Underlying anxiety is not a root cause. Anxiety is itself a symptom with many different possible causes. Anxiety is a process that happens in your brain, which can be affected by so many factors, like irrational thought habits, nutrition, food intolerances like gluten, lack of exercise, lack of sunlight and vitamin D, deficiency in amino acids like tryptophan and GABA, brain injury and head trauma, genetic susceptibility, disordered breathing habits, just to name a few. These all affect brain function and thus affect anxiety. Anxiety can be caused by any one of these factors, and more.
Looking into a purely psychological cause for your success anxiety is just one possible road to go down. Psychologically speaking, success anxiety is just like any other anxiety. It involves having fortune-telling thoughts that go unchallenged. Your brain predicts the future for you, thinks about all the bad things that can happen, and that makes you anxious. I don’t think it’s the goal that makes you anxious, I think it’s all the thoughts about what would happen if you don’t achieve that goal, or if you try but fail, or if you do succeed but you imagine negative consequences that happen along with your success. It all involves negative predictions about the future.
Many persons suffering from Atelophobia have large periods of time where they become preoccupied with achieving some goal. The preoccupation, however, is largely counterproductive; they get overwhelmed very easily, wanting to achieve something so bad that they are unable to start work on any aspect of a project or ambition. Likewise, the preoccupation keeps many Atelophobics from enjoying themselves when they are in an environment where they don’t have access to work on their goals; basically any social circumstance. Anxiety is anxiety, dealing with anxiety is fairly universal, the details don’t necessarily matter. CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) was a popular consideration for a possible form of treatment.
Here we will discuss various methods of overcome achievement anxiety:
- Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- Fear of Failure/Success – the two seem to go hand in hand, whereas the fear of failure is obvious, the fear of success can be much more subtle, sometimes working exclusively in the subconscious.
- Focusing on the Outcome/Goal – a normally motivating thought, but in this case seems to enhance the anxiety as if too much were at stake.
- Procrastination – not always avoiding things you don’t want to do, but avoiding things you do want to do as well.
- Eastern Philosophy – a “catchall” for topics like “being in the moment”, “detachment from outcome”, mindfulness, etc.
- Meditation – I wanted to list this separate from Eastern Philosophy to emphasize it.
- Recognizing Your Thoughts – this reflects “mindfulness” in many ways, but a little more specific. Anxiety seems to largely be the result of compulsive thoughts that are typically irrational, recognizing this you can actively take change your thought processes to a healthier outcome.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – seems to be an effective therapy for anxiety in general, many of the books listed above seem to take a CBT-like approach.
Consider Promotion and Prevention systems of self-control
Promotion system is concerned with advancing, you want to go from 0 to +1, if you achieve your goal or you progress you feel joy and happiness, if you fail or there is no progress you feel anxious.
Prevention system is concerned with maintaining status quo, you don’t want to go from 0 to -1, if you maintain your status you feel calm and at peace, if you fail to maintain it you feel sad and depressed.
Pathologies arise when these systems are hyper or hypo active. And also some problems arise when you want to achieve or maintain unrealistic amounts of goals. Which will inevitably lead to failure to achieve and maintain leading to feelings of anxiety and sadness, respectively?
This topic is commonly discussed in eastern philosophy as well. Two sources of suffering are not getting what you want and loosing what you have. It can be dealt with, fairly effectively through mindfulness meditation.
You have to realize that those thoughts are not you, but you identify with them, those thoughts are just servants. When you understand this you can redirect your attention away from them, reduce their frequency and not be so emotionally affected. They are useful but in your case they are counterproductive.
Well with self-control you get better the more you use it. It seems that we have a tendency thinking that we must always do something; we can’t live in the moment because we see it as a hindrance. A big part of meditation is learning to live in the moment and being completely satisfied with it.
With mindfulness meditation you can reduce the number of thoughts you experience, by becoming aware of them and redirecting your attention to other things. This leads to chronic reduction in a specific set of thoughts. The thoughts that are associated with your anxiety are just processes that you may attend to, they do serve a purpose, but lead you to live in a world of how things could be, while you could spend most of the time living in the here and now. I am not saying you should abolish those thoughts entirely either, everyone has them, but in your case it’s to excessive.
You also might want to check out research on regulatory fit. Talks about incongruities between regulatory focus and the strategies you engage in when you use those systems, which can lead to problems. I am pretty sure they even have education therapy for that now.
You may also be interested in research on boredom specifically on need for external stimulation sub-scales (agitated boredom). Individuals who are prone to this boredom have a need to engage in meaningful activities but the environment does not permit them to engage in them, so every attempt to engage results in failure. You may be suffering from ADHD in an environment where you can’t accomplish your goals because of this proneness. Be prone to mind-wandering that is more rewarding than the environment (future oriented thinking associated with goals that need to be done).