Building confidence in my ability to overcome adversity
July 15, 2008 5:19 AM   Subscribe

I've concluded that my generalized anxiety comes from a lack of confidence in my ability to cope with adversity. How can I change this?

I've tried listing times in the past that I have overcome adversity, but they all seem relatively insignificant. No deaths to people very close to me, no poverty. Just some periods of underemployment and a couple of breakups. I did mostly overcome those things, but the thoughts about the future that grip me are larger things: never finding anyone, not having enough money, being trapped in an unhappy life situation that I can't get out of.

Paradoxically, most adversity I've gone through has been caused by my own anxiety. And my tendency to crumple into a ball of anxiety when faced with adversity seems to reinforce my belief that I won't be able to cope.

How else could I approach this confidence-building?

Alternatively, is there anything else that you found your generalized anxiety was rooted in other than this lack of confidence?
posted by Ringo to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Everybody thinks that managing anxiety is a mental skill, and things can improve if you think differently. My experience is that it's a physical skill, and like learning to ride a bike, you've just gotta do it. The best way I found is to start with small, small things and just be there in the anxiety. And come out the other side successful, and congratulate myself.

I have an over-the-top fear of making phone calls and the only thing that's helped is to make myself do things like call the pizza guy for delivery instead of having my husband do it. Seriously, stuff that trivial. I don't start out making myself call potential employers and ask for job interviews or anything high-stakes like that. I also had huge anxiety while writing, and many years ago, I made myself sit down with a notebook and just draw a bunch of loops. Eventually my brain realized that anything I was going to write was less stupid than drawing loops and I was able to start.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:37 AM on July 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

I don't know how busy you are, but if you've got some spare time, maybe you should consider taking up a really social yet physically/mentally/emotionally tasking hobby. It'll get your mind off the future and place it squarely in the now, leaving you no time to worry about the things that are causing you anxiety while giving you the opportunity address those things. (i.e, you could meet someone doing your hobby! You might work a volunteer job that shows you have nothing to worry about when it comes to money! You find yourself deliriously happy doing something fulfilling and thus also do not worry about "being trapped in an unhappy life situation"!)
posted by universal_qlc at 5:57 AM on July 15, 2008

You're right. Yes you're anxious about some challenges, ones where you have no previous experience and you don't feel confident about it. This isn't bad (or wasn't for me).

I find accepting your future or current anxious states as a good way forward. Given your described history (in those short few sentences) it would be logical to say that sooner or later you're going to face something that will inspire anxiety in you. It's gonna happen. You have choices at that point, but if you try to fight it, you feed it with worrying about your anxiety, which feeds itself.

If you have a good friend(s) that you trust, ask them (honestly, as ridiculous as it may sound) about the subject. Empathy and shared experience can help a lot in quelling anxiety, but Westerners don't seem that good at properly sharing (really good at casual relationships, not so much on the personal development front), so closer friends are usually better to ask.

But yeah selfmedicating is right. Also a lot of my general anxiety was largely attributable to a narcissistic personality disorder, runs in my family.
posted by Submiqent at 6:01 AM on July 15, 2008

From what you've said, it sounds like you've got three things going on:
1. Generalized anxiety
2. Lack of confidence
3. Inexperience and with adversity

Assuming an order of causality isn't going to necessarily solve any or all of your problems. Neither is tackling them all at once. You may need to explore each thing individually, see what the triggers are, what your options are, what coping mechanisms you can employ, and have experiences using them. That may require therapy and/or medication for each or all of the three parts. Other things to try are books, building and relying on a social or family network, activities, writing, introspection, hobbies, and diet/health modification.

Sorry to be so general in the response, but it's not something that can be easily pinpointed and solved. You will have to find what works for you. Good luck!
posted by iamkimiam at 6:02 AM on July 15, 2008

Just a note; even the most confident people get anxious when dealing with adversity. The difference is that they don't let the anxiety block them from moving forward. Come up with some sort of mantra to try to focus on the goal. Also, unless it is a life and death situation, you don't necessarily have to succeed 100%.
posted by JJ86 at 6:08 AM on July 15, 2008

Read this: Anxiety and Phobia Workbook
posted by desjardins at 6:09 AM on July 15, 2008

Sorry, I gave this one a little bit more thought and came up with some other thoughts.

Alternatively, is there anything else that you found your generalized anxiety was rooted in other than this lack of confidence?

No matter what the thing is that is setting off the anxiety response, the anxiety is a problem in itself, because its being tripped at very low stimulus and you are often having to deal with the mess. It's ok to have anxiety in stressful situations that warrant it—ie. the fire alarm is wailing, sprinklers and foam a spraying because there is a fire in the building. When I used to have panic attacks (and didn't recognize them as such—maybe your "tendency to crumple in a ball" is a form of panic attack) I realized at some point that they were sitting there, waiting to happen, because my mental dialogue and physiological response to stress were patterned in a way (thresholds super low) that allowed small things to trigger big scary reactions. I had to break the pattern, through introspection and self-learning, and therapy. It sounds like you are open to the possibility that other things are triggering/causing your anxiety too, which is great.

Also, it sounds like the adversity portion of your post is less about failures to cope from your past (you've gotten through everything so far, and you don't have a list of all the times you've failed to make it), but the fear of not being able to deal in case something big happens, because you don't have experience in dealing with something big. Trust me, big things will happen eventually. After they do, you will have that experience. And you will cope just fine (don't forget that you are also getting lots of experience these days in coping with anxiety). Recognize that your fear about this is not necessarily a wise warning sign (delivered via anxiety) to prepare for the big stuff (you can't, you don't know what's going to happen), but possibly a miscalibrated anxiety meter going off.

No doubt that high confidence is a good tool to have in the box. It won't solve things, but worth working on regardless.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:31 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Feeling Good Handbook was also invaluable to me. It gets recommended on ask mefi a lot for good reason. The author has a really simple writing style and gives you easy to follow exercises that teach you how to manage anxiety and depression.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2008

I have anxiety problems. I went to my doctor and he game me a prescription for Xanax. It's a mild drug, but it really takes the edge off anxiety. However, there are some problems with it. It can be habit forming.

For me, I knew that wouldn't be a problem, because I don't have an addictive personality. I probably take one pill every two months. (I could take one a week, and it probably wouldn't be a problem. You just don't want to start taking them every day.)

Even though I rarely take them, I can't tell you how much stress I've reduced just by having them. I know that if something terrible happens, if someone dies or something, they're there. And knowing that I CAN curb my anxiety if I need to makes me less stressed in general -- and less likely to need a pill.
posted by grumblebee at 8:00 AM on July 15, 2008

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder over 7 years ago by a psychiatrist. I have been on 60mg Buspar (30mg 2x/day) since my diagnosis. It has gone a long way toward curbing my anxiety, and unlike Xanax or other benzodiazepenes, it is non-habit forming. I am not claiming that Buspar is a magic bullet, however. I also see a therapist, and you should consider doing this as well, at least for a while to get help with getting your anxiety under control. If cost is an issue, almost every city in this country has some kind of mental health facility(ies) that offer therapy/counseling on a sliding scale based on income.

I have learned the hard way that moderate to severe anxiety is not one of those things that you can just fix on your own. You can't just "think yourself out of it." Competent mental health professionals are able to help you change your harmful thought patterns and, combined with medication, will work wonders for getting you on the road to recovery.

Best of luck.
posted by angiewriter at 8:20 AM on July 15, 2008

Do a survival course that culminates in you being dumped in the woods and having to build your own shelter etc. That sort of thing can be a hell of pick-me-up with regards to how you judge your coping skills.
posted by Iteki at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2008

I get anxious about a lot of things, but when I've found anxiety to start really crippling, I made two changes. One, meds. That may or may not be the thing for you; you may want to talk with your doctor if it's changing your life drastically. Second, find things that are anxious making and do them.

I found that when I went out less or made fewer phone calls because I was anxious about it, that it became harder to ever do it. Now that I take walks around the neighborhood, and strike up conversations at the park, it's become easy. So practice the things you're frightened of, gently, ease yourself into it, but do them.

Sounds like you could use practice in being happily single. Make sure you've got a good network of friends, things you enjoy doing alone, etc.

If you're worried about not having enough money, I think the best way to go is learn more frugal habits. I highly recommend The Complete Tightwad Gazette, if you've already gone past the level of "unsubscribe from magazines you don't read" budgeting. Being able to live really cheaply takes a lot of the fear out of it.

And for the being trapped fear, I guess you could see if there are people or situations in your life right now that make you unhappy, and walk out on them. A little practice quitting jobs or classes can give you the confidence that you can make your own choices.

I have to say, for all my bundle of anxieties, when it comes to actual emergencies, I've never had a problem. I had a lot of training in emergency response in high school and college, so I've been able to be level-headed and calm in earthquakes, people bleeding copiously, etc. If you're worried about any of those situations, I'd say, again, there are things you can do to practice and prepare for them.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:14 PM on July 16, 2008

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