In the mental health space, there’s often a lot of talk about “overcoming” anxiety or other mental health issues. In this post I break down why that’s never something we should be striving for, and what we should strive for instead.
I was recently on a podcast (check it out here!) and I spoke a lot about how I’ve learned to manage my anxiety over the years, and how this blog has been a big result of that. I started this blog originally because I wanted to share tips and strategies I had learned to help myself live a better life following a really dark period five years ago when I struggled with intense anxiety and depression.
And when I started this blog, part of me felt qualified to give advice because my really intense dark period had been so long ago, and I did feel that I had “overcome” it. Of course I am still a generally more anxious human than most, but I truly felt that I had mostly “conquered” anxiety and was on the other side.
So, I started the blog as a creative outlet, I started sharing more about my life and my experiences, and I even started writing poetry again. I then began dreaming of working for myself and having my own coaching business, helping others overcome their anxiety just as I had. I was basically baring my soul to the world and dreaming bigger than I had ever thought possible. I was so excited and I felt more alive than ever before.
Hello anxiety, my old friend
And then the fear and anxiety came creeping in. Slowly I started thinking, “Who do I think I am? That is an insane idea. You aren’t good enough. There are already so many other people doing this. You aren’t that creative. You don’t have enough original ideas. Why would anyone listen to you?” And the list went on – circling through my mind endlessly. I was doubting myself on a level I never had before, and it was terrifying. And there were moments when I would just freeze in sheer panic, the anxiety so loud again that it was deafening.
And then I realized something. Five years ago, my anxiety manifested itself so intensely because I was in the wrong situation for myself. I was in the absolute wrong job but was terrified of leaving it, and I had created the wrong life for myself. I had no set path to follow for the first time ever and I felt like I was staring into an empty void. But now, five years later, I was now experiencing anxiety with almost the same intensity – this time because I was creating the right life for myself – a bigger life. A more creative life. A more bold life. A life of freedom, without limits, without a timeline, and with more risk.
And I realized that if my anxiety is going to show up pretty much no matter what I do, whether I’m on the right path or the wrong path, I am never going to “overcome” my anxiety or my fears. I am never going to be “done” with them. They will always, always be there. Especially when I’m about to try something completely new or go against societal expectations. Especially when I’m thinking about taking a huge risk, a huge creative leap, and going for the things that I truly want.
How anxiety helps us
Because fear and anxiety are protective. They are trying to protect us from getting hurt or from feeling rejection, failure, or criticism. But I am a firm believer that we not only NEED to experience all of that to grow and learn, but those emotions we’ve labeled negative are actually good for us, even if we can’t see them as that when we’re experiencing them.
Of course we don’t want to be in pain. Of course we don’t want to put something out there that reflects our heart and soul and get no reaction from anybody or get told “no thank you.” Of course we don’t want to hear harsh words about ourselves. That all sucks. And it’s hard. But it means we’re truly trying for something. Because if we really want to, we can avoid all of that. We can play really, really safe so we don’t have to experience any of those things – which I did for a long time.
But not anymore. I embrace my anxiety and my fears. I know they’re just here to protect me, and I can choose not to listen to them. And most importantly, having fear and anxiety doesn’t mean I’m making the wrong decision. Fear wants us to make decisions that will keep us small to protect us from feeling hurt, but we don’t have to let it. We can choose to make our own decisions, rooted in truth and in hope.
Why I will never overcome anxiety
So the truth is that I will never overcome my anxiety, and I don’t need to. I’m okay with that now. I know now that anxiety isn’t something I need to run from, but it’s something I need to embrace. It’s helped me in so many ways in my life, and has made me the person I am today. But I am done letting my fears dictate my decisions, and if that means living with more anxiety than when I was playing safe, then so be it. I welcome the chance to prove it wrong.
And like all of you, I’m still figuring it out as I go. Some days are easier than others. And I’m so appreciative that you’re reading this and I hope my words have helped you, but I’m certainly no guru. I’m just like you – taking it day by day and committing to learning as much about myself as I can. But one thing I know for sure is that we can never outrun ourselves. We can’t outrun our fears, and we can’t outrun our dreams. They will always be there, no matter how far we push them beneath the surface.
So let’s bring them into the light. Our fears AND our dreams. Our pain AND our joy. All of it is here to help us. All of it is here for a reason. It’s up to us if we decide to fight it or if we decide to allow it to teach us the greatest lessons we will ever learn. It’s time to stop playing small, and it’s time to love ourselves, not despite our anxiety and our fears, but because of them.