Acting on Our Values
Anxiety is a complex condition and has many root causes. One cause that I have seen as a counselor is when we act in a way that is contrary to the values we hold. When this happens, people can feel like there are two versions on themselves, the person they show others and the person they want to be. They constantly feel torn between these two opposing figures, feeling stressed and worried.
Our values are a part of everything we do. From our careers, to our family, to how we treat friends and acquaintances, our values should be the driving force. When I have seen people act in opposition to their values, it isn't typically a conscious decision, but rather a lack of clarity into their core values. People typically live day to day without defining or thinking about their values. What brings this to light, however, is when they come in for counseling with feelings of emptiness, loss of direction, not feeling "like themselves", dissatisfaction in their careers or family lives, or a general feeling of stress and anxiety. If you find yourself in this place you should work towards (1) clearly defining your values and (2) building these into how you approach your daily life.
Clearly Define Your Core Values
In order to define your core values you should start by asking yourself some questions.
1) What is most important to you?
2) What sort of person do you want to be?
3) What do you want your life to be about?
4) What types of relationships do you want in your life?
5) What do you want to spend your time and energy on?
6) What could you not live without and what could you spend less time on?
Your principles should be the driving force in your life, the things that motivate you to be a better person and to strive to accomplish your goals in life. However, your values are not your goals. Goals are the desired outcome based on the values you hold. Therefore, if you don't accomplish a goal, it is ok as long as it was in pursuit of a value. If you have a goal that is contrary to your values, it doesn't matter if you accomplish it or not (at least it doesn't have the same personal impact if you accomplish it). However, if you pursue a goal that is aligned with your values, you will be living a life according to the things that matter most to you, and that is a life worth living whether or not the outcome is exactly what you wanted or in the timeline that you desired.
Build Your Values Into Your Daily Life
We have limited time and energy in life and we all have to choose what to spend that time and energy on. Once you have clearly defined what your values are, then take a look at your life and where your time is going. Assess what are some areas you can cut that don't align with your values, and where you would like to nurture your values. If a core value is spending time with family but you are always working long hours, then your time is not aligned with your values. This might be a case where your values need to change, but if they truly are what matter most to you then restructuring your work hours might be in order. Now, we can't all quit our jobs to spend every waking hour with family, and part of the value of family is likely providing for them, but we can re-evaluate the structure and balance in our schedules.
We must set boundaries around what is important to us in life. When we don't, anything and everything can take over. I hear people who are self-employed or have high stress jobs that say they can't set these boundaries; they believe everyone else is in control of their lives. However, when acting on what is most important to them they typically find that schedules can be changed, roles are flexible, and others respect them more when they live by their values rather than being walked over.
This is by no means a simple process. It takes being honest with ourselves and truly evaluating if we are living in alignment with what matters most to us. Not only that, but this process typically means we have to make some changes. Those changes aren't easy. They can mean changing hours, changing jobs, volunteering more, changing who we spend our time with (sometimes even cutting people from our lives that are bad for us), and leading healthier lifestyles. However, by knowing your core values and living those out every day we can be less stressed and more fulfilled.
James McMillian, LCPC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness