How to Use ‘Both…And’ to Reduce Your Anxiety Quickly
If I told you that the two simple words ‘both…and’ could help you reduce your anxiety, would you try to use them? It may sound too good to be true, but over the past week I’ve been thinking about how valuable these two words can be for producing a meaningful shift in how we think about anxiety.
Words have the power to completely change how we relate to our thoughts and experiences, and through this shift, we can achieve powerful change. Words to create that kind of change must be pretty complicated and rare, right? Well, like me, you might be surprised to find these two words are actually simple and common. These remarkable words are: Both… And.
Both… And? That’s It?
Did you feel the power of both, and just now? If not, I totally understand. These don’t sound like words that can help with anxiety when we first consider them. But their utility only emerges when we place our anxieties in context.
Let’s use an example. This week, I was feeling anxious about an exam I had written, and I was worried that it might go worse than I hoped. Sometimes when I feel anxiety about midterms, I try to think of reasons that can disprove any cause for worry. I’ll tell myself I studied many hours, I read the questions carefully, or I wrote long, comprehensive answers, so it can’t have gone poorly. But this response to anxiety is a trap — these countering thoughts are only effective as long as no new sources of anxiety about the midterm come up.
But the thing about anxiety is those new thoughts always come up! So even though I’ve made a lot of great points about why the midterm actually went well, once my mind finds the next threat (I forgot about that other equation I could have used!), suddenly I’m back in the anxiety trap and trying to find thoughts that counter the newest fear about my midterm.
This is where the power of Both, And comes in. Rather than trying to think of thoughts that counter my anxiety, I allow my anxiety about the midterm to stand uncontested. It is possible that I both feel anxious about my midterm and did well on it. That’s all we need to do to stop that cycle of fighting to disprove anxious thoughts.
Holding these two thoughts in mind allowed me to acknowledge the anxiety I felt about the midterm while also holding a positive thought about how it went. When we look at these thoughts from a distance, it’s clear that we are not dealing with absolutes where only one can be true. But that’s exactly the assumption I was using when I tried to disprove my anxiety about doing poorly on the midterm before — I thought the only way I could move past my anxiety was to prove it wasn’t accurate. As I said earlier, this is rarely a productive endeavor because we can always think of another way the anxious thought could be true. By acknowledging that an anxious thought and a positive thought can both be true simultaneously, we sidestep this entire process.
Below, I’m going to talk through a few more examples of how we can use both…and for everyday anxiety. If the anxiety you’re experiencing is not addressed, please share your own examples in the comments.
Putting Both… And Into Practice
- You’re feeling anxious about losing your job. Challenging anxiety around future events can be really difficult, especially when we try to counter those concerns like I did above for my midterm. This is also where Both… And can be the most helpful. For example, in this case we might say « It is possible that I both lose my job in the future and continue to support my family », or « It is possible that I both lose my job in the future and can still experience joy ». We often think of the anxious event to the exclusion of all else, but in reality that one event does not preclude all positives.
- You’re worried about your child struggling in school. Parents will always want the best for their children, and this is an important and positive perspective to have. However, it can be very distressing and counterproductive when anxiety becomes the central focus. In this case, we might say « It is possible that my child will both struggle in school and live a healthy, happy life », or « It is possible that my child will both struggle in school now and improve their grades next semester ». As we saw with the last example, the focal point of our anxiety does not prevent good things from happening, we just have to consider those positive events.
- You’re worried that your friends are upset with you. Social anxiety can be particularly challenging, and using the both… and perspective can be especially helpful in these cases. For example, « It is possible that my friends are both really upset with me and still going to be my friends », or « It is possible that my friends are both really upset with me and I can still feel good about myself ». The both… and perspective does not just have to bring up points that to some extent overcome the anxious thought (they’re still going to be my friends), but can also bring up an alternative point that sidesteps the anxiety even in a worst-case scenario (I can still feel good about myself even if they’re upset with me).
The both… and perspective can be used in numerous ways, but I think the key to keep in mind is that we’re working to acknowledge our anxiety without trying to counter it. Instead, we consider the ways that our anxiety could be true and then think about other thoughts that can coexist with it. In this way, we can avoid getting sucked into the infinite battle with anxious thoughts and reduce our anxiety. What do you think about both… and, can these words really reduce your anxiety? Please comment below!