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5 Lies Anxiety Tells

Getting out of an unhealthy relationship with your anxiety.

Key points

  • People don't have to get rid of their anxiety to have a more healthy relationship to it.
  • Learning not to follow anxiety's demands can help.
  • Anxiety is not responsible for the successes someone has.
James Gana/Pexels
James Gana/Pexels

As a therapist, I talk to people every day struggling with anxiety. It is sometimes chilling to me how much relationships many have with their anxiety resemble those of individuals I have met in unhealthy relationships with other people. This can range from following anxiey's demands to a point where one's life shrivels into a corner to constantly fighting against one's own energy. It doesn’t have to be this way.

1. The Lie: You Won't Make it Without Me

Anxiety would love for you to think that without it your life will spiral into endless cycles of forgotten responsibilities. As if, somehow, by motivating you to take care of all the potential arrows life would otherwise through your way. Here's the thing—much procrastination links back to anxiety. There are more effective motivators.

What You Can Do About It

Build a stronger sense of committed action by tapping into other sources of drive. Prove to yourself that you don’t need anxiety to micro-manage you to do your best. Practice rewarding yourself for things that give you a sense of accomplishment or meaning. Guide yourself in the same way you would guide an adolescent you care about. Cultivate self-compassion.

2. The Lie: Bad Things Will Happen in the Future and if You Don’t Start Grieving Them Now You Won't be Ready

This is one of anxiety’s nastiest lies. Anxiety can convince us to grieve what we haven’t yet lost and even things we may never lose. By allowing us to get “too comfortable” in a job or “too close” to someone we fear we could lose, anxiety ironically robs us of enjoying what we have.

What You Can Do About It

Acknowledge your fears, but do not allow them to drive the ship. Practice being present. It can take a lot of work, but it is possible to regain contact with the present moment.

3. The Lie: I Am Responsible for Your Success

Similar to motivation, anxiety can convince you that it is only through the anxious energy and perfectionistic edge that it has given you that you can accomplish anything. As if it were responsible for your success. The reality is that while hypervigilance can give energy, it also can lead to many mistakes. You do not need anxiety to take steps toward what matters to you.

What You Can Do About It

Check in with yourself about what matters to you. Is it your relationships? Your work? Your dog? And ask yourself why those things matter to you. Connection with your values will spark a natural passion that is miles more effective than anxiety.

4. The Lie: If You Let Me Go All the Bad Things I Warn You About Will Happen

Anxiety can have an almost threatening edge to it implying that it is somehow protecting you by helping you notice all the bad things and take care of them before those things happen. Still, ask yourself this: How accurate are anxiety’s predictions? How much time have you spent worrying about things that never happen? Anxiety has no way to tell the future no matter how much it insists it can.

What You Can Do About It

Accept uncertainty. Life is full of it. Bad things will happen. And that is okay. If you can not let go of a worry, plan for what you will do if it happens. This puts you in control.

5. The Lie: You Have to Spend All of Your Time With Me

Worry has a way of taking over. It can give an impression that if you don’t worry about this or that thing right now, you’ll be doomed. Still, it often does little to help us deal with the things we fear.

What You Can Do About It

Set boundaries with your anxiety by placing aside a set time for planning. Maybe Tuesday evenings, or 15 minutes each morning; what works for one person might be different than what works for someone else. When worries pop up in between those times, write them down and address them in their assigned period.

In Closing

If you are struggling with your relationship with anxiety, psychotherapy can help. Acceptance Commitment Therapy in particular focuses on helping to pivot your energy toward what you value instead of allowing anxiety to run you in circles. There is hope.

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