When anxiety shows up, I know that it’s going to do everything it can to hold me back.
That’s the point of fear, after all - it likes to keep us tucked safely away in our comfort zone.
But what if I want to do something new and exciting, like speaking in front of a large audience, going live on Facebook for the first time, or trying out scuba diving?
Something that scares me but stretches me.
I now know that whenever anxiety shows up, certain key beliefs are at play. After all, how you think determines how you feel. This is why optimists experience less stress and more happiness.
Here are 4 things your anxiety is trying to tell you.
1. I don’t feel capable
Anxiety shows up when you believe that you aren’t capable of meeting the demands of a situation or bringing about the sort of outcome you want.
Will people even find what I have to say interesting? What if I stumble over my words or say something stupid? Do I really have what it takes?
The good news is that once I know this belief is present, I can challenge it by asking myself, “Is is really true that I don’t have what it takes?” or even better, “What skills and strengths do I bring to this situation? What makes me capable of doing this?”
2. I don’t feel in control
If there’s one thing anxiety loves, it’s control.
If there’s one thing it hates, it’s the unknown.
So if the thing you really want to do is kind of risky, if you can’t guarantee you won’t get hurt, anxiety is bound to show up. Especially if this is something you’ve never done before.
When I tried scuba diving for the first time, I felt absolutely terrified. My mind was racing with all the possible things that could go wrong: for one, what if I couldn’t breathe?
It really helped to shift my focus away from what I couldn’t control, towards what I could. I reminded myself that there were a number of experienced divers with me whose specific job was keeping us safe. I could focus on taking it step by step, on following instructions, and by communicating if I ever felt I needed help.
But feeling out of control happens in many different everyday situations, too.
If you’re worried about getting rejected or messing something up at work, it can be useful to remind yourself that there’s not much use to trying to control what external outcomes such as what people think or whether things work out in the end - because you simply can’t control those things.
Instead, shift your focus to what is within your power, like your effort, or whether you decide to take the leap of faith in the first place.
3. I don’t feel clear
Big dreams and goals are exciting, but if you’re unclear on how to achieve them, they become overwhelming instead.
Anxiety shows up when there’s a lack of clarity between where you are now and where you would like to be, and it only gets worse if, as time passes by, you find you’re no closer to your goal.
In fact, research shows that individuals who envision positive outcomes actually experience less success in achieving those outcomes.
However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t daydream about a positive future (positive daydreams are actually a useful way to build optimism) but rather that it’s necessary to clarify how you plan to get there and what you need to do.
This might mean breaking the goal down into smaller steps so that it’s less overwhelming for your mind. When the path is clear, you’re bound to feel calmer.
And bonus, that dreamed-about future could become your reality.
4. I don’t feel hopeful
Anxiety and hope are opposites.
Hope shows up when you feel like your future could be better than the present. This fills you with optimism, excitement, and anticipation.
In contrast, anxiety fears a future that is worse than the present (or the same, if now doesn’t feel “good”).
Instead of, “Imagine if things get better!”, it asks, “But what if things get worse..?”
The last three points I’ve mentioned actually tie together to increase hope and reduce anxiety, and you can increase how hopeful you feel by considering each point in tandem:
What do you want for your future?
Are you clear on what specific steps you need to take to get there?
Do you have faith in yourself and your capabilities?
Are you zoomed in on what you can control (such as your values and your effort) rather than evaluating your success by external things?
All of these things add up to hope.
And the more hopeful you feel, the less anxious you feel.