When Anxiety Becomes an Identity, Not Just a Feeling

When Anxiety Becomes an Identity, Not Just a Feeling

Have you ever felt like the world is caving in around you at work? Deadlines are looming, progress reports are expected, and team members or managers are looking to you for constant guidance. Feeling overwhelmed in this situation is understandable. But what if that feeling follows you out of the office? Becomes a constant piece of who you are?

We invited this month’s podcast guest, Dr. Deb Gorton, back to talk with us about anxiety and how to keep it from becoming part of your identity.

The concept of identity and our perspective of “self” comes from the cognitive process of thinking and reflection. Thoughts can be simply defined as ideas, opinions, and beliefs we have about the world around us but also about ourselves and our identities. If we don’t declare our identity, it’s too easy to allow other people, circumstances, or situations to declare it for us. Too many times I’ve worked with clients who claim identities that “the others” have placed upon them. Identities such as failure, disappointment, and inadequacy. This has seeped into our mental health, as well. It’s rare that I hear someone talking about feeling depressed or anxious. Instead, what I typically here is “I am depressed; I am anxious.” Instead of having anxiety, we take on the identity of anxiousness, unconsciously making it part of our personality or character.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you are in a position at work where a team of people depends on you to complete their responsibilities effectively. You’re struggling to maintain your head above water with the expectations already on your plate, while those who report to you are also angling for your time, focus, attention, and direction. Your self-perception is circling around the anchor of failure and the resulting experience is a heightened feeling of intense anxiety. The emotional experience is powerful and perhaps even overwhelming (anxiety can lead to a physical manifestation of symptoms such as increased heart rate, nausea, digestive problems, and chest pain and psychological symptoms of restlessness, tension, racing thoughts, and fear). However, anxiety is not your name or your identity. It is a state of feeling not a state of being.

As chosen children of God, when we make embracing our true identity a daily discipline, the decisions we face and the interactions we have can be sifted through the lens of our identity.

Choosing to believe your identity is that of Chosen One allows you to experience anxiety as an emotion, not as something that defines who you are. This places the emotion in a situational circumstance that allows space for rational (aka truthful) thought to speak into your experience, thereby increasing the likelihood of maintaining the anxiety at a more manageable level. 

When we allow something to permeate our identity, it can easily become a lens through which we view and interpret our world. All of a sudden, things that might be considered speed bumps become concrete walls. “I’m too anxious” and “I can’t” become inseparable. When we hold anxiety to the boundaries of an emotion, the solution to our discomfort becomes much more manageable. It’s a whole lot easier to influence the shift of an emotion than to tear down the prison walls of a false identity. 

The next time you start to feel anxious, grant yourself time, space, and permission to thoughtfully reflect on what emotions are in motion throughout your body. Sometimes all it takes is a few solitary moments. This awareness will enhance your ability to label your emotions accurately. Anxiety, when allowed to define you, can be paralyzing. It can shut you down and lead to hopelessness and isolation. Anxiety, as a feeling, responds to a number of specific interventions – deep breathing/meditation, healthy eating, physical activity, talk therapy, and medication if needed. In the midst of feeling anxious, declare to yourself, your circumstances and your situations, that your identity rests solely in being made in God’s image; His child, fearfully and wonderfully made. 

If you are dealing with a mental health crisis and need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. The Mental Health America website has many resources to help you begin to find peace.