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Know Who You Are to Stop Anxiety and Start Living

November 8, 2018 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

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Do you know who you are? How's your sense of self, of how you'd like to live your life? Knowing who you are at your core can help stop anxiety so you can start living. This happens through a process of self-discovery. Think of it as an adventure into your inner workings that starts with the question: Who will you be when your anxiety is gone? At first, it might be hard to even imagine the answer. To begin to know who you are, stop anxiety, and start living, learn to simply observe yourself. 

It's not uncommon for people to spend their whole lives waiting to start living. -- Echkart Tolle 

It's sad but often true: anxiety paralyzes people, effectively shutting them down and preventing them from living fully and well. Sometimes, anxiety leads to isolation, and in extreme cases, agoraphobia or avoidant personality disorder. Other times, people are able to venture out into the world but anxiety clouds their experiences. Either way, your ability to know who you are fades and you end up waiting for anxiety to disappear before you start living.

It's almost impossible to start living when you don't know who you are beyond your anxiety. The good news is that understanding yourself is a skill that develops with persistent practice. The following ideas can help you start to stop anxiety. 

To Stop Anxiety and Start Living, Know Who You Aren't

Before you embark on your journey of self-discovery, it's important to know that you are not your anxiety. Anxiety is a reaction--worry, fear, obsessions, thoughts, panic, pains, and illness--that occurs in your brain and any system of your body. Physical parts of you process and assemble the thing we call anxiety, but the essential you--your mind, hopes, dreams, interests, strengths, roles, passions, purpose, and other such unique traits--is not anxiety. Anxiety doesn't reside in those pieces of you the way it does in the brain, muscles, and gut. 

Separating your identity from your experience with anxiety is an important first step toward knowing who you are. When you feel anxious or find yourself reacting to anxiety rather than doing what you'd rather be doing, stop and gently remind yourself that you are experiencing anxiety in the moment, but you are not that anxiety. A therapeutic approach known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) calls this defusion. By reminding yourself that you're not your anxiety, you are de-fusing (coming un-fused or unglued) from it. 

The more you do this, the more you'll be able to stop anxiety. Adding to the act of defusion will make this journey even more effective. Like the defusion exercise, it's simple yet powerful. 

Simply Observe to Know Who You Are

If you're not your anxiety, then who, exactly, are you? Just observe yourself non-judgmentally. Without evaluating, begin to describe what you notice about yourself. Keep a journal or use note cards to record your observations so you can begin to look for patterns and themes. 

Use the distant observer exercise to help the process.

  • In your imagination, position yourself somewhere to observe yourself as you go about your day. Maybe you're sitting on a tree branch or in a hot air balloon looking down, or you're in a theater watching yourself on stage or in a movie. 
  • From this distant perspective, notice your actions, thoughts, feelings--notice yourself living your life.
  • What do you like about what you observe? What would you like to change? (Don't evaluate as "good" or "bad," simply note.)
  • How do you react to anxiety? What would you change?
  • Notice what makes you feel alive, with less anxiety? 

The more you observe, the better you'll get to know yourself. And with self-understanding comes confidence and insight into what you want in your anxiety-free life. Then, you can stop waiting for anxiety to be gone and start living your life on your terms. Anxiety will shrivel as you live. 

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2018, November 8). Know Who You Are to Stop Anxiety and Start Living , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/11/know-who-you-are-to-stop-anxiety-and-start-living



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of 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 speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

zach smith
says:
November, 26 2018 at 1:01 pm
Hello Tanya

That is a great post, I have suffered from severe blushing for over 25 years now this has led me to have depression and anxiety problems.

I have been blogging about my experiences with some stories I have used a few products for anxiety, they helped very much. But im not completely cured, you know I was listening to radio one here in the UK and they were talking about the use of magic mushrooms for anxiety ever experienced those as a treatment?

Cheers

Zach
November, 27 2018 at 7:26 pm
Hi Zach,
Blushing can cause significant anxiety -- especially in social anxiety, but in other forms, too. It's hard to completely cure anxiety, but there are techniques, therapeutic approaches, sometimes medications or natural treatments that can assist people in lowering anxiety and moving forward not as bothered by it. I haven't experienced mushrooms. I might be completely off, but I think that these might be psychedelic mushrooms. In the US, these are considered illicit drugs because they can be very dangerous and can actually cause anxiety or worsen existing anxiety. Even if something isn't an illegal substance and is sold in stores, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor before taking anything just to make sure it's safe for your system and doesn't interact with any prescriptions or OTC medicines you might be taking. Just like any prescription, a natural remedy can be very effective for one person, neutral for another, and harmful to the next person.
https://youtu.be/kQULLOUTyME
says:
November, 9 2018 at 4:32 pm
This is a fabulous article. I think all the trauma and mental health issues, a lot of it comes down to my own self-esteem. This week was the first time in my life I started to not care what others think...not even in a big way...but just a driver was mad because of some small thing...and I just was anxious for a moment and moved on...it didn't phase me or ruin my day. That's never happened and I'm 36 years old. Just finding myself lately and it's helping with my anxiety.
November, 13 2018 at 11:48 am
Hello!
Self-esteem (and it's partner self-efficacy, a belief in yourself, your strengths, and you abilities) plays a tremendous role in our wellbeing. I'm happy for you that you were able to dismiss the irritated driver and move on. That is liberating and really does help with anxiety. I didn't develop that until my 40s (and I'm still in my 40s -- 47), and it has made a world of difference for me, too. So I can relate to you and can say that it just keeps getting better. And on days when your self-esteem dips and anxiety rises, know that it's temporary, reset yourself, and keep going!
Japa
says:
November, 9 2018 at 10:59 am
Very well written Tanya, thank you. Along with CBD Oil and meditation I think being observant is very important. For instance when you say "What would you like to change? (Don't evaluate as "good" or "bad," simply note." I read this in a book called "A new earth" and it made me think how important it is to eliminate judgement. The principle there was more not assigning labels or words rather just observing but yeah great article. I will be sure to subscribe. Thanks!
November, 13 2018 at 11:44 am
Hi Japa,
I'm happy that this article was helpful to you. And thank you for sharing things that work for you, including the book. Many readers appreciate knowing what works for others.

(Note: Marijuana and related products, such as CBD (cannabidiol) oil, are illegal in many states. Also, these substances can interact harmfully with some medications. If you are in a state in which CBD oil (some states have legalized marijuana but not CBD) is legal and you are considering using it for anxiety, it's important to consult with your doctor first.)

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