Anxiety is ingrained in our physiology as a means of protection. It serves as a built in alarm system, our own personal motivator and alerts us of danger. However, when we begin to respond to these “alarms” in future tense, or in others words, when it has not yet happened, it can cause much unnecessary stress. So many of us become debilitated by it’s effects, causing us to live less fulfilling lives due to the fear of the unknown. “I can’t ask my boss for the day off, she’s definitely going to say no”, “I’m not going to read this text, I’ll open it tomorrow (or in actuality, 5 days letter)”, “I have to send this email, make this phone call, write this post RIGHT NOW, or else…”, “I’m doomed this week!”. Due to these unknowns, we either control, predict and/or avoid.
I’m going to share with you a little bit of how I used to deal with my anxiety. It’s a tad bit embarrassing, but for the sake of this post, it’s necessary in conveying the impact of anxiety. I was your classic “Avoider”. I avoided confrontation, responsibility, self-expression, telling the truth, any opportunity for rejection, opportunities for success, consequences, pain and even paying my bills. Yes, I did not pay my bills because the numbers were too overwhelming. You can imagine the outcome for me. It wasn’t until I understood my beast, and boldly chose to confront these issues, that I noticed, “Wow, paying my $65 phone bill is WAY better than paying triple the amount a month a half later” or “Damn, this person actually respects me for telling the truth, AND we have a much better relationship because of it.”
All of these behaviors are a reaction to the fear we experience in our environment, and predominantly, in our thoughts. Our minds have literally been conditioned to react in such a way, due to the years and years of neural connections in our brains reacting to our self limiting thoughts. We would much rather control, predict or avoid a situation, then bask in the glory that it could potentially offer. The thought of our fear based expectations proving us right, is literally the WORST thing that could happen. But really, would the worst case scenario be that bad? Would your boss saying “no” to you be the end of your career? Would you opening that text and confronting what it had to say be the end of the world? Would your week being awful prevent you from moving on to the following week in one piece? This is the question we should ask ourselves when we are encountered with anxious inducing thoughts. IT’S NOT THAT BAD. Anxiety is in fact, defined as, false evidence appearing to be real.
Anxiety comes in different forms, and in order to overcome it, we need to understand it. Decide whether you are the Controller (the boss), the Predictor (the worrier) or the Avoider (the hider). I like to capitalize these words, because I literally see them as characters. You can also have a little bit of all these character traits, however one of them tends to be more of your go-to strategy. Below is a more defined description of each.
The Controller – A need for control allows you to feel like you have a grip on your outcome. With control, there are no surprises, because something awful happening would just be so unbearable. The controller has felt great pain from past experience of lacking it. Therefore, in order to avoid that pain from reoccurring, controlling your outcomes would guarantee that you would be safe. However, this control prevents you from experiencing life as it is and people for who they are. You do not see things as they are, you see them as you are.
The Predictor – You are the worrier. You worry about the “what if’s” in life…”What if he says no”, “What if I get hurt”, “What if I don’t meet the expectation”, “What if they don’t like me.” I’m low key guilty of all these “what if’s”, and it is a daily challenge for me to change these thinking patterns. Predictors tend to catastrophize, hence leading them into panic attacks and other impairments in life. With these debilitating thoughts, it prevents them from engaging in opportunities that could actually be really freaken amazing! Predicting is also a form of control. If we can guess what the outcome will be, we can prevent an undesirable outcome from happening. But do we really know? There is so much regret experienced with playing the role of ” The Predictor”, because instead of taking that chance, we worry about it instead.
The Avoider – My personal beast. As I’ve mentioned before, “The Avoider” was, and sometimes still is, my go to remedy for escaping fear. The avoider is afraid of confronting the unknown, and therefore they hide. The hiding provides a temporary sense of relief, however if not confronted, it becomes a giant mess. Avoiding is also a form of control, a very irrational one for that matter, but in the mind of the “Avoider”, it is a form of power. Example, me avoiding to pay my bills: “F**k you bill, you don’t own me.” (Yes, my internal thought process exactly). My power was paying my bills on my own terms, but who gets screwed in the end? I do. Or, another classic, “I’ll just talk to him/her about it tomorrow”, and then you never do, and by the time you muster up the courage to express yourself, the opportunity is gone.
THERE IS HOPE FOR YOU! Now that you have an idea of what beast you most relate to, you can now identify it when you hear it’s grunts from a mile away. Here is how.
Get present with your fear – Understand that the way out, is through. We can control, we can worry or we can hide, however avoiding confronting the reality of a situation is a ticking time bomb. We can only control so much: our assignments, our duties, our chores, our words, our behavior, however, controlling people and situations, at the cost of peace, will ultimately backfire on us.
Identify the anxiety inducing thoughts – When your thoughts are those of a need to control, predict or avoid, STOP, and say to that thought, “Hi there, I see you.” By becoming mindful of our anxious thoughts, we are not only stopping it from sneakily going into our cookie jar and taking all of our goodies, but we’re a giving ourselves the power of choice, in whether we want to engage with it or not. If you are reading this article, it’s because you have experienced the shortcomings of anxiety, enough to explore whether what I am sharing here can be of help to you or not. You are aware that your prior forms of dealing with anxiety is causing you more pain than relief, and you want a better way out. I feel you and I hear you.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” – More often than not, we tend to catastrophize our anxious thoughts. And once we engage in a fearful thought, our brain opens up the gateways of hell, (because it really does feel like hell for many of us), for more fearful thoughts to enter. Instead of opening your doors so freely to these suckers, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I feel out these uncomfortable feelings and perhaps just sit with them, without trying to control, worry or avoid?”, “What if I just saw these people or these situations for what they are and not what I’m making them to be?”, “What if the worst case scenario, is not really the end of the world for me?” ,”What if I just talk to him or her?…Them rejecting me wouldn’t be the end of my existence”, “What if I expressed how I felt?…If they react in a defensive way, maybe they shouldn’t be in my life to begin with.” Confronting our fears in the form of a question, gives us choice, and therefore freedom to behave in a different, more rational way.
Reframe your thoughts into more positive outcomes – Since we don’t actually know the outcome to our unknowns, why not change our fearful thoughts to those of hope. When we think positively about a person or a situation, we feel good. Conversely, if we think negatively, we feel bad. So why not feel good and not know, as opposed to feeling bad and still not knowing? By catching our anxious thoughts and instead telling ourselves the opposite of them, (i.e. “She will say yes” or “I will survive”), we are literally rewiring our brain by forming new neural connections that produce happier thoughts, therefore producing happier emotions, therefore producing happier outcomes. All it takes is identifying the thoughts, changing them into more desirable statements, and acting in alignment with your new created beliefs… repeat, repeat, repeat, until your brain eventually catches on, AND IT WILL.
You are fine. You will be okay. The Universe has your back. Trust yourself and trust IT. Self-affirmations are also really helpful (i.e. “I love you”, “I got you”, “I am here for you”, “Tell me what you need”). I’ve begun to personally repeat these affirmations to myself in the mirror every morning, or during those times I’m feeling uneasy. Although they feel silly at first, they’ve brought me a great deal of peace. They also serve as a reminder that ultimately, we are only in control of ourselves…And by showing ourselves the love we so desire, we can give the rest of the world a break 🙂
I hope this helps. Please leave a comment with your thoughts, stories or anything you’d like to share.