Finding Your Why – The First Step to Dealing with Anxiety – Anxiety Course Day 1/30

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In this post, you’ll learn why many attempts to reduce anxiety or manage stress backfire and what to do instead so that finding your why becomes easy. 

Why are you here? Why did you click on this video or sign up for this course?  If you’re in the paid course, take a minute in your workbook and write down your goals for the course. If you’re on YouTube, write down your goals in the comment section.   

I’m not going to waste your time. I’m not going to teach you how to cope with anxiety, I’m going to ask you to take radical responsibility for your anxiety. That means I’m going to ask you to change the things that you can change, but I’ll teach you the skills to do that. 

What Happens When You Let Go of Anxiety

Many people just want their anxiety to go away. They just don’t want to feel it.

They imagine that if they didn’t feel anxious, their lives would be so much better, and so they set that as their goal. Their goal is, “My goal is to not feel so anxious.”  

But when your goal is to feel less of something, you essentially have to cut something out of your life.

And the problem with that is that your world shrinks, and then as it becomes more miserable,  then your anxiety actually grows.

Now, let me give you an example. Researchers wanted to explore how anxiety impacted people, so they decided to interview a group of 8th graders who were in the process of auditioning for plays and trying out for sports teams, and running for school counselor.

And the researchers asked the kids to rate their anxiety on a scale from zero to ten.  And about half of the kids said, “Oh, I am really nervous,” and they rated their anxiety at a seven, an eight, or a nine.

And of these nervous kids some of the kids auditioned and some of them didn’t. Now, in the follow-up, researchers asked the kids who tried out anyway, and they said, “You were really nervous. Why did you try out?”

And the general response was, “Auditioning was the only way to get into the play.

I had to face my anxiety in order to accomplish my goals.” And then they asked the group of kids that had high anxiety and didn’t try out, they asked them the same question, and they answered, “I didn’t try out because that was the only way I could make my anxiety go away.”

The only way to make your anxiety go away completely is to avoid the things you care about in life. Now, just like those kids who decided not to audition, if your only goal is to feel less, to feel less sad, to feel less stressed, then you’ll end up shrinking your life away.

Now, I told you that this course is about your relationship with anxiety. Now, sometimes when we have to interact with a difficult person, like a family member or a co-worker, all we want is for that person to go away.

We don’t want to have to deal with the discomfort of interacting with them, so, we avoid them or fantasize about quitting our job or divorcing a spouse. Right?

And with some people, we can cut them out of our lives. But if our only tool in relationships is to separate from difficult people, we’re going to end up very lonely because all close relationships have difficulties.

Instead, in real close relationships we learn new skills. We learn how to communicate clearly, how to set healthy boundaries, how to ask for what you need, and how to problem-solve assertively, right?

When you learn how to do this, the difficult person won’t bother you so much, and you can get all the joy that healthy relationships bring.

Get Better At Feeling

So instead, in this course, I’m going to teach you how to get better at feeling.  I mean, yes, your anxiety probably will decrease, but way more importantly, the goal of this course is to make your life awesome again, to fill your life with the things you care about, the people, and the experiences that you’ve cut out, the dreams and the accomplishments that you’re afraid to try and to bring richness and joy back to your day instead of worry and fear.

What was the difference between those two groups of kids? They both had high anxiety, but one of them decided that their goal was worth it to face anxiety, and the other set decided that the thing they wanted most was for their anxiety to go away.

The difference was not the level of anxiety but how the kids related to their anxiety. The difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder is not severity, it’s how your response impacts your functioning.

When the next audition came around, which group do you think was more anxious? Which one felt better about themselves? Which set felt more confident? Which set of kids decided to audition again?

Motivation matters when facing anxiety.

Here’s the thing that most people don’t understand about anxiety- When your main goal is to make your anxiety go away, you believe that it’s the anxiety that is ruining their life. And you imagine that if their anxiety went away, then they’d be happy.

Attempting To Escape Anxiety

And while anxiety can be really uncomfortable, it’s not actually the anxiety that’s ruining their lives; it’s their attempts to escape the anxiety that is actually decreasing their quality of life.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some common examples.

Social anxiety: you stop going to parties because you don’t want to feel anxious there. You constantly worry about what you said in an attempt to figure out the perfect thing to say so that you don’t have to feel anxious when you say the wrong thing, so then you begin to worry and feel lonely all the time. Okay.

Someone with OCD: fear that they’ve touched something with germs, and this thought makes them anxious, so they engage in behavior like hand washing to make that feeling go away.

But the feeling comes back, so they wash their hands a hundred times to try to make that feeling go away. But even though their skin is raw the feeling comes back.

Then they just avoid going outside to avoid feeling anxious about touching something, and before long the quality of life has gone way down.

Sometimes the way we attempt to avoid anxiety isn’t nearly as obvious. We may seek constant reassurance from our spouse to avoid feeling anxious about whether they love us, or we may constantly worry to try to prevent ourselves from feeling disappointed if something bad does happen.

Yes, you’ll learn a lot more about worry later, but you do it, you worry, to avoid anxiety, and worry also fuels anxiety. Another way is we may convince ourselves that we’re worthless and broken so that we don’t have to risk uncertainty and the anxiety of trying and failing.

How has anxiety impacted your life? Take the time to fill out your workbook. What have you cut out of your life due to anxiety? What situations, people, experiences, and opportunities have you lost due to trying to not feel anxiety?

For many people anxiety has robbed them of joy – or more accurately, how they interact with their anxiety has robbed them of joy.

They feel sick and worried when they should be relaxing, or it’s made it hard for them to do their job or succeed in school, or they withdraw from friends or stop going places.

In this course I’m going to teach you a bunch of skills to decrease your anxiety, to better understand your anxiety, to change how you think and feel about anxiety, and how to make space for and tolerate anxiety.

But the goal of this course isn’t just to make your anxiety go away. Trying to not feel something is what’s called “dead people goals.” The only people who don’t feel any anxiety are people who are dead. 

And to do that work, to get better at feeling – which will sometimes be uncomfortable – you’re going to need something you care about more. More than just “making anxiety go away.” 

Finding Your Why

In this course, I’m going to be asking you to do hard things. So that’s why I need you to get really clear on what is your why. What kind of life do you want to be living? Now, I’m not going to ask you to just suck it up, to just deal with anxiety.

I’m going to teach you a bunch of skills to lower your anxiety. But if your only goal is to just feel less anxiety, I can tell you where that will lead you – to a life that is constantly getting smaller.

The only way to feel less is to cut the things you care about out of your life. You avoid performing, and then you avoid going places, and then you avoid acquaintances, and you procrastinate schoolwork, or you break up with your partner.

And your life gets smaller and smaller and smaller. And you know what?  You’re left with depression and anxiety.

Now, when I painted that picture, did you feel, like, that sense of hopelessness, of, like, that dread and that, like, cold shutdown? Like, is your goal in life really about not feeling?  

The paradox of anxiety is that the more we try to make it go away, the more messages we send to our brain that this anxiety thing is really important, and your brain actually makes it louder. It increases the neurons around anxiety, and it makes you more anxious.

Change Your Relationship With Anxiety

So, if we want to change our relationship with anxiety, we need to focus on what we do want, not what we’re trying to avoid.  

So, what happens if you imagine being able to do the things you love? Like, write about that. What if you imagine being around the people you love, boldly chasing your dreams, traveling the world, loving intensely, dancing wildly, speaking your truth, and living your life?

What does it feel like if you imagine that? Does it feel a little light? Do you feel a little bit of excitement?  

And it’s not unlikely that you feel a little twinge of worry or anxiety. So, what is it? What is the life you dream of?

This life is gonna include joy and excitement and a little bit of discomfort. So, I want you to do a visualization exercise.

What makes you feel alive? You can write about this or you can sit and imagine it for five minutes. What lights you up? How does this feel in your heart, in your legs and your stomach, in your chest and your head?

Write in detail about what you would do on a day when anxiety no longer controls you, where your choices had nothing to do with your feelings of anxiety.

What kind of person do you want to be? What do you want your life to be about?  What character traits do you admire in others?  

Spend a lot of time on this. We’re gonna come back to it. And if you’re in the full course there’s a space in your workbook to explore this further. Okay.

That’s day one from my 30-day anxiety skills course. You can check out the whole thing by clicking on the course below. 

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