“Don’t worry Abi, don’t worry.” These are words that inevitably I tell myself a hundred or more times a day when I’m feeling anxious. Of course it’s more than just worrying. It’s a constant stomach ache, it’s not being able to relax, it’s a tiny voice in the back of my head always telling me something will go wrong. It’s an endless cycle of feeling fine and then feeling so not fine. It’s not being able to text someone back for an hour because I’m scared I’ll say something wrong, even if it’s just a simple conversation. It’s not being able to leave the house because what if I forget to close the door and my cat runs away. It’s a driving need to be perfect so that nothing will go wrong, but knowing that I’ll never be perfect and always screw up despite my attempts.
Anxiety for me usually starts as one thought, and then it spirals. One second I’m preparing to send an email to my internship and suddenly I wonder, “What if I did this wrong?” From there it just goes down-hill. From “Of course I did this wrong, now they’re going to be mad” to “I’m going to get kicked off the job, and then they’ll tell everyone how horrible of a writer I am.” And then I’m paralyzed with anxiety, not knowing what to do or how to make things better.
When my counselor was able to talk to me about these spirals, we started working on recognizing the thoughts that begin the spirals. Once I’m able to recognize the original anxious thought, I begin a process to form an alternative thought. First I have to take time to write (or think, depending on how bad I feel) all of the evidence that supports my anxious thought. Then I write out all of the evidence that does not support my thought, and from there I come up with a more balanced thought to replace the anxious thought. Like in the case above, a more balanced thought (after considering the situation and all the evidence) I might come up with is: “Maybe I did this project wrong, but I did the best I could, and I can always fix my mistakes.”
Anxiety makes me feel like I need to be perfect, but the simple fact is: I’m not. My counseling is helping me to give myself space to not be perfect, to accept the fact that things go wrong, and to not get so worried about it. Life is messy, ups and downs happen, and I will always make mistakes. The good news is I can also always fix those mistakes.
It’s been hard work, learning to take myself out of the moment and take a step back. But slowly I’m making progress. I had a very good week two weeks ago, but last week was a rough week. This week has been okay and that’s okay. At least I’m working on getting better. And that’s my balanced thought about this topic.
Thanks for letting me share. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this process. If you do something similar feel free to let me know what, and how it helps you.