A Conversation Between Irrational Anxiety and Reason

Anxiety: You cannot take a risk. It’s too painful. What if your risk doesn’t work out?

Reason: You’ll be no worse off than before you started.

Anxiety: But you’ll feel badly.

Reason: Won’t you feel badly if you don’t try at all? The point of avoiding the risk is to avoid pain and disappointment. What causes the pain and disappointment? Not getting what you want. If you take the risk, you might or might not get what you want; but if you avoid the risk altogether, you’ll certainly miss out.

Anxiety: It feels awful to contemplate doing anything.

Reason: Doesn’t it feel awful to contemplate doing nothing?

Anxiety: Mistakes are disasters. They’re embarassing and they cause pain!

Reason: But if you learn from a mistake, what does it matter? It’s better to get it right the first time, of course. But if you don’t get it right the first time, due to a mistake, then you can correct your error and probably get it right the second time. What’s so bad about that?

Anxiety: It’s better not to make mistakes.

Reason: True. But mistakes are part of life. And they’re part of learning. They’re part of what help you make fewer mistakes next time.

Anxiety: Not good enough.

Reason: What is good enough?

Anxiety: Guarantee of no mistakes.

Reason: That’s ridiculous. You might as well just kill yourself.

Anxiety: Killing yourself has risks too. There could be pain, or you might botch it.

Reason: So there’s risk no matter what. Since even suicide isn’t a viable, risk-free option, it follows that risk of error or pain is always present. Why not confront the risk rationally and pleasantly instead of being terrified of what you cannot control?

Anxiety: I can’t. I can’t. I can’t!

Reason: But you’re living with what terrifies you either way. You can either sit there, paralyzed in terror and doing nothing; or you can act.

Anxiety: I’m terrified of acting.

Reason: But what about the consequences of not acting? You don’t seem too comfortable with inaction. Inaction isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do — i.e., reduce your anxiety.

Anxiety: But you’re making me consider action. That’s what makes me anxious.

Reason: You have a choice. You don’t have to act. Nobody can make you take any action except for yourself. And you can always choose to act, or not to act. However, there are always consequences — good or bad, it all depends. But there are consequences to not acting as well as to acting. You don’t escape consequences by not acting. You can’t logically or truthfully say, “If I don’t act, there will be no risk and therefore no bad outcome.” In a sense, it’s impossible not to act. Even when not acting, you’re acting, in a sense.

Anxiety: But if I’m not thinking about something, it’s like it’s not true.

Reason: No way. What’s true is true all the time, whether you think about it or not. The only way facts would not matter would be if you were dead. You can escape thinking about facts; but you cannot escape their constant presence.

Anxiety: But not all facts are relevant to me.

Reason: That’s true. But some facts always are. And consequences are a kind of fact. Consequences are facts that result from your various actions, as well as your choice not to act in certain cases.

Anxiety: I don’t choose my feelings.

Reason: But you choose what to do, or not to do. You choose how to look at things too. You choose to think about things in a certain way.

Anxiety: But my feelings make me look at things a certain way.

Reason: Your feelings give you one option. You don’t have to accept that one optional way of looking at something as the definitive, final and only answer. A feeling can be compared and contrasted with alternative ways of looking at things, which sometimes exist and often are more accurate. Your mind can travel to many places, not just to where your feelings are.

Anxiety: That’s not what my doctors, psychiatrists and therapists say.

Reason: They’re telling you what you want to hear. They’re not telling you the truth.