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Am I Anxious?

It is common for people to describe themselves as “an anxious person” or to say “I am depressed,” instead of “I experience anxiety,” or “I am experiencing depression.” While these two different kinds of self-descriptions are expressing similar things, they differ significantly in their impact.

To say, “I am an anxious person,” implies that you are defining yourself by your anxiety and incorporating it into your identity, whereas “I experience anxiety,” means anxiety is something that occurs to but does not define you. Similarly, “I am depressed,” defines all of your current state in terms of depression whereas “I am experiencing depression,” positions depression as an experience that can change and/or be included among other kinds of experiences.

The danger with the former kinds of statements is that they imply an attachment to the symptom and therefore unconscious resistance to changing it. If I am an anxious person, then I must regularly feel anxious to continue being myself. I will probably also do things outside of my awareness to make sure I remain anxious because it is even more stressful to have my identity challenged or threatened than to be anxious.

If I am depressed, then I will feel powerless and unable to work toward feeling something better than depression because I am defining myself in this moment by being depressed. Depression wants us to submit to it because it is based in a dysregulated relationship to power—but this is a topic for a different writing.

If I am not an anxious person but instead someone who experiences anxiety, then I recognize I am not defined by anxiety and can more easily detach from anxious feelings. I am also not as unconsciously threatened by becoming less anxious than someone who is a self-identified anxious person because I do not depend on anxiety for a sense of identity.

If I am not depressed but instead experiencing depression, then I feel more hopeful that I will at some point experience some something other than depression and that the depression will subside if I do something to feel differently. Depression becomes just one of my potential experiences when I describe how I feel in this way, not a defining characteristic of my complete experience like it is when I say I am depressed. We start to lose our true selves whenever we identify as instead of with things. We are not our diagnoses and we all have the power to develop mindful awareness of when we are feeling anxious or depressed instead of defining ourselves as things that do not feel good.

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