Is it wise to push yourself?

My clients are often told to push themselves. Even though they are at times crippled with anxiety, they are told to push thru it. They are told to challenge themselves. They tell me this, often feeling guilty that they can’t do what others tell them to.

Is this wise? Is it smart to try to will oneself thru anxiety? Should we push ourselves? Let’s explore this for a moment.

When we are in a state of anxiety we are in survival mode. See my book for more details on the brain functioning. Bottom line, when in survival mode our higher brain functions are impaired. Functions like decision making and emotional regulation are limited. If this is true, should we push ourselves? Based on brain functioning I would say no.

Let me clarify one related issue. Is there a difference between the fear of the unknown, the stress of new things and anxiety? I say yes. Anytime we are doing a new thing there will be a certain amount of fear. To expect oneself to be completely at ease with a new activity is simply not realistic (unless you are an innate thrillseeker). Change always creates stress, even desired change.

Are there times when it is ok to “push” yourself some? Yes. If you are nervous, fine, go ahead. If you are in terror, or immobilized by anxiety, then do not move forward. To do so will only create trauma and negative results for you.

A more functional way to handle the extreme anxiety is the exact opposite of what many will tell you. Slow down! Take it easy. Be kind to yourself. Use self compassion to settle yourself. Refuse to be pushed into action until you feel more grounded and strong within yourself. When you feel calmer then and only then, take the next step.

Another useful tool when facing a daunting task or event is to break it down. If the entire thing is too much, find a smaller piece that is not so overwhelming. Then do that. Getting a part or aspect of the huge thing done can build your confidence. And it could motivate you to move on to the next part of the entire task.

As I once heard in a class on treating trauma….in order to go “faster”, slow down.

So, do that today. Try it out. Slow down a bit. Maybe it will help you “go faster” in the end!

Leave a Reply