For the rest of you, I’ll spell it out clearly: we feel guilty for not being able to keep up with household chores, everyday errands, or taking care of the kids. We feel guilty for giving our spouses or significant others more “blah” time than happy fun time.
More shaking, less adventure. More nausea, fewer vacations. More fear, less novelty.
And that guilt? It sucks.
We feel guilty for so many things: for not being able to grab a couple things at the big bright grocery store. For not being able to work a “normal” job with a “normal” schedule. For RSVPing for a friend’s wedding and then chickening out at the last minute because it’s a 3 hour drive and you feel too lightheaded to even drive down the street (and I’m still sorry about that, Melissa).
We feel guilty for not being able to do all the things we believe we “should” be able to do.
DON’T “SHOULD” YOURSELF
But we really need to watch our use of the word “should”. And “must”. And “ought”.
A lot of the guilt we feel, as chronic sufferers of anxiety, is because of the standards that we (perhaps unknowingly) have set for ourselves. The lofty, unreachable standards that serve to paralyze us instead of motivate us.
The standards that we have set because of the language we use when talking to ourselves and to others.
Let me give you an example.
When you say something like “I should be able to go to the grocery store without panicking,” you’re essentially telling yourself that there’s some invisible bar, set way up high, and you’re simply not reaching it. Yet, others can reach that bar with ease — some probably even trip over the darn thing.
Do you “should” yourself like this? If so, I challenge you to write down at least 5 “should” sentences right now on a sheet of paper. Seriously. Do it. (You’ll see why in a minute.)
This type of do-or-die, expectation-oriented imagery does us no good. “Should” just sets us up for stress and failure. “Should” reflects external motivations, not internal ones.
Let’s throw “should” in the trash, okay? I’m not kidding: write it on a piece of paper — a different piece of paper, not on your “should” list — and toss it in the garbage. Or shred it. Or burn it. (Carefully, please.)
THE POWER OF THE WORD “WANT”
Here’s why I love the word “want” so much: it’s all about you. It’s not about anyone else. Saying “I want to be able to go to the grocery store without panicking” has a far more upbeat tone.
It’s about you — not someone else’s expectations of you.
So, go ahead — take a few of your “should” sentences from above. Replace each “should” with the word “want”. If the essence of the sentence still holds true, take a step back and see if the level of stress you feel while reading the sentence changes.
Here are some of mine — real, authentic “shoulds” of mine — that I just wrote down now:
- I should be able to get pregnant without being all anxious about it.
- I should be able to spend more time being productive during the day (instead of worrying about not being productive.)
- I should be able to drive 2.5 hours to visit my friend Kelly when I feel like it.
- I should be able to go to work without taking a benzo.
- I should be able to clean my house without becoming overwhelmed.
Now, take a look at the difference — feel the difference in your gut and your chest when you read your “want” sentences:
- I want to be able to get pregnant without being all anxious about it.
- I want to be able to spend more time being productive during the day (instead of worrying about not being productive.)
- I want to be able to drive 2.5 hours to visit my friend Kelly when I feel like it.
- I want to be able to go to work without taking a benzo.
- I want to be able to clean my house without becoming overwhelmed.
The heaviness in my chest gets a little bit lighter reading the second list.
There’s a dreadful sense of verbal oppression that comes along with the word “should”, and replacing that word with “want” can help to lift the burdensome pressure. It can put you back in the driver’s seat of your own life, and help you to curb all of that anxiety-related guilt.
Hang onto your “want” list and put it in a prominent place — and start trying to catch yourself saying “should” in the wild. The sooner you can begin catching (and ditching) that word in the moment, the sooner you can begin re-writing the way you view your world.
Photo: William Warby (Flickr)