The Three "Must's" of Anxiety.
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Learning what we can and cannot control.
Left unchecked, Anxiety can be very debilitating.
As your thoughts and worries about the past and future spiral out of control, it might start to feel like you've lost control of your mind.
Anxiety will keep you up in the middle of the night, making you question yourself about whether you've prepared enough for your exam, how a presentation that you have to give in a few hours will go, or whether that piece of work you submitted yesterday was good enough.
Without a better understanding of where your anxiety is coming from, it might start to creep in and take over your life, making it hard for you to concentrate, get enough rest, and feel energised to go about your day.
The Three "Must's" of Anxiety.
It's useful to get a better idea of how your mind works, especially when it comes to Anxiety. One really useful model is the Cognitive Triad framework of Negative Beliefs created by psychologist Aaron Beck a long time ago in 1951.
It's still very well used today amongst psychotherapists to help them understand where client's concerns fall under. For the purpose of understanding anxiety, I linked it to Albert Ellis' "Three Basic Must's", a similar piece of work from another famous cognitive psychologist from the 50's.
Use this model to understand and observe where your own rampant, anxious thoughts stem from.
1) MUST's about yourself.
These are inflexible, rigid beliefs about yourself. A big problem with such beliefs is that lead you to become less self-compassionate, and increasingly harsh toward yourself when you don't meet your own expectations.
Remember, the only person imposing these expectations are you and you alone. Other examples of what they sound like include:
"I must be successful and competent."
"I must be happy, otherwise there's something wrong with me."
"I must be correct, all the time."
"I must not feel anxious. Anxiety is bad."
2) MUST's about other people.
These are again rigid beliefs placed on other people. It's black-or-white thinking, without leaving room for exceptions. Placing such expectations on others can easily lead to disappointment and frustration too. You're probably aware that other people cannot read your mind, and likewise you can't read their either.
Expand your beliefs to allow room for grey area. Everybody is different, and there's someone who's always going to disagree. That doesn't mean it's right or wrong, bad or good. It's just the way it is.
Other examples include:
"Everyone must like my presentation."
"Everyone needs to perform perfectly tomorrow."
"People must respect me and not criticise me."
"People must enjoy my speech and not laugh or judge me."
3) Must's about the future.
This is a central subject when it comes to Anxiety. Anxiety often stems from worrying about the future, and worrying about the things that are out of control. Yet who really has control over the future? Who knows whether another pandemic might strike us tomorrow, and take away all our jobs?
Learn to understand what you can and cannot control. And if you really think about it, the only thing you can control is what you do, today.
Some examples include:
"Tomorrow's presentation needs to go perfectly."
"It must not rain tomorrow. Otherwise everything will be ruined."
"I must not lose my voice for the singing contest tomorrow."
Think about what you can and cannot control.
The truth is, we don't have control over every aspect of our lives - as much as we'd like that to be the case. Believing in this "illusion of control" is what makes us fall into the anxiety trap in the first place.
I'm absolutely certain that your need for control comes from a good place - you want things to go well, you want your family and friends to be happy, and you want to feel like you've done a good job.
Yet, the truth is, trying to control the things that you are beyond your control only results in endless worrying. Anxiety breeds anxiety.
And if you experience anxiety, you're all to aware of this by now.
So here's the thing, learn to let go. Learn to see the beauty in letting go of the things that are out of your control. You've already done your part have you not? In that case, why not let all the other pieces fall into their own pattern, and appreciate whatever shape and forms that eventually comes out?
Whether you know it just yet, that's what the beauty of life is. You might even find that it opens you up to a fuller experience in life, specifically, the human experience of being imperfect perfect.
Whoever said you needed to be perfect?
Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the sou. If you are having trouble with Anxiety and are looking to speak to a professional, let me know and I'll be happy to guide you to one. Take care.