Why you shouldn't "own" your anxiety

Find out how you could be making it harder to stop feeling anxious and 3 ways to challenge your thoughts.

I have an aversion to labels especially when it comes to mental health. Why? Because they can re-enforce limiting beliefs about ourselves and our ability to reach our true potential.

A bold statement you say? Aren’t labels helpful so we know what we’re dealing with? Well, not always…

As a society we’re getting better at talking about mental health, however I’ve also noticed the “anxiety” label is increasingly being used to describe everything from every day worries to complex mental health conditions.

There is a growing trend, particularly among celebrities, to wear their “insecurities” and “anxiety” as a badge of honor. It’s almost becoming fashionable to identify as an anxiety sufferer! In my opinion there’s a fine line between the benefits of someone in the public eye sharing genuine struggles with anxiety to help people feel normal or learn how to deal with it, and those using it to gain popularity among their followers.

So what do I mean about not “owning” your anxiety and why does it matter?

Did you always get told you were a nervous child? Introverted? Scared of talking to strangers? Not one for trying new things? Did you grow up believing you had anxiety? Or a nervous disposition?

The meaning we make from our childhood experiences shape our beliefs about ourselves as adults. So if we have a belief that we are of a nervous disposition, prone to anxiety and hate being in social situations as we get embarrassed and break out in hives then guess what, that’s what our mind and body produces for us!

Secondly, we are programmed to avoid loss. The mind doesn’t like to let go of anything it thinks it owns. So if you refer to it constantly as “my anxiety” do you really think your mind is going to want you to get rid of it? After all, your mind only does what it thinks you want it to do, so you’re just making the job harder by acting as if its part of your identity. The same applies to “my stress” and “my depression”.

When we label something, we’re pretty much decided that it’s a true representation of something, so we don’t question it.

I remember years ago being diagnosed with IBS. This is a catch-all term for terrible stomach pains, extreme bloating and other horrible symptoms. I now realise it’s also used to label something which has no obvious cause or explanation. I just called it “Dave”.

The leaflet told me I needed to take medication and change my diet. However, as soon as I tackled my mental wellbeing and handled the stress in my life, it went away. Just like that. Had I bought in to being an “IBS sufferer” I may never have addressed the real root cause – my mind.