The One Thing You Should Never Do When You Feel Anxious (It Typically Backfires)
Life, in general, is rife with unknowns—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the number of uncertainties. And according to clinical psychologist and board-certified nutritionist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS (as well as other trusted experts, we should add), uncertainty is at the root of anxiety: "Anxiety is really about the level of uncertainty in a situation and our sense of our capability to handle it," she says on the mindbodygreen podcast. "Those are the two parts of the scale with anxiety."
It makes sense: When you don't know every detail about how something will pan out or how someone will react, for example, chances are you start to feel uneasy. In the midst of this anxiousness, it's common to support yourself or others with the reassurance that Everything will be OK. As it turns out, this phrase, while well-meaning, isn't the most helpful when it comes to easing those feelings.
Here, Beurkens explains why—plus, a better technique that can help us quell anxiousness at its root.
A phrase to avoid when it comes to anxiety—and what to say instead.
A little math, shall we? As Beurkens mentioned, the two parts of the anxiety equation are uncertainty and your capability to handle it. Uncertainty, sorry to say, you can't exactly control—that's what makes it uncertain. However! You can control the other half of the scale—how you view your ability to cope with different situations.
Allow Beurkens to explain: "We cannot control the uncertainty side of the scale, which is why saying, 'Oh, don't worry about that,' or, 'It will be OK,'" doesn't work—because we know it's not true," she says. "We can't control the uncertainty. What we can control is focusing on the other part of the equation: our belief and confidence in ourselves of being able to handle it."
So instead of trying to create a sense of certainty around what will, in fact, happen, Beurkens says it's much more effective to create a sense of certainty around the fact that you will be able to handle whatever ends up happening. After all, you likely have a lot more data to support the latter than you do to predict the former.
So, how do you develop a sense of confidence around your ability to handle what may happen? According to Beurkens, take a look at past examples: "Here's what you've already handled. Here's how you handled a situation like that," she offers. "That emphasis and focus is really what helps us support our mental health in the big picture, as we continue to go through this massive period of uncertainty that we don't have control over."
According to Beurkens, the key to responding to anxiousness is to build your confidence that you can handle whatever happens—because you've handled difficult situations in the past. And while it's important to speak with a mental health professional if your anxiety persists (if you can), this technique (along with Beurkens' other anxiety-easing tips) may support you during moments of uncertainty.