Five Ways to Overcome Anxiety and the Imposter Syndrome
Thursday, April 20 2017 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Overcoming a type of anxiety known as the imposter syndrome often seems impossible. The imposter syndrome is a crushing anxiety that can plague high-achieving individuals, making them fear being discovered as a fraud, a phony, a fake, a man or woman undeserving of being where he or she is. This anxiety causes extreme stress and fear of failure. Like all anxiety, the imposter syndrome can be significantly reduced and even completely overcome.
The previous post, Anxiety and the Imposter Syndrome: They'll Figure Me Out explores the signs and symptoms of the imposter syndrome, what it feels like and how it makes people think about themselves. Now it's time to figure out just how to overcome the imposter syndrome.
To Overcome the Imposter Syndrome, Know What You're Up Against
Reducing this type of anxiety is particularly challenging. Like all types of anxiety, it's stubborn and deeply ingrained into the psyche. Also, it has an additional hook: commonly, people experiencing the imposter syndrome are reluctant to try to overcome it. It's not that they don't want to; rather, they're afraid to. They worry that if they stop being tense and anxious about failure, they’ll stop performing well.
Knowing this about the imposter syndrome actually helps people better deal with it. There are techniques and strategies for overcoming anxiety and the imposter syndrome that are more about shifting thoughts, beliefs and actions than about fighting them.
How to Overcome Anxiety and the Imposter Syndrome
Each of the following imposter syndrome hacks can stand on its own, and they can be used in any combination. Because the imposter syndrome is resistant to anything that might threaten it or the worth of its prey, these are designed to be integrated into one's life to affect quality change over time.
The "Good Not Great" Exercise: Beginning with tasks that are incredibly unimportant and gradually including bigger things, do them in a way that is satisfactory, that gets the job done, without achieving a state of near-perfection (The Link Between Perfectionism and Anxiety). With this, you show yourself that good enough really is. Nothing catastrophic happens when you're not performing perfectly.
Visualize Flowers; Be a Flower:
A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. — Sensei Ogui
The imposter syndrome causes high anxiety and fear over not being "good enough," not measuring up against others. Learning to be a like a flower can help you see that your worth is you very self and who you are. Your value doesn’t lie in being more fragrant than or as colorful as other flowers. Consider drawing a picture or making a collage of a variety of flowers and keeping it with you to remind yourself that you can just be as you are.
Learn to Use Your Strengths In New Ways. You are more than your measurable achievements. Discover more about yourself and what you're good at, and use these character strengths in new ways in different areas of your life (Five Character Strengths of People Living with Anxiety). For an introduction to character strengths and a free inventory, visit the VIA Institute on Character.
Celebrate: The imposter syndrome and its accompanying anxiety keep people in overdrive. People experiencing imposter syndrome tend to internalize all of their perceived failures and shortcomings. The focus remains on these negative thoughts. When this same person achieves something she's been striving to accomplish, though, she tends to brush it off, minimize its significance, and go right on to the next project that must be done perfectly. This keeps the imposter syndrome alive. Those accomplishments, even small ones, are important. Take time to celebrate your achievements in a way that is meaningful to you. This will help you internalize the fact that you are valuable for who you are, not just for what you do.
Play. To someone who lives with the imposter syndrome, "relax" is a foreign concept or an evil one, depending on the person. Trying to relax usually increases anxiety. So instead of relaxing, play. Find something that makes you laugh, that expands your horizons. Discover what you love, and do it. You'll discover that you can still achieve well and probably will achieve even better than before, and you just might discover that you find yourself to be "good enough," a person worthy of your respect.
To overcome anxiety and the imposter syndrome is to expand your horizons and open yourself up to the possibility that you are not a fake, not a phony, and that you are "good enough." You can be comfortable with yourself and continue to excel while you simultaneously enjoy your life with less anxiety.