Many of us who live with anxiety, spend a lot of time avoiding people, places and activities that cause us distress, with the hopes of managing or eliminating that discomfort. The problem is the more we narrow our lives to avoid the unpleasant people and situations, the more miserable we are.
When we focus on avoiding problems or pain, we get more anxious, because that solution is only temporary. Avoidance counterintuitively puts more focus on our worries. We are constantly thinking about ways to fend off the stress.
What if we could use something positive to move toward, rather than something negative to avoid?
Values are something we can embrace and move toward even when we struggle with anxiety. Values are the light at the end of the tunnel. We are naturally motivated to live our values. We don’t have to avoid our values to feel safe. We adore them. They make us who we are and they make our lives meaningful.
Values involve thought AND action. We contemplate what means something to us and we use our behavior to show its importance.
What do you value?
To allow our values to drive us, we need to know what they are. Here are several realms that harbor what matters to us:
- Career: What work inspires us? What goals do we have career-wise? What constitutes a job well done?
- Intimate relationships: What relationships matter the most to us? How can we foster more connection? What do we want to work on with our partners, friends or children?
- Education: Where do we need to improve? What more do we have to learn? What are our education goals?
- Health: What part of our health needs work? Do we want to be able to run and play with our children? Grandchildren? Should we lose weight to help our heart health? Are we in a good place with our mental health?
- Spiritual: Are we longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves? What areas of personal growth would fulfill us? Perhaps spending more time in nature is important.
- Community: How could contributing to the community give us purpose and meaning? How could we give back?
- Any other area that we find intrinsically valuable.
Our unique values drive us to set and complete goals. Without having to focus on managing anxiety, we can reach more goals. Without having to avoid all kinds of anxiety triggers, we can have a more direct path toward what is meaningful.
Move toward what matter versus moving away from what hurts.
Mindfulness practices allow us to open to feelings, worries and the present moment. One of the main tenants of mindfulness is to be with what is happening while it is happening, without judgment. While being mindful, we don’t get attached to thoughts (even negative ones) and we don’t focus on distractions.
For example, if I asked you to take three deep breaths right now and not think of anything except your breathing, could you do it without your mind wandering? If your mind wanders, can you gently bring it back to your breath without berating yourself for getting distracted? If so, you already have a good foundation in mindfulness. If not, no worries, keep trying to focus on the breaths and let go of distractions. If you find yourself losing focus, no problem, just compassionately redirect your attention to the breath again.
Mindfulness has no intention of bringing about judgment or self-criticism. It only intends to help us notice what is happening presently inside and outside us, without judgment.
With anxiety, mindfulness teaches us to stay in the present moment and not let the brain look toward the uncertain future or relive the regrets of the past. If our minds start to ruminate about the past or future, we only have to gently redirect our focus back to the present. Over time our concentration muscle develops and presence becomes easier.
In this way, mindfulness helps us move toward challenges, feelings and what is important to us without letting anxiety take over.
Has anxiety gotten in the way of doing what is important to you?
What if you stopped sidestepping people, jobs, activities, relationships, etc. and focused on making your life profoundly satisfying by achieving goals and honoring your values?
I realize this sounds like an oversimplification of reducing anxiety. It takes practice and work to stop avoiding discomfort or stress. This post only hopes to give you a different target and mindset.
This does not happen overnight. We have to learn to accept our emotions and the discomfort of fear and anxiety. Using what we value to motivate and guide us, to give us purpose, makes the path clearer and our discomfort easier to bear.
What purposes or values have given you hope and strength to endure stress or pain? What do you avoid to minimize anxiety? How has that negatively impacted you?
Would you like to talk with me about how to reduce anxiety’s control in your life? I’d love to discuss a life with less anxiety with you. Please contact me here.