Think you’re anxious about that test, that meeting, that upcoming high school reunion. Think again. It’s what we tell ourselves about an event, not the event itself, that’s usually to blame for stress. The good news is that when we figure this out, we can reduce anxiety in no time. Here’s how it works.
Think of the acronym “ETC” – as in it’s not the event, it’s the “etcetera” of the event that causes anxiety to rise. Event. Thoughts. Consequences
E. The Big Event. “I’m invited for dinner with friends.”
T. Thoughts. “I’ll say the wrong thing. People will notice I’ve gained weight. I’ll be dressed differently than everyone. I’ll make the event awkward.”
C. Consequences. Stress increases. Self-consciousness increases. “I’ll make an excuse to not show up at all.”
This hypothetical young lady tells herself that going out makes her anxious. But going out isn’t the problem. It’s her thoughts, the “etcetera,” that make her anxious.
Without stepping foot in the restaurant, she’s made four different assumptions, all negative, about what will happen. Without exchanging a word, she’s given herself reason to worry about everything from her clothes to her waistline. She’s coronated herself “Queen of the Awkwards” without so much as a conversation.
However, let’s say Nervous Nelly gets herself to a Therapist and begins to recognize that her unfounded predictions and tendency to assume the worst are what results in her ongoing anxiety about social situations. She focuses on her thoughts, not the event, as the root of the problem. She starts to challenge these thoughts, testing and exploring them ever so gently. When she gets the guts to go out, she finds that her friends say nothing about her weight and that conversation flows without the awkward silences she imagined.
If our heroine had continued to focus on going out as the root of the problem, she would have refused more and more offers and found herself living the self fulfilling prophecy of feeling socially isolated and awkward.
Focusing on the actual, not perceived, root of our stress allows us to make changes and get results. Just a few sessions with a trained professional can help you identify the “etcetera” in your brain holding you back from the life you want. Make an appointment today!
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.