Responding effectively to anxiety is a challenging skill that develops experientially with time and practice.
Think of a challenging skill you’ve acquired in your life: riding a bike, learning to read, speaking a foreign language or learning a programming language, or playing a sport.
You didn’t have trust in your ability to execute those skills — that is, you didn’t have confidence — until you had many experiences of practicing and succeeding. If the skill was important to you, you likely had feelings of anticipatory anxiety prior to experiences that would test your ability because you didn’t know what would happen. That’s perfect! That’s exactly how anticipatory anxiety works! It’s not alerting you that you can’t do something. It’s alerting you that you don’t know yet how you’ll do.
For this reason, decreases in your anticipatory anxiety will be the last part of overcoming your anxiety disorder. For many people, the anticipatory anxiety is the worst part. They want it to go away now!
Anticipatory anxiety is a clever trickster that causes people to avoid, become demoralized, self-criticize, and waver in their decision-making. Do not be fooled! Your mind is actually working adaptively.
Like learning anything else, your body won’t give you the feelings of confidence until you’ve practiced the actions of confidence.
Thus, you have to face situational anxiety-provoking stimuli, while feeling unsure what will happen, in order to eventually have the confidence that nothing catastrophic will happen. You have to act as though you can face the thing you fear until your feelings match up with your experience and you feel as though you can do it too.
Making a decision about how you will act is one way to get relief from your dread. Setting small, achievable realistic goals and giving yourself credit for what you’ve achieved is the best way to build trust in yourself.
One barrier many people face as they are trying to take this approach is that they wish they had made more progress than they have. Let’s talk more about being humble and courageous about the process of learning to relate to anxiety more effectively.