Anxiety is a bold, seductive liar that fills our heads and our hearts with doubt, fear, and trepidation. When we are unable to distinguish our “anxiety” voice from our “wise” voice, it can be difficult to discern the truth from the disception of anxiety. Here are anxiety’s most common lies along with important truths to living a life of peace and confidence:
LIE #1: Discomfort is a bad thing. Avoid anything that makes you uncomfortable.
I do not enjoying being uncomfortable. Do you? It is human nature to want to avoid discomfort and pain. However, in order to grow and learn, discomfort is a necessary and important part of the process. We have a safety mechanism in our brain that remembers every difficult situation we have been in and shoots us a warning signal when we do something that has created emotional or physical pain for us in the past. In addition, our brains are wired to like repetition, so when we learn something new, form a new habit, or break an old, problematic pattern, it will be uncomfortable. It will take a little time and repetition for a new neural pathway to form. The discomfort is not a sign that something is wrong, it is a sign for new growth. Today’s culture will lead us to believe that there is a short cut for everything in life. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If we want to continue to grow and evolve, we have to be willing to tolerate discomfort. That is where courage comes in. We can be scared and uncomfortable, but be brave enough to move forward and do it anyways.
LIE #2: You are too fragile to do hard things.
Anxiety has an amazing ability to cast a selective spell of amnesia on us. We tend to remember all the hard experiences we have had, but we forget all the ways we have overcome these hardships. Anxiety likes to zero in on all the possible things that could go wrong and tells us that if one of these hard things happen, our world would be over. We are told that we could never survive the impossible scenarios our imaginations create for us. This is simply not true. Over the course of our lives we overcome many hurdles and build resiliency in ways that we do not realize. History has shown us that the human spirit can overcome and endure seemingly impossible situations. On the front end of any hard situation, we might not know how we will get through it. However, we need to trust that we are stronger than we feel and trust our internal strength and resiliency when life gets hard.
LIE #3: In order to be ok, you must seek control of everything and know exactly what is going to happen in every situation.
Anxiety hates uncertainty in all situations. Anxiety likes firm plans and an abundance of information to know exactly what to expect in all situations. The belief that we can outsmart all the vulnerability and uncertainty in life by rigid control and an excess of information is a lie in and of itself. Unfortunately, life is full of unexpected curve balls. Plans change and factors outside of our control wreck our plans. Relationships are unpredictable, hard things happen to good people, mother nature can be cruel, and humans hurt other humans. While advanced preparation and planning is not a bad thing in general, we can not rely on these things to manage our anxiety. We have to learn to tolerate uncertainty and understand that despite our best efforts we need to be able to adapt as needed. Trying to force control and certainty can create its own set of problems and keep anxiety calling the shots.
LIE #4: Worry serves a purpose and helps protect us from unexpected events.
Our human brains have an amazing ability to imagine all kinds of horrific scenarios. These stories and scenarios create fear and anxiety when we imagine ourselves in these situations. When we feel the emotion resulting from these stories in our head, it gives us the illusion that there is some truth and validation to our worries. This is simply not true. A good rule of thumb, “Just because you think it, does not make it so”. Thoughts are just thoughts. Worries are just worries. We can’t dress rehearse tragedy. Imagining hard scenarios doesn’t prepare us for the real life events. Imaging the funeral of someone we love and feeling that pain does not spare you the pain of losing someone in real life. It just makes you live through it twice. If something hard happens, we will deal with it one step at a time. Worry is not productive and serves no purpose. Constructive problem-solving is quite helpful in life, but worrying about imagined scenarios and playing them in your mind, keeps anxiety at the wheel and sucks the joy out of life.
LIFE #5: Don’t ever let your guard down. Everything is a really big deal and the stakes are incredibly high at all times.
Anxiety is ridiculously dramatic. It makes all worries and circumstances feel like the stakes are incredibly high and leads to rigid black/white thinking. As we start to learn how our anxiety presents itself, we can start to resist the urge to see problems in such global and extreme ways. In reality, most big problems are really just a long list of smaller problems that need to be problem solved. For example, if you have a pending doctor’s appointment about some health issues you are having, you might feel worried and anxious. When anxiety is calling the shots, you will run all of the worst-case scenarios in your mind. You might create a story of certain death and then imagine how your children and family will suffer after your death. The more your anxiety goes unchecked, the more these concerns feel like the truth and it feels like you are constantly in an emergency situation. When your wise mind is in charge, you understand that anxiety and worry will show up with uncertainty and you recognize the worry when it hits. You find ways to self soothe and tolerate the uncertainty at not-knowing what is going on with your health . While the idea of having an unknown health issue creates fear, you remind yourself that there are a lot of different ways to solve problems and you acknowledge that you don’t have all the information at the time to know how to constructively solve the problems ahead. You learn skills to discern the difference between problem solving and rumination. You are aware of anxiety’s tendency to create extreme thinking. You remind yourself that no matter what the doctor tells you, you can do hard things and take life one baby step at a time. We need to understand that anxiety is a perfectly normal emotion to experience when life is hard and uncertainty lies ahead. However, we carry the burden of managing it and not allowing it to infiltrate all areas of our lives. We can acknowledge it’s existence, but we can refuse to believe the harmful lies it tells us about who we are and what we are made of.
It is important to gain perspective in our thoughts and beliefs. As we understand these lies and how they present in our heads, we are more equipped to speak the truth and not get sucked into the deceptive pull of anxiety. While it is unrealistic to think that we can completely eliminate anxiety, we can learn to see it, acknowledge it, and disarm its power. The truth is that even in a world where hard things happen, humans are resilient and can overcome hard things. We can tackle the hard one step at a time until we find peace and healing. This truth anchors us during the storms and sets us free from the chains of pervasive anxiety.