View original article published in Psych Central–
Nathaniel, a college student had been suffering from anxiety for over two years. He found psychological help through his university but continued to feel lonely in his journey. He had chosen to hide his anxiety from his family and friends for fear of been judged as weak. As he continued with therapy, he decided to be open about his challenges.
One day he said, “I feel like I can move on with my life. I don’t need to be thinking about hiding my struggles. I can own it because I’m more than my anxiety!”
Nathaniel’s anxiety didn’t completely go away, but he learned to notice his thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges with flexibility and curiosity. He discovered that when he spoke about his anxiety, others disclosed their similar afflictions and thanked him for being frank about it. He felt support and felt empowered as he came to know that he was not alone, and that he could also help others. He experienced a sense of freedom because he was no longer hyper focused on himself.
How do you feel about owning your anxiety? It can be a delicate matter because of the unfortunate stigma that still exists about mental illnesses. The uncertainty of ‘owning it’ can be scary because your mind may come up with thousands of possible negative outcomes. Fear of the unknown feeds anxiety. However, would you be willing to become curious? Is it possible that by “owning it” you can create value for others as well as yourself?
It is your decision to disclose and “own” your anxiety publicly. You might consider owning it privately. Here are a few reasons why “owning” your anxiety may be beneficial and some suggestions on how to start the process.
Why Own Your Anxiety?
- You are not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (adaa.org), anxiety affects more than 40 million adults in the United States making it the most common mental illness in the country.
- The stigma about mental illness still exists in our society. Sufferers and advocates can help eradicate the negative view by speaking up about it.
- Anxiety does not need to define the individual just like cancer patients are not defined by their illness.
- When you choose to “own it” publicly, you will find that others will open up and want to connect with you.
- You can become an advocate with one person at a time.
- If you choose to own it privately, it means that you are acknowledging that the worry thoughts are just that, thoughts and that they don’t need to rule your life.
- As you start the process of “owning it,” you will discover that there is more to life than avoidance and having to calm your agitated mind.
Realize that wanting to escape from physical and emotional pain is an innate response. Our mind is built to provide advice and safety from possible harm. However, the result may be continuous avoidance and pain. Have you attained your desired results yet?
You can start the process of owning your anxiety by considering the following:
- Remember that we all develop coping behaviors that may not be helpful. Notice if they are giving you long-lasting results.
- It seems we get startled every time anxiety shows up. We forget that this is part of life and that it is bound to show up. Instead, we can try to make room for it. Observe what may happen when you choose to drop your struggle with anxiety.
- Does anxiety seem to define who you are? During anxious moments, it may appear that it does, but keep in mind that you are more than that!
- When your perspective is clear, write down who and what you care about. Identify your talents and interests. What brings you joy? Recognize that you are more than your anxiety.
- What is the worse thing that could happen if you were to own your anxiety? It makes sense to prefer your current pain and suffering rather than stepping into the unknown. Becoming curious could be your first step.
- Realize that your mind’s protective instinct is creating unhelpful thoughts. It may tell you that life is more certain when you maintain avoidance behaviors. Acknowledge that. Then choose what you want out of life instead of letting your anxious mind decide.
- Are you willing to welcome the uncertainty that comes with owning your anxiety? “Owning it” could be the ultimate exposure that will start you down the road towards a better living. Ask your treatment provider to help you with this process.
- What would you be doing right now if anxiety were not the focus of your life? You don’t have to feel better to start moving towards what’s most important.
Though it may initially be difficult, owning your anxiety could change your life and the lives of many others. Are you ready to accept the challenge of becoming a discoverer and finding out what happens when you “own your anxiety”?
Don’t forget that as Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
You can do it!