It’s difficult to know how to not be anxious when you think that you’re potentially going to hit someone with some knowledge that could truly break their heart.
When I was younger my parents very much pushed me toward the Maths, English and Science subjects because, as any good parent would, they wanted a secure future for me.
They wanted to feel confident that I would be able to get that secure 9-5 job in a semi-decent industry with a guaranteed pay check each month and a healthy pension to retire on.
‘Good Parents’ Award.
Unfortunately that did not quite align with who I was.
My desires and passions were tied to creative outlets such as painting, writing and acting. It was these things that filled be with joy and gave my life meaning.
So, being the odd fish that I am I couldn’t quite get to terms with living a life where I’d spend the majority of my time doing something I felt very little fondness for purely for the financial security of it.
How not to be anxious? Financial security. (It can’t be all that…can it?)
It sounds so simple for someone who isn’t in the situation to just tell the parents, ‘Mum, dad. I think I’m going to drop maths, English and science and swap it for art, drama and Information Technology (I’ll keep that last one so the first two don’t seem quite so bad).’
However, when you’re the one smack bang in the middle of the choosing whether to follow your gut and do what’s right for you and wanting to make sure everyone else is happy, it’s anything but simple.
HOW TO NOT BE ANXIOUS
Well let’s start by addressing why we get anxious in the first place.
This is not the one and only reason but it’s quite a biggy. With anxiety comes the fear and worry of judgement from others. A lot of anxiety sufferers, like my 20 year old self, avoid conflict at all cost and are incessant people pleasers because surely, that makes life easier?
We might think to ourselves, ‘If everyone else is happy with me and my decisions then surely that will massively relieve any anxiety I might have and therefore I will feel better?’
Yes, I wish.
The thought of disappointing someone, upsetting someone or even just disagreeing with someone sends our bodies into fight or flight response as our anxiety tells us to avoid these situations because THEY’RE JUST TOO SCARY!
We feel sick thinking about their reactions.
We tremble, wondering what the repercussions might be and our blood pressure shoots through roof at the thought of someone thinking less of us.
And perhaps this should be one of the very first steps we take when finding the ‘cure’ for how not to be anxious; acknowledge that you will have to break hearts and that will SUCK.
However, by telling the truth you mitigate any long term anxiety by dancing with short term (temporary) anxiety.
INTER PERSONAL ANXIETY
When it comes to the anxiety we experience because of our social interactions a lot of it is actually caused by a lack of boundaries. Healthy relationship boundaries are the cornerstone for a happy, long lasting relationship.
Likewise we need boundaries in all the other inter personal relationships we have in life.
What we THINK causes our anxiety surrounding these connections is as previously mentioned – our actions and decisions causing upset, hurt, disagreements, conflict and judgement.
This is the cause of anxiety that would be TEMPORARY.
But the cause of permanent, long lasting anxiety comes from bending yourself to fit what’s best for everyone else at the detriment of your own happiness.
For example there may be a student out there whose parents are doctors or lawyers who have a firm belief that only through specific jobs like these can anyone experience any joy or happiness because they provide SECURITY.
But the student son/daughter has music in their heart.
They want to live with their violin in their hand and an audience of adoring fans who feel their music as they do.
How do they tell their academic parents who spent time and money on external Math and Science tutors that they would rather live the life of a starving artist?
Perhaps there is someone out there who has an overly attached and needy friend. This friend is also generous and kind, giving them everything they have in the way of connection and attention but also asks for too much in return.
They need all of their time, energy and attention and get jealous when they hang out with other people.
How does this person tell this friend, who they love, that they need space to breathe when they know it will break their heart and potentially be taken the wrong way?
Then there is the parent of a son who is narcissistic and manipulative. They love their son but he takes every opportunity to belittle the parent and persuades them to babysit the grandchildren whenever they want so they do not have to take responsibility.
The parent is sick and tired of the son, who they love, taking advantage and not respecting the help they give.
How do they tell the son to stop using them and take responsibility for their life without losing a relationship with them or the grandchildren?
It’s a pretty grand catch 22.
So when we think of situations like these, what’s the best way how to not be anxious about something so important?
LEARNING TO BREAK HEARTS
Confronting the people we love is challenging and anxiety inducing. However, learning to break hearts in order to save yourself (dramatic though it may seem) is imperative to feeling content and anxiety free in the long run.
The truth is, you simply cannot live a life of trying to make everyone else happy. When you do this you are not living in accordance to your own values and beliefs but the values and beliefs of others.
Your core values are what help you to find your purpose.
They allow you to discover what gives your life meaning and so when we ignore them so that we can make decisions based on what other people want, you’re setting yourself up for a life of discontent.
Lack of purpose, meaning and fulfillment can be a huge cause of anxiety.
When we are unaligned with our values and beliefs we feel unbalanced, unhappy, discontent and unfulfilled which creates this unending feeling of angst.
And so, you see, it is NECESSARY to be willing to hurt the people around you sometimes to give yourself the best chance of an anxiety free life.
EMBRACING TEMPORARY ANXIETY TO AVOID LONG TERM ANXIETY
The likelihood is that you catastrophize every interaction, every potential conflict and every conversation that you might have with someone that could end up being a tad uncomfortable.
And in reality, you could be right.
What you have foreseen may well come to fruition and you may well be in for a pretty awkward and fraught conversation. However, what you don’t let yourself imagine is the potential positive knock on effects of doing so.
With the subtle form of selfishness that accompanies anxiety, we fixate on the negative.
We focus on how this will affect us, how we are going to feel and what will they think of us afterwards.
In a strange twist of irony, this minor self-absorption is only present because we care about what others think of us. It matters to us if we hurt or disappoint someone we care about.
But because of the nature of anxiety, we seem to forget that EVERYTHING is temporary and NOTHING is permanent.
This tough conversation that you must have might last half an hour, 3 hours, a day or two or perhaps encourage a week of the ‘silent’ treatment but eventually everyone moves on and everyone accepts that this is just how it has to be.
By embracing temporary anxiety and discomfort you are learning how not to be anxious in the long run.
The anxiety that accompanies the choice to ignore your values and beliefs to save someone else’s (temporary) emotional heartbreak will stay with you for much, much longer.
EVERYONE HAS THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE AND FORGET
Oftentimes we do not give people enough credit and in situations like this it’s important for you to understand that you are doing the person in question a disservice by assuming that they will react in the worst possible way.
During my A level year I initially chose Maths Mechanics, Psychology, IT and Politics as my subjects.
Yeah, I know, what the hell was I thinking?
Well I was thinking that I needed to make my parents happy. They told me what they wanted me to take with excellent reasons to back them up and I took them.
But I was miserable. My creative outlets were gone and school no longer brought me any joy.
(School brings no-one joy, I hear you say. Yeah, I might have been an anomaly there).
My parents could see, without me telling them, that I was miserable. I’d come home, do my homework with little conversation to be had and no smile to be found. So, when my Dad asked me one day if I needed to change subjects before the deadline came around I had two choices…
Tell me Dad that I was fine with the subjects I had already chosen which I know would have been what he’d prefer.
Or, temporarily break his heart and induce immense fear for my future by telling him that I needed to change.
And the latter is exactly what I did. The dread and anxiety that I felt having that conversation SUCKED. I almost felt embarrassed to say, ‘I want to change Math and Psychology to Art and Drama’.
I felt stupid and I felt like a disappointment. But I wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t a disappointment.
My parents might have been upset with my decision (and could still be slightly aggrieved with it to this day) but they could see in my miserable little face that this was best for my emotional well-being.
I could handle that short period of time feeling anxious over how my parents might have felt about me.
However I could not have lived a life sitting in an office, crunching numbers and living the 9-5 in a job that I didn’t love. It’s just not me.
And the long lasting pain and stress that would have caused me would have been far more unbearable than one week of my Dad’s frowny face.
How to not to be anxious about being honest about how you feel? Realize that people are quite quick to forgive and forget.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR EMOTIONS SO TIME TO TAKE RISKS
For the longest time I struggled with social anxiety, particularly from my late teens to mid-twenties.
I thought to myself, ‘I can’t talk to anyone.’
‘I’m too stupid for them to like me’
‘I’m not interesting enough’
The problem is in distinguishing between the emotion and the reality of WHO WE ARE. So we might think in a way that says ‘I feel bad and so I AM bad’. Or ‘I feel FAT and so I AM fat’.
And this becomes a real problem for humans and our pesky emotions. We BECOME our emotions. Our inability to separate who we are from what we feel can be hugely damaging.
For an anxiety sufferer it can amplify our negative thoughts and skew our view of ourselves.
The biggest transformation came for me when I changed the way I phrase my self-talk.
Instead of saying to myself ‘I am stupid’ I would re-phrase to ‘I feel as though I can be stupid’. With this you can go on to fact check – I have a University degree and A grades at School. I’m a generally high achiever, type A personality and am willing to try and fail.
All of these things do not suggest that I am stupid. But sure, I can say stupid things.
This is a great technique to help you with how to not be anxious because of your emotions.
Likewise instead of saying, ‘I’m not interesting enough’ which would stop me from trying to speak with new people I would re-phrase to ‘I feel as though I am not interesting enough but I could be wrong. Let’s allow them to decide’.
When you live by the idea that you ARE your emotions, you’re restricting your ability to take action.
You’re limiting your chances to seek different perspectives or allow situations to play out and give you the answers rather than assuming that you already know what they are.
When trying to find ways for how not to be anxious when you believe that you’re going to truly hurt someone it can be helpful to make sure you are separating yourself from your emotions.
Just because you feel as though they hate you does not mean that they actually hate you.
Despite the fact you feel as though what you did was wrong that does not mean that you are wrong.
Regardless of whether you feel guilty about hurting them that does not mean that you are a guilty person.
This one difficult interaction does not have to define your relationship or cause you any more anxiety than it needs to.
The student might tell their parents that they are going to pursue music and the parents might be disappointed. This does not mean that the student IS a disappointment. Being good, loving parents means they will always worry about financial security but that pales in comparison to the fulfilment the student gets from living her life based around her music.
The person with the overly attached friend might receive the cold shoulder for a while and feel like a bad friend. This does not mean that they ARE a bad friend. If the friendship is worth saving then both will come to the realization that they have to respect each other’s boundaries and their friendship will be stronger for it.
Perhaps the parent finally tell the son that she is not his doormat and that he needs to take responsibility of his own life and stop treating her so poorly. Initially she might feel like a bad mother but this does not mean that she IS a bad mother. The son has the opportunity to change his attitude and their relationship might improve because of it.
For finding the courage to hurt those around them in order to live in accordance to their values and belief, they are all taking steps to bettering themselves.
HOW TO NOT BE ANXIOUS WHEN THE WORST HAPPENS
I know what you’re thinking.
What if I break their heart and they never want to see me again? What if I cause irreparable damage?
Well to that I ask you this:
If this person is so set on having their way to the detriment of your happiness and future then are they truly worth having in your life?
Can they really want the best for you?
And if the answer is, ‘yes, I do still need and want them in my life’. Then it’s up to you both to reach an understanding. Perhaps you will never agree on your decision but you must at least both accept that this is what you need to do, for yourself, and move forward.
This one conflict does not have to define the essence of the relationship; it is merely an obstacle to get over.
Understanding this will help with how not to be anxious over one single situation or circumstance.
THEY WILL RECOVER FROM HEARTBREAK BUT YOU MIGHT NOT
Believe it or not no-one cares as much as you think they do.
It’s difficult to hear and I am not suggesting that you are not loved or that in GENERAL they don’t care about you but, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that my anxiety has always caused me to believe that everyone cares about what I say and do a lot more than what they actually do.
Perhaps they will feel the short sharp sting of your actions which don’t align with their own opinions and values. Maybe the will be taken aback or wonder to themselves what might have caused you to choose this, that or the other.
But, the reality is that they will get over it pretty quick. Why? Because it’s not their life.
Plain and simple.
Nothing you do or say will have much in the way of a direct impact on those people who surround you. Our obligations as friends, daughters, parents, grandparents, teachers etc is to care for and respect the choices of the people we hold dear to us.
Ultimately, the understanding that what you are doing is something you NEED to do in order to give yourself the best chance of an anxiety free, meaningful existence should be enough for them to see that it has a much greater effect on your live than it does theirs.
They will get over the temporary sting of hurt when you initially approach them.
But you might not be able to get over the long lasting ache that comes from not living in accordance with your values and beliefs.
How to not be anxious and relieve yourself of a mass of anxiety? Learn to break hearts for your own good.