Three Ways Your Anxiety is Trying to Help You

What’s anxiety? It’s your mind playing tricks on you. It masquerades as fear and as excuses to not do something. It can be physical such as sweaty hands and butterflies in your stomach. Or it can be your mind racing in fear and in circles.

When I say fear I’m not talking about a bear coming towards you. That spike of emotion is real. But the anxiety that comes up when you think about meeting someone new, giving a speech, telling people about yourself? That’s not real.

A belief is something you’ve told yourself over and over again. And that’s what anxiety is as well: It’s something you’ve told yourself often enough that you believe it, even though there is no evidence to support it.

(Complete this thought, I’m not any good at_____________. I’ll bet you a lot of money that it took you a nanosecond to finish that sentence. That’s a belief based on fear and anxiety.)

What’s the role of anxiety in your life anyhow?

It has one main goal: To keep you out of the present.

Anxiety is when you’re ruminating about a conversation you had and you keep coming up with what you should’ve said. It’s pretending that, if you spend enough time thinking about what you could’ve said, you’ll get it right next time. Wrong. It already happened and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Or, you’re spending time thinking about something in the future. You worry about every little thing that could go wrong. Worrying feels productive but it’s not. It’s not productive because whatever you are worrying about hasn’t happened, therefore, there’s nothing you can do about it. And that worry time? Is wasted time.

The other thing anxiety does is keep you locked up in yourself. When you’re anxious it’s hard to connect with other people. You’re so busy worrying about how you look, or that you might sound stupid if you say something that you miss out on the joy of connecting with others.

The connecting thread of anxiety is that it tries to protect you from whatever your fear might be: being disappointed, getting rejected, feeling unloved.

Time to release those fear-based beliefs because they aren’t serving you.

Write down your top fears as they relate to other people (you can tackle fear of flying another time). So, you might have a list that looks like this:

I’m afraid to tell people what I really want from life because they’ll make fun of me.   

I can’t eat in front of people because I’m too worried I’ll spill something. 

I don’t like meeting new people. I get anxious trying to figure out what to say and I know people think I’m stupid.

Take one of those fears, maybe the one you struggle with the most. Read your sentence and then take three deep breaths. Next, I want you to visualize the opposite happening. So this I’m afraid to tell people what I really want from life because they’ll make fun of me becomes this: I tell my best friend that I want to start my own business. He listens to me, asks questions, and says he thinks I’ll be good at it.

This is an exercise in learning to control your mind. It’s about taking things that feel true and showing yourself that they aren’t true. But, first, you have to challenge the status quo in your head. Try another one. Breathe deeply and change it in your mind. Add to it. See yourself succeeding. See yourself getting support from someone.

How does that feel? Pretty good, right? This is the beginning of letting go of these fears the prompt self-doubt and preempt success.

Each time you hear yourself saying a negative (“I never…” “I can’t…”), stop and ask yourself, where’s the evidence that’s true? And then change it around to reflect a good outcome for yourself. Avoid the always, nevers, and any other absolutes.

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