Whether we are aware of it or not, the values we hold are a HUGE part of our lives. In fact, values are incremental to our sense of self, purpose, and fulfillment with life. Yet, it’s so easy to lose touch with our values, especially when we get lost in our struggles and daily stressors. Also, in the midst of it all, we rarely stop and focus on defining and assessing our values.
You might be wondering what values have to do with anxiety, but having clearly defined values are extremely important for managing and overcoming anxiety. In fact, I’d say this is the 2nd step, where the 1st step is gaining a clear understanding of what anxiety is and why we have it (i.e., this was the topic of my first 2 blog posts, “Anxiety Unveiled” and “Anxious Courage Unleashed”).
What are values in the first place? When I speak of values, I speak of intangible aspirations and things that breath meaning and importance to life. Values are not goals that can be achieved, such as getting a high school diploma, or objects that can be bought or sold, like a house or a boat. To list some examples, values are things like honesty, compassion, perseverance, faith, etc… Values encompass things like being a loving and disciplined parent, a devoted spouse, a loyal friend, and so on… Values are essentially who we strive to be and what we live for and stand for in life.
Values are different for everyone. They are on a continuum, meaning that we may hold many values, but some values are more important to us than others. For example, you might value productivity, but not as much as you value stopping and smelling the roses. Some values stay relatively consistent across our lifespans and some values change as we grow and mature and as our life circumstances change. For example, in my youth, my values weighted more on the quantity of my social activities and social circle, but as I’ve grown older, I find that I value the quality and intimacy in my relationships more than the number of relationships and social activities I have.
Some of our values may conflict with other values we hold. Perhaps you value your work ethic and spending time with your family, but your work ethic often precludes you from spending time with family and vice versa. Life is a constant juggling act of our values. Dissonance or fear of dissonance between our values can cause great anxiety and stress. When we believe that we’re coming up short in the areas of life that we deeply value, it hurts the soul and triggers shame. This becomes a vicious cycle when we set impossible expectations for ourselves– that is, believing that we can achieve our values as if it is truly possible to achieve 100% of our values, 100% of the time.
The deal is, you have got to give yourself some grace.
No one is ever perfect at living by their values. It’s an impossible task that can never be checked off the list (And this is coming from someone who is obsessed with list-checking!). That’s what is so beautiful about values, as opposed to goals and material things. Some days we do better than other days. We never officially achieve or obtain our values. Working toward our values is an ongoing, lifelong process. We all have moments, days, or entire seasons of our lives when we feel disconnected from our values or when we’re just flat out behaving against our values… Screaming or saying something hurtful to your spouse… Neglecting to be assertive or speak up… Staying home in your pj pants instead of going to the gym like you wanted… We all do this!… The great news is that tomorrow is another day when you can reset your steering wheel in the direction of your values.
Whether or not you achieve your values is not important. What’s important is that you continually work TOWARD your values.
Also, when you focus on living by your values, you’ll find that they help you accomplish the goals you wanted to achieve. You’ll also find that your values come back to you as others notice and reciprocate. For example, if you value kindness and you behave with kindness to others, others who value kindness will be kind to you. In other words, when you authentically live by your values, you will attract others with similar values, which will create a more fulfilling life for you.
6 Easy Steps for Identifying, Clarifying, and Living by Your Values:
1 1. Take out a sheet of paper (or the notes app on your iphone).
2 2. Write down as many of your values as you can think of.
3 3. Select your top 5 values that are most important to you… When I do this exercise with my clients and with myself, I often find that the top 5 are similar to or encompassing of many of the other values on the list. In other words, picking your top 5 will reveal themes to you about what is truly important to you in life—What you should be prioritizing.
4 4. Now identify at least 1 action or behavior for each value.
5 5. Commit to acting on each of your 5 values every day. Focusing on 5 values (as opposed to a bagillion values!- yes, I said “bagillion”) is one way to be gracious and reasonable with yourself. In fact, if you want to chose 3 values instead of 5, that works too!
6 6. Occasionally, you’ll want to revisit this exercise and reassess, as you may get side-tracked and as your values may morph and change over time.
Now that we have hopefully laid a solid foundation for identifying/clarifying values, next week’s post will include an empowering discussion of how to channel anxiety in the direction of our values. Until then,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.