Does Anxiety Ever Stop? Are We Stuck with Anxiety Forever?
If you live with any degree or type of anxiety, chances are you’ve wondered if anxiety will ever stop. It’s natural to want anxiety to go away, to be gone from your life. Sometimes, it can seem like anxiety is here to stay and that no matter how hard you try to reduce it, it’s always there. I used to wonder this all the time, and there were times that I really believed I was stuck with anxiety forever despite all my efforts to deal with it. As someone who has lived with significant anxiety and who has been a teacher and counselor and is now a mental health writer, I can help answer these questions. Does anxiety ever go away? Unfortunately no (at least not completely). Are you stuck with anxiety forever? Also, fortunately, no.
Why Anxiety Won’t Completely Go Away
To some extent, anxiety is part of the human experience (the human brain thinks and experiences emotions, and this isn’t a bad thing). Anxiety has positive functions. It helps protect us from danger by making us alert and cautious. It also can be motivating, helping us do our best. If we’re lethargic and unmotivated, not caring about what happens to us or our loved ones, we likely won’t be very successful in our lives and relationships. A bit of anxiety can indeed help keep us on our toes, striving for personal goals.
This bit of motivating anxiety is healthy, and it’s here to stay. We don’t want healthy anxiety to go away. It’s the unhealthy anxiety, the extreme worries, what-ifs, worst-case-scenarios, fears, and automatic negative thoughts that disrupt life. Of course we all want that stuff gone, out of our lives. Will this type go away?
Because we have such incredible, complex, and active brains, anxious thoughts and worries don’t completely stop. (Keep reading, though, because the news gets much, much better). Personally, I have lived with pretty strong social anxiety and performance-related anxiety, but they no longer interfere in my life.
Admittedly, I do continue to experience my old, habitual anxious thoughts, such as:
- Worrying if I say or do the right things, and concluding (temporarily) that I do not, in fact, say or do the right things
- Rehashing in my mind past conversations or actions and becoming mortified at myself
- Mind-reading, assuming that people are criticizing me or simply don’t like me
- Fearing failure
I think that a lifetime of such thoughts has made this type of thinking a habit, a default setting in my brain. That said, my relationship with my anxiety has changed drastically, and I no longer feel that I’m stuck being anxious forever.
Why We’re Not Stuck with Anxiety Forever
Thoughts are nothing more than chemical activity in our brain (and felt throughout the body in the form of physical symptoms of anxiety). We can give them power and authority, or we can recognize them, acknowledge them, distance ourselves from them, and choose to focus on something else. Pausing to express gratitude (out loud to others, out loud to yourself, in your mind, or in writing) for all that is right helps shift attention away from what is wrong, and taking small steps every day in the direction we want to go prevents us from being stuck in and with anxiety.
Stopping anxiety isn’t about never having anxious thoughts or emotions. Instead, it’s about noticing them without berating yourself for having them, and then choosing to think about other things and to live your life fully anyway. There are things you can do to help you change your relationship with your anxiety, including (but not limited to):
- Seeing a counselor or therapist to process your anxiety and developing healthy ways to deal with it
- Taking anxiety medication to affect the brain’s chemistry and pathways (note that medication is extremely helpful for some people but not at all helpful for everyone, so it’s important to work with your doctor and consider what is best for you personally)
- Learning as much as you can about anxiety in general and your own personal anxiety in particular
- Exploring different coping strategies and using some of them every day
For me, stopping anxiety means living well in spite of old, habitual thoughts that like to pop up sometimes. While anxiety hasn’t completely disappeared, it doesn’t keep me stuck, and it doesn’t even bother me any more. It’s there, but it isn’t interfering in my life.
Will anxiety ever completely stop? It probably won’t. Will you be stuck with it forever? More than likely, you will not. You can live fully and freely even when anxious thoughts come and go.