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Adjusting Anxiety Goals by Moving the Goalposts

February 22, 2020 George Abitante

Do you have anxiety goals? Could changing your perspective on anxiety help you to reach them more quickly?

In many of my posts, I discuss challenges or problems involving anxiety that can at least be ameliorated through specific changes you can make in your life. Today, however, I wanted to talk about a less concrete change that I believe can also be valuable when dealing with anxiety goals.

I believe that adjusting one's perspective is equally (if not more) important to one's mental health, and so today I wanted to share my thoughts on the ever-changing nature of anxiety. I think a lot of people just want their anxiety to go away, and feel that their lives will be better once that happens. This in itself is perhaps not the healthiest perspective about anxiety, but it also assumes that there is a single "problem" with anxiety, and that addressing it will remove anxiety from one's life completely. 

This is not always the case.

Your Anxiety Goals May Need to Change Over Time

Sometimes, perhaps often, anxiety just changes over time. I've found this to be true in my own life. In college, I went through a period of six months where I was experiencing panic attacks several times a week, often waking in the middle of the night to episodes. Over time, I learned how to work through my panic, and reached a point where I was no longer really bothered by them.

However, this doesn't mean that I no longer experience panic attacks. They still pop up a few times a year, but unlike during that period in college, I'm not afraid of panicking anymore. It's funny how difficult it can be to predict what we really want. If you had told me back in college that I would continue to experience panic attacks for years to come, I would have been horrified. But for me today, you could tell me I'd have panic attacks every day for a year, and that sincerely would not worry me very much. My anxiety goal shifted and works better for me because of it.

My Fear Is Real -- Anxiety Has Not Been Eliminated from My Life

As this example demonstrates, I have not "eliminated" anxiety from my life. What I have done is moved the goalposts that determine how I feel about my anxiety, shifting my anxiety goals. Back in college, experiencing a single panic attack was a 10 out of10 terrible thing for me. Today, that same experience is maybe a two out of 10 -- it's a little bit unpleasant, but I know how to handle it and I'm not afraid of it.

It has taken me years to understand this, but that change in perspective has been far more powerful than just removing my anxiety would have been. I have learned so much from my time with panic disorder that I frankly would not choose to give them up even if I could. Moving the goalpost for my anxiety has also allowed me to shift my perspective in other areas of my life, particularly in my professional life.

When I look back at how frightening panic attacks were in college, it's impossible for me to view any other challenge in my life as insurmountable. When I face difficult situations at work, I feel like I have a reservoir of self-belief and strength because I've seen how much positive change I can achieve in just a few years. If I can move my fear from a 10 to a two, how can I treat any other challenge as though it's impossible to overcome? 

The Change to My Anxiety Goals

I want to emphasize that this change to my anxiety goals did not occur overnight -- I had to move from a 10 to a nine very slowly, and then move from a nine to an eight even more slowly than that. The positive changes I've experienced have taken a lot of time to achieve, but I believe I've benefitted from reflecting on my progress at each stage of change.

Wherever you are in moving the goalposts for your anxiety, I hope that my experiences provide encouragement and support for you. Even when it feels like the best thing for you would be to get rid of anxiety entirely, I hope you remember my story and consider ways you can shift your perspective and identify something good about the challenge you're facing. I sincerely believe that overcoming adversity is the greatest tool for growth and self-discovery, and I invite you to try welcoming your anxiety as an opportunity for growth instead of fear. 

How have your anxiety goals shifted over time? Tell me about it in the comments.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2020, February 22). Adjusting Anxiety Goals by Moving the Goalposts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, January 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2020/2/adjusting-anxiety-goals-by-moving-the-goalposts



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
February, 24 2020 at 2:59 pm

I love this read! What an amazing testament to the power of shifting our perspective. I love this takeaway: "When I face difficult situations at work, I feel like I have a reservoir of self-belief and strength because I've seen how much positive change I can achieve in just a few years. " How amazing to look at our experiences with things like fear and anxiety and see the other side of the coin with them (so to speak). I think this is something many people can not only relate to but benefit from. Thank you for sharing your experience here.

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