How to Stop Worrying About Mistakes and Reduce Anxiety
Worrying about mistakes goes hand-in-hand with anxiety (Worry: How Much is Too Much?) and we need to learn to stop worrying over spilt milk. As irksome as they can be, mistakes are simply events, incidents in our lives, but they don’t need to become our lives, taking over our wellbeing. How we react to mistakes affects our mental health. To reduce anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, it's important to stop worrying about mistakes.
Life, unfortunately, isn’t perfect. Things don’t always happen the way we want them to, and sometimes mistakes are made. Big or small, mistakes can negatively impact us and/or those around us.
I've worried about mistakes since early childhood. There's a counseling technique that asks people to write a headline that describes their life. My own headline comes from the realization that I've almost always experienced worry and anxiety about making a mistake: Five-Year-Old Tanya Makes a Mistake, Sets Up Lifetime Anxiety and Quest for Perfection. We make mistakes-- many of them. Worrying about them doesn't change this, but it does increase anxiety and stress.
Our Worry Over Mistakes Affects Anxiety
When facing mistakes, ours or someone else’s, we have the choice to react in different ways.
- Focus on the mistakes: When dealing with problems, it’s easy to focus almost exclusively on what’s wrong. While we do need to pay attention to them so we can fix mistakes, focusing too much on them actually prevents us from addressing them. When we fixate on mistakes, we don’t have room for solution-focused thoughts, and as a result, we remain stuck, frustrated, and anxious.
- Focus on the consequences (or imagined consequences): When something goes wrong, it’s normal for humans to look ahead and foresee all that could continue to go wrong. A degree of this is good; it’s part of planning and repairing damages. If we don’t know what problems the mistake could cause, we’re not motivated to do something about it. However, this can easily spiral out of control, harming our mental health. The act of imagining everything that could go wrong and blowing it out of proportion is known as catastrophizing (Anxiety Can Feel Like a Catastrophe). Catastrophizing can increase anxiety and stress and prevent us from taking effective action.
- Become angry: No one loves a mistake. Mistakes interrupt our ability to live in a perfect world. Mistakes do have consequences. Sometimes mistakes are big, and they can’t be lightly laughed off. However, if we allow ourselves to get angry, and more importantly, stay angry, we remain stuck stressed, and anxious -- definitely miserable. Not only are our mental and emotional health impacted, anger doesn’t move us forward. Anger keeps us keyed up, spinning, and less able to take effective action. Also, anger decreases our ability to connect with others to move forward.
- Maintain proper perspective: See a mistake as a single event in the grand scheme of your life, and keep going forward. Worrying excessively about a mistake gives it power and makes it seem bigger and more devastating than it is. The more we worry, the more we fixate on the mistake. Fixation and worry increase anxiety. A mistake may be unpleasant, but it won't destroy your life.
Stop Worrying About Mistakes
When mistakes happen, remember these things in order to stop worrying about the mistakes:
The mistakes have already happened. They’re in the past, and there’s no going back. Look forward and forge ahead. Rather than worrying about the mistake, actively plan ways to recover from it.
Choosing a healthy perspective and planning ways to keep moving forward reduces worrying and increases anxiety-free living.
Of course no one likes mistakes. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), they happen. The beautiful thing is that you have choices. How you react to mistakes affects your mental health, so what are you going to do next time you’re faced with a mistake? Don't increase anxiety by excessively worrying about mistakes.
NCC, T. (2016, September 15). How to Stop Worrying About Mistakes and Reduce Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/09/worrying-about-mistakes
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC