Written by Telana Simpson
Anxiety and fear are two emotions that often hold us back from being ourselves, and achieving our goals. We’re anxious about what others think, fearful of making a mistake, scared of speaking up in public, worried about what might happen.
Here are ten points to help you master the emotion of anxiety, such that you use it to become more authentic and to take the necessary and calculated risks to reach your goals.
1. It is just an emotion
Emotions are just emotions- they are energy that you register in your body that relate to your thinking about your reality. If we go along believing that just because we feel something it is real, and we have to act on it, we can limit our choices. And then in hindsight we find that our emotions can be infallible sources of truth. Emotions are useful signals, but they are still just emotions. It’s about what they are signaling that we should make a judgement, and not on the fact that they are there. Anxiety is, at best, just an uncomfortable emotion.
2. It is a signal of Map vs. Territory
So what are emotions signaling then? Emotions are showing you that there is a difference between your perception of the world (your map) and your actual experience of the world (territory). So anxiety is usually a signal that you perceive the situation you are in (or imagining that you could find yourself in) is a dangerous one, and you need to be more alert.
3. Ask: what am I anxious about?
So if anxiety is just a signal, the most useful question to ask yourself is: What am I anxious about? What is your anxiety and fear telling you about your expectations and the reality? From your answer you can then do the quality control of your thoughts, by checking if they are rational fears or irrational ones. Is what you are perceiving as a threat really a threat to your survival, or are you living in a fantasy that is highly unlikely to happen?
4. The perfection trap
Have you also fallen into the perfection trap? Is your fear about not being perfect and what it might mean if you make a mistake? Anxiety runs rampant when we seek the unobtainable standard of perfection. By adjusting our map of what standards are good enough, and which ones are high enough, we can then be more realistic in our achievement goals, and probably experience less anxiety about achieving them. Perfection is unachievable, and hence actually the lowest possible standard to aim for.
5. Honour your fear
It’s OK to have the emotion of anxiety. You don’t need to get rid of it or make yourself wrong for experiencing it. Anxiety is your response to a situation and just ignoring it or avoiding it won’t make it go away. It is more likely to grow as it is your mind-body-emotion system trying to give you a message. Honour it, get the message (point 3) and you’ll find it subsides and becomes an ally, helping you prepare rather than an enemy holding you back.
6. Heed your anxiety’s warning
The subtle cues of unease to the full blown anxiety or even panic attacks are warnings that we might be about to do something stupid – they are often warning us not to act.
They also might be warning us to act. Sometimes we should not take what others say as the be all and end all of a topic if we still feel unease with their view or suggestions. Seek a second opinion, do further research, as your gut instinct might be more right for you in your situation, than what the first opinion you sought could identify. In other words, remember that anxiety is a signal to pay attention, not to deny your gut instinct.
So take the time to reflect if you might be misreading signals, or responding from a place of prejudice or defensiveness. And if not and your gut says something is still not right, act on it to get the facts.
7. Know when it impacts your sense of self
Anxiety can lead to poor mental functioning, sending us into flight/fight mode with less ability to use our thinking centre of our brain. If this happens temporarily, the best approach is to forgive yourself and take the next step to move along. If we’re not aware of how anxiety might be an ever present undercurrent to our life, we might start to think there is something wrong with ourselves as we battle to think clearly and function at our optimum. This is when we need to ask for help and find strategies to work through the underlying anxiety and become more conscious of it’s message.
8. Stop comparing yourself
You can never be like anyone else. You’ll never have the same conditions, same upbringing, same understanding as another person. So comparing yourself to them just leads you to feel awkward and less capable than them. And anxiety to perform in comparison to others will prevail. Unfair comparison is a less than useful strategy, so rather look to others for examples of what is possible, and then work on your areas of growth to improve your own performance.
9. Who’s anxiety are you catching?
Those you hang out with will influence the way you see the world. And will impact the creation of you map. And if they have a world view of fearing everything, it’s likely that you will “catch” that way of thinking too. So note if you really believe and want to follow the prevailing thinking of the group, or if there is another way to see and be. Think for yourself rather than absorb through osmosis other people’s thoughts, and you’ll be less likely to feel the downward spiral of anxiety from others. Remember, anxiety is contagious. So is calm.
10. Be response-able
Take responsibility for your role in a problem or situation, and stop blaming others or trying to get them to take your responsibility. You are able to respond for yourself, and when you do you will feel more in control of your self, and less anxious from feeling controlled by others or circumstance. When we play the blame game, we are quick to give away our power, and anxiety comes in to try to alert us to this fact of disempowerment.
Cultivating bravery and courage will come from mastering your fears. Anxiety doesn’t have to stop you – as you learn from it and get its message you’ll find the courage to act bravely and do what needs to be done. And that is how you “control” anxiety – you use it as an ally to grow and develop, and take well thought through steps towards your dreams!
Reference: “Fear and Other Uninvited Guests” by Harriet Lerner
About the Author:
Telana is a dynamic, transformational Personal Coach and Blogger who specializes in communicating and relating. She is fascinated by consciousness evolution and goes on adventures to push her boundaries and preconceptions. She offers coaching and training programmes to help individuals develop their ability to express themselves and their potentials and improve their relationships, and is a host of an online TV show.