we are almost instantly relieved to see our pent-up fear and emotion was in reality not nearly as awful as we had anticipated. We are quite prepared for whatever it is we are doing. This is not always the scenario. As my fiancé lovingly pointed out to me, there are many times when people are operating at an 8 or 9 out of 10 on anxiety or stress level throughout the day. Whereas others like myself more so are more often in the 1 to 3 out of 10 range throughout the day. This is a wide spectrum of experience. The point that I want to share is that anxiety is more present in the build-up to the event rather than in the event itself. This idea of experiential versus pervasive anxiety is important. There are so many people that experience pervasive anxiety that is residing with them throughout the day.
Anxiety As A Golfer
This is a massive load to live with. That is not my personal experience. What my personal experience is much more with smaller experiential forms of anxiety. I want to speak from my experience not from someone else’s, but I want to frame it by saying that there are different experiences and just because I’ve experienced it this way, it doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing it in a different way. That is the caveat. The second example that came to mind in speaking to anxiety that I’ve experienced was the common experience faced by anyone who has competed as a golfer. There’s something about that first tee with all the practice and preparation that goes into being tournament ready. The first tee shot has an enormous amount of pent-up energy at play and anxiety can run rampant in those moments.When anxiety begins, we are almost instantly relieved to see our pent-up fear and emotion are not as awful as we had anticipated. Click To Tweet
The one tee shot I’ll never forget was my first international tournament as a professional in South Korea. Not only was it my first event overseas, but it was also the first time traveling that far to compete ever. It was my first time in South Korea, which made it hard to get my bearings on many fronts. Added on top of this was being the first tee time of the event off of number ten in the first round. Not only was I in the first tee time, but I was also the first golfer to hit their tee shot in the group. I was kicking off the entire tournament and I felt like I barely knew what I was doing. As you can imagine, with all the nervous energy, I ended up hitting one of the worst golf shots of my life.
It was a 40-yard block that went so far out of bounds. I knew it was gone the second I hit it. This made me so mad and I was practically fuming when I stepped up to hit my second drive. This disgust with myself led to me birdieing my second ball, scoring of five on the whole, hitting three perfect shots. That was so frustrating and infuriating to me because it’s neurotic how I can go from hitting one of the worst shots of my life to three near-perfect shots for birdie on the second ball. Anxiety can make us behave so counter to what we know to be true about ourselves. It’s true of every single human. Fears can be controlling and the results are never what we wanted.
I knew I had the ability to hit a tee shot. I’ve done it so many times before. I knew that even if I hit a bad tee shot, it could still be in play, but because of the fears that were controlling me at that moment and the pent-up energy that had built up to that point of time, I ended up hitting one of the worst shots of my career. The last example is the greatest battle I’ve personally had with anxiety. That came later that very season in my professional golf career. I was scheduled to play in the Australian Open, which was to be the biggest tournament of my career to date. I had a mini-tour event scheduled a few weeks prior in order to get a competitive warm-up before the big opportunity. Throughout the three-day event, my game was struggling and I wasn’t able to put together any good rounds.
What happened when I was warming up for the last round was an experience that shook me to my core. As I was warming up on the range beforehand, I hit a few wedge shots that were horribly off target. What was even scary to me at that moment was that one went ten yards left of my target and the next one went fifteen yards right of my target. With wedges, these are massive misses for those of you who don’t play golf. These few misses created an immediate surge of fear in my brain. I quickly tried to hit a handful of shots to work those bad ones out of the system. To my horror, this pattern only worsened and the fear I had was now legitimized and growing. This was a case of the yips, which is an involuntary twitching that occurs in a repetitive movement.
It happens a lot in golf and in baseball. Oftentimes in golf, it’s with putting. For me, it was the wedges. With the yips alive and well throughout the round, I ended up posting the highest score of my professional career and solidified a massive well of fear with the biggest tournament of my life just over a week away. That next week, I went to war with my anxiety and felt like I was losing the battle more than gaining any meaningful ground. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more demoralized, depressed, anxious or uncertain about myself than in those moments of a battle that week. It felt like something that I had to face on my own and that no one else understood what I was facing and that there wasn’t a way out of it.
I felt like I should maybe give up, quit, call off the tournament, and forfeit playing so I didn’t have to come to grips with my embarrassing and frightening reality. This type of anxiety is often all consuming and it was for me that week. Every moment of every day was filled with musings on the woeful state of affairs I was in. It seemed like it would never go away. It would never leave. It would not be present in some way. Fast forward a week to the tournament, I was able to get some semblance of confidence back even though it was a shaky confidence as you can have. I ended up competing for the most part. I still did not play well enough to make the cut and I ended my overseas bid that year with more miscuts than I wanted to admit.
This wasn’t some fairy tale story where I was able to conquer the anxiety and come out on top. This was a story where the anxiety got the best of me and my game, limiting my ability and keeping me from what I truly wanted. The story didn’t end there either. It continued and persisted in the back of my mind throughout the next year until an injury sideline my career and replaced those fears with new ones. The point that I want to make is this. Overcoming anxieties and fears that we face especially deep-rooted, deep-seated, well-established fears. Overcoming those does not happen overnight and is always a longer journey than we’d like. With that being said, there has to be an inkling of hope. There has to be some semblance of belief that growth is possible. Even if that faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, that faith is all you need.
Elements That Fuel Anxiety
I share these examples to give you a taste of where I’ve experienced anxiety and what my process has been. It will undoubtedly look much different for you than for me. I want to give you some context of where I am speaking from. A background with some experience of anxiety but not near the experience that many of you may have. From the three examples I shared, there are three different elements I believe play a large role in fueling the anxiety we experience. In the first example, it was the anticipation of a looming event that I cared deeply about. When there is something that is important to us and we spent either a long time avoiding it or building up in preparation for it, we will inevitably experience some level of anxiety from the fact that we spent so much mental energy in thinking through every aspect or component of that moment. Our minds can create the most spectacular movie scripts in these occasions and they are driven by fear in unhelpful ways.Fears can be controlling, and the results are never what we wanted. Click To Tweet
In the second example, it shows that set and setting our major fuels of anxiety. When we are in a new setting that we have never experienced before or in a new role that we’ve never done before, we are much more prone to nervous energy and anxiety about what may come in the future unknown. There’s so much comfort in the familiar in what we know that just by being in an unfamiliar environment or place will often cause us to be much more prone to heightened anxiety during those moments. Finally, the last example goes to show that traumatic events where we experienced pain, hurt, emotional letdown, failure or rejection. Those events are often implanted and entrenched in our minds in such a deep way that we can’t help but continue stoking the flame of that fear even if it was an abnormal experience as with my yips.
The short-term memory of my horrible shot superseded all the other memories of the good wedge shots I’ve hit and that one memory continued to dominate my thoughts as it was fueled greater and greater by the fear that magnified it and fueled the anxiety I faced around them. Anticipation, set and setting, and past failures or traumas, these three are major factors in the levels of anxiety that we experience or face. Being aware of them is such a helpful tool. The question that always remains is what to do? What can we do? There are three suggestions I want to end with. These three ideas are informed largely by thinking through the situations I spoke on conversations with others about their experiences and the sermon series by Judah Smith on anxiety. It was a six-part series that is definitely worth listening to.
The three most helpful suggestions I’ve heard, experienced or thought about myself are first, community matters most. As humans, we are relational beings. We are created to be in relationship with one another, in a relationship with God. Without relationships, without community, when in isolation by ourselves, we are subject to our fears in much greater capacity and lengths than with others. We cannot gain objectivity on our own. We need others to help us see clearly. With anxiety, we often can’t see very clearly because it clouds our vision. Without the help and support of a trusted friend or a few others that you rope to what you’re experiencing, the journey will be much harder.
Community is important and having one person, it doesn’t matter who it is, having one is enough oftentimes to be able to support you, to love you, to journey with you in facing this. These things are darkness. This darkness gained so much strength by remaining in the dark, by remaining isolated and it leads to us isolating ourselves. We have to fight against it by embracing and involving the community. Judah highlights this a lot in the sermon series and it’s valuable and important. It’s important to know that you are not alone. You are a part of this human experience with the rest of us. You are a fellow human being on this journey called life. We need the help of each other, no matter what it is.
The second suggestion is that there are tools that can serve as a help regardless of how big or small the progress feels. Oftentimes, we feel like we cannot gain any ground over something like anxiety. It feels like there’s nothing that will help. There’s nothing that will counteract the crippling effect that it has on our lives. Yet there are tools that we can practice, that we can use to gain ground, whether it be an inch, a centimeter, a millimeter, a foot or maybe a yard. These are tools that I’ve seen benefit myself and I know they can help and provide benefit to others.
The first tool is priming. Priming is the concept of setting your mindset, preparing your mind and your thoughts before something occurs. On a simple relational level, if I’m going to hang out with someone, I went to prime myself beforehand by reminding myself that this time is for the other person and I want to love and care for them and not be distracted by other things that are going on my mind. This little bit of a reminder is a primer for me before those relational times. Similarly, when we know that there are situations or times when we experience anxiety, priming ourselves to expect, understand or know that what we’ll feel in those moments doesn’t define who we are and know that if it’s expected, it affects us less. We can prime ourselves by reminding ourselves of what know to be true and preparing ourselves mentally for whatever is to come, even reminding ourselves that it too will pass.
Another tool is reframing. Reframing is changing our perspective on a thing. I’m standing here at my desk and I’m looking into the computer and the microphone on the wall. If I turn around and see the other part of the room, it’s a completely different room. Did the room change? No, but my view of the room changed. In every situation, we can see something from two different perspectives, at least if not more. Reframing is putting whatever the situation is in a more helpful perspective than hurtful perspective. This often takes practice. We often have to train ourselves to do it, but as possible, it’s always possible to see something with a different lens also where the community helps with that. Oftentimes, the community is the fuel for helping us reframe something that may be hard for us to see differently.
Another tool is fear setting. This is one of the most helpful ones in my opinion. This is basically a practice where we play out whatever scenario it is that is causing us fear, anxiety or nervous energy. Maybe it’s a job interview, it’s a speaking event, it’s your first date with someone, who knows? Fill in the blank. Fear setting is, “I’ve got this job interview and I’m extremely nervous. I’m anxious about it. It’s affecting my sleep, my day. I don’t know what to do.” Fear setting is a great tool because it says, “Let’s stop. We’re facing this fear. Let’s hash it out.” What is the worst-case scenario?The community is the fuel for helping us reframe something that may be hard for us to see differently. Click To Tweet
You go to the job interview, your fly is unzipped, your shirt gets a coffee stain on it, you’re disheveled, you show up fifteen minutes late, you forget an important document. They end up you have to wait in the waiting room for an extra hour. You’re running behind schedule and your next appointment is now out of the window. You get in there and you fudge up everything and it’s a horrible interview, then you walk out. It was the worst possible scenario and then what? By putting yourself in that worst possible scenario, playing it out to the end, we all begin to realize that I’m still breathing, I’m still alive, I still have my friends and family loved me, I still have food, I still have shelter. Whatever it is, there are things that are essential to life that will still be in place even if the worst-case scenario happens. That fear setting exercise is so helpful to help us realize that your rational fears that we often have.
Some other practical tools are breathwork. Breathing is such an important part of regulating our body with anxiety, with nervousness, with any type of fear. Our breath becomes limited or restricted. Claustrophobia is due internally, physiologically, to heighten CO2 levels in our body. CO2 heightens when oxygen decreases. Whenever you’re feeling claustrophobic, everyone says breathe because breathing helps to regulate our physiology so that we don’t experience as much anxiety or nervousness or that feeling that you get when you’re claustrophobic.
Breathwork is important. Remembering to breathe slow and steady, deep breaths through the nose, out the mouth is a helpful tool. Another great tool that simple as meditation. Dr. Joe Dispenza talks a lot about in his book, which I mention a bit. Meditation helps quiet that monkey mind that brain that will never stop moving. We often are bad at doing it, meditating at first. With practice, we slowly but surely improve and get better. Meditation is a practice that’s worthwhile. It’s worthy over time and it won’t happen by chance, we have to make time to make it happen. Early on, it will feel like it’s not doing anything. After committing to it for a period of time, it will pay dividends.
Finally, gratitude. Gratitude is the easiest and most potent tool that we can use in fighting anxiety or other challenges we face. Gratitude is simply saying these are the things I’m grateful for. I’m grateful to be alive. I journaled about what I was grateful for and I wasn’t planning on talking about this but here we are. I said I’m grateful for my health and my strength getting to work out. I’m grateful for the sweetest gift in my bride, for the season of life that I’m in, for the anchor of my soul, which is Jesus. I’m so grateful for the adventure that awaits ahead. Those were five simple things that I journaled this morning. A daily morning practice of journaling a few things that you’re grateful for completely shifts our perspective.
It returns us to a place of acceptance and it’s such a useful and easy tool to use. The shortlist of tools that I mentioned were priming, reframing, fear setting, breathwork breathing, meditation, and gratitude. The three most helpful suggestions are one that community matters most. Two that there are tools that we can use to help regardless of how big or small that progress is. Three, the fact that anxiety never defines you no matter how much it may feel like it at times. You are not anxiety, you are you. Just like I am not a speaker, podcast host or ex-pro athlete, whatever it is. I am a human being. My name is Thane. That’s it. We are not identified or defined by what we experience.
Many times, it may feel like you were defined by what you experience and that you are anxious, as we often say. When we say I have anxiety, we start associating ourselves with that thing. We start identifying ourselves with the thing that we say we have. In a more helpful way of saying that I experience anxiety because it is an experience and it’s a very real one, but it never defines you and our language matters so much with that. For us to own and embrace that we are not defined by our anxiety, depression, or whatever else we experience, we have to shift our language to represent that so that our minds can also follow. Committing to the belief in the fact that you are not defined by your anxiety is such an important pillar, it’s such an important foundation to operate off of.
Finally, there are also a few books that I would recommend as resources that may be beneficial and better understanding our minds and our bodies as well as our nervous system and how the body is reacting physiologically with anxiety and other things that we experience. There are six books in all. and these are some that I’ve read. I’m sure there are many other resources out there and you can always send us an email or tag us online if you have some helpful ones. We’d love to share that as well. Body-specific, physiologically speaking, the two books I’d suggest are one, You Are The Placebo by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It’s such an important book on the power of belief in healing the body. He goes to show through many scientific studies, examples and cases that he’s experienced and hadn’t of how powerful our mindset is in shifting and changing our physiology. It will blow your mind. It blew mine.
The second body-specific one to better understand stress is called The End of Stress As We Know It by Bruce McEwen. This was a great book on getting down to the nitty-gritty of what’s happening physiologically when we experienced stress and what it produces within our body. It’s such a helpful book and getting a better clear understanding of how our bodies operate and work so that we can know what we’re experiencing and help shift or change what we’re experiencing.
On the philosophy or psychology side, there are two books I’d recommend. The first one is To Have or To Be by Erick Fromm. This is written in the ’70s I believe. Erich Fromm is a German psychoanalyst. It’s an amazing book and discourse that my grandpa, Peter Pike, recommended on the difference between this mindset around having versus being in America and in the Western world. We’ve associated ourselves with what we have instead of what we are as humans. This is a great book expanding on that thought in a way that we can clearly, understand and see that the detriment that’s caused by associating who we are with what we have. It’s an awesome book. The second one on the psychology or philosophy side is called Awareness by Anthony de Mello. I finished this one and it is a game-changer. Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest and he breaks down what true awareness is and the power that it brings. It’s called Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. It’s truly that. I can’t recommend this book enough. He hammers it home in such beautiful, eloquent ways. Check that one out.
On the sports-specific side, because that’s more my background, there are two that I would recommend. One is called the Mindful Athlete by George Mumford. This is all about the practice and power of presence within the competition and how we can amplify our ability by becoming a very mindful and present person and competitor. It’s such a great book and helpful for my own sports career. The second one that I recommend is called The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. This book is so powerful in breaking down and illustrating the inner dialogue that happens on the mental side of competing. It’s illustrated from the game of tennis, but it applies to all sports and even business and life outside of sport. It talks about our self-talk as between two different inner selves. The key to performance is creating a healthy dialogue between those two selves. I can’t recommend it enough either.
I hope and pray that these suggestions or some of the stories I shared might strike a chord with where you were at or what you were experiencing. Do I have the answer? No. I’m not sure that I have any answer, to be honest. What I am sure of is this, you are not alone. You are not defined by anxiety and you are not forever bound to anxieties chains. I don’t know how long of a struggle remains, but I know there is always hope and his name is Jesus. He doesn’t promise for it to go away, but he does promise to give us the strength to face whatever comes our way. He also promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us. That is our ultimate hope and I pray it would give you strength even as you listen to this now. Know that you are loved and known by God and by others. This is a journey we can’t travel alone. We need each other. If you were someone who doesn’t face or experience anxiety regularly in your life, maybe this message was for you to hear so that you can be on the lookout for someone who may need an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on because every little thing matters. That is all I have for you. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you have an up and coming week.
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- Mindful Athlete
- The Inner Game of Tennis
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