I believe that anxiety related stress is the on the rise in today’s society. This is because of the constant bombardment of information from peers, media, family etc that associates achievement with self-worth and the need to ‘get our lives right’ in order to feel worthy.
Anxiety is the exact opposite of depression. With anxiety there are loads of goals on the agenda of the sufferer, where as depression, goals are given up on and disregarded. Both however, as usual, have their roots in the perception of self-worth.
When you ‘do’ anxiety, you are in the constant pursuit of CONTROL. You believe that you are able to influence your world so that you can get your life to go according to your plan and you will do whatever it takes to get life to go that way.
The truth, however, is that you cannot control how life unfolds. Let me say that again:
You cannot control how life unfolds!
Remember that statement because this statement is ultimately the upgraded thinking that will stop your anxiety dead in its tracks!!
Whoops, hang on a second. Yes, here they come – your objections beginnning to stream in already. “But I can control some things”, you may say.
While it seems like you have control over some things, the reality is that you don’t. You cannot influence how your life unfolds because you can never have control over every element of all of the influences that determines an outcome.
Sure, you could decide to go from her to the sink to get a glass of water, and if you succeed, you might consider that this success was in your control. However, did you control the child who decided to sit and watch TV instead of coming into the kitchen with his skateboard at the precise moment you went to get that drink, knocking you over and breaking your wrist?
Of course, that didn’t happen because you were successful in getting your drink without your wrist being broken, but was that because you controlled it, or was it simply because your child didn’t do that at that particular time?
The reality that you must come to terms with in order to overcome anxiety, is that you cannot control your life no matter how good you think you are, because there are so many factors that are out of your control.
You may set an aim and achieve it, but that wasn’t because you were able to control it. You may have the correct information and plan of attack that gets you to a certain outcome, but that doesn’t mean that you will get there, regardless of how many other ‘goals’ (preventions) you put into place as back up plans.
The self-worth component to anxiety
If you ‘do’ anxiety, it is because you believe you must CONTROL (and you belive you can control) your life in order for it to go right and PREVENT anything that poses as a threat to you achieving your goals.
You go into surveillence mode, searching for these potential threats to your goals’ fruition, so that you can put even more measures in place to assure your success and PREVENT any loss of CONTROl where you may have to experience life not going to plan.
Anxiety occurs after you have first experienced stress, whether it is recent stress, or stress that occurred many years ago. At some point you have experienced a time in your life where you have had life not go to plan and you believe that this experience has devalued your life (made it worth-less).
In order to overcome this time in your life, you have vowed NEVER to let it happen again and now you are attempting to stop anything from going ‘wrong’ in your life.
Sometimes you don’t even have to have experienced the actual stress, but have witnessed other people’s lives not go to plan, perceive their events to mean that their life has been devalued (made worth-less) by that event and fear that your life may end up the same if you do not put appropriate measures in place to stop the same thing happening to you.
All of this CONTROL and PREVENTION comes from the incorrect perception that there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live and if you do not CONTROL your life so that you live the right way, then your life will become worth-less to some degree.
In order to avoid that you set lots of goals to PREVENT that from happening.
Anxiety has its roots in fear. Fear that my life could be lessened in quality if I don’t CONTROL or PREVENT and get it to ‘go to plan’ (according to my beliefs). It is neglectful of the reality of self-worth and ignorant to the truth that no matter how life unfolds you are always worthwhile, and the reality of life that there are always going to be ups and downs, and with that comes learning and value. No event is meaningless.
Common ways anxiety presents itself
Trying to control your child’s life
It’s a sobering thought, but when it comes to your children, you cannot control how their lives unfold either. Postpartum Anxiety can often be a result of the change becoming a parent is to your life. Suddenly reality kicks in that you are responsible for your child’s life and, of course, you only want what’s best for your child.
Perhaps you had a traumatic childhood yourself and are determined that your child does not experience anything like the childhood you had, so you go into CONTROL and PREVENT in order to stop any bad experiences happening to your child.
Perhaps you were sick as a child, or your child was sick in the beginning of his/her life and now you are putting extreme measures (goals) in place so they will never be sick again.
Or perhpas you are just determined that they be raised a certain way (based on your beliefs about the ‘right’ way to raise a child) and are determined that nothing will get in your way.
The reality is though that it doesn’t matter how much you attempt to control things, life has a way of tossing in a curve ball here and there, and this is not through your inability to control. It is simply because that is a reality of life.
We all experience ups and downs, and so will your child. Your job is not to prevent anything ‘bad’ from happening to your child (with the exception of basic safety and common sense, of course), but to help them to understand how to deal with things when they do experience challenges.
Because let’s say you do manage to shield them from ever having a life experience that’s challenging and they get to school where you are not always around, or worse, become an adult and fend for themselves. You have taught them to control and prevent, not deal with life’s ups and downs. They won’t know what to do when (not if) they experience pain and challenges in their lives and will struggle anyway.
You are not protecting them by protecting them from having challenging experiences in life.
Of course, I must irriterate that I’m not telling you to expose them to abuse, neglect or unsafe conditions so that they learn to grow up, I am talking about the day-to-day over-reactional anxiety that can occur – watching your child sleeping excessively to make sure they are alive, washing their hands every two seconds to prevent illness, stopping them from riding a bike, or playing games that teach them to trust their own abilities for fear of them getting hurt, or putting any extreme measures in place that come from a fear that you have.
If you are wondering how to draw the line between what is extreme measures and what is not, take notice of your own fears. Any goals that are set with fear behind it are anxiety related and need to be upgraded. After upgrading your thinking, you may still set the same goal, but you will have a different perception of the situation that may just change how you handle it.
Taking on too much
This is a common issue for mums, especially the working mum. You can ‘do’ anxiety because you believe that you must be responsible for every aspect of your life all the time. Being a mum, being the house cleaner, being a career woman, being the wife, being the dutiful daughter, a good friend.
The case may be that there are lots of tasks that you need to do in your life and if you have your self-worth invested in all of these things, then it is good grounds for anxiety. You start to feel stressed because you are not able to be all things to all areas of your life (life not going to plan – psychological stress). You then start to think that you ‘have to’ (must) be better and do more (control) to meet all of these expectations. However, life often keeps getting in the way, PREVENTING you from being able to do everything that you need to and you start stressing even more. Now the bodily reaction to your thoughts kicks in and you start to panick, sweat, feel dizzy and become overwhelmed with an anxiety attack.
Underlying this whole scenario is your need to live up to a perceived expectation in order to be deemed worthy, successful, approved of and/or accepted, totally negating your inherent 100% worth regardless of whether you do and be all of these things.
A redevelopment of your mindset needs to be implemented.
I’m worried about dying, or I’m worried my child will die
This is a common thought with anxiety sufferers and unfortunately there is no warm and fuzzy answer that I can give you. When your anxiety is rooted in thoughts like this, you are in direct conflict with the reality that none of us know when our time is up.
You cannot control how long you or your child is here for and all you can do is keep bringing your attention back to the present moment where you are both here and find aspects to it that you enjoy so you can savour it.
Ultimately there is the self-worth component still present in thoughts such as these. Believing that you are dying, obviously is a major breach of your self-worth from your perspective, because you will not be here. However the reality is that you cannot control when your time is up and when you do leave you (depending on your beliefs) won’t know about it anyway, or will be moving on to a better place anyway where you will eventually meet up with your children at a later date.
The other aspect to the self-worth component is if your child was to pass on. Yes, you would grieve. Yes, it would probably be the hardest journey of your life, and yes I am almost in tears myself to even consider that my child would leave this earth before me, however it has happened before to parents and they have survived and they have learnt from it.
It is not what you would ever want for your life, but nor is any of the other unpleasantries that come into it either, but we learn from them, we pick up the pieces and we move on and we then contribute what we have learnt from these pivotal moments and help other people with our newfound knowledge. This is what life is all about.
You cannot control how your child’s life unfolds and you cannot prevent death. It is a reality of life we must all deal with.
It is all the more reason why we need to address and change our mindset whenever these thoughts arise. How much of your life and your child’s life are you going to spend thinking about what ‘could’ happen? You have to start training your mind to look at what is happening right now and enjoy that.
Find and savour in what you are grateful for in your life, for the lessons your children are giving you NOW, the experiences you are having NOW and for all the wonderful things that you have NOW. NOW is all you ever have. The past doesn’t exist and nor does the future unless you create it in your mind NOW.
Using the Mind TRACK to Happiness Process for Anxiety
Step One – Thoughts
Chances are you are already very aware of the thinking going on in your head when you are feeling anxious, so the awareness part of this step is self-evident. So the next part is detachment. Once again it is your memes kicking in that make you believe that you can CONTROL how life unfolds and that if life unfolds ‘wrongly’, then your life will suffer and be worth-less.
This is the thinking that needs to be corrected. Writing short 1-2 paragraphs about your thoughts is still useful though, for getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper where you are likely to be more objective about them, but Step Two of the TRACK process is where change is really going to make a difference.
Step Two – Reality
The reality of the situation
To use the Reality Thinking model for your anxiety, you need to pull your attention right into the now and challenge those thoughts that are causing you to feel anxious.
This is going to be quite confronting sometimes because you are going to have to face up to some strong fears that you have, because anxiety is all about fear.
Ask yourself: What is the worst case scenario that I am fearing here? Can I really control what is happening right now? How many things could happen right now that I would have no control over? Is it possible that I could put all of these measures in place and the thing I fear still happens?
Once you have contemplated the answers to these questions, you need to upgrade your thinking by reminding yourself “I cannot control how life unfolds.
This will need to be a mirror affirmation to incorporate into your plan for overcoming anxiety for sure. It is to be used in conjunction with other affirmations that will come from the rest of the reality thinking model.
The reality of being a parent
My child will experience ups and downs, just like I do. This is part of their learning through life. Has everything I have experienced that was perceivably bad actually been all bad. Have I not learnt some valuable lessons too? It’s okay for your child to experience challenges and hard times. We don’t want it for them, but we can’t prevent everything for them either.
The reality is that kids need to experience hard times under our care, so that we can teach them how to deal with them and arm them with adequate information for them to apply it to their lives as they get older and aren’t under our care.
As a parent we will experience our children go through developmental challenges and emotional challenges that will cause us grief, worry and conflict sometimes. We can’t control that either. It is a normal part of a child’s development and nothing you do will prevent these situations from happening between parent and child on occassions. All you can do is learn how best to deal with them as they arise by following the next steps on the TRACK process.
Also, in terms of the busyness of day-to-day life, we must accept that some things take longer than others because of the time it takes to deal with them. When children are younger, they take a lot of time and are reliant on their parents for their care. This means that you cannot be all things to all people because you will just need to be one thing to your child.
This is the reality of being a parent and these times need to be factored into the rest of your life. You can only do so many things at one time
The reality of life
Telling yourself ‘I cannot control how life unfolds’ is not enough. You probably already know this to a degree, but still find yourself trying to irrationally control it, or feeling helplessly out of control when you can’t.
This is because you are focussing your attention on the fear of having something go ‘wrong’ in your life. You are still believing that there is a ‘wrong’ way for your life to unfold. Whenever you find yourself focussing on ‘what ifs’ and trying to pre-empt your life, simply acknowledge this thinking and bring it back to reality.
Focus on the what’s great about right now, what is working well, what you can be grateful for. It can even be useful to try and pre-empt that life will go to plan. How do you know that life is going to turn out awful if you don’t control? With anxiety, you are of the mindset that you know how your life ‘should’ go and that if it didn’t go that way then you would be worse off. But how do you know this? How do you know that what you are preventing could actually be an experience that leads you to the most joy you ever had?
The key to stopping anxiety is to teach your mind to be flexible about life and to not attach your worth to any outcomes. All experiences form a chain of good and bad times. The good lead to bad, the bad lead to good. You cannot control this, as this is life….for everyone.
You don’t get to control life and no matter what you do, you will inevitably have good times and bad. Just look at what your need to control is actually doing to you. Are you having a good time when you are anxious? I doubt that. How is this control and prevent world of yours working for you?
Bottomline is, you can’t control life and trying to is only going to make you feel miserable. It may however be a very strongly ingrained habit of thinking that sends you into anxiety. Perhaps you aren’t even aware of the thoughts that trigger anxiety attacks or panic attacks. They are so ingrained that they are just there.
This happened with my husband. We spent many months analysing his thoughts, feelings, events and how he was perceiving life to come up with the trigger to his nightly panic attacks and we ended up tracking it back to anxiety over money. His beliefs about money and providing for his family were so firmly entrenched that he would only have to think about finding money to pay a bill, or to have a passing thought about not having the money to do what he wanted, for the indigestion to start later on that night and the panic attack over the indigestion to take over.
After working out what the trigger was, he was then able to overcome the panic attacks with consistent altering of the conversation in his mind about money.
Use the reality thinking model as often as possible to counteract any thinking that is in conflict with reality. The reality of life is ups and downs, there is value in every experience we have and learning will be gained from life too.
The reality of self-worth
I’ve said it numerous times, but I will say it again. It doesn’t matter how your life unfolds, you will always be worthwhile. This is something that you need to retrain your mind to believe, because right now if you are suffering anxiety, it ultimately comes from the fear that something or some event can potentially lessen your quality of life or self-worth.
You have to start reviewing your life’s events from the past and showing yourself the value that has come from the highs and the lows in order to start seeing that everything has value. Start looking at how other people’s adversities have become their blessings.
Remember the stories that I told you about Daniel Morcombe’s kidnapping and how his parents are now helping millions of other families to fight against abduction, and the September 11 story that has effected so many people in positive ways. Should it have happened? No, but the reality is that it did, and the flow on effect was not all about tragedy and loss.
Your life is not all about tragedy and loss. Your future will not be all about tragedy and loss, but it would be a great shame if you went through the rest of your life feeling the way you are, fruitlessly trying to control the uncontrollable.
Stop these memes by committing to being vigilant about repeating new thinking over and over again, becoming aware of your thinking and changing it at every chance you get. Create new neural connections of thinking that align with the reality thinking model and you will soon find yourself thinking this way by habit.
This is the only way to stop anxiety (other than medication of course) for good.
Step Three – Aims
Anxiety thinkers have absolutely no problem with setting goals. The problem is that they set too many of them out fear and have their self-worth heavily attached to their fruition, sending them into even more severe anxiety as they try even harder to get life to go back ‘on track’ once they deviate from their plan (by uncontrollable events), or potentially go into depression when they have not been able to control and prevent, because they now feel like a failure.
Don’t stop setting goals though. Having aims inspires us, keeps us motivated and sets our lives in motion to learn, grow and contribute even more to life.
What you need to do though is make sure you are relentless at testing your goals with our two questions:
- Why do I want it (my aim)?
Look for any feelings of fear or self-worth when answering these questions. What is really motivating you to set your aim? What is your payoff?
- Is what I want in conflict with reality?
Look for ways you are trying to control the uncontrollable. Challenge your aims and your thinking behind setting them.
Step Four – Choices
Resource the different options and choices you have for getting to your aims, as taught, but again, you will have to be relentless in the testing phase of making your choices.
If your priorities for doing something are based on fear, you will have to stay vigilant in upgrading your thinking surrounding this fear.
Once you begin to become aware of the thinking behind anxiety, and learn to look for specific CONTROL and PREVENT language in your mindset, you will begin to see it everywhere, driving your decisions and actions and infecting your whole existence. No wonder you have been having anxiety or panic attacks!
Similarly you have to be just as relentless with your deliberate upgrading of this thinking in order to drown it out the old memes and make your new thinking the new habit over time.
Step Five – Know your plan & action it
This final step on the Mind TRACK to Happiness process is to follow your plan for getting to your aim. As you follow the steps that you have decided on that you believe will take you to your aim, stay aware of how you are thinking and whether you are attaching your self-worth to the outcome.
Let your feelings be your guide. How are you feeling about each step? If you are starting to feel anxious, or out of control, challenge your thinking. Why do you feel this way? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Would it be the end of your world if it did? How do you know this to be true? Is there a possibility that you might bounce back from your worst case scenario that you are fearing so much? Is it possible that your biggest fear could be your biggest blessing if it were to happen.
Flexibility and detachment will be your friends to overcome anxiety. As you go through your journey through life, learn to think of yourself as a palm tree. It is strong in its roots, but is flexible to the elements. When faced with cyclonic winds it bends and moves with the storm. It may lose a few leaves in it’s time, but they grow back and the palm tree remains strong. This is a good analogy to take through to your life, as it reminds you to be flexible too.
At the end of the day, anxiety can be a difficult one to overcome. We live in this ‘get your life right’ world which reinforces that we should be able to CONTROL and PREVENT. Entire marketing campaigns are built on this premise. Inventions are made with the agenda of making life easier, less difficult and more enjoyable.
While there is nothing wrong with this, we must always keep in mind the fundamental understanding of life to keep us away from anxiety:
You cannot control how life unfolds and it doesn’t matter how life unfolds there is value in everything and your self-worth can never be compromised. You are always 100% worthy…and so is your life.
In tomorrow’s lesson we will take a look at anger and how to use the Mind TRACK to Happiness process to stop it. Be sure to head over to the Q&A Forum to ask any question you have about how to apply this lesson to your life.