If you experience anxiety, you know how annoying it can be. It’s also a skilled liar. Anxiety will have you believe you shouldn’t try new things, the worst is about to happen and, oh yeah, you’re a worthless piece of crap.
Surprisingly, your anxiety isn’t lying to you just for kicks. “Anxiety lies to us, honestly, as a form of protection,” says Chanel Johnson, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Altus Home Counseling in Detroit, Michigan. Think of anxiety as your body’s alarm system. It warns you that something could be dangerous or cause you harm so you can protect yourself. However, sometimes the warning bells go off for perceived threats that aren’t real threats, Johnson explains. Anxiety may whip up a piece of fiction to protect you from embarrassment, rejection, sadness and many other things that usually aren’t life-or-death situations.
What exactly is anxiety?
From the American Psychological Association:
- Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
- Anxiety is not the same as fear, but they are often used interchangeably. Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.
Some of those lies anxiety tells can be painful and may interfere with daily life, including your job, relationships, ambition and self-esteem.
These are some of the anxiety lies you shouldn’t believe.
You can’t do it
The “it” can be anything. Changing career. Losing weight. Whatever. Typically, when anxiety says you’re not capable of doing something, it’s trying to protect you from the pain of disappointment (if you’re unsuccessful), Johnson says. However, you’ll be disappointed anyway if you don’t try.
So take note of the hard stuff you’ve already conquered. Then go for the goal. Set yourself up for small successes to reinforce to your subconscious that it’s OK to try and that you can do it, says Johnson. For example, if you want to lose 30 pounds, a mini goal could be losing 2 pounds or walking every day this week for 20 minutes.
You’re not good enough
As Black women, we’re bombarded with messages in the media telling us we aren’t good enough. Unfortunately, our anxiety echoes those thoughts.
If some random person said, “You’re not good enough for … ,” you would likely dispute their statement. Next time your anxiety says you’re not a good enough ________ (fill in the blank), respond to yourself the same way you would to someone else, says La Keita Carter, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and owner of the Institute for HEALing in Owings Mills, Maryland. Who says I’m not good enough? What makes me unqualified to sit at this table? What does “good enough” mean, anyway? Think about your strengths and accomplishments, and how you show up for yourself and others. You’re more than enough.
Nobody likes you
Anxiety and low self-esteem often occur together. When the voice in your head says everyone dislikes you, look for conflicting information that disproves this lie, says Dr. Carter. Do you have a bestie? Have coworkers invited you to happy hour? See, you’re likable.
If you truly don’t have any close acquaintances, work toward changing that, Dr. Carter advises. Yes, it’s possible to make friends as an adult.
You’re not safe
Remember, anxiety’s job is to protect you from danger. After the past several years? Sheesh, it’s no wonder anxiety’s screaming that everything is unsafe.
In heightened moments of worry, Johnson recommends the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. Look at your environment and name five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you can taste. “This lets the body and brain know, if you’re looking at trees and touching your pants, there’s likely no immediate danger, so they can turn off the alarm,” she says.
The worst will happenIf you let anxiety tell it, you’ll ruin everything and the worst-case scenario will always happen.
Many times, your fear is based on something that hasn’t happened (and probably won’t), Dr. Carter says. Ask yourself: Is whatever you’re worrying about realistically likely to happen? Think about other possible outcomes and how you could handle the situation if the worst did happen. For example, you’re worried you’ll do something that causes your partner to dump you. Well, it could play out a different way. Even if you do mess up, the person could say it’s no big deal or forgive you. And if they end the relationship, yes, you’ll be sad, but you could get back out there and meet someone new.
Just the fact that you have anxiety can make you believe you’re weak or somehow mentally flawed.
Dr. Carter’s recommendation: Challenge these thoughts with logic, and push back the same way you would if someone else said it about you. “What’s the definition of weak? Is it someone who needs help? If that’s the case, 100 percent of human beings are weak,” she says. To be clear, having anxiety doesn’t mean you’re weak. We all experience it at times, some more than others. If you’re having difficulties controlling your anxiety symptoms, reach out to a mental health provider, Dr. Carter says.