Many people hold misinformed beliefs about emotions, which act as barriers to emotion regulation. Specifically, these myths can undermine our emotional experiences (e.g., by assuming we shouldn’t feel anxious), assume that others should know how we feel, or assume that we can control all our emotions if we apply enough self-discipline.
The problem with these myths is that they are often inflexible and inaccurate, and lead to unhelpful responses and emotional suffering. Therefore, if you hold any of these beliefs yourself, it is important to be aware of them as you embark on this journey towards overcoming social anxiety.
Here are some common myths about anxiety (they also apply to other emotions):
- Showing my anxiety is a sign of weakness
- Anxiety is bad
- There is a right and wrong way to feel
- I shouldn’t feel anxious
- Emotions are more valuable than facts
- I am my anxiety
- I have no control over my anxiety
- My anxiety is stupid
- If I feel my anxiety, it will overwhelm me
- People should know how I feel just by looking at me
Do any of these myths ring true for you? Do you see your anxiety as ‘bad’ or a sign of ‘weakness’? Do you believe your anxiety defines who you are? Take a moment to think about any other emotion myths you hold and how they might be impacting you. Specifically, what other beliefs do you hold about anxiety?
Let’s take a quick look at some of the above myths in relation to anxiety, and how they might impact a person’s behaviour in social situations.
Someone who believes “if I feel my anxiety, it will overwhelm me” would likely fear their anxiety and therefore do things to try and suppress it. This may include working too much, overeating, using alcohol or drugs, avoiding social situations, or zoning out in front of the television.
As a result, the source of their anxiety is not addressed and the intensity of their anxiety builds up over time, without their awareness. They might experience a range of physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, fatigue, and stomach upset. Anxiety often has a way of making itself known, even if we refuse to acknowledge it is there. During high stress situations, this person’s anxiety becomes overwhelming, and they are prone to anxiety attacks.
As another example, a person who believes “emotions are more valuable than facts” would likely act on their anxiety, without checking the facts of the situation. In other words, they act out of Emotion Mind rather than Reasonable or Wise Mind. Given that emotions aren’t factual, they are prone to assuming the worst, avoiding or escaping social situations, and missing out on important opportunities. As a result, they feel isolated and unhappy.
Clearly, emotion myths impact the way we regulate and relate to our anxiety. It is therefore important to understand which emotion myths you hold and try to challenge them. For example, if you believe “anxiety is bad”, you could come up with an alternative belief that is more helpful (e.g., “anxiety is a normal part of life, all emotions are valid and serve a purpose”). This might help you to tolerate anxiety better when it shows up.
Take a moment to think about the emotion myths that you hold. How do they impact your life? Try to come up with a helpful challenge for each.