At times, our emotional struggles can cloud our values and, thereby, cause us to get in the way of our values. For example, you may value forgiveness, but hurt and rage may prompt you to act in the opposite direction by holding a grudge or getting revenge. This process especially rings true for our struggle with anxiety.
You can bet that pursuing your values will eventually lead you out of your comfort zone and into anxious places. Maybe you value connection and intimacy with your partner, but this requires you to go out on a limb and trust that your partner can handle your truth and vulnerability. Maybe you value parenting, but this requires you to endure childbirth and all of the other “unknowns” that come with parenting. Maybe you want to create something or speak up, but you’re concerned with others’ opinions and criticisms…
I can tell you that writing this blog is extremely anxiety-provoking for me… Do I suck at writing? Will people think this information is juvenile or yesterday’s news? Will no one ever read it?… These are just a few of the questions that circle in my mind. Despite my own anxious vulnerability, I write anyway because I sincerely believe I have a message to share and, as corny as it sounds, I want to add courage and kindness to the world. These are my values. Instead of allowing my anxious vulnerability to hide me (and believe me, there are many times I just wanna hide!), I use it. I don’t ignore it. I own it, and I pour it into my work.
As I have mentioned previously, the very nature of anxiety prompts us to avoid the thing that’s causing anxiety. This is simple biology! Because our values often cause anxiety, we often fall into the trap of avoiding anxiety instead of following our values. In other words, we begin living as though we value avoidance instead of our true values. We neglect to have that hard conversation that can grow our relationship or potentially get our needs met. We keep quiet when we know we have something helpful to say. We hide our heart when it could provoke meaning and change in the world.
Anxiety is incredibly uncomfortable and can feel incapacitating (e.g., the racing heart, the tension, the shaking, the vulnerability). But guess what? When we compare the physical feelings of anxiety to the physical feelings of excitement and passion, they are actually quite similar. Think of what truly, deeply gets you excited (e.g., running, traveling, sky diving, Christmas!) and hone in on what you typically feel physically in your body. You probably feel many of the same physical sensations that you feel when you are feeling anxious (e.g., muscle tension, heart pumping, higher energy, shaking). The big difference is our interpretation of vulnerability, weakness, and impending doom that we associate with anxiety.
It is difficult to change your thoughts and emotions as quickly as turning off a light switch. In fact, research shows that this is almost impossible, unless you are a Buddhist monk who has worked on spiritual jedi mind control every day for the past 80 years! Plus! Trying to suppress or get rid of your anxiety adds more pressure, distress, and shame when you feel like you’ve failed at it. It is much easier and more effective to have your anxiety and channel it into motivational energy focused on your values. This leads to greater personal growth, authenticity, and life fulfillment, as well.
So… The next time you feel anxious, a simple and effective technique is to…
1. Remind yourself that it is OK to be anxious. This takes a fraction of the pressure off.
2. Identify what your anxiety is telling you to do (i.e., avoidance).
3. Identify what your values are telling you to do. In other words, what do you want to stand for in this moment?
4. Behave in line with your values, with or without the anxiety.
I find it helpful to use my personal mantra, “Let your values be stronger than your fear.”
Remember that your values are a gift by God to you. No one else has the right to judge. Let your values help you grow to become the person you were meant to be, no matter your anxious vulnerability or other people’s opinions.
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.