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

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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.

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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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