I often work with clients who experience anxiety. I notice that there is a link to anxiety, and the fact that we make comparisons to others. When we rate ourselves against others, we seem to come off worse. Examples of this can be, “He earns more than me, She wears nicer clothes than me, He is better at presenting than me, She is a better mother than me.” The point being, that we rate ourselves as better or worse. It is very black and white.
Anxiety enters as we face uncertainty. When we compare ourselves against others, the uncertainty appears as we question “Can I ever be more like them?”. According to Existential philosophy we cannot eradicate anxiety, but we can choose how respond to it. Being aware of our anxiety is the first step, as awareness can lead to change.
What does anxiety mean to you? Do you look at yourself as ill? Or perhaps someone who struggles with life from time to time? The way you frame your anxiety in your mind may make a difference to how you feel about it. When you compare yourself to others with anxiety you may think that your anxiety is worse or better then the person you know. Try to steer away from comparisons, and allow yourself the gift of self acceptance.
When feeling anxious, get in touch with where you feel the anxiety in your body, gently breathe and be with it as opposed to trying to push it away. Perhaps you may want to give yourself sometime in the day that CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) therapists may call ‘worry time’, where you can think about your concerns.
Anxiety is a part of life, we live in an uncertain world. Angel, Ellenberger, and May (2004) lead us to understand that it is a part of who we are, “Anxiety is not an affect among other affects such as pleasure or sadness. It is rather an ontological characteristic of man, rooted in his very existence as such.” ( p50)
Even though we cannot get rid of anxiety, we can notice the waves of it, when is the anxiety at its peak? When is it more manageable? Have you ever noticed how your anxiety levels rise when your thoughts spiral? Are you making assumptions? It is highly likely that you are worrying about what others may think of you. A doctor spoke to me who suffered with anxiety and her main worry was what the other doctors thought of her. She worried because she was slower than the other doctors. I pointed out, that the assumption she held was that being a quicker doctor was better than a slower doctor. When the doctor could focus on her strengths about looking after her patient’s safety she felt calmer. Her anxiety decreased when she stopped making assumptions about what others thought of her and instead focused in on her own views. Assumptions we make often get in our way of accepting our given reality.
Making assumptions that others judge you may very well be an assumption that again leads to us feeling anxious. How can you find internal calm and peace if you are preoccupied with the worry about others judging you? Try to be your own therapist and be aware of how you think, when are you making assumptions? When are you comparing yourself? Looking within at your unique strengths can leave you with more hope to face your next step of your journey.
Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor. Aviva holds a Master of Arts in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. Aviva, a very passionate therapist, works with individuals on a private basis.