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Are You Talking About Me? How to Manage Your Anxiety In the Face of Criticism

It never feels good to be criticized, even when the criticism is coming from a place of good intention. Instead, criticism typically feels like an enormous, unfair judgment. Often times, the criticism is coming from the other person’s reactivity rather than a response to our own bad behavior. Regardless of the source, experiencing it is a fact of life. Unfortunately, we cannot control what people will say to us. We can, however, control how we internalize it, respond to it and learn from it. We can also choose when to release it and move on.

For those of us suffering from anxiety, it can be particularly challenging to handle criticism because it seems to bring up our worst fears of being judged and belittled. When you are chronically anxious you may already feel tense, excessively worried and fearful, irritable, or challenged with racing or unwanted thoughts. These anxiety symptoms can make you more sensitive to criticism, often times causing you to create conclusions of your own that may or may not be true.

Here are 7 tips to cope with criticism:
1) Non-defensive listening – There is no greater challenge than attempting to listen without being defensive. It is natural when we are criticized to listen for what we do not agree with. Therefore, listen only to understand. Also listen for what you can agree with, without interrupting or arguing. Consider what the other person is saying.
2) Look for seeds of truth in criticism – This can foster humility. It is not always easy to take a look at ourselves in an honest way. It can, however be a growing opportunity if we try.
3) Sit with the discomfort – Often, we want to do something with our feelings. Sitting with the discomfort of our initial emotional reaction instead of quickly reacting helps to increase our tolerance of criticism and, most importantly, our ability to tolerate our own anxiety. This may also foster emotional maturity which can be understood as the ability to manage the emotional part of the self in an adaptive way.
4) Practice objectivity -Try to understand the perspective of the person providing the criticism. This is a great opportunity to practice rational thinking!
5) Attempt acceptance – Remember that criticism is a “belief system battle.” It’s often a matter of differing beliefs and different views of the world. Accept the criticism only as an opinion.
6) Acknowledge the feedback – Appreciate the feedback and say thanks! Do this even when it is not constructive or helpful. Interpret it merely as feedback and decide what it means to you.
7) Do not avoid criticism – Whenever you avoid anything you fear, the fear gets stronger! In fact, you may even try asking for criticism at times, just to improve your ability to cope with it.

Remember, criticism is not the source of our discomfort! Anxiety arises because of how we interpret the criticism. It is our thoughts about criticism that can lead to anxiety and self-doubt. Using the above-mentioned tips can help you manage your anxiety in the face of criticism. Criticism is always going to happen, but it does not always have to lead to anxiety.