That’s not an unreasonable statement and it’s certainly how I used to feel until I learned a different way.
The very language we use about our anxiety demonstrates how strongly we dislike it. Many of my coachees initially say things like:
‘I just don’t want to have anxiety anymore’; ‘I want it gone’; ‘I want to be anxiety free’; ‘I want to live my life without anxiety’; ‘I’m sick of feeling like this’.
‘I’d like to see my anxiety differently’; ‘I want to view my anxiety from a different perspective’; ‘my anxiety has shaped me as a person’; ‘I don’t want to lose touch with my anxiety completely’.
Nobody would even think of saying these things unless they understand that you cannot just magically rid yourself of anxiety…not without taking medication or drinking alcohol and even then you are just masking the symptoms.
And when you think about it getting rid of any habit completely is very challenging. Anxiety falls into the category of being a habit because we carry out the thought processes necessary to create it every day.
The very nature of wanting to be without something completely sets us up for failure. The distance between where we are now and where we want to be is too great and we lose motivation.
Then we start to believe the story we have made up about ourselves…you know…the one that says we never stick at anything, the one that believes good things happens to other people but not us.
The truth is we are just using the wrong model. Rather than rid ourselves of anxiety we can change our perception of it instead.
At some point, if you look hard enough, you will see both.
Which one would you prefer to see?
It’s your choice!
So let’s apply the Changing Perception model to anxiety. The way I do this is to ask one question ‘What is the positive intention of your anxiety?’.
Let’s look at some examples of how we can do this:
Say you become anxious when your boss asks you to give a presentation. You can perceive your anxiety in one of two ways. Either you have anxiety because you hate doing presentations and you are useless at them OR your anxiety is there to ensure you prepare really well for your presentation.
The former will make the whole process unpleasant as you try to push the anxiety away which in turn prevents you from focusing on your preparation. The latter gives you the opportunity to find out as much as you can about the subject of your presentation and create an enjoyable learning experience for your audience.
You might say ‘ok that’s a plausible approach for the preparation but what about the crippling anxiety I feel when I start to give the presentation?’.
Well again I would ask ‘what is the positive intention?’ The positive intention is to ensure you deliver your presentation to the best of your ability. So practice it, create cue-cards, include video and audio to add more interest, do whatever you need to do to boost your confidence. No-one whose career includes public speaking does so without practice.
My point is that your anxiety is trying to tell you something. Take this on board and you will start to feel much better.
Here is another example:
A coachee of mine was feeling anxious about a job interview. When I asked her what she thought the positive intention of her anxiety was she thoughtfully replied ‘I feel so anxious that I don’t want to go to the interview so I suppose it’s trying to keep me in my comfort zone’.
This realisation enabled her to think about where her comfort zone was in her present job, how far out of her comfort zone the new job was and what she had to do to reduce the gap. She found out more about the job she was going for and thought about the experience her present role had given her to make her suitable for the new role. She researched the company offering the job and equipped herself with additional knowledge about their ethos and vision for the future which, she believes, helped secure the job as the interviewers were impressed at the effort she had made.
Another coachee was dreading a car journey she had to make. On asking what the positive intention of her anxiety was she replied that she thought it was trying to keep her safe. My coachee was then able to think of all the things she could do relating to safety on her journey. She bought a satnav, checked her headlights were working properly, got her tyre pressures checked and topped-up, bought some water to drink and decided how much time she needed for the journey.
She admitted that she would not have done any of this if she hadn’t wondered what her anxiety was trying to tell her. Instead she would have remained with this feeling of dread that she felt incapable of dealing with. This feeling would have compounded her opinion that she was not a good driver.
Hopefully now you are beginning to understand the process of changing your perception to your anxiety and its contribution to reducing the burden on you. With simple changes in your mind-set you can make significant changes in your life!