Struggling with Anxiety? Ask yourself these questions


Anyone who has experience with anxiety will understand just how miserable it can be. It is definitely something to be taken seriously. That is why my clients hate it when I tell them that anxiety can be a good thing. It’s true… it might be uncomfortable to experience anxiety, it might even hurt. But it also hurts to burn your hand on a stove. Why do we feel pain when our hand is burning? Pain is a messenger telling us to move our hand away from the heat. Anxiety is telling us something too; often we just need to listen.  Maybe we aren’t living our lives to the fullest. Perhaps we are lacking meaning or purpose. Anxiety comes calling when reality is just too difficult to accept and we spend our energy wishing things were different.

But what about when it becomes perpetual? When it stops being something we struggle with from time to time and starts to define who we are? Healthy anxiety is a passing state, here to warn us to do things differently. But when it becomes a fixed trait, part of our personality, it stops being useful and starts becoming an illness.  Certain types of thinking can cause anxiety or fuel it.  If you have taken a good look at your life, listened to what anxiety is telling you and still feel bullied by anxiety on a daily basis, ask yourself if you have fallen into some of these thinking patterns.

1. All or nothing thinking.  All or nothing thinking is when we view a situation in only two categories rather than realizing things exist on a continuum. It happens when we think something is all good or all bad. We know we are doing this when we say things like “this always happens to me” or “I never get it right”. All or nothing thinking can lead us to catastrophizing the future and ourselves by viewing things as entirely negative without considering other possibilities.

2.  Personalization.  This occurs when we blame ourselves for other people’s bad behaviour. We assume they were rude because we are unlikeable. Or in reverse, we think people are horrible human beings based on one bad experience. We blame the person rather than the situation. We all do this from time to time, remember the last time a driver cut you off on the road? We make the assumption that they are rude, inconsiderate #@$%%, rather than assuming that they are rushing to the hospital for the birth of their first child, or late for the most important event of their lives.

3.“Should” and “Must” statements. I call this ‘shoulding’ on yourself. We ‘should’ on ourselves when we have precise, fixed expectations and when we don’t live up to them we beat ourselves up with statements like “I should have tried harder” or “I should have done more”. We do this to others when we say things like “You should have known better”.  Rather than accepting fallibility we expect perfection causing us to live in a state of continuous disappointment and low self-worth.

Anxiety is complex and usually multi-layered so if you continue to suffer with it seek help. It can be overwhelming to deal with alone, but with the support and guidance of a therapist you can find relief and live a bolder, braver more vibrant life.

Kristen Johnston, MA, RCC

Kristen is a psychotherapist, family mediator and social justice advocate working in Coquiltam and Port Moody. She sees clients from all over the lower mainland and from all walks of life. If you want to learn more about Kristen, click here to view her bio, or join the Juniper Counselling Facebook page for regular blog posts and other great stuff.