I did not want that headline – “Anxiety Derails Man’s Life” – to continue to be my story, and I don’t want it to be you or a loved one’s either.
Anxiety can wreak havoc on our lives and affect our values which puts at odds with ourselves. Those values are what guide us throughout our daily lives and dictate how we “show-up.” We show-up in close friendships one way, intimate relationships another, working relationships another, and so on.
Below is my take on a great exercise I did in outpatient therapy that is a poignant and concrete way to align values to how you want to live your life with anxiety:
Imagine a birthday invitation is going to be sent to celebrate your future birthday. What would people say about you if you lived a life AVOIDING your anxiety? Write a few sentences about how that would read in a birthday announcement. Here is how mine reads:
Mike lived his life avoiding anxiety. Sine his anxiety disorder diagnosis in his late twenties he was always fighting anxiety which meant he was constantly worried about being anxious. This meant he wasn’t truly present in his own life. Not being present ran counter to his beliefs and values which made him depressed, agitated, grumpy and generally intolerable. He was considered by his friends and immediate family as not “all there” or present since he was constantly afraid his anxiety would turn into a panic attack.
Now, flip the paper over and record what people would say about you if you lived a life ACCEPTING your anxiety. Here is how mine reads:
By living a life of accepting his Mike had a great life. His family and friends revered him for his ability to listen, help, and strengthen them. His colleagues praised him or his ability to focus and get things done. Because Mike accepted that his thoughts were just thoughts, not facts, he was able to live in the present with the family he loved dearly which translated into a generally positive and upbeat mood since he knew he was living life to the fullest.
Once you record your announcements read them aloud starting with how your life would look spent AVOIDING anxiety. Then flip the page over and read aloud how a life lived with ACCEPTING anxiety would look. Notice that as you are turning the page over and back one subtle but important thing is happening: You are literally flipping the script!
This exercise also shows you what your life can be life if you make a decision, which is what you CAN control: Do you want to live a life of anxiety avoidance or anxiety acceptance?
I have included a template for both the avoiding and accepting birthday announcements, feel free to print them and write on them and share with your family and friends.
Look back and what you wrote and decide which life you would rather live and how you want to show-up according to your values in your life, relationships, career and other aspects.
I hope this helps you as much as it did me!