Photo retrieved from Amen Clinics, CC License. Image was modified.
Anxiety is real. It's uncomfortable to talk about. The emotion sits in your stomach like a fire, but not the inspirational kind. Instead, it's more like indigestion that crawls up your chest, embers trickling up to your throat. It's fear, it's frustration, it's defeat. And it's also confidence's play cousin.
The people who are most confident are also most vulnerable to anxiety. When you're confident, you thrust yourself into the unknown. You know you can do it! You've got this. And you're going to f***ing crush it. And then you do it, and it's amazing, and you're friends pick you up and carry you off into the sunset, chanting your name.
And then tomorrow comes. You wake up, and it's time for a new challenge. A bigger one. You're confident still, dopamine rushing to your head, swelling your ego. The new endeavor will be even tougher. You're sure you're going to succeed. Let's do it!
But wait. Some unpredicted things happen, derailing your steam train off the tracks. And the plan is gone. You're swollen ego bursts, oozing a nasty goo that gets into your head: anxiety.
An Endless Pool of Anxiety
Now, maybe it doesn't happen that way for everyone, but here's the thing: anxiety strips you of your confidence, distorts your vision, and staples you to bed. I suffer from it chronically, to the point where I've experienced panic attacks that leave residual emotional damage that resonate for days--or even weeks.
Anxiety is different for everyone. Yeah, I felt plenty of self-confidence once I published my first book. But then I lost my day job, amongst other things that allowed me basic human needs. Writing this, making ends meet is still difficult. I find ways each time, but my resolve is running short, and anxiety attacks happen more frequently.
How are we supposed to keep fighting anxiety?
The first thing is that we'll have to accept that this is a routine emotion. People who experience anxiety often have a lot at stake. Whether it's fiscally, emotionally, or physically, something isn't right, and we can't predict what's going to happen in the future. There's uncertainty and no discernible solution. The future is coming, it's scary and it's threatening our well-being.
We've experienced anxiety before, right? The future has come and gone, and the big bad was eliminated. We're here now, right?
Yes, and we're going to experience anxiety again and again, probably for the rest of our lives. The reality is this: no one goes through life feeling confident 100 percent of the time.
Image retrieved via Amen Clinics. CC License.
Anxiety's Good Side
As trauma therapist Will Bratt notes about anxiety, "there is a sense that on one hand, their water-treading skills are up to the task – but on the other hand, there is a chance that they’re ill equipped." He goes on further, painting anxiety in a positive light: "For the sake of transparency, I’d like to note that I do not believe anxiety to be an inherently bad thing for us to experience. I believe that anxiety is a highly adaptive response to danger and a lack of security."
Confidence comes from having opportunities to succeed, having a support system to engage with, and recognizing our past successes. Confidence disappears when those things get put into question:
When will I get another chance?
Will my support system always be there for me?
Will people judge me? Will my support system judge me?
Will that be my only success?
We don't know the answers to those questions, unless we have the ability to skim through time. Combine that with other scenarios, and anxiety rears its ugly face again.
Dealing With It
Psychotherapist Megan Bruneau talks about perfectionism and how it is a projection of the fear of failure. Perfectionism as a habit stems into our minds at our developmental stages, and it doesn't go away. If we aren't perfect, we fail. If we don't know how we can be perfect and ready for what's to come, then we might become vulnerable to the uncertainty and the questions aforementioned.
So how do we deal with it? Bruneau says the answers lie in the relationship-to-self area. "I like to refer to self-compassion as perfectionism’s kryptonite," she wrote. "By responding to imperfect performance with self-compassion rather than self-criticism, we make failure less scary."
We're not perfect. Our lives are unstable in many ways. Some of that might be our own fault. Other variables might have been out of our control. But that's okay. You'll get the chance to fix some of those things. Employing the support system won't incur judgement. And if you recognize anxiety as an adaptive response and leave room for failure, you're setting yourself up for success in the future. It just might not look like the way you've envisioned it.
Have you felt anxious about something recently? Tell us in the comments.