For many of us who have dealt with fear since we were children, there are many layers of fear. Fear and anxiety come from within us and are always looking for a place to land. So we may worry about money, our children, driving on the highway, a physical illness, being criticized by others, etc. The list about what we can worry about goes on forever and is constantly changing. And at the time, our worries seem to make sense. In hind sight however, it is a different story. Often we look back on situations we worried about and realized that we worried for no reason because everything worked out in the end. Then we ask ourselves “How much time have I wasted in my life worrying?” The answer is a little depressing.
The truth is that worrying is a habit; a strong mental habit. If we really are sick and tired of worrying all the time, which is understandable than we have to commit to changing that habit which is hard work. Part of that commitment has to involve a willingness to feel the fear. Many of us got into the pattern of avoidance early on without knowing it. We didn’t like feeling fear because it was uncomfortable. Sometimes it was very uncomfortable. And so we unconsciously decided to avoid that feeling whenever possible. The worry is one way to distract ourselves from our feelings. Fear is just a feeling and if we are willing to connect with it and feel it, it eventually it will go away on it’s own.
Worrying is in our minds. Fear is in our bodies. Fear is just a feeling and feelings are just energy in our bodies. So all we need is the willingness to leave the safe, comfortable world of our minds (which is an illusion anyway) and go below our neck to the unexplored territory of our body and it’s feelings. While this is a simple idea, it is very hard to do. It’s like swimming upstream. We are introducing something new and we need a lot of practice to change a longstanding habit. Facing our fears about our feelings especially our feelings of fear gives us freedom. Freedom to live our lives to the fullest. YOU are the observer of your mind (and all the thoughts it produces) and you are the observer of your body (and all the sensations happening inside it). Knowing that you are the observer will help you to detach from what is happening. We need that detachment to not react and to not get overwhelmed. We also need emotional connection from others; a safe person that we can talk to about how we are feeling. Someone who will listen and not judge us. Someone who understands.
As I have stated before, anxiety is a part of life. It is also a part of being human. Being human can be very messy. Many of us who grew up in dysfunctional homes, and have used “control” and “perfectionism” as a way of surviving, have a hard time accepting the darker parts of ourselves. We walk around with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and a “mean” voice in our heads that is constantly judging and criticizing us. This harsh inner voice can run us without us even knowing it. It shows no mercy and can be a big inner source of anxiety and stress.
Paying attention to that voice to create awareness of the power the voice has over you is an important first step. Often the voice is part of our subconscious mind and we do not even realize it is talking to us. It is also important to start to consider where did that voice come from and what is it’s purpose? Please know that the voice is not you!! It is usually a compilation of negative childhood experiences and the messages we got from them. Experiences you may not even remember. The voice is harmful and creates anxiety and stress, and blocks our freedom to be who we really are and who we want to be.
If we are able to let go of that voice, what do we put in it’s place? Self-compassion. Having compassion for yourself is about seeking to understand rather than judge. It is about self-acceptance; accepting the strengths as well as the weaknesses, the dark as well as the light. When we pay attention to ourselves and discover thoughts and feelings, we allow them to be without any harsh criticisms or shoulds and shouldn’ts. The developing of compassion for ourselves takes time, awareness, and practice and can be a source of inner peace. Compassion is about learning to be patient and gentle with yourself. It is a very useful tool to managing an inner source of stress.
Take Good Care, Suzanne
“Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we are trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.” Pema Chodron
People often see anxiety as negative; something to get rid of as soon as possible. However, anxiety serves a healthy purpose and even though it is uncomfortable, it is our bodies trying to tell us to “Pay Attention” to our “selves”. In this day and age, we push through our stressful, busy lives feeling like there is barely enough time to get everything done. As a result, we stay disconnected from our experiences, thoughts, and feelings. These thoughts and feelings can easily turn into anxiety without us even realizing it.
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental way of paying attention in the present moment that helps us to reconnect with ourselves and create new awarenesses. These awarenesses are the first step toward change. Accepting whatever we notice is the next step toward change. Parodoxically, we must first accept our anxiety before we can change it. Mindfulness gives us information about ourselves and our lives that we need in order to live serenely. It is a way of living that helps us to stay present as opposed to worrying about the future or regretting the past.
Learning to pay attention to ourselves and increasing our self-awareness, or being “mindful” , is a life long coping skill that empowers us to heal from the inside out. Practicing mindfulness can be done throughout your day or in formal meditation. To learn more about mindfulness, check out www.mindfulness.com.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
You may be asking what does self-confidence have to do with anxiety and stress management? Wikapedia defines self-confidence as “…self-assuredness in one’s personal judgment, ability and power, etc….” I like this definition because it emphasizes the concept of capability. Capability is a general feeling and belief that you can handle what life throws at you. When you struggle with anxiety you often struggle with self-doubt. You do not feel like you can trust yourself. This feeling itself can cause anxiety. So when you feel fear and/or anxiety in a situation you avoid it. The avoidance behaviors then reinforce the belief that you are not capable of handling that situation. Avoidance behaviors also reinforce the anxiety. So it is a vicious cycle. There are subtle avoidance behaviors and more obvious avoidance behaviors. Becoming aware of the ways in which you avoid are very important.
What is the origin of this lack of self-confidence? Negative core beliefs you hold about yourself that were formed at a very young age. These beliefs cause a low self-worth. Ask yourself, what do I think and believe about myself? Is it really true? No but it feels true. But luckily, feelings aren’t facts. You are just in a bad habit. You can change the way you view yourself, which in turn, lowers your anxiety.
There are two ways to change your negative core beliefs about yourself which will then help you let go of your negative self-image and increase your self worth. The first action you can take is saying affirmations such as “I am capable” and “I am worthy”. The other way to change your beliefs is taking small positive actions in your life and giving yourself credit for taking those actions. When you have fear and do something anyway, try focusing on the strength and courage you have rather than focusing on the fear. Don’t discount even the smallest accomplishments.
Take Care, Suzanne
“Self-trust is the secret of success.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
While meeting new people in a social situation is usually uncomfortable, people who suffer from social anxiety experience a lot more than just the normal amount of anxiety in a variety of social situations. If you have anxiety in social situations, you probably already know this fact. But what you may not know are the components that make up social anxiety.
For the most part, social anxiety is comprised of fear of criticism, fear of rejection, and problems with self-image and/or body image. Fear of criticism and fear of rejection are often rooted in life experiences such as teasing at school or an overly critical parent, but not always. Social anxiety, to some extent, is usually a part of life during the developmental phase of adolescence. But some people are not able to grow out of it. With social anxiety you will find yourself very preoccupied with what others think of you and how they see you. Sufferers take the negative ways they see themselves and actually imagine that others see them in the same way.
The truth is that when you pick on yourself, your self-image becomes very negative. It is important to become of aware of what you are saying to yourself about your self and your body. Is it negative, judgmental, critical, or harsh? Many people would never talk to someone else the way they talk to themselves. Because if they did, they would be accused of being mean and abusive. This sounds like an exaggeration but believe me it is not.
So the first step to treating social anxiety is to increase your awareness about how you talk to yourself. See if you can seek to understand where this harsh talk comes from and start to challenge it. The truth is we are not all bad or good. Human beings have their strengths and weaknesses. The best we can do is be aware of them and try our best, and that is good enough. Try to give yourself some credit each day for something you have done. And watch out for a common pitfall, comparing yourself to others. The only truly fair thing is to compare yourself to yourself and acknowledge your own progress.
Take Good Care, Suzanne