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Empower Yourself: 3 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Anxiety

Everyone I talk to these days, tells me about the level of anxiety in their lives – I guess being a therapist means I hear about all the fears and worries in people’s lives. Post-pandemic has been marked by a significant increase in reports of anxiety, worry and generalized overthinking in our day-to-day life.


The word alone can spark a sense of panic, worry and overthinking of all the things that can go wrong. All the internal thoughts that start with “what if…” are a clear sign of anxiety being on the scene. Anxiety has an amazing way of barging into our lives, and our minds and taking over. I would be willing to bet, that anxiety has shown up and stolen an opportunity for joy for almost every person in your life, including your own life.


We are living in a time when we are plagued by anxiety that is brought on by our jobs, the multiple roles we play in our lives, meeting the demands of people we care about or simply having too much on our plates. The thing about anxiety is that it behaves predictably and has five distinct habits:


1. Anxiety as a mind reader: anxiety tries to convince us that we can read minds. We engage in thinking about what others are thinking about us and anxiety will conclude that others are thinking negatively about us. We become so sure that our boss gave us “a look” that we assume means our boss thinks we’re inefficient, ineffective and not good enough. Or we are convinced that our partner thinks we are having an “ugly day” because they didn’t notice our new hairdo. The truth of the matter is that all people spend 99% of their thinking power on thinking about themselves and their lives.


2. Anxiety as a fortune teller: anxiety can capture our minds with all magical tales of what the future holds from getting fired from your job to your spouse cheating on you to your dog getting run over by a semi-truck. The funny thing is that if anxiety set up shop at a carnival, it would quickly go bankrupt as all the fortunes it tells are catastrophic and joy-killing.


3. Anxiety as record keeper: anxiety can pride itself in keeping accurate accounts of your life and all of your choices. It speaks loudly as an expert in your life because it has kept all “the facts” straight. The trick is that anxiety only keeps a record of our mistakes and then uses these against us. This is not a record of facts, but a record of half the story of your life.


4. Anxiety as a bully: anxiety doesn’t like to work alone. It joins forces with perfectionism and critiques us at every turn. Just when you think you’ve finally reached the “perfection bar”, anxiety and perfection change the rules of the game and set a new standard for you to work towards. Like any bully, it’s relentless and loud while pointing all the ways that you’re failing at life.


5. Anxiety as a word master: a good way to know whether anxiety is playing you, is to tune into all the “should” statements. Statements such as “you should have done it this way”, “you should be…..” or “they should be…” All this does is highlight all the potential mistakes but it also doesn’t allow for any type of learning and reflecting. Inevitably, this will leave you feeling shame, guilt, and embarrassment.


Change your relationship with anxiety try these three things:


1. Remember your preferred story: What do you want? What are the values and beliefs that you hold sacred in your life? When we can create a strong story of the way we want to be and the person we strive to be, we can take steps away from anxiety and walk into our preferred way of living life to the fullest. This can help you ground in your values and not get co-opted into anxiety’s agenda.


2. Consult your consultant: inside of all of us a consultant (or inner wise person) that has our best interest at heart. This is not the voice of anxiety, but the soft and caring voice inside of us. What does your consultant have to say about anxiety and its habits? What would your consultant remind you about yourself that you have forgotten? Has there been a time in your past when you were able to stand up against anxiety? What did you do and can you recreate that?


3. Build Connection: what we know for certain, is that anxiety grows and gets stronger in isolation. When we expose anxiety to the light of day and in the presence of someone who cares about us a magical thing happens….anxiety becomes smaller and less powerful. Anxiety wants you to be alone and disconnected from your social support and it benefits from this isolation. If you don’t have a supportive social network, counselling can also help in exposing anxiety to the light of day. Take a step into the light and expose it and you will see how quickly it shrinks away. Find ways to laugh at it as you gain confidence in knowing its habits because humour to a problem is like garlic to a vampire.


Anxiety doesn’t deserve to take control of your life – your life is yours and yours alone!

Be well,

Cecilia Mannella

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