"I'm Codependent and Damn Proud of It!"
The Serenity Prayer

Anxiety: How to Work Yourself Into a Panic in the Absence of Any Real Threats

Note: This is Topic # 4  in a 10- part series called The Fine Art of Misery.

*On a serious note: Please know that this series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we sometimes create our own misery. It is by no means meant to be disrespectful or minimizing of many people's true pain, particularly around depression and anxiety.


Anxiety Color Illus Man Very Anxious
OK, first, look around you and assess the situation. Granted, your belly is full, you have a roof over your head, your bills are reasonably paid up, and you can call a person or two a friend.  You have a few bucks in your pocket. You can inhale and exhale with some degree of ease and you have access to at least the majority of your five senses. Do not be lulled into a sense of complacency! You can still create a crisis out of this seemingly secure situation. 

A creative imagination here is helpful. Since there is nothing major happening in your current reality that warrants freaking out, you will need to borrow some material from your past and also from your future.

Anxiety Borrowed From Your Past

Let's take a look at your past and see if you can recycle some old traumas and stresses. Let's start small.  Recall the way someone looked at you funny. If you think about it, it was actually a pretty critical look and they were probably judging you about something. That's a good reason to get upset, maybe create some after the fact indignation or better yet, fear that they really don't like you afterall. That would be devastating!

How about some "coulda, woulda, shouldas?" I could have done a better job on that project; now everyone thinks I'm a loser.  I would have made a better impression if she hadn't stolen the spotlight; now I'm just a nobody. I should have known he would react like that; now I'll bet he doesn't trust me.  A variation on this theme is the "if only." If only I had stayed at my old job, I wouldn't be in this mess. If only I had listened to my instincts, I wouldn't be stuck in this relationship. "If onlys" are handy if you want to add a tinge of depression to your anxiety. This makes for a nice touch.

Overwhelmed Finger Hitting Panic Button

Anxiety Borrowed From Your Future

The future is a great place to create some anxiety because you're not constrained by actual events that have already happened. The sky's the limit! Start with some "what ifs." What if I don't get the job? What if my girlfriend  breaks up with me? What if the car breaks down while I'm on the highway at night? What if I ignore this headache and it turns out to be a brain tumor and I die a slow agonizing death, leaving my family destitute and grief stricken?  See how quickly you can go from zero to sixty in a few seconds flat? "What ifs" are the gold standard for creating anxiety out of future thin air.

Anxiety: Go for the Gold!

If you're going for sustained, long term chronic anxiety, you will need to create some foundational negative beliefs and attitudes.  Beliefs like, "Everyone has to like me all the time," "I can't ever make a mistake or let them see me vulnerable," and "I always have to be the best at everything I do," are a good start.

I hope this little installment from The Fine Art of Misery series has been helpful. Stay tuned for the next title,  Finding True Love: Trample Over Those Pesky Red Flags.


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Tom Adams

YES! Borrowing old trauma from the past has always been a sure way to give my nerves a work out. Why is it in our nature to search for something to be anxious about? If life is good, let it be. I find that no matter how serene and stress-free our present life happens to be, triggers for depression and anxiety are but a few negative thoughts away. Dismiss them.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi, Tom,
Indeed! Just becoming aware of those automatic thoughts that take us down that path is a big accomplishment. The good news, though, is that with some attention, we can catch ourselves sooner and sooner and put a big dent in the habit of negative thinking. Thanks for your comment!

Jessica B

I love this post! Not just because of the way it was humorously written, but also because I had major problems going on yesterday that I successfully solved. Nonetheless, today I have put myself into a funk about everything that HAD happened, and what COULD happen. Talk about reality check! I have solved my problems for right now, and I really have no need to cause myself so much anguish. Thanks for the eye opener!

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hey, Jessica,
I am glad you had an opportunity to observe yourself contributing to your own misery. Way to go! Thanks for the comment!

Anahi R

OMG! I finally figured out what I do to myself almost daily. It sure is misery. Always causing myself to have anxiety over things that have happened in the past or yet have not even occurred. This is truly overwhelming at times because I cause myself so much stress. After reading this, I have promised myself to stop and think for a moment if whatever it is, is actually worth me getting anxiety over. Thx for the great blog. :)

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi Anahi,
I'm glad you will be translating your new insight into some healthier ways of responding. If you have a minute sometime, come back and give us an example of your success, OK?


OMG(x2). A great Psychologist that I currently am being instructed by, once told me that we are constantly always doing Psychology without knowing we are. Since being introduced to Moved and Shaken, I have visited the blog quite a few times, for words of encouragement, for good humor, and personal self reflection. I am especially moved by the "Fine Art of Misery Series." Thank you so much Kris. I am so glad I have been awarded the best known Psychology professor on our campus (the word's out, you are!!).

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Very sweet, thank you. I hope you will continue to join us on this journey and share more about what you are learning along the way!


My father died almost five years ago in a very unexpected accident. After only a few hours after learning of the death, I immediately became alert ,afraid, responsible...anxious about everything from who will now drive my mom to work, to will my mom not be able to afford this house; my dad worked so hard to get it. It seemed like every day was another heartache. It has taken me years to be able to turn around and walk away with my head held high, knowing that this is clearly not my problem. I was only 21 when he passed and felt as though I was 70 with a 50 year old daughter and grand kids. It was literally as if I lost control of my thoughts.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Dedi, I can't imagine the anguish you have been through. Thank you for sharing your experience. Yours is the kind of emotional upheaval that can cause serious anxiety or panic. I hope you have been able to get some good support for yourself as you heal.

Kajal Patel

I really enjoyed this post. It really made me think.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hi, Kajal,
So glad you appreciated this post. I hope you will become a "regular!"

Barb McGuire

Hi Kris,
This is hilarious. I just managed to grab a few minutes to check out your blog and started with this post. I laughed aloud several times while sitting here at my desk, surrounded by self-created anxiety. I will definitely sign up to follow the blog as we all can use a chance to laugh, even if it is in self-recognition! Well done.

Kristin L. Roush, Ph.D.

Hey Barb,
Thanks so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to check out my new blog. I'm so pleased you enjoyed this post and I am honored that you are a new subscriber! Awesome! Please comment any time. I would love your input!

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