As a therapist who specializes in anxiety and ADHD, I work with many clients who experience anxiety on a regular basis. Anxiety can feel all-encompassing, and it can also hinder your sense of self-worth and confidence. If you struggle with anxiety yourself, you probably also deal with worries about your inability to handle certain situations.
That’s one of anxiety’s tricks – it tells you that you won’t be able to handle whatever the future brings. But this is a lie. And the more you work on managing the anxiety in your life, the more confident you’ll become as a whole.
Anxiety is on the rise across younger generations, including millennials. And generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) impacts women at twice the rate of men. The reasons for this ongoing anxiety endemic include things like the increased prevalence of social media, socially acceptable behaviors such as people-pleasing and perfectionism, and the longer-term behavioral impacts of Covid.
Our capitalist, hustle-driven culture is built on the foundations of constant productivity and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. We are taught that unless we are always churning out valuable work, we’re worthless. And the people who spend the most time trying to do it all by trying to make a lot of money, be successful at their job, and be a good partner/child/sibling/neighbor, are the ones who tend to suffer from anxiety the most.
That’s because anxiety is frequently rewarded in our society. Someone’s anxiety and work ethic almost always serve to line the pockets of someone higher up the financial ladder. As long as anxiety serves to keep someone productive and “valuable,” that anxiety is celebrated and encouraged.
And let me get this straight: I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with anxiety. It can help us understand potential threats, give us information about what we might need, and cue us in to how we might better care for ourselves. We experience anxiety for a reason – back in the cavemen days, anxiety was triggered as an alert to danger. The problem is that now that we’re no longer scared about the tiger lurking in the grass outside our cave, our anxiety doesn’t serve the same purpose it used to. It hasn’t evolved with society.
In today’s world, we’ve developed anxiety as a way of coping with stressors, but our level of anxiety doesn’t always match the level of the threat. Chronic anxiety as a result of being part of a system that doesn’t care about us feels like shit. And that’s because it’s designed to.
When people are consumed by anxiety, it keeps them small. Anxiety feeds itself with more anxiety. As long as you’re always worried about succeeding and making others happy – even at the cost of your own mental health – you’ll probably keep feeling like a failure unless you achieve some magical and external goal.
So, can you be confident and have anxiety at the same time?
I’m willing to bet you strive to be a good, reliable, helpful person in everything you do. But if you’re like many of my clients, you secretly worry that you’re one mistake or failure away from feeling totally worthless.
And being worried that the world is always about to crumble beneath your feet doesn’t allow for true confidence.
Think – have you ever been consumed by anxiety and feel genuinely confident at the same time? I’m guessing probably not. You may have outwardly tried to act confident, but that’s different from truly feeling it. And this isn’t because of a personal failing – it’s just almost impossible to feel both anxiety and confidence simultaneously.
When you have a lot of anxiety, the underlying fear is usually that you won’t be able to handle some upcoming situation. This could be anything – a work project, a date, or a trip to the grocery store. Any situation, small or large, can become a source of worry and stress.
Many people try to manage this feeling of anxiety by planning, preparing, and scheduling to the max. They want to control the situation as much as possible in order to prevent surprises or plot twists. And there’s nothing wrong with doing this. It’s a completely natural response to anxiety.
But it doesn’t always work out as planned. The more you try to avoid discomfort and negative emotions, the less confident you become in your ability to handle discomfort and negative emotions.
There are other reasons why anxiety and confidence are so hard to experience at the same time. One is the negativity bias. Negativity bias is the brain’s natural bias toward recalling negative situations, because those have the most potential to endanger your life. Therefore, you remember negative situations more easily, and learn from them more quickly, than positive situations. And you’re more likely to have anxiety about those situations recurring.
But there’s good news. The relationship between anxiety and confidence goes both ways. Naturally, when you spend all your time second-guessing yourself and your decisions, you aren’t going to feel confident. But when you practice facing your fears – and allowing the discomfort of anxiety to be present – you start to recognize that you actually can handle the things you’re afraid of. And when you realize this, your confidence can grow.
If you want support in dialing down the anxiety in your life and becoming more naturally confident, I can help.
I’m here to aid you in your journey toward a life where you aren’t consumed by anxiety. Together, we’ll work on practicing feeling uncomfortable emotions, gaining skills to handle your fears and worries, and expanding your confidence. Can you be confident and have anxiety? My answer is yes!
You’ll feel supported and encouraged as you learn coping strategies and tools for coping with anxiety. We’ll work to untangle some of your old beliefs around your capacity to do hard things. You’ll learn to step confidently and capably into the world, feeling empowered to handle any situation that comes your way.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.