When you have anxiety, one of the most common side-effects is for you to second-guess yourself. About everything. With anxiety, you may lay in bed at night still wondering if you made the right college major choice 20 years ago. Or why you said that thing to that girl in third grade.
The second-guessing can affect your past decisions and how you analyze and wonder about them and it can affect your future decisions and how long you spend delaying them. If you changed your major four times your sophomore year, it may have been due to anxious second-guessing. If you still haven’t decided what cell phone to buy to replace your phone that broke three months ago, it may be due to anxious second-guessing.
Why You Second-Guess
At its core, anxiety is your brain trying to protect you. Yes, it goes about it in an unhealthy and pathological way, but that does not change its intention. Your anxious brain wants you to be safe and it wants what is best for you. That means that your anxiety will constantly be looking for potential problems and wondering if you made the correct choice.
This creates obvious issues. When making a choice there are no guarantees and there is no perfection. Whether you are choosing a career path or a cell phone, nothing is certain.
You could spend years in college and then not be able to find a decent job in your field. Or your field could become automated. Or you might just find that you hate it.
A phone will never have the exact combination of things you want at your price point. With the exception of die-hard iPhone users who get the new one each year and convince themselves that it is exactly what they wanted so they can have the prestige logo. For everyone else, you will have to compromise and prioritize to find the phone that is the closest to what you want at a price you can afford.
The lack of certainty and perfection absolutely terrifies the mind of someone with anxiety.
Fear of Doing
The common advice to begin before you are ready that is meant to get people to move from thinking to doing is something many people with anxiety choke on. They will never feel ready because preparation takes so long. They want to research everything. Their mind wants answers or guarantees.
Research makes them feel better. They feel like they are progressing toward their goal when really, they are not. They are just procrastinating.
The idea of actually starting is terrifying. Your mind will nitpick and second-guess every possible angle to keep you from doing anything.
The bottom line is that when you have anxiety you do not trust yourself. You don’t trust your judgment. You don’t trust your knowledge. You don’t trust your grit/perseverance.
Anxiety has convinced you that you are not enough. That if you make a wrong choice, you will be stuck with it and not be able to change or to fix it.
Anxiety is wrong.
Try These Things
It is important to work on keeping your mind in the present. If you ruminate too much on your past mistakes it undercuts your trust in yourself. You believe the bullshit anxiety is selling you about being stupid or incapable because all it plays for you is a highlight reel of your mistakes.
Learn to keep your mind from wandering into the past or worrying about the future. There are many guided meditations on mindfulness that can be found online or on Spotify.
Keep Mistakes in Perspective
You need to stop allowing your mind to catastrophize mistakes. Everyone messes up. A lot. It is part of being human. But when you have anxiety, the disease will convince you that you are somehow a world-class screw-up. That your mistakes are so much worse than everyone else’s.
Start to challenge those blanket condemnations when your anxiety makes them about you. Do not allow it to call you stupid without challenging it. At first, it may feel awkward or difficult to stand up for yourself. With time and practice, you will get better.
Think of it as if you are young and your anxiety is an abusive adult. The more you practice challenging it, the bigger you get. Soon you will be bigger and stronger than the anxiety and it will not be able to push you around anymore.
Redirect Your Thoughts
Another skill to acquire that can help is to redirect your thoughts. Anxiety likes to play worries and problems on a continuous loop. That makes it rather predictable. If you say something that comes out wrong at work, you know that night you will be lying in bed remembering the great debate disaster of seventh grade.
Work on ways to get your mind focused on other areas. Put on some music you like and sing along. Stream a favorite show. Call and talk to a friend.
Try to interrupt the circular thoughts so they can’t go in their familiar pattern. If you interrupt them enough you may be able to condition your brain to react in a different, more positive, way to anxiety triggers.
Anxiety likes to make you doubt yourself. These skills can help you work toward regaining control over your self-image.