If you have ever heard yourself say that — or think that — and it’s a reference to something you believe you truly need to do — I’m suggesting you consider “constructing an ANXIETY HIERARCHY”
WHAT exactly is that? First think about and even list the things you’ve told yourself you could never do because of the anxiety you feel just thinking about it…..
— a truly hard conversation with a family member or close friend — something you’ve wanted to say or deal with for a long time
— a conflict with a colleague or boss or subordinate that feels truly daunting
— an admission of something genuinely embarrassing or shameful feeling you know would be great to “get off your chest.”
Once you have a list, pick one thing you want to tackle. Write the thing you are avoiding at the top of a legal pad.
Now list the things you’d like to say to the person.
When you see it all on paper, or even when you begin to write/make lists, you’ll likely experience anxiety. So take a breath, take a break, relax as best as you can, and then begin to construct the hierarchy.
It’s about breaking a conversation or even an activity down into approximately 10 steps…more if needed. 1 to 10. One sounds relatively manageable, and 10 spikes maximum anxiety. Let’s start with a conversation you want/need to have.
Step one is the easiest thing you want/need to say. It might even be, “I’d like to talk to you. Do you have time?” Skip all the way to the hardest — the statement that makes you sweat just thinking about it. You might have the thought: “I could never say that!”
Now you have the range. Number 1 is the least anxiety producing and Number 10 is the most anxiety producing. This “range” can be shorter or longer. It just needs to be listed step by step.
Now go back to your list and see if you can create a progression of statements from 1 to 10. For most of us, once we get started we want to do the “whole thing at once” and get it over with. That defeats the purpose of working through anxiety. This is a process that can begin and STOP with the first or second statement or go all the way through to the end. You determine that one step at a time.
Think this way: SHARE, PAUSE, CHECK. You share a thought/statement; you pause to see how you feel and then check to see how the other person is reacting, and then decide if you are going to the next step. If it does not go well, give yourself permission to stop without giving yourself a hard time. Make some notes on what felt okay and what was just too much anxiety. If you feel it’s okay to proceed to the next step, do it. And again, stop. You are proceeding because it’s working, it’s not as bad as you thought. And if you decide to stop, you are doing so with new information about what does and does not work.
The progression gives you an opportunity to see if perhaps it’s truly not as bad as you thought it would be. OR that this is simply too much for you, or maybe for the other person to handle right now. You are looking for relief from anxiety — and even a slight reduction will help you build some “psychological muscle.”
And here’s another side benefit. Often, just writing down everything you’d like to say is a release of anxiety. It gets the problem out of your head and on to paper — a little like exposing the issue to fresh air! Once in a while, clients have told me that the writing eliminated the need to have the conversation. If that’s true, great. Just try to proceed with the conversation if you know you need to.
Remember that if you experience anxiety that you know is too intense or too frequent, it’s a good idea to talk to someone. I think the conversation — hearing our own words — is far more healing than we realize. Just don’t hesitate to reach out!!