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Having anxiety means that we ask ourselves a lot of questions. But are we asking the right ones?

Those of us with anxiety often ask ourselves questions like:

What might go wrong?
What do they think of me?
Do they like me?
Have I made a fool of myself?
What if I freeze up?
What if I have a panic attack?
What do they think about what I did?
What will happen?

And we mentally rehearse conversations and situations. But what if there were other, more useful questions to ask yourself instead?

None of us are perfect and we all fall short of our own standards at times so what’s important is what questions we ask – of ourselves and the people around us. What if, by asking these questions we could gain greater perspective and some peace of mind?

Below is a list of questions I think should be asked several times in a lifetime and some of them even on a daily basis. They include questions to ask yourself about the people we surround ourselves with, our worries and our purpose.

The answers have changed a lot for me from one time in my life to another, but through contemplating my answers they have made me better or given me something to think about.

I hope you get something out of them too.

Who Do You Spend Your Time With?

questions to ask yourself
It is who we know and what we do that influences who we become. This is because what you you do puts you around people and the people you are around affect what you do.

Think for a moment about your friends and colleagues: do they inspire you, encourage you, make you want to be a better person? Or do they drag you down?

We seem to understand that a young person who spends time with others who don’t want to go anywhere in life, probably isn’t going to go anywhere in life themselves.

What we understand less is that an adult who spends time with other adults who have unhappy lifestyles is going to find themselves making similar choices.

The same goes for what you read, what you watch, what you think about. Your life comes to resemble its environment. So choose your surroundings wisely.

Your life comes to resemble its environment. So choose your surroundings wisely.

How can I be stronger for this? 

I know you’ve had tough times, tough moments. We all have. That famous phrase from Nietzsche ‘What doesnt kill me, makes me stronger comes to mind. Nietzsche suggested that we should take suffering as an opportunity to build strength. What are you learning from this difficult period and how will it make you stronger in time? 

What am I missing by choosing worry or fear?

When you worry or you are feeling fearful, your vision of the world gets narrower. Your perspective gets smaller as you focus in on the minutiae or detail.

This can be in terms of potential opportunities or literally.

When your mind is tied up in the emotions of stress (fear, worry), you become less able to notice opportunities when they appear because you are too preoccupied.

Fear can also limit your physical world as you keep yourself close to what you know: the same route to work, the same daily routine with the same people and the same activities.

When my anxiety was at its peak I couldn’t even walk into a cafe or shop that I hadn’t been into before. I rarely deviated from the routine – the same places, the same people and the same experiences.

And yet I wanted things to be different. But how could they be if I wasn’t willing to change the routine?

So let me ask you: If you continue to do exactly the same thing over and over, how much room does that leave for change? If you let fear or worry govern your daily existence, are things going to get better by themselves? And what opportunities or experiences will slip past, by continuing to live in this state?

questions to ask yourself

Why do I care what they think?

Why do we care so much about other people’s opinions, even those of total strangers?

So often we base our actions and decisions on how we anticipate other people will perceive us. As a result, we hold ourselves back from the things we want to do, or worse still, we do things we’d rather not do, because we are afraid of what others will think.

The reality is that most people are so wrapped up in their own lives that they are not even paying enough attention to form an opinion.
And the Haters? The people who go out of their way to make horrible comments? They must have a pretty sad life. Why would someone who is happy or building a worthwhile life take the time to be nasty to someone else?
The key is to have your own standards and opinions of what is right of wrong and to use these as a measurement of what we care about.

It’s not other people’s judgment that should be guiding our lives. It’s our own opinion that matters.

questions_to_ask_yourself

What if I said no?

It’s one of the hardest things to do – to say “no”. To invitations, to requests, to obligations, to whatever everyone else is doing. All of us – especially women – regularly say yes unthinkingly, usually out of fear of disappointing someone.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that if all the geniuses in history were to get together, none would be able to explain our baffling relationship with time. “We’re tight-fisted with property and money,” he write, “yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest of misers”.
Always think about what you’re really being asked to give. The answer is often a piece of your life. Usually in exchange for something you don’t even want.
The next time someone asks for “a little of your time”, ask yourself “What if I said no? If the answer is, “I’d be happier” or “No one would care”, then you know what? Say no.

Does this stop me from being a good person?

Things go wrong. That’s normal. But the questions to ask yourself when that happens is not “Whose fault is this?” or, “Is this fair?”. Instead, we should be asking questions such as “Does this stop me from being a good person?” or “Does this affect my character?”.

More than 99% of the time, the answer is no.

Which means that the way to respond is to “Keep calm and carry on”. BY falling back on the standards you set for yourself. As long as you are doing the right thing by you, that is all that matters.

It doesn’t matter if other people get away with doing something wrong. It doesn’t matter if people won’t appreciate the sacrifice you are making. It doesn’t matter if it might not work. It doesn’t matter of you will be criticised or judged. If it’s right, it’s right for you.

anxiety test female

What am I grateful for?

Researchers have found that gratitude and happiness are always strongly correlated. A possible theory is that gratitude moves people to experience more positive emotions, to thoroughly enjoy the good experiences, better their health, face adversity, and develop and maintain relationships of strength, which in turn makes you happier.
Take some time each day to focus on what is going right and what you have to be grateful for. There will be something, no matter how bleak you perceive your situation to be. It could be a comfortable chair or a snuggly jumper. The small things count too.

Researchers have found that gratitude and happiness are always strongly correlated

questions to ask yourself

Is this in my control?

The only things we can control are our actions, thoughts and feelings. Other people, the weather, external events… these are out of our control. It sounds obvious but so often we try to control things that are out of our control and this can only lead to frustration, anger, resentment, stress, anxiety and worry.
But here’s where it comes full circle: our responses to other people, the weather, external events are in our control. Making this distinction will make you happier and stronger if only because it concentrates your resources in the places where they matter.

What is the Most Important Thing?

If you don’t know what the most important thing is to you, how do you know if you’re putting it first? What are the values by which you are living your life? Once you know what is the most important thing to you, you will be able to develop the quiet confidence that you are on the right path.

Does this actually matter?

This thing that I am doing right now, this thing that I am thinking about, obsession over, worrying about, does it even matter? In 5 years time, will this matter?
So often, the answer to this question is no.
If that’s your answer, don’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it now.
questions to ask yourself

Is this who I want to be?

Our mind has the cunning ability to make the distinction between what we do and who we are. The problem is that this is complete nonsense. You can’t be a good person if your actions are consistently bad. You can’t be a hardworking person if you take every shortcut you can.
You are what you do – so ask yourself whenever you’re doing something: is this reflective of the person I want to be? That I see myself to be?

Does anger make this better?

You gave them very careful instructions, which they disregarded, leading to costly consequences for you both. You’re a very courteous driver, yet this person is still beeping their horn at you and shouting out the window. You’ve asked your child 50 times to work on their homework, yet here they are the night before, complaining that they need help.

These are trademark frustrating situations. Ones that are very easy to get angry about. But just because they arouse anger in you, it doesn’t mean you should give in to that feeling.

Marcus Aureliuswrote in Mediations, “how much more harmful are the consequences of anger… than the circumstances that aroused them in us.”

Anger almost always makes things worse. It almost always compounds the harm — it takes a situation that was already unfortunate and makes it more so. Getting angry isn’t good for your heart. It’s not good for your mind. It’s not good for the people around you. 

So take a moment, walk away and come back when you can handle the situation calmly.

questions to ask yourself

What can I let go of?

We all carry wounds and grudges. People have wronged us. We have been hurt. We have been deprived. The questions is: How long are we going to carry this around? Would we be better off letting go of it?

Every now and then we should take a few minutes to think about the baggage we carry and decide whether to keep carrying it. Some of it we are not ready to part with – the wound is still too rare and we are still too vulnerable. But there is plenty we can let go of.

We can forgive (ourselves and others). We can move on.

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