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A Conversation with Anxiety Is Like Talking to a Bully

If you live with anxiety, there’s a good chance that you’ve had conversations with your anxiety. “Conversation” might be too generous a term for the inner dialog that occurs with anxiety. A conversation with anxiety isn’t really a back-and-forth, rational exchange of ideas. Far from civil banter, anxiety’s talk is loud-mouthed, one-sided, boorish, and toxic. It is through this type of manipulative conversation that anxiety is able to maintain power over us. Let’s take a look at an example of a conversation with anxiety to objectively see one of its methods of manipulation.

A Conversation with My Anxiety

A conversation with anxiety can't happen because anxiety talks and doesn't listen. Knowing the nature of conversations with anxiety can help you move forward.Me: Today I need to gather names of people to connect with, so—

Anxiety: Are you out of your mind? Reach out to talk to people? You’ve got to be kidding. No one wants to talk to you.

Me: But—

Anxiety: Why would they want to talk to you? They’re busy. They probably already have something better than your work, anyway.

Me: Well—

Anxiety: Your stuff is terrible, embarrassing, and no good. Why connect with people when you’re only going to be rejected?

Me: I have to start some—

Anxiety: You started long ago, and you’ve screwed up since the beginning. Remember that shapes worksheet in Kindergarten? You did it wrong and got a frowney face from the teacher. Remember when you and your best friend stopped liking each other in 11th grade because she realized how annoying you were? You can’t interact with people right. You can’t connect with people about your work projects because you will ruin any chance of having a career. Then what? You’re not good enough to do anything.

Nature of a Conversation with Anxiety

Anxiety’s incessant chatter is dangerous. Anxiety always has toxic conversations with us, and we come to believe what it’s saying to us.

Believing everything that is told to us is unhealthy and gives us a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. One of the keys to deflecting anxiety’s words is to pay attention to the nature of anxiety’s conversations.

  • Anxiety uses put-downs like a bully does. The schoolyard bully tells a kid that he’s a worthless loser, but that doesn’t make it true. When anxiety tells you that you’re a worthless loser, that doesn’t make it true, either.
  • Anxiety’s conversations are one-sided. In the above snippet of dialog, anxiety does all of the talking and none of the listening. Anxiety interrupts us and talks over the top of us. If we do that in a conversation with another person, we miss their information and perspective. Without enough information, the things we think and say are incomplete. It’s this way for anxiety, too. Anxiety doesn’t listen to you and thus doesn’t have enough information to present you with facts. Anxiety’s chatter is nothing but one-sided opinion.
  • Anxiety uses hyperbole, a literary technique involving over-exaggeration. It’s dramatic and extreme and anxiety uses it to hammer in its point. Anxiety is repetitive, too. In the conversation above, anxiety uses a lot of words like “should,” “always,” “never,” as well as many negative, emotionally-charged adjectives. Anxiety’s conversations are like this to convince us that it’s right.
  • Anxiety brings up the past. This is a way of communicating that doesn’t work and creates relationship problems. It’s an ineffective tactic for people; don’t let anxiety get away with using it.

To break free from anxiety’s toxic talk, use what you know about the nature of conversations with anxiety. Recognize the bullying, the one-sidedness, the hyperbole, and the use of the past, and know that you don’t have to believe everything anxiety says to you.

I’ve drastically reduced my own anxiety over time, yet this dialog still happens. It’s okay, though, because I recognize what it’s trying to do and no longer get caught up in it. This makes me able to keep moving forward. And you know what they say: Actions speak louder than words.

Let’s connect. I blog here. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. My self-help book and four mental health novels, including one about severe anxiety disorders, are here.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

6 thoughts on “A Conversation with Anxiety Is Like Talking to a Bully”

  1. Hi Mike,
    Anxiety is frustrating enough as it is, and when it just worsens it becomes almost maddening. Anxiety can do everything you described (keep people from wanting to get up, etc.) Depression can as well, and they frequently occur together. Have you talked to a doctor or therapist about the possibility of having depression in addition to anxiety? You might not, of course, but if you do, treating them both can be more effective than treating just one. Whether you are experiencing anxiety alone or with depression, it can be drastically reduced even thought it has so far just intensified. Many people do seem to experience temporary relief with alcohol, but alcohol has actually been shown to increase anxiety. Certain foods and other substances (like caffeine) can do that, too. Medication works wonderfully for some people, but for others it can be a nightmare. Anxiety medication made my anxiety worse, for example. It could be worth it to talk to your doctor about the medication and whether or not it’s helping. Shifting your perspective and focus to things you want in life instead of the anxiety you don’t want can be very powerful. It won’t make things instantly better, but defining a reason to get up, even one small one, to go to work, etc. helps people get going step by step. Those successes begin to gradually beat out anxiety. Anxiety is ruthless, but it’s not invincible. Picture living the life you want and create plans to live it. (Think of it as beating anxiety at its own game. It doesn’t care what you do, which means that you don’t have to care what it does.) It’s difficult at first but gets much easier.

  2. I truly understand everything you wrote. That’s exactly me. But mine as far as social anxiety so it’s hard to Leave the house wen I do leave. It’s like only if I’m with someone to the point of being agoraphobic. Again your article couldn’t be anymore true. Thanks

    1. Hello Whoever I am,

      I appreciate your comment. Social anxiety disorder can become very debilitating. When that happens, it can become what’s known as avoidant personality disorder. You might want to consider reading some background information about avoidant personality disorder — it could help you keep the upper hand over social anxieyt and avoidant personality disorder!

  3. Wonderful read. This is so spot on in so many ways. The voice of anxiety really can be one the biggest bullies. It can also be one of the most effective because it knows all your touch spots and weaknesses. I think visualizing the voice as a bully also helps to make it more tangible.

  4. How do you beat this? I have dealt with this all my life and its getting worse. I don’t want to get up, move, shower, work, I feel guilty for everything. I do take meds but it doesn’t always help its almost as if the anxiety looks at it and doesn’t care what I take. Alcohol while not a solution helps me stop thinking but then the next couple days are awful.

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