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Anxiety and Assertiveness: Four Tips

September 18, 2014 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Assertiveness doesn't come easily to many people, myself included. Sometimes, the mere thought of having to express myself or make some need or another known is enough to kick anxiety into high gear. When engaged in a situation where it’s necessary to assert yourself—from speaking up to a supervisor about something you think isn’t quite right to informing a friend that you hate the restaurant she chooses every time you have lunch together, and a million other situations—anxiety can stop you in your tracks. Indeed, it’s difficult to be assertive when we’re nauseous, dizzy, sweaty, and unable to breathe properly let alone think clearly or concentrate. Happily, we’re not doomed to a life of passivity.

Despite how it feels, it is possible to be assertive even when you live with anxiety. Here are four tips that work for me -- tips I've blended together from various resources on assertiveness and from various resources on managing anxiety.

How to be Assertive When You're Anxious

1. Figure out why being assertive makes you anxious.

Anxiety can make being assertive seem impossible. It is possible to be assertive in spite of anxiety, and assertiveness actually decreases anxiety.

Depending on the situation, it can be advisable to ignore the “what-ifs” brought on by various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety. Here, though, they’re worth listening to, if only to determine what they’re telling you. What consequences do you believe will happen as a result of your assertiveness?

When we can consider what it is about being assertive (or even saying no) in a given situation that is increasing anxiety and preventing us from speaking up, it’s possible to look at it objectively and consider whether the imagined results of assertiveness are likely to happen. If they’re unlikely (would you ruin your friendship forever if you suggested a different restaurant?), you can remind yourself of this during your assertive conversation and reign in the anxiety enough to talk.

2. Keep it simple.

An anxious mind is typically an active mind. It can worry about seemingly thousands of things at once, and it can make it so it’s hard to streamline thoughts enough to communicate effectively. Anxiety can make us talk too much, or it can make us talk too little.

When you need to be assertive, the best way to get people to listen is to communicate clearly and succinctly. Anxiety can get in the way of that if you don’t know exactly what it is you need to convey. Before beginning a conversation, determine the number one issue you want to discuss, and during the conversation, focus on the issue at hand. It makes it much simpler and easier to be assertive.

Keeping it to one main point also keeps anxiety in check. When your mind starts paying attention to all of the symptoms going on in your body, bring it back to the main point. You’ll stay more focused on the conversation and less focused on how anxious you are.

3. Practice.

Just knowing a few tips to reduce anxiety in order to be assertive isn’t enough. When you first start to be more assertive, anxiety is going to be extreme (sadly, because you’re putting yourself into a situation that once caused great anxiety, your anxiety might actually worsen – but only temporarily). To help curb this, be preemptive. Think about some situation in which you might need to be assertive, and pretend you are there. Why might you be anxious? Is that realistic? What main point would you need to get across? How are you going to say what you need to say?

You could write down some dialogue and read it aloud, or you could simply talk through the conversations aloud. You can do this by yourself or with someone to get used to the feel of the interaction. This will help prepare you for real situations, and when those come along, practice them, too.

Practicing will train your brain so you can do what you need to do without anxiety sabotaging you.

4. Don’t ruminate afterward.

Anxiety likes it when we go over things in our minds, over and over again, long after something is done. It also likes it when we focus on all of the negative things, things we think went horribly wrong. Don’t let it do this to you.

As soon as you can after an assertive conversation, write down three things that went well, then think about something else. Take deep breaths to calm any anxiety you’re feeling. Celebrate that you did it! Then, when your anxious mind wants to ruminate, re-read those three things, own them, and switch your thoughts.

Being Passive Increases Anxiety

Assertiveness doesn’t come naturally to most people, and it definitely doesn’t feel natural to those of us with anxiety. Even with the above tips, it’s tempting to stay passive and just defer to the outside world. However, it’s important to resist that temptation.

Being passive actually increases anxiety. Passivity increases dissonance inside you. You have legitimate needs, but anxiety makes you reluctant to speak up for them. However, when those real needs aren’t met, stress and anxiety increase, making you more anxious.

It’s okay to have needs, and it’s more than okay to assert them. It’s important for your health and well-being. Anxiety makes it feel difficult, but with practice, you will find yourself happier and less anxious.

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2014, September 18). Anxiety and Assertiveness: Four Tips, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/09/anxiety-and-assertiveness-four-tips



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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