3 Ways to Challenge Your Thinking to Reduce Anxiety

Anyone who has felt anxiety will know how terrible it is when you begin to panic and become the only thing you can focus on. Once you get into an anxious mindset, a whole wave of anxiety, fear, and lots of physical symptoms goes through your body.

1.       Accept your anxiety

Anxiety, like all other feelings, is just a feeling. You can start accepting anxiety by reminding yourself that it is an emotional reaction. Acceptance is important because it is often compounded by the attempt to fight or suppress anxiety. This perpetuates the debilitating dread of anxiety. But to accept your fear is not to like it or to condemn yourself to a wretched life. It only means you’d accept reality as it is–and reality includes anxiety in that moment. It is less than desirable to experience anxiety, but it is not unbearable. It helps to eliminate embarrassment, shame, anxiety, and obligation for trying to fix or judge yourself.

2.       Question your thoughts.

If people are anxious, their brains begin to come up with all kinds of unrealistic thoughts, many of which are highly unlikely and doubtful. These thoughts only increase the already anxious state of a person.

For example, your employer would ask you to give a presentation at a work event. Thoughts like “Oh my God, this is not something I can do. It’s going to kill me, ” could run through your brain. Know this isn’t a tragedy. In fact, no one died giving a presentation. The worst thing that will happen is that some people will get a few chuckles and that they will have forgotten about your presentation by tomorrow.

Ask yourself these questions when challenging your thoughts:

  •  What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
  • Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
  •  What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen? If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
  •  Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this worry?

3.   Use a calming visualization.

Practice the following meditation on a regular basis, which will make access easier if you are anxious.

Imagine yourself in a favorite park, beach on or outside on the riverside. Observe leaves passing by the river or clouds floating through the sky. Place your fears, thoughts and feelings in your clouds and leaves and watch them flow through.

This differs greatly from what people usually do. In general, we assign certain qualities such as good or bad, right or wrong, to emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. It also exacerbates anxiety. Always remember this is only information.

Wait, relax and note what’s going on now. Even if something serious happens, concentrating on the current situation will improve your management skills. Although you’re anxious, you can live your life, and you’re going to get things done. Get busy with life.

3 Mindfulness Benefits for Anxiety

You may have heard or read that meditation aids with anxiety. Most people misunderstand that meditation is not like a magic elixir that reduces their stress and anxiety effortlessly. Yet meditation’s primary purpose is not to dissolve anxiety.

According to a recent review, regular practice in mindfulness will help you relax your mind and move past negative emotions. A study in 2013 showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was associated with significantly greater anxiety reduction and improved positive self-statements. In fact, a meta-analysis in 2012 suggested strong support for anxiety sensitivity meditation. A 2015 report in The Lancet indicated that incorporating a tapering off of treatment with MBCT is as effective as consistent prescription dosages.

1.       Focus on the present

The primary purpose of meditation is to help you become more present now. The anxiety reduction is just a satisfying side effect. We are often nervous because we are focused on the past or the future. However, you become deliberately focused on the here and now when you’re meditating.

2.       Quiet overactive thoughts

Sometimes it feels as though the mind is on constant overdrive for someone with anxiety— thoughts are scattered but not getting anywhere. We are anxious because we give into our thoughts and feelings. We take them and get confused at face value. Yet this undivided focus is not justified by our feelings.

Meditation helps us to avoid overactive thoughts and feelings, helping us to silence the mind, relax our bodies, and gain some clarity.

3. Cultivate an attitude of nonjudgmental acceptance

The aim is not to get to a point where your life is trouble-free — this is not realistic — but rather to be able to acknowledge the presence of these problems without overvaluing them. You can empower and support your meditation practice by being mindful. Just as a well-tended garden grows flowers and trees, mindfulness will help nurture all attitudes of mindfulness. A famous Shakespeare’s quote from Hamlet encapsulates this: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Patience and dedication are the keys to meditation. Meditation requires patience because it takes commitment and when so many things fight for your time, it’s easy to quit.

Although meditation is not a cure-all for anxiety, it is still extremely helpful. Eventually, meditation helps one slow down, gain perspective, and think more critically, with less reactivity. Thus, we can become less anxious in our lives.

5 Self-Care Tips When Living with Anxiety

Approximately 20% of people in the United States have some form of anxiety disorder, making it the most common in the country. So many people are worried, and it can be hard to turn off from a connected world where we document and post everything online. When you want to get away from the world, you need to take care of yourself first using these five strategies.

1.      Exercise

A consistent exercise routine not only offers health and wellness benefits but also helps treat anxiety. There is evidence that aerobic exercise (dancing, walking, swimming) can reduce anxiety and improve your daily and ongoing anxiety.

When you change your habits so that you are rewarded with more energy, better memory, better mood, and even a better immune system.

2.      Use your creative skills.

Research has shown that artsy DIY creations can help your mental health. Spend time making a beautiful object can be used, worn or offered as a gift. This allows you to develop your confidence, to feel valuable, and to improve your skills. Let your creative powers run wild to create a safe space and take a break from the rest of the world, be it through knitting, weaving, drawing, sculpture, or anything else.

3.      Take part in a meditation session

A meditation session can affect your sense of calmness, trust, and gratitude even more profoundly. If you light a candle and play relaxing music, a mindful meditation becomes a soul-friendly ritual. Find positive words to help the mind get rid of everyday stress and experience a daily dose of calm.

4.      Enjoy nature

The influence of nature on our wellbeing is often misunderstood, and too many of us are used to urban lifestyles. When you feel your life has become too stressful, take a walk to the woods and see the trees. Greenery in your home can also help to make your mind feel at ease. Going outside helps to “shut off” your brain parts that cause negative thinking and aggravating depression.

5.      Make your own self-care routine

Do you find the self-care trend on social media overwhelming and almost too perfect? One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to see a therapist and work together to come up with a custom self-care plan. Self-care doesn’t have to look like face masks and bubble baths. You can take care of your mental well-being by watching TV or making yourself hot chocolate. The physical and mental well-being of your body by creating joy and satisfaction is an important part of life with or without conforming to what self-care should look like online.

Anxiety management is a lifelong process. By improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health, you will become more resilient and able to survive difficult times and enjoy the good times. 

Dating with Anxiety: 3 Ways to Cope

If you are anxious, it can seem almost impossible to pass a date. Many people completely ignore the dating scene. For those who have the confidence to want a new relationship, the date may be so tainted with many worries or panic attacks.

However, there are ways to deal with fear and meet people who are worthwhile. Below are three ways to successfully manage your worries and have fun.

Learn How to Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone

To manage anxiety, there’s the approach of the idea of exposure: the more you deal with stressful situations, the more resilient you become to handle them. If dating sounds especially worrying, start slow by choosing places to practice small talk. Think of a few conversation topics – music, culture, sports games, local events, and world news – that can be helpful. This will help you better connect with your date because current events impact almost everybody.

Keep Dates Short and Sweet

You should concentrate on and empower yourself to get through with some nervous energy. Seek to see your date with a healthy sense of stress. The important thing is to keep the date brief so you’re not stuck for long.

Set up a date that lasts a few hours and meet in a common location— for example your favorite cafe or a nearby restaurant with a familiar menu.

Shift Your Mental State

Anxiety causes stress because we see it as an issue instinctually, nothing more. It’s easy to get nervous about how your date will view you. After your date, you might feel tempted to replay the uncomfortable moments or awkward silences in your head but avoid the temptation.

Focus instead on whether this individual is right for you. Instead of beating yourself up or concentrating on the awkward moments during the date, remember the instances of laughter and good talk: Were you funny? Did you compliment your date or vice versa? Keep thinking about any common interests and values you discussed during your date, the chemistry between the two of you, and if you want to see the other person again or not.

That can take a great deal of pressure from the date, because you are playing an active part in this process instead of hoping for approval or not. Any experience with dating should be seen as a positive lesson. You have been hopeful in your dating journey, and the next date will be even better. Your therapist can help you navigate your dating experience and help you see ways to improve them.

5 Ways You Can Support a Loved One with Anxiety

To watch a loved one suffering from anxiety is hard to witness, and it is more difficult when you are worried about it. Your loved one may feel too ashamed to avoid acting or acting in ways that your own anxiety is inconsiderate or that. This could look like your partner who puts off important tasks or conversations all the time or a best friend who feels lonely after divorce but still to go on dates.

While seeing these people suffer is debilitating and upsetting, you can do some things to help your loved one.

1.Understand how anxiety works

We are wired to respond to anxiety through fight, flight, or freeze because of evolution. One of these solutions usually dominates for different people. Once you know that anxiety is a natural response for us in a state of risk, it’s easier to understand and to have empathy for someone who feels scared (or stressed). You will understand their habits and be in a better position to help by paying attention to how anxiety develops in the person you care for.

2. Ask how you can best support them

Research shows that people with an avoidant attachment style (generally those who have had previous caretaker rejections or relationships) will probably best respond to strong displays of pragmatic support. Many people would prefer emotional support, particularly those who have a secure or preoccupied attachment because of fear of abandonment or of the overwhelming emotions they have for others. It’s best to ask someone what kind of help they want instead of guessing! 

3. Support someone who wants to change their anxiety

While you can learn more about anxiety through a therapy session or reading more about different models of anxiety, you can also use a cognitive-behavioral strategy for anxious people.

People with anxiety tend to think of worst-case scenarios. You can ask them to answer three questions: 

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What could be the best thing?
  • What is most likely or most probable?

So if your loved one is anxious to hear from a high-stakes job interview a few days ago but doesn’t, you can suggest he or she takes into consideration some of the worst, best, and most probable reasons for the lack of contact.

4. Give support but only encourage

We may often feel taken out by doing things to our obvious loved ones and feeding them unintentionally when they want to avoid situations or things that make them anxious. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone by offering to go with them to therapy if they choose and make an appointment with a therapist, for example. One key principle to keep in mind is that people need to help themselves, not do things for themselves. 

5. If they have more severe anxiety, reassure them

What if your loved one has anxiety from a more severe condition such as PTSD or panic disorder? You can offer support by reassuring them that you care for them, no matter what they’re going through, and helping them stay connected to their true selves with hobbies or interests.

There are several ways to help people with anxiety. Select one or two appealing ideas that you and your loved one find manageable. Be ready for exploration. Remember you’re doing your best to support your loved one.

colorado anxiety depression counseling self doubt

I would like to share a short story about a fictional person named Sally. One day, Sally has a rough day and hits an emotional roadblock. It sparked a conversation with a friend about some barriers with her boss. A slew of negative thoughts crept in whispering, “You are lazy. You are going to fail at this. You need to be managed like a child”. She notices these thoughts and immediately voiced them aloud to her friend, who of course, refuted everything. She wanted to believe his encouragement and kindness, but her own words had already become a stronghold. Discouragement and a deep sadness flooded in.

The next morning, Sally woke to the heaviness of apathy and disappointment. The words continued to be difficult to shake off. She knew her internal dialogue was not only unfair and unkind but also counterproductive to where she needed to be. Throughout the rest of the day, Sally was mindful of the pain, and reframed her thoughts to be gentle and compassionate: “You’re feeling pretty disappointed right now about not reaching some of your goals. You wish you had more follow through. It’s okay that you’ve been feeling stuck.” Something shifted the moment she tapped into some self-compassion. By the end of the day, the heaviness was gone and a newfound determination kicked in.

.     .     .  

Our inner dialogue reflects our deepest vulnerability. It holds so much power over how we view and treat ourselves, and how we are able to engage with the world. In my work as a therapist, it’s common for me to hear statements such as “I’m so stupid”, “I’m useless”, “I am the biggest failure in the world”, “I don’t deserve anything good to happen to me”.

These words are deeply painful and defeating. We would never say these statements to anyone we care about, even to strangers, but allow this to be a familiar repertoire of self-talk. What this reveals is that we are often harsher and more cruel to ourselves than we are to anyone else. Some view this negative self-talk as a motivator to improve or change, whereas others become attuned to the vicious internal cycle that deepens symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Don’t let self doubt create anxiety, depression, fear, and uncertainty. Talk to a professional counselor to learn how to get past defeating thoughts and feelings.

You may ask “Can my marriage be saved?” or “Should stay married?” While these are complicated questions, Marriage counseling is hard work and there are no guarantees. However, spending the time to find out if your marriage can be improved is a smart decision.

Truth be told, the effectiveness of marriage counseling is directly related to the motivation level of both partners and timing. For some couples, marriage counseling is really divorce counseling because they’ve already thrown in the towel. For instance, one or both partners may have already decided to end the marriage and he/she uses the counseling as a way to announce this to their partner. Sometimes, the problems in a marriage can be too ingrained and longstanding for the counseling to be effective. For others, they don’t honestly share their concerns with the therapist.

Timing is an essential element in whether marriage counseling works. Unfortunately, most couples wait much too long to reach out for help repairing their marriage. According to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help. Think about this statistic for a few minutes. Couples have six years to build up resentment before they begin the important work of learning to resolve differences in effective ways.

It’s critical that couples see conflict as an inevitable part of a committed, romantic relationship. After all, every relationship has its ups and downs, and conflict goes with the territory. Yet couples might avoid conflict because it may have signified the end of their parents’ marriage or led to bitter disputes. Michele Weiner Davis, author of The Divorce Remedy explains that avoiding conflict backfires in intimate relationships. She posits that bottling up negative thoughts and feelings doesn’t give your partner a chance to change their behavior. On the other hand, Weiner cautions that one of the secrets of a good marriage or romantic relationship is learning to choose battles wisely and to distinguish between petty issues and important ones.

Here are a few tips that can help you find your answers.

7 tips to help deal with differences between you and your partner:

  • Create a relaxed atmosphere and spend time with your partner on a regular basis so you can communicate about your desires and objectives.
  • Don’t give up personal goals and the things you love to do such as hobbies or interests. This will only breed resentment.
  • Support one another’s passions. Accept that you won’t always share the same interests. Respect your partner’s need for space if they want to go on a vacation without you, etc.
  • Learn to resolve conflicts skillfully. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy a relationship. Couples who try to avoid conflict are at risk of developing stagnant relationships, which can put them at high risk for divorce.
  • Establish an open-ended dialogue. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on points that are unclear. Avoid threats and saying things you’ll regret later.
  • Avoid the “blame game.” Take responsibility for your part in the problems and accept that all human beings are flawed in some way. The next time you feel upset with your partner, check out what’s going on inside yourself and pause and reflect before you place the blame on them.
  • Be realistic about a timeline for change. It takes more than a few sessions to shed light on the dynamics and to begin the process of change.

How can marriage counseling help couples?

  • If toxic relationship patterns can be identified early and agreed upon, the process of real change can begin.
  • A motivated couple can begin to explore their problems from a new perspective and learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts as a result of the tools provided by the therapist.
  • Partners can begin to build trust and improve communication that may have eroded the quality of their interactions.
  • A couples counselor can provide “neutral territory” to help couples agree upon and work through tough issues with support.
  • Couples can decide to rebuild their marriage and make a renewed commitment or clarify the reasons why they need to separate or end the marriage.

parker colorado counseling

A short story about a little girl in elementary school. She sat in the middle row quietly looking down at her desk as the rest of the class engaged in a board exercise being presented by the teacher.  This little girl was not disruptive at all but rather quietly moving her pencil back and forth across a blank sheet of notebook paper.  The children around her were completely non-reactive to her disengagement and continued to focus on the teacher.  After several minutes went by, the teacher noticed the little girl and called on her to participate.  The little girl was quietly unresponsive, so the teacher moved on to a different student.

All too often little girls and boys like the one in this example are overlooked as a possibility for needing mental health services.  Why?  They are not a “behavior problem”.  These children often dissolve into the background while their more vocal counterparts get their needs met through negative and positive behaviors.   I like to call them “the silent ones”.

There’s an old saying that states “closed mouths don’t get fed”.  I think this has become a cultural and societal norm.  “The silent ones” do not present an overt concern and do not hinder the overall function of a classroom.   They may, however, be experiencing something significantly internally painful or have a past or current trauma.  They may not speak the class language well enough to engage or they simply may be shy and introverted.

As teachers, parents and mental health professionals, we must work together to determine the immediate needs of “the silent ones”.  The following are some easy steps to supporting “the silent ones”:

  • Identify – Determine who “the silent ones” are.  This is best done by teachers.  If there is a classroom full of disruptive behavior, it may be a little difficult to differentiate between the quiet, well-behaved child and the unusually quiet child who may need help. However, with time and persistence, it is possible.
  • Assess – Once the student has been identified, the teacher is encouraged to talk to the student individually in order to gather information on the child and try to gain some insight as to why the child is frequently disengaged and silent.
  • Refer – Once the teacher has gathered information, a meeting with the parents and the school counselor is helpful in developing a plan which may include a referral to mental health services.

Sometimes when we focus on the children who we perceive as giving us a hard time, we overlook the children who are having a hard time.  Don’t forget “the silent ones”.

In the best of intimate relationships, there are those subtle and not so subtle waves of difficulties. Some disagreements make sense; his words against hers, her values in the face of his values, old traditions vs. new ideas and so on. However, over a few years living with a partner, attempting and working on intimacy, you could see a few patterns emerging. Those patterns might be complicated for you to detect when you are a part of the ‘drama’.

For me, after thirty years of marriage-therapy and relationship-coaching, I find them simple to detect. Solving relationships’ problems take commitment, education and good will. From here the solutions are pretty much straightforward.

Some of these patterns are signs of troubled relationships. Here is the list of the seven most damaging intimate relationships’ troubles and their solutions:

  1. Inability to be emotionally open; the uniqueness and secret of intimate relationships in comparison to other social, workplace and family relationships is in staying emotionally open. By exercising daily confiding with each other, couples learn to become emotionally open towards each other.
  2. Lack of physical closeness and sings of affection may starve the relationship. It is not easy to undo the pain, shame and hurts of the past. Learn to be affectionate. Do it for the sake of this relationship.
  3. Not paying attention while listening: you might be listening to each other, even giving the right cues as in ‘active listening’. But do you get the meaning of each other’s message without the attempt to ‘solve’ the problem? Don’t solve each others’ problems. Share the gift of listening. Being heard is a treasure!
  4. Difficulty articulating what you feel; many adults don’t know to express what they feel. Instead, you communicate what you think. Learning about emotions and their logic is valuable to every intimate relationship. Taking a risk to expose your accurate feelings in your relationship is a wise investment. As the relationship grows and thrives, that risk of exposure becomes safe.
  5. Anger, fear, shame and other pains block the passages to feel tenderness, joy and love. Those painful emotions are not bad; they are information that should be shared so that your love will surface again.
  6. Power struggles on sex, money, children, free time, relatives or friends are all signs of other issues surfacing in the relationships. Learn to decode these symptoms and see the meaning beneath the issues.
  7. Contempt and its expressions are the ‘deadliest sin’ of all troubled relationships. This will take a bit longer to solve; I suggest treating this symptom deeper as in a ‘root canal’. Find the roots of those feelings of contempt or they’ll destroy your intimate relationship. It is challenging to get your intimate relationship out of trouble. The effort is worth it; as your intimate relationship is the most important investment of your time energy and endeavor.

How would you like to improve, strengthen or even save, in some cases, your intimate relationship? Please contact Counseling Services of Parker if you’re in the Colorado region and would like to talk.

There has been considerable research that has helped psychologists to identify specific factors that can help people lead happier lives.  This same research has also identified some common mistakes that people make when they pursue things they think will make them happy, but don’t.

The following is a list curated from leading psychologists and counselors of the “Top Ten Tips for Happiness”, we hope these suggestions will help you find more happiness in your own life.

1.  Make working on having good social relationships a TOP priority.

Most people find it easy to understand that they must work hard at their jobs, but they don’t always realize that this kind of thinking should apply every bit as much to their relationships.

Having good relationships is incredibly important for happiness. Virtually every psychologist who studies happiness has found very powerful effects of social relationships on happiness. Strong social relationships – in marriage (or other romantic relationships), friendship, family relationships – all positively affect physical and mental health, happiness, and mood. People often prioritize making more money at the expense of neglecting their relationships. This is a common mistake – and a big one.

2.  Focus on attaining a sense of accomplishment and meaning in your life and maintain it on a continual basis.

It is essential that you find a sense of accomplishment and meaning in your life. This can be through your work, but it doesn’t have to be. As quoted in a recent New York Times article: “What’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” – the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.”

This sense of meaning could very well be from your job. If you view your career as a “calling,” you are fortunate. But it is important to acquire this sense of meaningful accomplishment from somewhere in your life, and on a regular basis.

3.  Take Risks.

The word for “risk” in Chinese is made up of two words, “danger” and “opportunity.” Simple, elegant, brilliant composition. There is usually no opportunity without accompanying danger. The danger may be economic, or it may be purely psychological. To try to do something different, and better, invites the danger of failing, and this may feel like a humiliation.

It is the same with making changes in yourself via psychotherapy. To try to break self-defeating patterns can be uncomfortable, as one ventures out into the unfamiliar and the unknown. The safest position is lying on the floor. You can’t get hurt that way. The only problem with that is, well…you are lying on the floor. You’re not going anywhere. Go somewhere. Take a risk.

4.  Diversify your sources of self-esteem.

Many people make the mistake of investing too much of their sense of self-worth in one particular thing (“I am worthwhile because I am great athlete,” “I am worthwhile because I make a lot of money,” “I am an expert on fine wines”, etc.). This invites psychological disaster, because things can change, and your self-esteem can come tumbling down like a house of cards. Realize you are complex, with many different strengths (and weaknesses). Recognize your various individual strengths, develop them, and use them.

But even more important is to internalize your self-esteem as much as possible. In other words, be wary of tying your self-esteem too much to an externally-based factor (money, a fancy car, etc.) because you can lose it (i.e., you may be laid off from a high-paying job). But an internalized sense of self-esteem – qualities you like about yourself, such as your personality and character traits – is something that no one can take away from you, except yourself.

5.  Work on Goals, not Circumstances.

Happiness is a process, and not just a set of good circumstances. This may sound basic, but how often do we think we would be happy if ”I only had that, or this, in my life? If a person hopes to win a certain award, working for the award had better be enjoyable, because the award itself will produce only a short burst of happiness. In contrast, activities and striving for our goals is a lifetime endeavor.

Focus and find fulfillment in working on your personal goals, not in the attainment of any one particular thing.

6.  Develop a wiser relationship with money than most Americans have.

Research on the relationship between money and happiness is substantial and clear. More money yields significantly more happiness only when one is struggling to pay bills and is saddled with major money worries. Once a person attains enough money to not have to greatly struggle anymore, more money yields almost no greater happiness compared to relationships, personal meaning, and many other parts of life.

People think that doubling or tripling their income will bring great benefit to their levels of happiness. They are wrong. All that happens is that people adapt to their new income and soon find themselves wanting more and more. There is even a name for this phenomenon, the “hedonic treadmill.”

Love, satisfaction from work, and meaning yield much longer lasting gains in happiness.

7.  Become curious about yourself.

Introspection is often neglected or even looked down upon in our culture (“naval gazing”). While self-absorption is not a good thing, curiosity about oneself certainly is. If we can identify our self-defeating patterns, and our motivations for getting into these self-defeating patterns, we can navigate our life onto a better course.

Knowledge is power, and self-knowledge yields the most important power of all. By becoming curious about ourselves, and honing our ability to examine ourselves productively, we can greatly facilitate our well-being in terms of our ability to work and to love.

8.  Keep anxiety and depression at bay.

Related to #7, although distinct from it, is the importance of minimizing the disruptive and wasteful presence of unnecessary anxiety and depressive feelings. Healthy worry and sadness is one thing, and can be enormously useful. Obsessive, repetitive worries and paralyzing anxiety can block our ability to move forward and attain our personal goals, whether in our careers or in our relationships.

Recognizing, addressing, and removing these obstacles, whether by oneself or with a psychologist, is necessary if we are to more fully enjoy our lives.

9.  Make a conscious effort to avoid the trap of “Reference Anxiety.”

“Reference Anxiety” is one of the greatest threats to the happiness and emotional well-being of all Americans, and indeed all humanity. Despite this, most people fail to make an on-going conscious effort to recognize and minimize its painful effects. Strive to push anxiety back and refuse to let it run your life.

Reference anxiety is the process by which people compare what they have, materialistically, with their peers. It is a more scientific term for what has been called for a long time “Keeping up with the Joneses.”

If you have a four bedroom house, but everyone else in your neighborhood has a five bedroom house, you feel unhappy. However, if you have a three bedroom house (actually one less bedroom), you will tend to feel happier if you live in a neighborhood where your neighbors have two bedroom houses, because you have more, relatively speaking (vs. in an absolute sense of actual number of bedrooms).

It isn’t that you are actually uncomfortable with the number of bedrooms (or any materialistic possessions, for that matter). It’s that you feel you are not doing as well and have less – and perhaps feel you are less as a person – because your peers have more.

What people don’t realize is that there is often a hidden cost to having the bigger house or expensive car (not always, but often). From my own practice, consider the case of a patient who worked very long hours in a corporate job which he disliked intensely. He had a two-hour commute to work (long commutes have been found to be associated with decreased happiness), hated his time at the office, and had very little free time in his life. But he felt that unless he had a big, fancy house, he would not see himself as a “winner.” He could not be happy with himself knowing that others, to which he compared himself, had more. Despite all of his hard work, he did not fully realize that in terms of happiness, he would always have less than other people.

By the way, this patient eventually dropped out of psychotherapy. Why, you ask? Because he had “no time for therapy.” He had to work long hours, you see. Reference Anxiety was ruining his life, and he couldn’t get off the merry go-round.

10.  Be Afraid. But do things anyway.

Throughout the day in my work, I listen to people tell me how they would like things in their life to be different, but they are terrified of all the dangers associated with making significant changes. It is often not enough to tell ourselves that we should change, or to have someone else tell us that. We usually know that already. What we often lack is courage.

For example, you may be afraid to pursue a personal goal because you may try and fail. If you fail, you may experience it as a confirmation that you are “a failure.” This is one reason why many people don’t make changes, even when they know they should. They can hide behind the fact that since they didn’t try, they can’t conclude they have confirmation that they failed and, hence, that they aren’t “good enough.”

Similarly, the fear of rejection can be paralyzing, and it prevents people from trying to make any changes. The fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown can keep people in unhealthy and counterproductive patterns. But staying in the familiar, even if counterproductive, provides you with a map of how to live (“the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”). It is safe, even if it is unhealthy and is a map to nowhere. It is not anxiety-producing. To step out into the unfamiliar, sometimes with the possibility of rejection or failure, or a thousand other unknown dangers, is scary. One can often feel anxious.

The tip here is not to say “I won’t be scared.” Of course you may be scared. The point here is to be afraid and do it anyway. In order to do that, you must tap into your courage. It has been said that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and doing things anyway.

You may be able to make sufficient changes by yourself. Sometimes, however, people need another person, often a trained professional, who understands their anxieties and fears, but who also is invested in helping them attain their personal goals. Talk toa licensed professional if you want help tapping into your courage. They can “encourage” you, and help you make the changes you need to make in order to become a happier person.

We hope you found this helpful. Have a happy day!