Accepting the Functional Limitations of Anxiety
Accepting my functional limitations of anxiety is challenging. In a previous post, I challenged readers to participate in a simple exercise: if someone tells you they have anxiety, imagine they’ve lost a leg. I introduced this scenario specifically for the benefit of those without anxiety – if they can frame mental health issues in terms of physical ailments, then perhaps they can learn to become more empathetic to the mentally ill. I want to reintroduce that exercise, but this time direct it towards people with anxiety, as I think it can be useful in dealing with a serious problem: accepting your functional limitations with anxiety.
My Functional Limits of Anxiety Compared to My Friends
I’m constantly comparing myself with those around me. This isn’t inherently a bad thing – comparison can help us to better formulate our goals and push us to reach higher. It’s only when we obsess about our status to such an extent that it impacts our well-being that it becomes a problem.1 Unfortunately, that’s a mindset I find myself in more often than I care to admit ("How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others").
My friends are, in their own ways, all incredibly talented. I know doctors, musicians, filmmakers – their gifts drive me to want to do more with my own life. But the gulf between wanting more and achieving more is seemingly unbridgeable.
Anxiety makes it incredibly difficult for me to “do more.” Oftentimes, just the bare minimum necessary to make it through an average workday is beyond taxing ("Despite Paralyzing Anxiety, There Are Ways To Move"). Case in point: a few years ago, I attempted to earn a Ph.D. in English – not a small feat for anyone, mentally healthy or otherwise – I had to withdraw after only one semester because the mental and emotional toll was simply too demanding for me to function.
That failure, in conjunction with the relative success of friends and family, continues to haunt me. It makes me feel inadequate. Where others have accomplishments to be proud of, all I have is a false start. I want to “do more,” but I don’t know if I can.
How to Accept Your Functional Anxiety Limitations
When faced with the thought, "I don't know if I can," one can succumb to despair, or one can accept it as an unavoidable fact of life. I’ve been doing too much of the former, and need to try and embrace the latter. I can learn to accept my functional anxiety limitations.
This is where the missing-leg exercise can come into play. If I imagine myself as missing a leg, I can better put my life into perspective. Framed in this way, my inability to finish grad school isn’t a failure – it’s the equivalent of an amputee being unable to finish a marathon. Nobody would consider that attempt a failure – if anything, they would be impressed that such a person would even make the attempt.
That, in a sense, is why I’ve come to believe the missing-leg exercise can be so valuable for people with anxiety. Even in such a short time, it’s been valuable to me. Make no mistake: I still have a lot more work to do. My mind is still going to be drawn to negative thoughts because that’s what it’s been trained to do. I still don’t know if I can “do more,” or even what “do more” means in the context of my life. But by continuing to imagine that I’m missing a leg, hopefully, I’ll continue to transform thoughts that used to cause me pain into something peaceful.
How are you learning to accept the functional limits of your anxiety?
- Goldfarb, Anna, "How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others, According to Experts". Vice. April 25, 2018.
DeSalvo, T. (2018, August 29). Accepting the Functional Limitations of Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 14 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/8/accepting-the-functional-limitations-of-anxiety