Feeling ashamed about anxiety is common, but there are ways to cope when feelings of humiliation creep up.
If you experience anxiety, you may feel easily embarrassed at anxious manifestations — what you say, or what you do. Know first that you’re not alone. Anxiety in itself is not a condition but a natural biological process. However, persistent anxiety may turn into a condition with more prevalent symptoms, and you can manage it with tools and support.
Perhaps you feel mortified after you’ve had a panic attack in public or when you cancel plans with friends at the last minute because of social anxiety.
Shame and anxiety don’t have to bog you down. There are ways to cope.
Anxiety can cause more than just uncomfortable physical symptoms. It can also bring out unpleasant emotions such as guilt or extreme embarrassment.
An episode of anxiety or panic could lead to negative self-talk and worry about it happening again. This may exacerbate anxiety symptoms which can then spiral into an anxiety-shame cycle.
If you’re feeling this way, you may wonder: How do I deal with anxiety and shame?
If you’re experiencing anxiety, you may be wondering if it’s situational or an indication you have an anxiety disorder.
Temporary anxiety revolves around an event or scenario, such as speaking in front of a group of people. It tends to pass once the situation resolves. In addition, family, relationship, or friendship difficulties can cause situational anxiety.
In contrast, an anxiety disorder is a mental health condition where ongoing anxiousness, worry, or fear interferes with daily life.
If you feel your anxiety is more than related to a moment and you can’t necessarily pinpoint specific triggers, screening tests can help determine if it’s time to talk with a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Feeling shame can be especially frustrating if you’re already treating your anxiety. You may question if your treatment or therapy is working.
Although there are treatment options for anxiety, what works for you might differ from what works for someone else.
Furthermore, side effects of anti-anxiety medications — like agitation, sexual difficulties, and sleep issues — can catch you off guard and may contribute to your feelings of shame.
If you’re experiencing disruptive side effects, please discuss them with your prescribing clinician.
Shame is a heightened state of self-consciousness that can result in feelings of self-loathing. It can be triggered by doing something you perceive as wrong or socially unacceptable, or feeling as though you’re unworthy of positive treatment or benefits.
If you experience shame, you may not want to discuss these feelings with others because you feel alone and misunderstood. As a result, you may avoid dealing with shame, which can make your anxiety worse.
Research suggests shame is an adaptive emotion that originated to perpetuate social hierarchy. If this theory is true, then anxiety shame could result from the social stigma often associated with mental health conditions. And someone feeling “less than” because of mental illness.
But anyone can have a mental health condition. Identifying, treating, and recovering in mental health is no different from managing physical health and medical conditions.
If you have an anxiety disorder or phobia, you may know what triggers anxiousness or panic for you. For example, you may worry that something terrible will happen to your loved ones and experience overwhelming fear when a family member leaves on a trip.
Knowing your triggers can help you manage anxiety better, especially if you communicate your feelings with friends or trusted family members when anxiety or worry is intense.
When you feel shame because of anxiety, instead of pushing this emotion aside, consider acknowledging it for what it is. Contemplate the reasons behind your feelings, and then let it go.
You could also try sitting with this painful emotion and have a conversation with yourself, perhaps using phrases like, “I am doing the best I can.” Try not to criticize yourself, you didn’t choose to have anxiety, but you are choosing how you manage it.
Along with acknowledging your feelings of shame, consider distancing yourself from the emotion by assigning an image or emoji to it. By picturing shame as another entity and even naming this judgmental character, you may gain more power over it.
Reading humorous anxiety-related memes may also help put feelings of shame into perspective and remind you that most people have experienced these feelings, too.
If you believe you’ll benefit from therapy for anxiety, here’s some resources to get you started:
Feeling ashamed of symptoms caused by a mental health condition, including anxiety, is a common feeling many people experience.
It’s not your fault you have anxiety. Feeling ashamed of it may result from the social stigma surrounding mental health — something that needs to change.
The good news is, acknowledging shame and understanding that many other people experience this too can help you overcome it.