Author: Dr. Melanie Badali, R.Psych.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt
When I first thought about writing a blog post for January, the topic of goal setting came to mind. People frequently set goals for the New Year that are too high. Consequently, they don’t meet their resolutions and end up feeling worse than before they set their goals. Learning how to set goals is an important skill. However, when I sat down to actually write this blog post, I noticed many stories on goal setting already out there. I decided I wanted to write something different. Instead of writing about the “how to”s of resolution setting, I wanted to write about a resolution worth setting. If you were hoping for a goal setting blog, Anxiety Canada already has an excellent “Guide to Goal Setting” on the website. Check it out at here.
So, if this isn’t going to be a typical post about New Year’s resolutions and goal setting, what will this blog cover? This post is about being brave (the title was a giveaway, I know). My client once introduced me as her “Brave Doctor.” This was not because I am particularly brave (I am not) – this was because Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) helped bring out the brave in her. What does being brave have to do with anxiety? A lot, actually. Brave actions and brave thoughts help decrease anxiety.
Some people mistakenly believe that people who experience anxiety are not or cannot be brave. This is not true.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines brave as “One with mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.” Using this definition, people who experience anxiety have more opportunities to be brave than the average person. Why? Because people with anxiety have more severe, frequent or intense fears, and they have to face more fears to get on with the activities of daily living.
Brave behaviour comes in all shapes and sizes. Brave is not just a term reserved for people with dangerous jobs, like firefighters (although, the job does require brave behaviour). For a person with social anxiety, making a telephone call or talking to another person may be brave behaviour. For a person with contamination OCD, using a public washroom may be brave behaviour. Public speaking may require bravery for someone else. For others, none of these activities involve facing fear or require effort or mental strength.
If you define bravery as “fearlessness,” then you may not notice how brave you are being. You may miss how brave your loved one with anxiety is being.
As a psychologist who works with people struggling with anxiety, I have the pleasure of working with people who are being brave. Showing up at my office the first time requires bravery. Participating in therapy involves bravery.
Facing fears involves, you guessed it, B R A V E R Y.
You can be anxious AND brave. So this year, give yourself credit for your brave behaviour. Every time you face your fears, instead of beating yourself up and saying “This is not really brave because other people do it without feeling anxious” or “That was not brave because I know it is not really dangerous,” give yourself credit for YOUR brave behaviour. What requires you to be brave may not be the same as for other people. You are you. Be brave for you.
You are you. Be brave for you.
Anxiety Canada’s website anxietycanada.com has evidence-based resources that will help you engage in brave behaviour. There are resources on topics such as facing fears in children, youth and adults as well as rewarding bravery https://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/rewarding-bravery. Although the task may seem daunting at first, scientific evidence shows that facing fears is an effective strategy for reducing anxiety. Brave behaviour now leads to less anxiety in the long run. Facing fears is like making a good investment.
Eleanor Roosevelt summed it up nicely when she said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do”. Kid-friendly inspiration comes from Kung Fu Panda’s Master Shifu who says, “If you only do what you can, you will never be more than you are now.”
This is your year. Go be brave. Be brave for you!