Being in the rat race can be exhausting, especially when we feel the need to constantly measure up. With the majority of us being brought up in a competitive culture, we tend to compare and be compared against others in terms of our achievements and levels of success. In some way or another, there is also a certain mindset that we should feel a certain level of shame or guilt if we are not as high performing (i.e. productive) as we should be. However, we failed to recognise that our productivity is not all there is to determine our self-worth. We cannot measure our own self- worth or self-value based on what we can or have achieved. Our unique qualities, as well as our intrinsic values, are all factors that contribute to what makes us truly ourselves. We need to focus less on external yardsticks and appreciate our inner qualities. Falling into the misguided notion of equating our state of busyness or productivity to our self-worth will lead to unnecessary stress and other health-related issues – both mentally and physically.
People who tend to beat themselves up for the various things that they were unable to complete rather than acknowledging what they have actually accomplished will experience low levels of self-worth. In fact, for these individuals, the amount of praise they give themselves is much lower than the amount of self-blame when they fail to get things done. Surely, a common measurement of productivity is the number of materialistic accomplishments. But it is also a common misunderstanding that busyness is a reflection of productivity. The misconception is that when a person is ‘too free’, he is being unproductive.
Productivity, unlike what most would expect, isn’t about getting as much done as you can and checking off every task on your to-do list. Productivity isn’t just about producing more. Instead, it is about focusing and spending time on the right things. There is a difference between spending your precious time and energy on a multitude of tasks that aren’t nearly as important, as compared to accomplishing a few things that matter the most to you. Our point is – try doing some soul-searching, and understand what you truly value or what are the things that define you. This will help you to refocus your time and energy on what you actually want to accomplish at work and in your personal time. If you treasure familial relationships more than work, then allocating more time towards family bonding will seemingly be more productive, and time well-spent. Redirecting your energy towards what you value most is what ultimately contributes to your self-worth as by doing so, we focus more on our intrinsic self.
We need to recognise that self-worth is the opinion we have about ourselves and the value we placed on ourselves. Under most circumstances, we can safely say that our productivity is not equivalent to our self-worth. Firstly, it is of utmost importance that we stop comparing ourselves to others. Although easier said than done, we need to come to terms with the fact that people are bound to walk down different paths. What is important to them may not matter even the slightest bit to you. Similarly, what they have achieved shouldn’t automatically become your personal goal just to match up to them. The more we compare ourselves to others’ achievements, the less satisfied we will be with ourselves and the lower our self-esteem becomes. Needless to say, this becomes totally self-defeating.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the common saying that we should always “focus on the process, not the outcome, and you will enjoy great success”? In light of this, the only being we should be comparing ourselves to is our past self. Are you doing better than before? Are you allocating time for self-improvement and self-appreciation?
This leads us to our next point – we need to cut down on excessive self-criticism and self-blame. Instead, embrace and accept our flaws. As humans, we are all inherently flawed. However, no one should have to believe that he or she is less worthy, inadequate or inferior due to his or her flaws. Viewing your weaknesses from such an angle will only cause your self-confidence to plummet. Instead, think about how you can change your bad habits, if these were your flaws for example, and improve on yourself. Getting yourself on the road to becoming a better version of yourself will prove to be more effective in raising your self-worth than by using productivity or the number of tasks you got done as a mode of measurement.
As mentioned, we all have our own unique qualities that distinguish us from others. It is important that we recognise and appreciate them, for they make us one of a kind. If you ever feel down in the dumps, with feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy, it helps to remind yourself that you are more than that. Grab a piece of paper and list down your positive traits and things that you appreciate about yourself. Doing some inner-search and writing down words of affirmation can definitely lift your spirits and help you regain your self-esteem.
With that being said, some may still find it tough to detach themselves from counting on productivity-based self-worth. After all, it may have become a habit, having been brought up with such a mindset. However, we need to note that this becomes a problem if it causes us to succumb to unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety, especially if we overload ourselves with too much work and aspirations in an attempt to boost our self-worth. If you find yourself overwhelmed and unable to cope, we hope you’ll seek help from professionals for the sake of your mental wellbeing in the long run. Do reach out to us whenever deemed necessary.
At its most elemental level, people avoid the risk of failure for one simple reason – it hurts. Every single person has experienced failure. If you were to interpret failure by its definition in the dictionary, “the neglect or omission of expected or required action”, wouldn’t you, as a child, have stumbled along the way to achieving those long strident steps you take when strutting along the sidewalk? Yet, nobody feels ashamed of failing to learn to walk as a toddler. Why’s that? You could say that no-one in the right mind would expect that of a human child – we aren’t deer, or gazelles that need to shake off the afterbirth and walk – or risk predation. Our success as a species which put us at the top of the food chain negates that need. Fear is a function of the amygdala, yet failure isn’t. There’s a distinction here that we need to be mindful of. If you’re a parent or have access to YouTube, you’ve probably noticed that there’s an innocence in children that can be quite uplifting to watch, as they try multiple times to succeed at a simple task. They don’t puff their cheeks out and sigh in despair, or bury their heads in their hands. At most, they demonstrate frustration.
Shame is learned behaviour that children integrate into their developing moralities, either from being taught or through observation. Studies done on athletes have shown that perceived parental pressure (or pressure from authority figures) have deleterious effects on how sportspeople experience and interpret failure. Simply put, the fear of failure is a construct of how societies function. For some people, the avoidance of shame that failure brings weighs too heavily on them, and that is the crippling fear of failure. Dr Guy Finch puts this rather more succinctly: “fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame”. How then, do we begin to become more self-aware in the face of these deeply ingrained avoidance mechanisms to start building our best selves?
After all, overcoming fear of failure is all about reversing negative thought patterns, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is designed to help you identify the underlying belief that causes a negative automatic thought (which in turn guides the feelings that come with it).
With the help of a qualified mental health professional, which can be anyone from a trained psychologist, psychotherapist or even psychiatrist, you can be empowered to break the circuit of the pervasive vicious cycle of negativity that prevents the unfettering of fear of failure’s heavy chains.
For instance, think of each deeply held criticism that you can’t let go of as a block in a Jenga game with your friends and the tower represents your thought life as a whole. Even though you’ve suffered through failure after failure, you can’t seem to jettison them from your psyche. Can you imagine a game of Jenga that doesn’t end in peals of laughter? It seems that some re-evaluation is needed to turn the way you handle each soul-sucking gut-punching failure from the darkness of your room. The grip of negativity steadying your trembling hand, an extension of your mind, putting each block up on autopilot because you believe you are not good enough. Instead, we suggest turning the lights on, invite someone you trust into your sanctum of despair, to play the game of Jenga with you. As you ease into their presence, you’ll begin to notice that the tower doesn’t look so intimidating anymore. It’s no longer just a congealed mess of all your shortcomings and toxic thinking, but a simpler thing that can be deconstructed. If each block represents a negative conviction you have about yourself that is too painful to touch, reach for the piece that looks more well-shorn and polished (which represents a perceived positive character trait or accomplishment that you hold dear). Put it back on top of your tower. It is yours, isn’t it? Or perhaps let your confidant handle that splintery block.
Of course, we all know that Jenga isn’t all laughter and grand gestures. There’s physical tension and the cogitation of making the right choice so the tower doesn’t crumble prematurely. Maybe you aren’t too good at Jenga. That’s fine. But if you start thinking of this special game of Jenga as a collaborative effort instead of a competitive one, you’ll start getting the picture. Who would you like to invite to collaboratively play a game of Jenga?
Sagar, S and Stoeber, J. Perfectionism, Fear of Failure, and Affective Responses to Success and Failure: The Central Role of Fear of Experiencing Shame and Embarrassment. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2009, 31, pp 602-627.
Anxiety, stress, and fear are common emotions people experience through the course of everyday life. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, go beyond our daily worries and fears. Stress and pressure is subjective to each person – anxiety disorders can induce heavy stress and pressure, and these feelings can become more intense over time. Issues that crop up for anxiety disorder sufferers range from anodyne to hair-raising. For example, some people are terrified of meeting new people and having to interact with strangers, while others suffer panic attacks when memories of past traumas surface. The most common types of anxiety disorders are diagnosed as:
Panic Disorder (PD)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Agoraphobia (Perception of certain environments as unsafe, with no easy escape)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Not only are there psychological symptoms, people dealing with anxiety disorders may also experience a litany of physical symptoms such as insomnia; inability to concentrate or relax; heart palpitations; gastroenterological issues; and sexual frustration, among others. When all these problems start impinging on one’s behaviour, mood and thoughts, life can start to feel like a slog through quicksand. A once “normal life” now appears out of reach, and getting there again can feel like a Sisyphean task.
What makes people suffering from an anxiety disorder seek out substances?
It’s important to understand a little more about addiction before dealing with this question. Addiction is indubitably a very uncomfortable disorder, and that’s characterising it mildly. For a “preference” to devolve into full blown addiction, a person must keep making the same conscious decisions every day, day after day, that facilitate indulgence in his or her vice – in spite of a mounting cornucopia of problems. Maintaining an addiction certainly is tiresome. People suffering from addiction make these choices because their addiction serves them a purpose. Concomitant discomfort is tolerated in light of perceived benefits garnered from substance abuse.
A parsimonious way to think about addiction is to assume that it is a simple cost-benefit analysis. For someone struggling with an anxiety disorder, the allure of a “quick-fix” in the form of a suitable drug or drink is hard to ignore. What may begin as a misguided attempt to ameliorate paralysing fear can eventually develop into a fully-fledged addiction. With this in mind, it is now a lot clearer why substance use disorder (SUD) is a co-occurring psychiatric disorder that is one of the most prevalent among people with an anxiety disorder. The most recent and largest comorbidity study to date (with over 43,000 participants), the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), found that 17.7% of respondents with an addiction problem also had an anxiety disorder.
Ironically, the problem with the “solution” of substance abuse is that the ”solution” hurts more than helps. It can often exacerbate the anxiety disorder – which becomes ensnared in the convoluted mess that is addiction. Thus comes the slippery slope of anxiety, substance use, and elevated tolerance.
Chronic dependence is the likely consequence of this chain of events. For example, a person who suffers from social phobia might employ stimulants or anxiolytics to engender artificial confidence during a social situation. This can feel liberating, exhilarating, even, for someone who has spent a lifetime on the sidelines. The folly in this endeavour lies in the eventual normalising of this ‘chemically induced courage’ – if you turn it into a precondition to interacting with other human beings, you will only succeed in erecting progressively more imposing barriers in a completely self-defeating, tautological situation.
Are there psychotherapies out there that treat anxiety and addiction together?
Diagnosing a mental disorder in a person who also suffers from an addiction is challenging.
It may be hard to determine which came first, the addiction or the anxiety/depression. A clinical history, which is triangulated with loved ones, teachers and others may assist to know which came first. In any case, both the addiction and the disorders have to be treated at the same time. Otherwise, if untreated, the anxiety and depression may lead to the resumption of drug or alcohol use. Cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), meditation and mindfulness therapies, experiential therapies and medication can assist to address both compulsive behaviour and anxiety and depressive disorders.
A trained and experienced mental health professional can help you navigate your addiction recovery journey to ensure that you get the best possible outcome within the guidelines of your values and needs. While this article is about substance addiction, you will find that our team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists have the expertise and experience to work with a variety of addictions, and mental health issues such as anxiety disorders.
There are times when we feel fear and we may be anxious in different moments in our life. We may feel fear when we are in situations where we are threatened or perceive a threat. Individuals may feel anxious when facing stresses at work and having to meet deadlines. In fact, having some form of anxiety may actually be productive in getting people into action in completing tasks or in making changes in their lives.
While anxiety and fear are common emotions, these emotions can become overwhelming if they are excessive and irrational. Individuals may develop difficulties in being able to work and to meet the demands of life or in relationships which results in a condition called an anxiety disorder.
Some of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder may include a sense of helplessness, worry and repeated negative thoughts. Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, rapid heartbeats and difficulty in breathing may be experienced. At Promises healthcare we offer a variety of treatment options for the treatment of anxiety.
Recovery is possible and the aims of undergoing anxiety treatment is to reduce and eventually eliminate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, and to restore a person’s functioning and emotional well-being. This will involve a holistic approach of using medications or using therapy that will be catered to an individual’s needs. If you or if anyone that you know suffers from an anxiety disorder do know that help is available. Please contact our clinic if you have any inquiries or if you wish to have a consultation.