How to Manage Anxiety: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Anxious

When you are feeling anxious

That constant nagging feeling of worry which is described as anxiety preys on our confidence and can turn even the most enjoyable activity into a complete nightmare.

Anxiety doesn’t care who you are, what you do, or even your age. We are all at risk of experiencing anxiety, and I would argue most of us do face prolonged anxious thinking at some point in our lives.

Knowing the propensity we all have for feeling anxious, and how terrible it is to have anxiety dictate your life, what steps can we take to prevent anxiety from taking hold of us?

When faced with anxiety, there are five questions you must ask yourself. Answering each of these will provide you the power to manage the anxiety you’re currently dealing with and build the strength within your mind to keep anxiety from taking hold of you in the future.

What is Anxiety

Before getting into the questions you need to ask yourself, it will be helpful to examine what it means to be anxious.

Anxiety, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, is excessive worry and fear. Now, anxiety that occurs occasionally, perhaps surrounding a singular event, is normal and has no cause for alarm.

However, when anxiety takes hold of your life, it’s effects are felt much more frequently. When you are truly faced with anxiety on a daily basis, that is when it begins to hinder your way of life.

There are multiple forms of anxiety, with different names given based on what fuels anxious thoughts. I would like to introduce three of the most impactful and common in terms of athletes and performers.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

This is an overarching term for anxiety that sticks around for an extended period of time. You don’t experience anxious thoughts every now and then, but rather, your mind is full of anxious thinking on a daily basis.

To be classified as having GAD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, you must have feelings of anxiety for most days, for at least six months.

This is really a broad term used for constant feelings of anxiety. The other two types are more specific to situations. Individuals suffering from them will likely also fall into the category of having GAD.

Performance Anxiety

When you’re an athlete or performer suffering from GAD, there is a significant chance you also can be categorized as having performance anxiety. This is when you are anxious leading up to competition.

Don’t get this confused with traditional nerves, however. Performance anxiety takes feelings of nervousness to a whole other level.

This form of anxiety is centered around performances. Anything that can be perceived as a performance can cause athletes to develop anxiety. Worrisome thoughts will fill your mind leading up to, during, and after a performance.

Anxiety involving competition lowers your level of play, resulting in more anxious thoughts. Performing poorly results in a worsened fear of failure, leading to increased feelings of anxiety.

Social Anxiety

Individuals with social anxiety have intense fears and worries regarding social interactions. The reason for their worry comes from the perceived negative perceptions of others.

When you have social anxiety, you may also experience GAD. However, one way to remedy feeling anxious on a daily basis is avoiding social situations.

This leads to avoidance behavior because that’s the easiest way for you to rid yourself of perpetual feelings of anxiety.

As an athlete or performer, social anxiety takes a toll on your level of production. Fearing social interactions is difficult when sports and performances are social in nature.

A lot of times, social anxiety leads to self-sabotage, as it proves to be a safe way to avoid being in too many social interactions.

The Basis of Anxiety

Thinking about the three forms of anxiety listed above, do you notice a commonality among them?

Yes, they all have their slight differences in terms of the specific situation driving anxiety. Social anxiety is induced when around other people, performance anxiety is felt when life is perceived as a performance, and GAD is experienced around most areas in your life.

You can even throw in PTSD, panic disorder, and any other form of anxiety you’ve heard of. All of these are characterized due to the different stimuli for anxiety. However, at the base of each one is a singular source of worry…fear.

The root of all anxiety is fear. Fear of something happening again, or for the first time. Otherwise, there would be no reason for our continuous worrying.

It may not always be apparent what it is you’re fearing, but step back and examine your anxiety and there will always be an underlying fear fueling the feelings you’re experiencing.

Let’s use performance anxiety as an example. When you are anxious about a performance, where does this anxiety come from? You may say you’re worried about messing up. Okay, my question would then be, why?

Why are you concerned about making a mistake? You say it’s because you want to do well. That’s perfect, now why do you want to do well?

Even if you say you want to do well out of an intense desire for success, the anxiety you feel will still be based on fear. You are fearful of not attaining the success you desperately seek.

Some of the other reasons you are faced with performance anxiety are the fear of embarrassment, the fear of causing others stress, the fear of losing the esteem of your parents, coaches, or peers, and the fear of negatively impacting your future.

Social anxiety would appear similar in that you are afraid of something negative happening in a social situation. As for GAD, fear lurks around every corner. It seems that most situations in life will prove to be an opportunity for fear.

So, no matter what form of anxiety you are experiencing, fear will be the soil from which the anxious thoughts will grow.

“It may not always be apparent what it is you’re fearing, but step back and examine your anxiety and there will always be an underlying fear fueling the feelings you’re experiencing.”

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Feeling Anxious

After outlining three common forms of anxiety, and introducing you to the truth that fear is the basis for all anxiety, I now want to provide you with five questions you can ask yourself any time anxiety enters your life.

Even with GAD, there will be moments when you feel more anxious than others. One of the best habits you can get into is taking a moment when you feel anxious, pausing, and asking yourself these questions.

When anxiety rules our lives, mainly it happens as a result of inattention. We feel powerless to the anxiety, so we seek to ignore its existence. By turning a blind eye to the anxiety we feel, the problem is only being worsened.

Each of us holds the power to undo the grasp of anxiety. Only with awareness, however, is this strength revealed.

These questions provide you with such awareness. The more you make these questions routine whenever you feel anxious, the greater your understanding will grow, and the less anxiety will control your life.

“What am I Thinking?”

The first place you always want to turn whenever you are feeling anxious, or any other way for that matter, are your thoughts. What thoughts are filling your head right now?

Once you begin to understand the thinking taking place, you can start to piece together what cognitive reactions are influencing your anxiety.

Anxiety is experienced as thought, either consciously or subconsciously. You are worried about something happening, this worry is formed through thinking.

The way you are responding to either a past situation, your current environment, or a future event is what’s fueling the anxiety you currently are experiencing.

What you want to do is, when you are feeling anxious, pause for a moment and turn to your thoughts. Now, this is not always the easiest thing to do; oftentimes we’ll tend to forget.

That’s why, a great tactic is to write the thoughts down, either on your phone or in a small journal. This will keep you honest and make the activity a habit.

By first asking yourself, “What am I thinking?” you’ll gain insight which will help as you transition into question two.

“What Am I Afraid Of?”

Remember how I said fear is the basis for all anxiety? Well, the next question you need to ask yourself is, “What am I afraid of?”

What is it that has gotten you so worried about what may happen? I love this question because most of the time, none of us want to own up to what we fear.

For instance, I used to really fear losing the approval of others. If I were to tell one of my friends about this fear back in college, I would have felt incredibly embarrassed. I didn’t even want to face the fact myself.

But, by not addressing the underlying fears present in your life, anxiety will have no reason to be ignored. It will continually reveal itself the more you hide what you’re fearing.

You don’t have to tell anyone your fears, you just need enough courage to face them yourself. Examine the thoughts you noticed in question one, and see if there is a commonality among what you’re thinking about.

That will help you piece together the fear that’s to blame for your anxiety.

“Am I Blaming Others?”

The first two questions were geared towards helping you uncover what’s fueling your anxiety. But there’s a belief you may hold that will completely negate the power gained by answering questions one and two.

That belief is the idea others are to blame for your anxiety. Now, I know this is not a popular point of view, but no one is to blame for the way we feel at any given moment except ourselves.

You can look at this one of two ways; either you feel down on yourself for being the cause for your anxiety, or you feel empowered because if you are to blame, then you are also the one who is responsible for the change.

So ask yourself, “Am I blaming others for my anxiety, or have I taken full responsibility for the way that I feel?”

“There’s a belief you may hold that will completely negate the power gained by answering questions one and two.That belief is the idea others are to blame for your anxiety.”

“Is Anxiety Helpful?”

Is the anxiety you’re feeling right now helpful? When you are feeling anxious, is your quality of life elevated or decreased?

How are your performances affected when anxiety takes control? Do you perform your best, or is there a feeling inside that you always are leaving a little potential on the table?

I know the obvious answer is going to be no, anxiety is not helpful, otherwise you would not be researching ways to manage anxiety. The point of this question is to help you begin realizing just how unhelpful anxiety is.

When you start to see what a drastic change would occur in your life if you were free from anxiety, motivation begins to grow inside. You begin feeling empowered and ready to make a change.

By accepting just how unhelpful anxiety is, you’ll be ready to accept the responsibility required to finally do something about the anxiety which rules your life.

“What Can I Do To Change?”

We have come to the final question you must ask yourself whenever you’re feeling anxious. Begin thinking to yourself, “What can I do to change the way that I feel?”

This question proves worthless unless you’ve taken responsibility and stopped blaming others for your anxiety. If you wait for something external to happen before you’re rid of anxious thoughts and feelings, you’ll be left waiting forever.

Nothing outside ourselves is going to generate the lasting change required to free ourselves from the grip of anxiety. The change must originate from within. So, when you’re feeling anxious, the last question you need to ask is, “What can I do to change?”

You may need to immediately remove yourself from an anxious environment, that could be the first step towards change. From there, look to your thoughts and see if any cognitive restructuring needs to take place to reframe your thinking.

There are different ways you can go about strengthening your mind to reduce the impact of anxiety, which you can read more about here. The important thing you understand is, the power is within you to change the way that you feel.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety will leave you feeling worn out, frustrated, and unmotivated if you allow it to stay in your life for long enough. No matter what form of anxiety is present in your life, fear will always be the core influence.

We fear outcomes and situations repeating themselves so much, we end up torturing ourselves more in thoughts than reality.

When you are experiencing anxiety, you want to stop and ask yourself five questions, taking the power away from anxiety and placing it back in your own hands.

Ask yourself: “What am I thinking?” “What am I afraid of?” “Am I blaming others?” “Is anxiety helpful?” and “What can I do to change?”

These will give you the strength you need to make the change in your life, moving towards a reduction in the influence anxiety has on you and your performances.

If you are struggling with anxiety right now, learn how mental performance coaching can help free you from anxiety’s terrible grasp.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you did, please feel free to share it with others.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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