Five Pitfalls Anxiety Sufferers Fall into… and How to Get Past Them

Five Pitfalls Anxiety Sufferers Fall into… and How to Get Past Them

The more that I learn about life, the more that it becomes clear that I know only a little. Even though I am relatively young in my late twenties, it seems that almost each and every day there becomes apparent in my life a new stumbling block, whether it is an anxiety stumbling block or something else. As a human, it is ingrained in my nature to find countless ways, both conscious and subconscious, to engage in self-defeating behavior. But fortunately, as a human I have also been blessed with the ability to find solutions to some of the stumbling blocks presented in my path. In regard to anxiety, at least a few have become apparent, some of which others may already have discovered.

1. Self blame

The first stumbling block that exists in every anxiety sufferer’s life is the tendency to blame him or her self for having the condition, as well as for all the shortcomings that result from the condition. The truth is that anxiety is always a natural reaction to some sort of difficulty that is too great for a person to handle early on in life. In particular, social anxiety sufferers tend to have developed their condition because of very critical parents, or children at school who constantly harass them. If one thinks about it logically, what is a child who does not have the experience to deal with that kind of stress going to do? Is he going to be exceedingly confident and slay his enemies one by one? Probably not – a more natural reaction is fear and cautiousness around people.

The way past this obstacle is for one to remove him or her self from the blame game, as assigning blame does not result for one taking action for his own recovery. Rather, one must accept responsibility for his or her condition as he or she is, that this form of anxiety for coping with life is no longer functional, that he or she can accept the way life is at this point in time and that change and healing will come as he or she moves forward, and that it is important to forgive the others who helped to cause the condition, as they are flawed and human just as the anxiety sufferer is.

2. Measuring success

The second stumbling block is that failing is not the anxiety sufferer’s fault, and true failure or success is measured in the attempt, not the outcome. In sports, the saying goes, “You need a great coach, a team with great talent, and a little bit of luck.” The truth in life is that no matter what the situation is, there is no situation where one has total control over what the outcome of that situation might be. As a socially anxious guy, I used to become particularly distraught when I would ask a girl out and meet rejection. Eventually, however, it became clear that there are so many factors of which I am not aware that are influencing the situation. Perhaps I am simply not this woman’s type; perhaps she is just as afraid of having a relationship that she automatically rejects everyone; and maybe, today there is just something difficult going on in her life and she is just not in the mood for anything. What I eventually ended up hearing was that even the best of ladies men said that on any given night the best they could expect for a successful date was 1 in 10. Once I heard that statistic, I felt a lot better, and for what it’s worth, I ended up with the right one.

So, when an anxiety sufferer begins to get into the self-blame and feeling like a failure mode, it is important for him or her to instead give him or her self credit for making an attempt, and consider what factors outside of his or her control were probably influencing the situation. Upon close examination, it becomes clear that all a person could do is make the attempt and live with the results.

3. Jealousy

The third stumbling block for anxiety sufferers is jealousy, which arises from the seeming ease with which others accomplish goals that are monumentally difficult for the anxious person. There’s a friend who has no problem eating in public places, the friend who always seems to have a date, or the guy who is really confident when playing sports. Jealousy, like blame is a negative feeling that holds one back. The only way to cure anxiety is to take action, and jealousy only propels one to negative action – usually some action that is to the detriment of the person who is the target of the jealousy. The way past jealousy is to simply know that all good things come in time to those who work for them, and instead figure out what it is that can be done today in order to get to the desired place tomorrow.

4. Refusing to try

A fourth stumbling block for anxiety sufferers is a refusal to try. Typically, those who refuse to even try (and this described me at times as well), are in an incredibly difficult point in their lives. The anxiety is very intense, such that even the slightest step outside of one’s comfort zone can be incredibly overwhelming. There was a point in my life where, if I had to go and talk to a teacher after class at college, I would experience an intense heartbeat, shockwaves of anxiety running throughout my neck and shoulders, extreme shakiness in my hands and arms, a swirling head, and speech that was moving faster than I could control, or even stuttering. Now, there is still a little bit of tension if I was to approach a similar situation, but that’s about it. All that was ever needed was an attempt. Attempts can seem stupid or pointless to the anxiety sufferer because in the short-run they produce more anxiety and stress, however, in the long-run the stress reduces dramatically.

A useful metaphor would be to envision a car without any gas in it…it goes nowhere and dies immediately. But, with each attempt to break out of anxiety, even if the attempt is a little one, a little more gas is added to the tank. The car runs a little better and a little longer before it dies. Eventually however, attempts are continually made and the gas tank is filled – the car is off and ready to go! This is the point where situations that were intensely difficult are now performed with relative ease. There is no situation that cannot be overcome, in the long-run, as long as attempts are made. Just ask Thomas Edison, who took nearly a 1000 tries before successfully inventing the light bulb.

5. Internalizing negative comments

A fifth and final stumbling block is internalizing the negative remarks made by others. Those of us affected by anxiety disorders have often heard so many negative remarks concerning our addiction and feel so embarrassed about our condition that when negative remarks are made, we feel that people are telling the truth about us. People will say things that make us feel guilty like, “Why don’t you just go up there and talk to that person? There’s nothing to be scared of!” or “Why are you standing there in the corner by yourself?” or “Well I can do that without any problem, why’s it so hard for you?” It is incredibly difficult for chronic anxiety sufferers to not internalize these remarks, and very often these remarks can swirl around in our heads for days. The best that one can do, if the person is a stranger, is question, “Who is this person that speaks to me in this way? Do they really know me?” The obvious answer is “Of course not,” and when examined rationally, it becomes clear that internalizing a bad remark from a stranger is rather silly.

The more difficult situation that arises is if the person making the remark is a close friend or loved one. There is no tried-and-true technique to get this person accustomed to talking to the anxiety sufferer in a different way, however, there are some things one can do that will hopefully change the situation. The best place to start is to explain, “When you tell me to talk to that person and that there’s nothing to be scared of, I feel pressured, guilty, ashamed, and embarrassed about my anxiety. Instead, I would like you to say _____” and then fill in the blank with a statement that makes the anxiety sufferer feel more comfortable. If this fails to work after a few tries or if the person is not receptive, then the only thing the anxiety sufferer can control is how much he or she is around that person. Perhaps that person is not really a friend if he or she keeps pressuring the anxiety sufferer. In the end, it is up to the social anxiety sufferer to determine the best course of action.

* * *

Well, I am out of breath writing here – I had intended to make a list of ten traps, but once I got to five, that seemed to be enough information and writing any more would have been purely to stroke my own ego. Hopefully this information has helped those who read it, and please provide feedback on how this article could be written better or other information you would like to know – I am always looking to serve other people more effectively!

Photo by SashaW

Dan Stelter

Dan Stelter is the founder of The Anxiety Support Network, a blog dedicated to changing the world by treating anxiety.  Read the blog and listen to podcasts, or follow ASN on Twitter.

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20 Comments

  1. I’d say a big part of anxiety is the feeling of having no control over the situation. I’ve found that, in most cases, I have more control over a problem than I ever realized. Sitting down and taking a breath so that your mind can clear out and you can see that is important.

    It’s just like working on a home improvement project. In the heat of the moment and all your rage at whatever isn’t working, you just keep trying to force the same thing and blame the tool or whatever else for not working. It isn’t until you remove yourself from the situation and take a step back that you see what you can control, and you find the solution to your problem. Making sure you establish and maintain a feeling of control is a great way to battle day-to-day anxiety.

    Reply
    • Nice to see that you read the Change Blog – I had no idea you were a blog guy like me! Glad you gave it a read, but I guess that I am the opposite of you and found things were better when I realize that I had less control than I believed. That relieved a lot of self-blame, guilt, and shame. Thanks for the point though – everyone’s different.

      Reply
      • Dan,

        Wow, this is really weird! I didn’t even put it together – very cool. What a small world! :-)

        Reply
  2. Those are really helpful points. Great work you are doing.

    One of the biggest anxiety pitfalls I’ve seen come from an overall lack of confidence. People become anxious and nervous because they don’t feel confident they will succeed. A good way to work on that is to focus on your talents. Everyone has exceptional talents, things they are good at and brings them excitement and energy.

    Building the confidence from what you already do well, will help you to have the confidence to try new things. Some of those new things you may end up having great success with as well.

    Reply
    • That’s very true, and while I didn’t hit on it in this article so much, it’s a position that I advocate for strongly – especially people with sever anxiety who experience so much more failure than success.

      Reply
  3. Hi Dan,
    You did an excellent job describing what the anxiety sufferer goes through. You gave a real voice to the victim. I suffered anxiety all my life, even in my childhood. Once I got help for it I realized how much energy it was taking from me. People don’t have to live like this. I’m sure this article will help alot of people who need it. Thanks Dan!

    Reply
    • There’s probably much more anxiety in my life that I tolerate than I should as well, but the progressive victory that has been gained over time has shown more and more how life can be better without the chronic anxiety. Glad that someone else feels anxiety was described accurately and thanks for taking the time to read the article!

      Reply
  4. I am particularly bad at internalizing negative comments. A word that someone says in passing will eat at me for months. It takes time to realize that some comments are just that – a string of words – and you can’t let it get you down.

    Reply
    • One of the most difficult tricks to master with anxiety – I’ve been there too. Somehow, through practice and perhaps by finding what I am good at, it’s become apparent that I have talents as well as struggles as well. I try to focus on the talents and realize that people who make comments don’t know me well enough, didn’t mean the comment that way, or maybe talk that way to everyone and not just me.

      Reply
  5. Wow, great post. For me the way to overcome a lot of these problems was to accept that a lot of life is outside of my control. The best way to deal with this is just to keep trying. Sooner or later you will encounter a situation that is favourable towards you and then you will find success.

    Even so I do occasionally suffer from low points. In these times I tend to take a step back, spend some time alone, journal, and convince myself that it is possible to bounce back and try again.

    Reply
    • I’ve used the same strategy – seems to work out okay!

      Reply
  6. Thank you for the posting. Point 5 struck a particular chord for me – in relation to work performance reviews. In my recent one my new boss told me that I had to be more “purposeful”. Of course, struck dumb I walked out of that meeting thinking “what does that mean? ” and have since been ruminating on it, increasing my anxiety and sending me off to look for a new job in case that means that I’m about to get the sack. I’ve since asked the boss to explain what purposeful means, and haven’t had an explanation, so I’m stuck thinking I must come over as vague, weak and lacking in knowledge.Anxiety is such a hard taskmaster!

    Reply
    • Interesting insight that you provide. I’ve found myself in the same situation. It’s great that you are getting an understanding of what might be going on, but be careful because sometimes bosses don’t always have an accurate perception of their employees! I just encourage you to keep working away at whatever the block this anxiety is putting up, and eventually you’ll find that you’re past it!

      Reply
  7. Point # 4 is of greater relevance. Refusal to try – It can surely lead to high anxiety levels since without trying , one may quit too early and start staring failure in face.

    Reply
  8. Hi Dan,

    I would have loved to say that I am in my late twenties but I just realized I am turning 31 this year. Ah well, I remember what it was like to suffer from anxiety pitfalls. All the negativity that I carried around in me, all the things I could not control, my volatile emotions, they were the lessons I had to learn in life. I was depressed for a large part of my life until I changed the way I thought and perceived things.

    I think one of the greatest lessons I learned was that failure and mistakes are a necessary part of success. We have to fail to succeed. Once I accepted this revelation, a lot of the anxiety I felt was lifted. I knew that my failure and mistakes were merely lessons and warnings that my efforts were not getting the results I wanted. All I needed to do was to adjust and correct my actions and keep on doing so until I succeeded.

    The next greatest lesson I learned was to always focus on the solution and not the problem. I have long admired great rulers and generals because these men faced life and death on the battlefield. In that moment when you face death, you gain instant clarity about what is important and what is not. You know what is useful and what is not. With this mindset, I have learned to focus on solutions whenever I face problems. Not only do I channel my energies productively, once I resolve the issue at hand, there is also no reason for me to feel anxiety anymore.

    Thank you for sharing this article. :)

    Irving the Vizier

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments and I’m glad that you found out what works for you. I think I engaged in the same process, but it was slower for me. I knew about the idea of accepting mistakes, but it took quite some practice and a long time before I actually believed that and it had any effect in my life. Good point that you brought up that I haven’t thought about in a while.

      Reply
  9. I just came across this post and I wanted to say that it was very helpful to me. I think I was able to see more how “blaming myself” constantly may be linked back to how I was raise by my folks. I can see more of where the roots of my anxiety are coming from. Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Hey, great post. I used to wretched with anxiety but have found some great tools. Some I learned in a course I did and one I learned from my daughter – gratitude.

    I was speaking on the subject at a forum last weekend and heard another woman speak. She talked about how she was great at being grateful for external things but still had low self esteem. She did a gratitude project on herself!! She said it was revolutionary. Each day she found one thing about herself to be grateful for, and it helped change her self esteem. I was inspired by it. Hope it helps.

    Reply
  11. Hi, I’m currently suffering from extreme anxiety. I’m turning 22 tomorrow, and I’m terrified of leaving my home (particularly to go to work), if I do I hyperventalate and shake so hard that it completely incapacitates me. I’m barely able to work and we need me to be able to work. I used to be compitant in my job and I feel like that has been taken away from me. We went through some hard times- two miscarriages, a car crash and some other things- The worse the anxiety gets the less motivated I am to keep trying. I’m seeing a therepist I have an amazing support system in my fiance and his family. But I just want to throw in the towel and give up. But I don’t want to be that person. I want to be strong. How do I not let anxiety ruin my life? How do I take control?

    Reply

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