Sometimes when you’re frustrated by your anxiety, you may start comparing yourself to people who don’t seem to have much anxiety…people you think of as “normal.”
You might consider yourself flawed because of your anxiety problem and wonder why it seems so easy for other people to just not care about things. you wonder what everyone seems to know that you don’t.
Well, if you have an anxiety problem, that doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with you. it simply means that something you are doing is not working. Those people you see who don’t have anxiety issues aren’t in any way better or smarter than you, but they are doing a few key things differently.
and I’m going to tell you what those things are, because the good news is that you can do them too. there are no big secrets or magic tricks here. these are all simple habits you can adopt, starting right now.
Next, I’ll detail 5 typical habits of people who don’t have an anxiety problem (I’ll call them effective habits) and compare them to what someone with an anxiety problem would do (I’ll call them anxiety habits habits).
If you start doing the effective habits more often than the anxiety habits, you will eventually start to notice a change in your anxiety. this works because anxiety habits feed anxiety…maintain it for the long haul. so if you stop giving anxiety its fuel by changing these habits, it will eventually run out of steam and get better.
In the long run, your anxiety will only change if you change your behavior. And while you can’t control your anxiety, you can definitely control what you do.
1. the effective habit: when you feel anxious, don’t fight it… let it be. the anxiety habit: when you feel anxious, do what you can to make it go away.
The most basic and important thing to know about anxiety is that avoidance doesn’t work. the more you try not to feel anxious, the more anxious you will feel. the more you avoid situations that make you anxious, the more anxious you will be in the long run. that’s why anxiety doesn’t get better on its own.
the alternative to avoidance is acceptance: instead of fighting anxiety, the effective habit is to allow anxiety to be present. if fighting only makes it worse, then acceptance must be the answer. this may sound crazy at first, but it really works.
People who don’t have an anxiety problem still have some anxiety…it’s a normal part of life. but they don’t give their anxiety much time, even when it comes up. they do not give respect to anxiety. they don’t treat it like a problem, and the anxiety eventually recedes without them having to do anything about it. but anxiety feeds on your fighting with it; so if you fight it, it will only get worse.
Do not give respect to your anxiety. don’t give it your time stop doing all the things you’ve been doing to fight it, and it will eventually go away on its own.
2. the effective habit: you allow and tolerate uncertainty. the habit of anxiety: uncertainty is intolerable: you have to make sure of everything.
In some way, almost all forms of anxiety stem from the fear of uncertainty. people who have an anxiety problem are intolerant of uncertainty. they feel they must know things and be in control of every situation. but this is never possible… life always involves some uncertainty.
People who don’t have an anxiety problem know it and accept it. when they’re not sure what’s going to happen, they don’t go out of their way to try to figure it out. they don’t spend a lot of time mentally analyzing situations or preparing and planning for every possible outcome.
They do not attempt to answer questions about the future that cannot possibly be answered. Sure, everyone has to spend some time planning ahead, but they keep it to a minimum. their attention is focused more on what is happening in the present moment than on what might happen in the future.
When they’re unsure about something, they allow themselves to go about their day even if they can’t figure it out. not knowing things is allowed.
3. the effective habit: you don’t demand yourself to feel calm. you allow yourself to feel how you feel. the habit of anxiety: you think you shouldn’t feel anxious, so you try to fight it.
People with an anxiety problem make demands on their feelings. they believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to feel in any given situation. They may think it’s okay to feel anxious before giving a speech in front of 100 people, but it’s not okay to sit at work panicking for no apparent reason.
well, unfortunately, your mind doesn’t care about “should”. you feel how you feel. there is no “should”, your feelings are just what they are. demanding that they be different than they are will only drive you crazy, because feelings are something that happens to you, not something you choose.
People who don’t have an anxiety problem accept it. they have no expectation of feeling calm all the time. so when they don’t feel calm, this is no big deal. and they don’t treat it like it’s a big deal. they allow themselves to feel what they feel and move on with their day.
4. the effective habit: you allow yourself to have “negative thoughts”. the habit of anxiety: you consider “negative thoughts” dangerous and try not to think about them.
At first glance, you might think I wrote this backwards: Isn’t it bad to have negative thoughts? isn’t that part of the problem? absolutely not.
You probably know what happens when you try to stop thinking about something: it just makes you think about it more, right? well, people with a lot of anxiety tend to do this a lot, even though it doesn’t work. certain thoughts are so painful to them that they consider them dangerous, and they do everything in their power not to think about them… but that only ends up making things worse.
You might be surprised to learn that people who don’t have an anxiety problem also have a lot of negative thoughts… they just deal with them in a very different way: they don’t try to do anything about it.
When they have negative thoughts, they just don’t spend much time with them. they accept negative thoughts instead of fighting them, which makes the thoughts lose their power.
5. the effective habit: when you feel anxious, you keep doing what you were doing anyway. the habit of anxiety: when you feel anxious, you spend your time differently than you normally do; stop doing certain activities.
This is one of the most important habits to know. When someone with an anxiety problem feels anxious, they treat it as something that needs to change before they can do anything else. therefore, they may stop working, seeing friends, or exercising until they can calm down. only then will they get on with their day. this leads to closure, inactivity, more anxiety and depression because avoidance maintains anxiety in the long run.
When people who don’t have an anxiety problem feel anxious, they don’t let it stop them from doing anything. they keep going, despite the anxiety. They accept that some anxiety is a normal part of life, and by not letting it change the way they spend their time, they prevent it from becoming a persistent problem.
If you find yourself doing more of the anxiety habits, try making a lifestyle change toward the effective habits. If you use these strategies consistently, you will no longer be doing the things that fuel your anxiety and will eventually improve because of your behavior change.
Are you interested in learning some of the most common and effective strategies I teach my clients to deal with anxiety and worry? Check out my self-help video series, How to Stop Over-Analyzing, with over 3 hours of content covering the skills I teach almost all of my clients in the first 5 therapy sessions.