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