Anxiety can be a serious psychological condition that limits us in our interactions, our development and our general state of mind. For some of us, anxiety has a constant presence, continually setting off alarms in our brain that tell us to worry over every little thing. For others, we may hardly take notice when we are feeling anxious. Yet we might find ourselves obliviously pulling back from things that make us slightly uncomfortable. To whatever degree, whenever we give our anxiety power over our behavior, we are likely to become more anxious, more self-destructive and self-limiting.
One of the most important things to realize about anxiety is that the anxious state is often driven by a self-destructive thought process known as the “critical inner voice.” In some cases, this voice operates subtly. It may even sound friendly, as it coaxes you out of taking on challenges and going after goals. At these times, you may begin to have thoughts that seem friendly and alluring such as:
“You don’t really want to be a doctor, so why stay in med school?”
“You don’t really like him/her that much anyway, so don’t bother asking him/her out.”
“You should just leave her before she leaves you. You’re fine on your own. You’re good at being single.”
In more extreme or direct cases, we may experience intense anxiety or a tendency to undergo dramatic stress or even panic attacks. When this becomes a pattern, the torturous thoughts that perpetuate anxiety warn us that we are going to feel anxious, causing the anticipation and anxiety to build. Once we start to think we are going to feel tense and worried, it is difficult to avoid becoming anxious. The voice inside taunts us, which adds to our tension and increases our attunement to any anxiety symptoms in our bodies. Rather than allowing us to deal with things in a calm, matter of fact manner, the voice exacerbates the situation, making even small inconveniences feel catastrophic in nature.
The more we listen to this inner voice and its dooming messages and deceptive warnings, the stronger our anxiety will become. Additionally, if we pull back to avoid these unpleasant feelings, the fear that we are hoping to avoid will grow. It is therefore essential not to give these messages from our brains any ground. When you deal with the anxious symptoms early on, you help prevent your fears from escalating out of control.
Conversely, the more you we indulge and listen to this voice, the more anxiety will begin to take over your our life, keeping you out of situations you may have enjoyed. When in the throws of anxiety, it is vital that we stand strong and keep a real sense of faith that we will get through it. When in this state, we must not sabotage ourselves by taking actions that make us overwhelmingly anxious. Instead, we must begin to take incremental leaps of faith, taking on challenges one step at a time.
It is essential to remember, however, that the critical inner voice can be a tricky and negative influence. When you start making positive changes, you may feel an increase in your anxiety levels. Very often, when we actively work toward or attain a goal, for instance, applying for a job, being accepted to a school or entering a new relationship, we begin to experience increased fear and anxiety. Though excited about our accomplishments, we may also feel scared, self-critical and overly worried. Our voices will try to tear us down with thoughts like, “Who are you kidding? They’ll never hire you” or “Don’t bother getting serious about this relationship. He/She doesn’t even like you that much anyway.” When this happens, stand up to your critical inner voice. Don’t let it dictate your behavior and determine your future.
You can challenge the critical inner voice by figuring out exactly what it is telling you and identifying what circumstances trigger it. Once we know what the voice is saying, we can begin to uncover where it may have come from and how we came to take on this self-critical point of view. Did you have a parent who worried constantly about your well-being, your performance or your abilities? Were you rejected by someone you cared for or made to feel a burden by someone you needed? Any of these early negative experiences, from physical to emotional neglect and abuse, can be internalized, thus shaping our inner voice. To learn more about the inner voice click here.
It’s important to note that change rarely comes without some anxiety. It is a feeling that comes with making positive strides in our development. We can deal with this anxiety by taking small steps toward facing the things we are afraid of. It is helpful to recognize that this can be a sign that we are challenging core issues and making progress in a certain area of our lives.
Remember that it is always destructive to torture yourself with extreme anxiety-provoking thoughts. There are many anxiety disorders that can have a severely negative impact on your life. If you are in pain or in crisis and feel you need help, there are many treatments available and places you can seek help. The following is a list of resources on anxiety:
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN CRISIS OR IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE HELP, CALL 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.
International readers can click here for a list of helplines and crisis centers around the world.