‘I can’t stand people who are like that.”
“I must give my best speech ever. I’m doomed if I don’t.”
“I am worried that my worry over the test will make me fail.”
We utter these seemingly innocent, regular statements on any given day. But these statements are a poignant reflection of the anxieties that a large majority of humans face.
Human anxieties can be lumped up into three basic types:
The fear of discomfort has to be one of the biggest emotional problems facing human beings. How many times have you told yourself or heard someone say, “I can’t bear this,” “I cannot stand that kind of loss,” “That sort of pain is unbearable.”
Low tolerance for discomfort leads to anxiety around an anticipated discomfort. As a result, discomforts, even minor ones, can become a big problem when you ‘catastrophize’ or try to avoid them.
Of course, we all prefer not to feel discomfort, but that’s just a preference. When you demand that you shouldn’t have to feel discomfort, you start worrying and anticipating uncomfortable situation. You drive yourself crazy trying to avoid any sort of unpleasantness!
Look at discomfort as a normal aspect of life. Distress is indeed unpleasant but it is equally bearable. Give up the idea that you should feel good all the time, every time.
One way of overcoming anxiety is, paradoxically, to expose yourself to that which ‘you can’t bear.’ If meeting new people is something that makes you anxious, or if it’s something that makes you say, “I cannot bear the thought of approaching and meeting new people,’ force yourself to go to new places where you will meet new people. The idea is to live through the discomfort until the unpleasant feeling wanes off over time.
You can stop adding to your anxiety by seeing yourself as being capable of tolerating discomforting situations.
Anxiety over anxiety is essentially, having a problem about a problem. It is a vicious cycle. You can be anxious about sitting a test or doing a presentation. This initial anxiety is discomforting. But what’s even more aggravating is feeling anxious over your initial worry over sitting the exam.
According to Freudian theory, anxiety over anxiety is a type of moral anxiety, which is driven by guilt or shame. In other words, feeling guilty or shame over your initial fear can cause more anxiety. Talk about a double whammy!
Dealing with the initial source of anxiety is the first step in eliminating the secondary layer of anxiety. You will find that thoroughly studying and preparing for tests could ease some of your anxiety over exams. Additionally, practicing mental visualization and positive internal dialogue can help you anticipate a good grade.
Second, accepting the possibility of discomfort (e.g. feeling bad about not scoring a good grade) can help you tolerate the process (sitting the exam) and the outcome(the grade). This openness to life’s discomforts can help to put you at ease, so you do not have to be anxious about your anxieties.
Ironically, ego-based anxiety is the ego’s way of defending and protecting the ‘self.’ Anxiety of the ego is essentially anxiety over preserving your self-worth. Setting unrealistic expectations or judging your self-worth according to your external performance causes an ego-based anxiety.
But most human beings do this all the time. A person’s performance whether in his career, in his family life or social life is such a predominant factor in their overall self-worth. However, the complete inability to separate external performance and your actual self-worth is what leads to ego-based anxiety.
You might have come across a person who is always fixated on outdoing himself and others. Even though this person does a good job, ‘good’ is never good enough for him. Such a person may always require to be praised for an external performance such completing a project successfully.
Majority of those who suffer ego anxiety also have a tendency to expect the worst. No matter how prepared they may be they always anticipate things going wrong.
An effective way to deal with ego-based anxiety is to practice how to separate your ‘self’ from external performance. You may start to see yourself as more than your work projects. Just because you don’t do well in one project doesn’t mean you are a failure.
You may also overcome ego anxiety by practicing to visualize a desirable end instead of ‘awfulizing’ (anticipating an awful ending) situations that have not yet taken place.
Anxieties often develop from unconscious acts and statements, which blur the mind’s ability to deal rationally with reality. Stopping to understand the nature of your anxieties can help to weed out those underlying thoughts and defence mechanisms that drive your anxieties in the first place.
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