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?
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 doesn’t 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?
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.
It’s not other people’s judgment that should be guiding our lives. It’s our own opinion that matters.
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.
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.
What am I grateful for?
Is this in my control?
What is the Most Important Thing?
Does this actually matter?
Is this who I want to be?
Does anger make this better?
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.
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.
What can I let go of?
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.