The harsh truths about anxiety

stress and anxiety at work
Stress and anxiety at work
August 29, 2019

The harsh truths about anxiety

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anxiety as a prison

Learn about how anxiety is the enemy in order to conquer it!

Is anxiety really protecting you?

Many people wish to get rid of the anxiety in their life as it affects them in so many negative ways.  However, very often, anxiety has already convinced them that it is there to protect them. This impression can become so strong that many people began to see it as being part of who they are. 

Reframing it is the first step.  It is much better to say: ‘I have anxiety’, rather than ‘I am anxious’ .  By referring to it in this way, you are reminded that you really do have some choice and there is an option to get rid of it. 

Our emotions do not define us. What we do about them does.

So is anxiety really protecting us and what is the difference between anxiety and fear?  They can both throw the body into a state of fight, flight or freeze. 

Is fear actually protecting us?

Imagine living without any fears; going into a dark and remote forest alone; trying to cross the street in heavy traffic; going into work unprepared for a major presentation; conducting ourselves in relationships without any fear of consequences. How would that be?  The truth is that we would not be alive for long if we didn’t feel fear and our personal and working lives would be chaotic.  Fear is indeed there to keep us safe. 

But is anxiety doing the same?

Our brains are built to help us survive, not to keep us happy. At the same time, our brains have not managed to evolve at the same rate as our environments. For this reason, we often feel the same way in relation to stress as we would to fear: we go into fight, flight or freeze.  We assume the worst, experiencing all of the panic and fearful emotions, just as if we saw a bear ready to have us for dinner. 

Anxiety is an exaggerated and irrational fear. Being afraid of a bear makes total sense in order to survive, but feeling like you’re going to die purely because people may assume the worst things about you does not. Anxiety is like a guard dog who has caught rabies and ends up biting its owner. It makes you believe that it is there to keep you safe, but it ends up hurting you more than anything else. It becomes the worst possible guard as it imprisons you and everyday finds more and more things to scare you.  The end result?  Your prison becomes smaller and smaller. 

Anxiety makes us assume the worst every single second and convinces us that we can predict the future.  We end up believing our own assumptions. As a result, we end up with panic attacks and begin to self-isolate to the extreme. We end up avoiding any situation that we assume we might be uncomfortable in as feeling this way is perceived as dangerous. Being judged wrongly is dangerous. We end up feeling like victims and wanting to please everyone in order to retain some sense of self-worth.

Anxiety makes us forget that we have any agency or choice when it comes to becoming involved in challenging situations where people may assume the wrong thing and where we can actually do something to make an uncomfortable situation better. When we feel anxious, we tend to regress to a childlike state where we feel helpless and powerless. But is this really the case? Are we really as helpless as we feel?

Anxiety makes us so focused on the problems that we forget that they almost always have solutions. Whilst we cannot control the world, we can definitely learn to control our attitude towards it, and being aware of how anxiety works is the first step towards changing it.

Roots of anxiety and what to do.

1. Anxiety root 1

Anxiety as a self-fulfilling prophecy

Is anxiety making us selfish?

In short, yes. When anxious, we get so caught up with our own emotions that we forget to think about how others might feel.  We forget to listen and be curious about others. Anxiety is all about us and about what others might think, how they might react to us and what we need from them. And because of this, we end up behaving in such a way that our anxieties become self-fulfilling prophecies. People might question us and our behaviour as we continue to act oddly because we have already made up a story about how everything will end up badly.

What to do?  It is important that we understand the effect of anxiety on our social interactions because we end up making someone’s reaction to it the rule the real cause of our anxieties, forgetting that in fact, our anxiety is actually created by many other things.

2. Anxiety root 2

Low self-worth

A big part of anxiety has its roots in how we feel about ourselves and our inner critical voice.  Very often we are unconsciously  fearing that others will confirm the worst things that we tell ourselves. That critical inner voice is often taken from one of our parents or close carers. And we unconsciously and gradually make that voice our own.  

What to do? Being in possession of this knowledge gives us the power to notice that inner critical voice and to begin to question and challenge it. Are these the type of things we would ever tell our friend? Would we ever talk like that to others? So why do it to ourselves? We need to work towards finding self-compassion.  Changing that critical voice takes time and work, but it is the most important thing we can do for ourselves (and this is often where being in therapy helps).

3. Anxiety root 3

Another root of anxiety is a build-up of emotions.

As children, we have no choice but to avoid, suppress or repress our strong emotions because we are vulnerable and dependent on others to look after us. However, very often as adults we forget to update our coping mechanisms and continue to avoid our emotions. So what happens to them? Do they just disappear? 

Well, not really. Emotions are there for a reason. They are there to protect us. Ignoring or avoiding them creates a build-up and similarly to ignoring a dog trying to protect us, they become more exaggerated to get our attention and may make us think that we are in more danger than we actually are. 

What to do? We need to learn how to process emotions in healthier ways. This often starts with beginning to deal with the backlog of those unprocessed emotions which are at the root of our beliefs and which form our anxieties. This is better done with a therapist in a safe, caring and non-judgemental space, where you can learn to understand and process those emotions as well as learning healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with them now and the future.

4. Anxiety root 4

The fourth biggest contributor to anxiety is the lack of addressing our own needs. 

What to do? Start by asking yourself what do you need in your life to be happy (include your physical and mental health, career, relationships, fun/hobbies, contributions to society/charity) and write down your goals and achievable steps of how you will make them happen.

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