We all experience anxiety occasionally.
Everybody occasionally experiences anxiety. However, dealing with persistent worry is a quite different matter. Worrying about the future and always thinking the worst, having trouble being totally present in talks because you’re constantly concerned with what other people are thinking of you, constantly feeling anxious, nervous, and worn out, dreading the impending occurrence of your next panic episode. You appear to be unable to confidently make even minor decisions since you are always second-guessing yourself. There are a variety of factors that might make us feel nervous, but this crucial understanding is one that most people overlook: Whatever set off your concern in the past, it is now being sustained by your current routine. You may attempt to change these anxiety-inducing behaviours and finally liberate yourself from persistent worry if you can learn to recognise them in your life.
- Steer clear of ambiguity
Being unsettled is something that most people try to avoid. For instance, when you initially enter a dinner party, you search the space rapidly for a familiar face before approaching them. There is a valid explanation, of course: The ones among our ancestors who were more adept at reducing uncertainty most likely outlived those who were not terrified of it. For example… Our inclination to favour the known and secure over the unknown and potentially hazardous is a result of evolution. But it’s frequently wise to reduce or prevent ambiguity, especially in contemporary life:
- Uncertain about how well-received your future presentation will be? Get feedback on the sections that don’t work so well after practising in front of a few friends.
- Uncertain if “the one” you’ve been seeing for two months is actually the person for you? Consider extending the date to lessen some of that uncertainty.
The trouble is, even if it’s in our nature to avoid uncertainty and doing so often pays off, it’s a mistake to develop the routine of constantly doing so. What kind of life is it if you never take chances, never try something new, or never venture outside of your comfort zone? Unluckily, things worsen. Short-term anxiety relief comes from avoiding uncertainty, while long-term anxiety is exacerbated by doing so.
Here’s an easy illustration:
- Your close friend sends you a text inviting you to her dinner party. But as soon as you learn that the majority of the other attendees would be strangers, you start to feel uneasy.
- You might be concerned about how difficult and uncomfortable it will be to describe your dull job. You detest the thought of chit-chat and impersonal getting-to-know-you conversation.
- You become more concerned as you consider it more.
- The decision to decline and invent a white lie about a prior engagement is becoming more and more alluring because, in addition to sparing you the uncertainty of an awkward dinner party with people you don’t know, it would also instantly allay all of your anxiety.
- So you let your pal know by SMS that you’re unable to go. You immediately feel relieved when this happens.
While you’ve managed to avoid uncertainty and worry in the present, the issue is that you’ve increased the likelihood that you’ll experience distress in the future. Here’s how it operates: Your brain’s fear centre is constantly on the lookout for potential threats. And when it detects something, it causes you to feel a little nervous (adrenaline and the fight-or-flight response are the only physiological effects of anxiety). Critically, it also observes your reaction to the first threat and anxiety-inducing stimulus:
- Escape. By attempting to leave the dinner party, do you reaffirm your fear center’s earlier findings that it poses a threat to your life? In that case, your anxiety will be reduced right now. But you’ve programmed your mind to believe that attending dinner parties with strangers poses a survival risk. So the next time a similar opportunity presents itself, you’ll likely feel even more nervous and tempted to pass it up. Can you see where this cycle of violence is leading?
- Approach. Or, you may approach the dinner party and go anyway, contradicting your fear center’s initial judgement that the event’s uncertainty is a threat. This would provide your brain with useful feedback that just because something makes you feel uneasy doesn’t indicate it’s actually harmful. And even though you could feel more nervous in the near term as a result, your brain would feel less anxious the next time a circumstance similar to this arose. You see where this positive cycle is going, right?
Takeaway: Avoiding ambiguity causes both short-term relief and long-term anxiety. Accepting uncertainty results in long-term confidence and short-term anxiety. Pick carefully.
- Keeping helplessness at bay – Instability isn’t the only thing that people try to avoid; helplessness is another. We detest being helpless in every way possible. Examples include
- Being anxious that your future interview won’t go well and unable to change it now that it is approaching.
- the inability to prevent your son from experiencing his first solo flight aboard an aeroplane.
- When your partner talks about how down they’ve been feeling, you know that you can’t make them feel better.
Naturally, because we just have no control over everything in life (including other people), there will always be some level of helplessness. But consider this: Surprisingly, there is a tremendous need to attempt to control the uncontrollable. In fact, it’s so strong that, in an effort to retain the appearance of control, we wind up acting in some very foolish and dangerous ways:
- You set overly high standards for the people in your life because, hey, telling myself that they should do well feels kind of close if I can’t make them do well.
- Even though others have urged you not to, you continue to meddle excessively in their lives, which bothers you out.
- Despite knowing logically that you cannot change the past, replaying errors and regrets in your thoughts repeatedly gives you the illusion that you are doing something positive and are not completely helpless.
You can certainly identify numerous instances in your life where you attempt to exert control over circumstances that are genuinely outside your power if you do a little introspection. However, most people overlook a significant sort of anxiety-inducing control: worrying about things you cannot control gives you a fleeting sense of power.
Worry is, by definition, negative thinking about potential future issues that is not beneficial. Additionally, it causes a tonne of anxiety, as any chronic worryr will readily admit. Worry is actually the driving force behind anxiety, as I have argued before. Worry is strange since it frequently occurs even though you may be aware cognitively that it is not productive. In addition, you are simply becoming more tense and anxious. You yet continue to fret. Why?
We worry because, for a split second or two, it feels fantastic, similar to how we frequently eat junk food despite knowing that it is unhealthy. In times when we may otherwise feel helpless, worrying provides us something to do and gives us a sense of control. Additionally, worry is simple to rationalise because it resembles planning and problem-solving so much. Worry doesn’t actually solve anything; it only makes you feel awful and has negative side effects. However, we become dependent on it because it makes us feel wonderful momentarily. We return to it repeatedly despite all the discomfort it causes because it momentarily relieves that dreadful sense of helplessness. All of which is to indicate that you must learn to manage your worrying habit if you want to feel less nervous.
- Not drawing boundaries – Unhealthy boundaries are one of the subtlest but most potent causes of persistent anxiety:
- Consistently ‘flowing with the flow’ and accepting what your spouse wants to do for a vacation
- Consistently saying yes to your manager’s request to work ‘a little’ more over the weekend
- Always taking your sister’s calls and putting up with her whining about her terrible relationship
Think about it: How could you not feel uneasy if you are continuously assuming responsibility for other people’s issues and never have time to attend to your own needs and desires? But why do we have such a difficult time establishing appropriate boundaries if it is so clear that they cause anxiety? There are many, many reasons, but the following is one of the most crucial ones: Due to your fear of aggressive communication, you find it difficult to set boundaries. Now, when most people hear the word forceful, they immediately picture being impolite or pushy. However, in practise, assertive communication is a good compromise between aggressive and passive behaviour.
- Aggressive communication is when you make unpleasant and offensive remarks to other people in an effort to acquire what you want.
- Passive communication occurs when you disregard your own needs and wishes because you are overly considerate of and accommodating of others.
- Being assertive in communication is being respectful of both yourself and the other person when you ask for what you want and refuse what you don’t.
The details of how to be more forceful are not appropriate at this time or in this setting. However, it’s crucial to understand this: You won’t be able to keep healthy boundaries if you aren’t willing to defend your own interests. Your anxiousness will soar in the absence of sound boundaries. Practise assertive communication if you’d like to start experiencing less anxiety all the time.
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