(Don't forget to scroll down for Exercise #2 - it's really important, also!)
Exercise #1: Identifying and Healing Underlying Causes of Anxiety
Change is challenging! Think deeply through this exercise. Tackle reasons that you might be anxious about giving up anxiety. Give yourselves permission to be different, and set each other back gently on the new path if you slip back. Keep after your goals, but stay healthy and balanced so you can enjoy the road and make the pursuit worthwhile whatever the result.
Is the world intimidating or encouraging?
Am I talented and skilled or maybe not good enough?
Do I feel supported and secure or isolated and uncertain?
Our answers to these questions can determine how we face challenges in life. Do we focus on personal growth, opportunity, gratitude, and excitement - or stress, inadequacy, and fear?
This exercise helps identify stressful beliefs and jump-starts a more positive approach. It's okay if you don't agree with all the positive thoughts, but the ones you're not sure about may highlight areas where you're less confident. Once you see them, decide what you do want to believe to help you feel more secure about your path!
Step 1: Make two lists: one of positive and one of negative aspects.
For the first, what do you feel encouraged, excited, or optimistic about?
For the second, what makes you feel anxious, uncertain, guilty, worried, or ashamed?
Step 2: Read through the Positive Thoughts and see what you think! Pay extra attention to any that make you uncomfortable.
1. My path towards the future is solid, and I am making progress on it. I can sail into the blue seas of opportunity with excitement and eagerness.
2. The world has good things picked out for me. Whether the toy truck under the Christmas tree turns out to be red or blue, life has many gifts for me.
3. Many things work for my benefit far beyond what I can understand or perceive now. Powerful authority figures, who can help me on my way, will love who I am.
4. I have faith in the resilience of the human spirit, that there will be a future worth participating in. I believe I have a great role to play in making it wonderful for myself and others.
5. There are places where I feel loved, safe, and protected, especially inside myself.
6. I don't give in to nihilism, fear, and doubt. Even if they feel overwhelming, they will pass and be balanced out by hope, joy, and opportunity. I can work through the reasons behind my anxiety and give it up if it's not helping. I do not need to be swept away by negativity.
7. I trust myself and my instincts. I can use my talents and abilities to create a good life and find my own opportunities. I don't need to be in the perfect place or have others set everything up for me.
8. I am special, wonderful, and valuable. I am not defined by any label, including by where I got my education. I am a creature of growth and change. I embrace that I will be variable, inconsistent, fallible, maybe sometimes even unreliable in my journey to discover my full self.
9. My dream is not just in reaching the goal but also in the work on the way. I find enrichment in what I do, so I’m gaining something whether I reach my desired destination. I look into my heart for my passions and find a way to think positively and care - even about projects assigned by others.
10. I try to be happy and mentally healthy in addition to succeeding materially. I can help myself improve without becoming more stressed. I find a way that I love to exist. I am my own refuge from The Storm.
11. I love myself and my emotions. I work lovingly with myself and others to resolve difficult emotions like fear, anger, guilt and shame. I embrace their importance as part of a rich, full human life.
12. I trust that other people love me. Even if it doesn't always feel that way, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I believe people will still love me even as I evolve. I am surrounded by people who can help me. If their help doesn't work, I can help them adjust so they can achieve their goal of assisting me.
13. I don’t have to live in other people’s anger or let them convince me that I should be afraid. I can feel happy with myself even if they are not. I can have faith in myself even if they doubt my abilities.
14. Life is collaborative. I don't need to always come out on top. I help other people figure out what makes them tick and give them opportunities to pursue their passions along with me. I encourage other people's plans, even if they are not the plans I would prefer.
15. Other people and I have a right to walk happily through the world at the same time. I encourage each plant to find its own shape and bloom its own way. I don’t try to make others like me. I don't need the same material things as others have, and they don't need my life, either.
16. I am good for others, and they are good for me. Fully and respectfully expressing who I am benefits them. Learning about them benefits me. We are making progress together on precious Planet Earth.
Exercise #2: Giving Up Your Anxieties
If you are struggling to become less anxious, you may be getting some hidden benefits from your anxieties that make them hard to give up. This exercise is designed to uncover those and help you develop strategies for getting those benefits from other, more positive thoughts.
Make a quadruple t-chart with columns labeled Minuses, Plusses, Fears, and Solutions. Fill in each column.
Minuses: How does being anxious makes your life more difficult, less enjoyable, or less successful?
Plusses: What positives do you get out of being anxious? Often people are using anxiety to achieve some positive ends, which is why they have trouble abandoning it completely.
Fears: What concerns you about giving up anxiety? Do you have worries about how change will affect your relationship with the world and others?
Solutions: How can you find a way to get the things in the Pro column from other, more productive sources? For example, it's not wrong to motivate yourself, but can you be motivated by being proud of and happy about having finished your task without having to be anxious?
See below for a sample. (Most of these are personal - my original try was much longer than this!)
Harder to succeed
Quickly becomes the only topic of conversation
I become risk-averse
I am afraid to be creative
I miss out on opportunities
Sympathy and attention
Reassurance that I care
Camaraderie with other sufferers
If I'm less anxious to please people, I might not be as nice. What if people stop liking me?
If I'm not worried about what people think, I might start being more honest and get into arguments.
If I don't doubt myself, I might become arrogant.
I might die. (note: don’t worry if some fears seem irrational; write them down anyway. Your psyche deserves to be heard.)
If I stop worrying about doing a good job, I might become lazy.
What if people don't like me after I change?
Have more faith in myself, that I am nice because I truly care.
I can be motivated by doing a good job.
It's not arrogant to think I am good something. I just need to stay humble and not think I’m a better person than others who are not as good.
Anxiety is not the identity I want. There is much more to me than that.
Have faith that people who love me want me to grow and change.
I will not die from being uncomfortable. I am strong and persevering.