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Mistakes and Anxiety: How We React Affects Our Wellbeing

Mistakes and anxiety can go together. Making mistakes can cause anxiety, stress, and reduced wellbeing. You can choose how you respond to decrease anxiety.

Mistakes and anxiety can be a dangerous combination for our wellbeing. How do you feel about yourself when you make a mistake (or when you think about goofing up?) If you are prone to perfectionism or social anxiety, making mistakes might negatively impact your wellbeing. When we realize that a mistake is just an event and that we can choose our response, we can increase our sense of control to reduce anxiety.

Mistakes and Anxiety

Life, quite unfortunately, isn’t perfect. Nor are we. We have hopes, dreams, values, goals, relationships, jobs, and other things big and small that make up our lives. Most, if not all, of us try hard every day to do our best in all of our roles and tasks. Despite our best efforts, we make mistakes. Sometimes, we have to face consequences. As irksome and anxiety-provoking as they can be, mistakes themselves aren’t necessarily a problem. How we respond to our mistakes, and ourselves for making them, is what matters most for our wellbeing.

From the time I was very young (as in five or perhaps even younger), I dreaded making mistakes. Whether it was an imperfect assignment or a social blunder on the playground, the idea of screwing something up caused me great anxiety and stress. Of course, I din’t admit that to anyone because that could be a mistake that would make people disapprove of me even more. I just buckled down and tried ever harder to avoid making a mistake that would get me criticized.

I eventually realized that anxiety over making mistakes was harming both my physical and mental health and keeping me from experiencing a deep sense of wellbeing. I’ve worked hard to transcend this anxiety, and in the process, I’ve devveloped some insights into anxiety and mistake-making.

Mistakes Don’t Have to Be a Source of Anxiety

Mistakes are inevitable. Anxiety and misery about them are not. When facing mistakes, ours or someone else’s, we have the choice to react in different ways.

  1. Focus on the mistakes When dealing with problems, it’s easy to focus almost exclusively on what’s wrong. While we do need to pay attention to mistakes so we can correct them, focusing too much on them actually prevents us from addressing and fixing them. When we fixate on mistakes, we don’t have room for solution-focused thoughts, and as a result, we remain stuck and frustrated.
  2. Focus on the consequences (or imagined consequences) When something goes wrong, it’s human nature to look ahead and foresee all that could continue to go wrong. A degree of this is good; it’s part of planing and repairing damages. If we don’t know what problems the mistake could cause, we’re not motivated to do something about it. However, this can easily spiral out of control, harming our mental health. The act of imagining everything that could go wrong and blowing it out of proportion is a type of automatic negative thought known as catastrophizing. Catastrophizing can increase anxiety and stress and prevent us from taking effective action.
  3. Become angry and blame No one loves a mistake. Mistakes interrupt our ability to live in a perfect world. Mistakes do have consequences. Sometimes mistakes are big, and they can’t be lightly laughed off. However, if we allow ourselves to get angry, and more importantly, stay angry, we remain stuck, stressed, anxious, and miserable. Not only are our mental and emotional health impacted, anger doesn’t move us forward. Anger keeps us keyed up, spinning, and less able to take effective action. Also, anger decreases our ability to connect with others to move forward.
  4. See it as a single event in the grand scheme of your life, and keep going forward. This is known as perspective. Mistakes happen. A mistake doesn’t erase all accomplishments we’ve made up to the point of the mistake. It doesn’t take away the good things. It is an event that happened, nothing more and nothing less. 3A few important perspectives to keep in mind when we make a mistake:
  • The mistake has happened. It is now in the past, and there’s no going back.
  • We can choose our responses and our actions going forward. 
  • Choosing a healthy perspective will reduce anxiety, promote wellbeing, and equip us to handle the consequences. 

Of course no one likes mistakes. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), they happen. The beautiful thing is that you have choices. How you react to mistakes affects your mental health, so what are you going to do next time you’re faced with a mistake?

With 101 Ways to Stop Anxiety, you’ll learn effective strategies for dealing with many of life’s miserable anxieties.

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