You are NOT your anxiety: separating the 'self' from the 'experience'


In developing an awareness of how anxiety plays out in our lives we first need to understand that anxiety and personality are separate.  Anxiety is an experience, a reaction to how we perceive something to be.  It does not imply that we are fatally flawed in some way, but it often becomes our focus to the detriment of everything else that makes us the wonderful human beings that we are.


A psychiatrist once suggested to me that ‘recovery = is 50% doing the work and 50% getting back into life’.   So, although we do need to seek help, we also need to attend to the other ‘parts’ that constitute us as a person.   Remember, anxiety is an experience – when it becomes part of our identity, we have perhaps lost sight of other important aspects of our lives.   


Contrary to what you might believe, you are not an anxious person.  You are a person who experiences the feeling of anxiety along with many other things.   You are a person that, perhaps, has a tendency to become anxious at times.  You are a person that is, most likely, beautifully sensitive to the world around you.  But, anxiety itself is not a personality trait.   It is a symptom and, ironically, often a sign that we are neglecting other key parts of ourselves.


It’s true that doing the work takes energy, but it needn’t become a career in itself.   We all need a breather from tackling mental health issues.   When we get caught up in ‘living the disorder’ we can find that we’re spending an awful lot of time doing some, or all of the following:


  • Continuously reading, researching or talking about anxiety or other mental health problems.

  • Constantly seeking and sharing articles with a mental health focus.

  • Setting up and trying to stick to strict ‘wellbeing’ routines that may actually create more anxiety.

  • Obsessively ‘Googling’ how to recover or get rid of anxiety.

  • Pouring all our energy into pursuing the latest cure-all, talking about it at every opportunity and allowing it to become our sole focus. 

  • Choosing to socialise only with those who share similar struggles and the same need to talk about it A LOT.   

  • Giving partners, friends or family an update on how we are feeling or faring mentally, physically or emotionally every time we see or speak with them.

  • Spending significant amounts of time researching and trying various forms of professional help, or hopping from one thing to the next.

  • ‘Living ‘in online mental health forums or giving constant mental health advice to others.  

  • Chewing through one self-help book after the other.

  • Becoming a serial self- help workshop student.


You can probably think of many others, but they are all, when done excessively, an avoidance of life.  Your life.


Now imagine what we could be doing if we weren’t spending so much time focusing on anxiety.  We might identify interests, friends, opportunities for fun, work, study, projects or tasks that we would like to pursue or engage in.  We might find that we are actually highly creative and have a lot to gain from spending more time in a creative space.  We might discover that we like to cook, or travel, or draw, or go dragon boat racing, or read fiction.  We might get so involved with living that anxiety takes a back seat! 


What might you spend your time doing?


© 2015 Kate Henderson @ The Panic Room SA

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