We all know this feeling: the dread of doing something wrong and the terrible consequences that might occur. Most people feel guilt. Most people feel regret. Most people feel nervous or scared about making mistakes. Most people feel shame when they do make one. For someone with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, these feelings are heightened to the extreme, but I think anyone can relate a little. I sometimes get so anxious about screwing up that I have physical symptoms for days, weeks, months. I feel nauseous, my chest hurts and I have trouble concentrating. My waking hours are sometimes consumed with imagining the worst possible outcomes for every potential situation. This takes a terrible toll on my mental health. I feel anxious and hopeless and I have low self esteem and poor self-image. It can make me scared to get out of bed and face the world. It can influence the way I talk to people or the way I work, eat or sleep.
But usually, in reality, the worst doesn’t happen. Your boyfriend doesn’t break up with you for missing a date. Your friend doesn’t hate you because you forgot to wish her happy birthday. You don’t get fired because you messed up a number in a report. You don’t become homeless because you lost your bus pass and had to buy a new one. You didn’t die because you accidentally swallowed mouthwash. (These are some of the thoughts that go through my head).
Sometimes, your worst fear does come true. I’ve been unemployed. I have lost friends. I have spent too much money fixing costly mistakes. It can be scary. It can be awful. It can be exhausting and painful. But usually we can bounce back. Even if we don’t believe it, we have the strength inside of us to push forward, move on and achieve positive accomplishments.
How can we deal with the fear of mistakes? We can try to control our thoughts. We can focus on the positive outcomes of a scenario and visualize rocking that presentation, enjoying that first date or beating our time in a marathon. We can engage in positive self-talk and try to convince ourselves that we have worth, that we are talented, that we are capable. We can surround ourselves with people who will build us up and provide you with a safety net so you fear failing a little less.
And if we make a mistake? We can tell ourselves that to err is human. We can take it as a learning and growth opportunity and change our behaviour so we can try to prevent it from happening again. We can focus on the future and not dwell on the past.
It’s not always easy to do this, especially with a mental illness. A therapist can help. But we need to try our best to move forward. So we can live our life with passion and excitement instead of being driven by fear. Let’s promise to try together!