When you think of anxiety, what comes to mind?
Many of us envision a loss of control or picture someone who is fearful or has a visible shake. Perhaps we think about avoidance and the effort to stay away from things that are scary. Sometimes anxiety manifests in more subtle ways.
It may not show up as a panic attack, it may not even be noticeable to the outside observer. Sometimes anxiety can creep in in insidious ways and alter behaviors, without being consciously noticed by the person experiencing it. Very sneaky.
So, if it’s not obvious and it’s not actively making you miserable, is it actually anxiety at all? Some of the most disruptive conditions are the ones that fly just under the radar and wreak havoc subconsciously. Anxiety is one of those conditions.
In fact, anxiety is on a spectrum of sorts.
Some people have anxiety that shows up on screech mode. Panic attacks, constant worry, physical agitation and hypervigilance are hallmarks of this hi-test version. Low to moderate grade anxiety may crop up in certain situations but is less intense. It may cause temporary stressful flare ups but doesn’t necessarily interrupt daily life. At least, not on the surface.
Underlying anxiety contributes to a lot of self-limiting behaviors.
Not only does it lead to avoidance, it leads to self -doubt, which in turn influences one’s ability to self-advocate. Low self-worth and anxiety often team up, which is another factor that makes people less likely to advocate for themselves. Someone who feels unworthy and anxious about their ability to influence their world is not apt to feel inclined toward speaking up for what they need. Some subtle but powerful thoughts are often part of the inner landscape in these situations, including:
- “It’s not worth asking for, I’ll just get denied.”
- “Maybe I’m being too sensitive. I need to forget about it.”
- “What if I ask for what I need and then they realize I’m awful at my job?”
- “I’m probably the only one who feels this way. Better keep it to myself.”
- “I’m not worthy of a pay raise. I’m not going to ask.”
- “Last time this happened, I got hurt.”
- “I just need to stop feeling sorry for myself.”
Anxiety often chips away at self-confidence. Whether it is the hi-test version of anxiety or a lower grade version, that sense of limited control over one’s life can be wearing. Over time, it can become a way of life. Thoughts truly become our destiny.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, but if the thoughts beneath the anxiety become beliefs, it sets the stage for avoidance.
When we spend too much time in avoidance and start to believe the thoughts feeding our anxieties, it makes sense that self-advocacy goes out the window. The good news is, you don’t have to believe everything you think. Consider some of these options to self-advocate in spite of anxiety:
Reality test your assumptions.
Rather than assuming that your thoughts are the absolute truth, check in with others to find out their perceptions. Maybe you’re not the only one in this situation. Maybe others feel the same way and didn’t have courage to speak up.
Step away from your “self” in the equation.
If you were thinking about this situation from an objective point of view would you have the same thoughts about it? Would you feel that someone else in this situation was being unreasonable for having these needs?
Create a pros and cons list. Explore the risks and benefits of advocating for yourself.
Make a prediction about the future.
Think about the situation in long-range terms. If you decide not to advocate for yourself because you feel anxious about it, what are some possible long-term outcomes? Will you regret not advocating for yourself?
Create a capabilities list.
Often self-doubt stems from a focus on what one can’t do. Challenge the ‘can’t do’ list by making a list of the things that you are capable of. You will undoubtedly surprise yourself once you start giving yourself credit for your abilities.
Start small and practice.
If the idea of advocating for something important seems daunting, practice self-advocacy on smaller, less significant points. Practicing self-advocacy in small ways gives you a chance to use the language.
Try out different wording in your practice runs with self-advocacy.
Often getting started is the most difficult part. It may even help to write down some of your thoughts so they don’t get swept away by anxiety in the moment. Some useful starter words can be:
- I have some thoughts and ideas I’d like you to consider.
- I have been working hard and want to share some of my needs with you.
- Can we brainstorm ideas to help support my needs?
- I am feeling stressed out and need to make some changes.
- Can we talk? I have some things I need to process and want to talk about ways to help myself.
There isn’t one particular way to self-advocate.
The important thing is not to wait until you have reached critical mass with your stress level. When the level of anxiety and stress have reached great heights, any attempts at self-advocacy will be driven purely by emotion.
While it’s fine to express your feelings during self-advocacy, it will be less effective if the emotions are running the show. When you remain in control of your emotions, you can choose your words wisely and remember each of your valid points.
If you self-advocate routinely, the stress won’t accumulate as much.
You will begin to automatically consider your needs rather than doubt your worthiness. Routine self-advocacy will also help reduce the spikes of anxiety that come with unmet needs over time.
Since anxiety and depression often co-exist, it is likely that an overall sense of wellness and self-respect will settle in with the use of routine self-advocacy. There is something powerful about the realization that you can get your needs met and say what needs to be said.
Self-advocacy often morphs into self-efficacy, and self-efficacy into self-actualization. The first step in the process is believing and understanding that you are worthy, even when anxiety and low self-esteem are telling you otherwise.