4 alternative ways of thinking about anxiety

By Lucy Nichol,
updated on Aug 24, 2020

4 alternative ways of thinking about anxiety

With more than eight million people in the UK experiencing anxiety, it’s vital to ensure it doesn’t take over our lives. Here, we share how a change of perspective can help us get one step ahead

With the unexpected way 2020 has gone so far, it’s not surprising that anxiety is all around us. The future of politics, the planet, and even our daily life, is reinforcing the country’s unease as a whole. But what if the anxiety of the modern world is compounded by a diagnosable anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, social anxiety, health anxiety, panic disorder – these are all forms of anxiety-based mental health problems that can occur regardless of who’s feeding Larry the cat at Number 10. Having an anxiety disorder on top of living in today’s unsettling world is certainly not an easy ride.

According to the charity No Panic, anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental illnesses, and in 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK – not an insignificant number.

The thing is, on top of actually experiencing an anxiety disorder, there’s the added complication of the stigma surrounding it – whether that be dismissive comments about ‘anxiety being a normal part of life’ or a feeling that you’re somehow ‘weak’ or ‘feeble’ for living with an anxiety disorder.

As somebody who has personally experienced anxiety and panic for decades, I’ve found a few ways to make peace with it. Here are four alternative ways of thinking about your anxiety:

1. View your anxiety through another lens

I’m an arachnophobe. When I was younger, a friend suggested that when a spider gate-crashed my night in front of the telly, I should imagine it wearing a disco dress. It’s far less frightening when you change your view of it. We can do the same with anxiety. My therapist once suggested it was like a meerkat – always on the lookout for danger. I might be scared of spiders, but meerkats are adorable – and they’re always looking out for one another. So, if I feel panic coming on, rather than get angry at my anxiety, I try to think of it as being a well-meaning, albeit rather misguided, meerkat. The anger soon subsides.

2. Remember, you never go back to square one

You’ve been free of panic for 10 years and all of a sudden – bam – you’re awake at 3am having the mother of all panic attacks (true story). There’s no need to feel as though you’ve catapulted back to the days of relentless anxiety and panic. Those early days were terrifying because you didn’t know what was going on. But over the years, you’ve learnt what anxiety is, and techniques to help calm your mind. You know that a panic attack has never killed you. You’re already one step ahead. There’s a difference between a relapse and a lapse – and neither means you’re suddenly back at square one.

3. Anxiety doesn’t make you afraid of everything

I remember feeling disappointed when I was told my symptoms were more aligned to generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) than health anxiety. I thought – does that mean I’m anxious about everything then? I thought I was no longer neat or niche. But actually, generalised doesn’t mean everything.

If anxiety ever tells you you’re weak, think about all the brilliant things you’ve achieved, the times you’ve stood up for yourself

We’re rarely afraid of what we can see directly in front of us. It’s the unknown – the ‘what if?’ – that frightens us. If anxiety showed its face and screamed like a banshee, we’d probably tell it where to go. We’re not weak and feeble – we just don’t like things creeping up behind us when we’re not expecting it. If anxiety ever tells you you’re weak, think about all the brilliant things you’ve achieved, the times you’ve stood up for yourself, or done something others might consider brave. Make a list – you’ll probably run out of paper.

4. Anxiety is something we live with; it doesn’t define us

Some of the most assertive, kick-ass people I know are mental health campaigners with lived experience. Take author and activist Natasha Devon’s unwavering approach to tackling injustices in mental health. Natasha lives with anxiety which can sometimes be crippling. But she’s also stood her ground with the likes of Piers Morgan, spoken out in parliament, dealt with trolls, and used humour to tell them where to go. Natasha, and so many others like her, like us, are amazing.

So we can probably forget about the ‘worried well’ and the shame that comes with it. In 2020, we’re all about the ‘awesomely anxious’. The awesome part is us, while the anxious bit is that pesky thing that we sometimes have to live with and manage. Whether it’s a meerkat, a spider, or a cute little Mogwai that occasionally turns into a terrifying Gremlin, you deal with it as best you can. And that’s certainly no mean feat.

Here’s to the awesomely anxious!

For more information about anxiety, visit Counselling Directory.

By Lucy Nichol

Lucy's book, 'A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes - Naming and Shaming Mental Health Stigmas', is out now (Trigger, £11.99)

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