We naturally develop habits with respect to the way we talk about, think about, and write about our anxiety problems. This is the habit of words, and it matters. Identifying unhealthy and counterproductive habits of words, then working to replace them with more recovery-focused habits is well worth the effort.
The most common habit of words is the habit of constantly saying how you feel, what you’re afraid of, and how much you hate it all. This is the habit that most people in the grips of an anxiety disorder naturally develop. This is a bad habit. Constantly talking about, thinking about, and writing about what you feel is a form of safety and reassurance seeking. This is bad because it reinforces the mistaken cognitive connection between discomfort and fear. If you are spending an inordinate amount of time telling people what you’re feeling and experiencing in a passive way, you are hoping to both comforted and saved from your anxiety and its symptoms. This sends the wrong signal to your brain. This tells your brain that anxiety is a problem that requires evasive action and rescue. You are inadvertently reinforcing the foundation of the disorder.
You may understand why seeking safety or engaging in avoidance is a bad thing, however you may wonder why its wrong to want to be soothed or comforted when afraid. Aside from the reinforcement of the disorder we discussed, asking other people to make you feel better is giving away the power you have to make yourself feel better over time. YOU are capable of driving the recovery bus. When you rely on others to comfort and soothe you all the time, you are handing the keys to them. You are asking them to drive the bus. They may want to, but nobody can drive your recovery bus but you. Nobody else can drive you to recovery land.
If constantly telling everyone (including yourself) how you feel is a bad habit, then what is a good habit? How can you change this?
First, learn to insert a pause before stating how you feel again. Walk away from the statement for 60 seconds. Start to question why you need to say what you want to say? Is it serving you in your recovery, or is it just reinforcing bad habits? The first step is breaking the bad habit by literally learning to stop saying those things so often. That’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
Learning to speak less about how you feel then leads to learning new ways to speak about this problem. You must learn to speak in an active, action-oriented, learning-focused way about your anxiety problem. Statements designed to propel you toward recovery are much more valuable than statements designed to seek reassurance, comfort, and safety. Your new anxiety language should promote encouragement, cheerleading, and ACTIVE support from your circle of friends and family. Your new arsenal of anxiety statements should trigger teaching moments and spur productive discussions that can move you forward.
You will naturally find that when you learn to speak differently about your anxiety problem that you are also speaking LESS about it! Your words will carry more weight. They will be more efficient and effective. Bad unproductive habits are replaced with healthy productive habits.
Suffering In Silence?
Some people develop the opposite bad habit of words – no words at all. These people feel they must suffer in total silence, never revealing to anyone what they are going through or how they are struggling. While we don’t want a constant stream of words about how you feel, no words at all is just as unhealthy and nonproductive. There is no need to suffer in total silence. This closes you off from productive and helpful feedback from others. It leads to building a completely distorted model of your problem and possible solutions. Remaining silent and isolated prevents other human beings from countering and correcting your distortions. Don’t suffer in silence. Find places where you can begin to talk about your problem in a productive way.
I’m NEVER Allowed to Express Myself Ever Again?
That’s not ever what I’m saying. Humans have the need and right to express themselves. You are allowed to discuss your emotions. This is healthy. I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to discuss problems, express emotion, and relate verbally in relationships. I AM saying that if you are reading this, the odds are high that you have anxiety, fear and emotions completely jumbled up into a giant tangled ball of yarn. What you think is expressing emotion is likely just another statement about what you are experiencing and what you are afraid of. When in the grips of an anxiety disorder, many emotions immediately morph into anxiety and fear. Killing the bad habit of anxiety and fear words, then replacing it with a healthy, productive habit of words will help lead you to a place where you can normally and productively express emotions rather than simply stating fears.
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Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)