Setting Realistic Expectations
What does “getting better” look like?
The most frequent thing I hear from new clients is that they just want to:
- Be perfectly comfortable public speaking
- Fly through turbulent skies peacefully
- Get rid of scary thoughts completely
- Have an end to anxiety altogether—and toss out feelings of stress while they’re at it
The belief that anxiety is something “bad” that should be completely eradicated is bolstered by books and articles claiming to be able to “Rid You of Anxiety in Six Easy Steps!” Additionally, think of all of TV shows, movies, and commercials that show one-dimensional characters who seem always perfectly comfortable, no matter the situation.
This often leads people to feel the need to hide their anxiety—treating it like a deep dark secret. Just think…all these people walking around hiding the same secret and posting only happy pictures on Facebook.
The reality, however, is that experiencing a range of emotions is normal, even those you may not enjoy such as sadness, anger, and anxiety.
So, I have bad news and good news for you:
The “bad” News
It is highly unlikely that you will ever be completely anxiety-free. Even if you have the best treatment available by a superstar anxiety therapist, life will still provide you with a steady stream of anxiety-provoking situations to experience.
The Good News
Think about how exhausting and frustrating it has been to try to completely get rid of anxiety thoughts or feelings. Trying to make it go away has likely increased your anxiety (and stress) and has led to feeling like you are failing. In other words, your “solution” in the past has actually been the problem.
Accepting the normality of anxious thoughts and feelings turns the pressure way down. You no longer need to suffer with the impossible goal of eradicating anxiety.
Then what does getting “better” look like?
There are two main goals in getting better:
The first goal is—Living your life!
- Anxiety no longer gets to set limits on your life. You act based on your own goals (take the flight, date, give the speech, backpack through Europe, and so on). Anxiety can speak up, but you no longer need to follow its orders.
The second goal is—Coping effectively with anxious discomfort so that your sense of suffering is minimized.
- You may never be one-hundred percent comfortable public-speaking, but it does not have to be torture.
Ultimately, getting better means learning to have a more adaptive relationship with your anxious thoughts and feelings. After all, anxiety is a lifelong companion so you might as well learn to live WITH it rather than engaging in a never-ending struggle against it.