Reducing anxiety through insight and appreciation of self-worth
Anxiety is the body’s stress reaction to fear. At times, it feels as if there is a great deal to fear both physically and psychologically. News stories are invariably negative and troubling, with the global concerns around climate change, misuse of power, conflict and Coronavirus. Layer onto this the constant chatter of social media, which distorts perceptions. This anxiety-inducing context pervades our life, even if we do not consciously think about it. A very natural response to this anxiety backdrop is to feel overwhelmed.
Many social networking platforms encourage the illusion of the perfect world, where only our best version is projected through the posting process. Yet many people who appear happy in this public persona, may feel unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives and need the approval of others simply to feel good. This distorted reality then becomes the benchmark against which we measure the quality of our lives and feel the pressures borne from comparisons, and the competitive instinct they generate. There is a disconnection from our deeper selves in this ‘noisy,’ demanding environment in which we live.
Being aware that we absorb stress from our environment is vital, as is recognising that no one person can change the external context. However, what we can change is how we feel about ourselves and how to calm and soothe our anxious self to gain a helpful perspective.
The following six ideas are intended to create insight to allow you to safeguard yourself from the inherent demands of our anxious world through a greater sense of your own worth.
1. Understand how your past impacts your self-worth and shapes your anxiety
Good self-esteem forms in early childhood and is an internal, subjective way of seeing yourself. Relationships with those close to you – parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important contacts are important for your self-esteem. Many beliefs that you hold about yourself today reflect messages you’ve received from these people over time. You may have stored away messages from childhood that impact on how you perceive yourself today and may not reflect reality e.g. ‘I’m not clever’ or ‘I’m going to make a big mistake.’ Or you may have stored away rules from your family that hold you back from achieving more eg. ‘don’t get too big for your boots’ or ‘work hard, all of the time.’
Anxiety is generated if you feel that you have broken one of these ‘rules.’ The irony is, that you may not even notice this pattern of thinking as it becomes second nature. It is important to consciously observe your thinking to minimise the risk of getting stuck in certain unhelpful ways of thinking.
2. Know what makes you feel anxious and the types of people who trigger anxiety for you
The past shapes your current life and this is evident when you see how you react to different people. You can be reminded of your past by a certain behaviour or even a tone of voice and this can cause anxiety. A line manager who questions your decision- making can induce old feelings of not being ‘good enough’ that might come from a parent.
It is easy to feel like a small, disempowered child, rather than an assertive adult, when an insecure nerve is struck or shame is elicited. Your memories can be triggered and ‘old’ feelings can surface. With these dynamics at play, sometimes outside of your conscious awareness, it is important that you pay attention to what is going on. Learn how to pull back, observe the situation, and separate out the way you feel, and know that you might be responding to your past rather than the ‘here and now.’
3. Increasing your self-awareness
It is important to know yourself as you can then change things about you that are not working well. Although you may be consciously aware of some of your thoughts and behaviour, the bulk of how you behave in the world comes from an unconscious place. To access this insight, it is essential to notice the patterns of behaviour in your life as this then enables you to manage emotions which may be challenging.
It is possible only to know yourself in superficial ways. Indeed, you can move forward in your life with new experiences and situations which neither nourish nor challenge you because you have tuned out your deeper, inner voice. To understand yourself more deeply enables you to have more poise and freedom to anchor yourself during stormy times.
4. Valuing yourself
When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure and worthwhile. You have positive relationships with others and feel confident about your abilities. You’re also open to learning and feedback, which can help you manage anxiety and acquire and refine new skills. Healthy self-esteem is about learning to like and respect yourself – faults and all!
Knowing about your own levels of self-esteem and working to build up your self-esteem are crucial for building foundations to be an independent and assertive adult. At some level, it is important to come ‘home’ to yourself, and what you think and feel, rather than being influenced unduly by others’ thoughts or feelings. Others, who may not have your best interests at heart, do not deserve too much power in your life.
5. Building your confidence
Self-confidence is something which grows over time, through the things you do and the achievements which make you proud. Having self-confidence creates a sense that you can achieve what you set out to do and feel secure in your abilities. Much of confidence has to do with your emotions and your perceptions of yourself and what you focus on. It is hard to feel confident if your internal dialogue is one of doubting or constantly questioning your abilities.
You can make yourself feel anxious with negative self-talk, if you say things like ‘I’m a failure,’ or ‘I’m such an idiot’ then you pull yourself down. Changing your inner dialogue can change the way you feel. How much more empowering it is to listen to yourself say ‘you’re going to be OK,’ rather than the sharp tone of the inner critic. A positive echo of self-worth in your heads is also felt in your body and reinforces your sense of personal strength.
6. Ideas for addressing anxiety
For many people who experience anxiety it is ‘fear’ that keeps the anxious feelings heightened in their bodies and creates a sense that something will go wrong or they might fail. By managing the physical feelings of fear, you can calm yourself down and provide reassurance that you will be OK.
Here are some simple ideas for managing anxious thoughts:
- Remind yourself that the breath is the anchor for calming yourself. Slow your breathing down and follow breathing patterns like 7/11 breathing, slowly breathing into the count of 7 and out to the count of 11 (or a variation of this pattern). Meditation, mindfulness and yoga are all good practices that bring you back to your breath.
- Spend time in nature to gain perspective on your anxious thoughts. Our world contains so much stimulation that we can easily get overloaded. Studies show that when we are in nature there are beneficial physical changes which occur, like slowing down our heart rate and quietening the cognitive chatter in our minds.
- Understand your thinking. We all distort our thoughts and can find ourselves moving into patterns of thinking which are extreme or feel as if we have very few options eg. black or white thinking or catastrophising. Gently interrupt this pattern by reassuring yourself of the nuances in life and how important it is to retain hope in adversity.
- Inspiring words, ideas or music can soothe and comfort our anxious thoughts. Some poetry or music can speak to us strongly and help ease some of our fears and tensions. Unknown feelings can be worked through or better understood, with the aid of poetry and music.
The external world can feed our anxiety and make us feel unsafe both physically and psychologically. As anxiety is a feeling it cannot be fully addressed in logical and analytical ways. Our feelings about ourselves, and the way we process fear, is at the core of managing anxiety. This requires attention to be paid to the way we have been shaped by our past, either consciously or unconsciously. When we esteem ourselves, we have greater awareness of our strength and abilities and this provides us with inner protection and resilience in this anxious world.
As a Coach and Psychotherapist, I work with individuals to help them gain insights into themselves and the patterns that may drive anxious thoughts and feelings so that these can be interrupted and calmed. My work facilitates individuals to be more consciously aware of the choices they make to reduce anxiety and feel more hopeful and aware of their own self-worth.