Why We Shouldn’t Trust Anxiety When It Tells Us We’re Not Capable

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Image credit: Joshua Earle

Anxiety is incredibly good at telling us all the things we can’t do, while painting a meticulous picture of all the reasons we’ll be forced to try and fail. But there’s a secret that comes from actually being forced to try: often, anxiety is just making things up.

Rookie Magazine has a great new article on the subject: Anxiety is a Liar. Its author, Anne T. Donahue, relates a particularly scary situation she went through only to realize afterwards that none of the things her anxiety tried to tell her (in retrospect, during that painful ‘what if’ period) came to be.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

I finally began listening to what my therapist had told me about re-shaping my brain and looked at my mind as something that doesn’t have to be at the mercy of anxiety—that I had left periods of anxiety before, and I would do it again, and that I could change the narrative I found it so easy to slip into. Instead of, “This almost happened,” I’d remind myself that it didn’t—and that it turned out fine. And then, I reminded myself how anxious and sick I’d felt before the ill-fated snack and how those feelings dissipated when something bigger and dire came to pass.

I used that night as a form of perspective. If an event on that scale could happen and my friend (who physically endured it) could kick it squarely in the butt, then I could conquer the everyday anxiety that would’ve stopped me in my tracks earlier. For the first time, anxiety didn’t seem like an absolute—it felt like something that might show up, but nothing so scary that I couldn’t fight it off. It wasn’t the main character anymore; it was an antagonist I knew I’d have to square off against sometimes. And the more I challenged those existing thought patterns, the stronger (and more I was able to fight anxiety off) I became.

 
It’s rarely helpful to be told that things won’t possibly be as bad as our anxiety would suggest–we often know that already. But having proof that even if they are, we’ll make it through? That knowledge may be costly, but it’s a precious gift, too.

[Rookie Magazine]