Overcoming Anxiety: Don’t Be A Paper Tiger – TAG 016


Confidence and belief in oneself are essential when overcoming anxiety disorders, but false confidence doesn’t really help.  Lets learn how to walk the walk if we’re gonna talk the talk!

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. (Source: Wikipedia)

In my travels through different anxiety and panic related forums through the years, I often come across people that are frustrated and angry and will sometimes post messages that reflect just that.  Thats OK.  We all need to vent sometimes.  Its healthy.  “Vent” posts are usually met with support from other forum members that often looks something like this:

  • “Its OK, you’re strong.  We all are.  We’re going to kick anxiety’s ass.  You’ll see”
  • “One day when we’re all back to normal we’ll meet somewhere and celebrate our victory together.”
  • “We’re warriors.  Nobody understands how hard this is, how it would bring most people to their knees.”

I could go on, but you get the idea.  If this were a football game, that would be referred to as “trash talking”, or “talking smack”.  You know what?  I love that!  If you’re going to overcome an anxiety disorder you’re going to need belief in yourself and confidence that you can get the job done. Trash talk is a good sign of confidence, so let it rip when you need to!  Chest bumping and high fiving can get us motivated and fired up when we need it, so I’m all for it.

Here’s the problem though.  If you’re going to talk the talk, you’re also going to have to walk the walk.  In earlier podcast episodes I’ve talked about how dealing with anxiety is an ACTIVE process and how there’s no automatic immune response that will fix you if you retreat and wait quietly. That being the case, if you really believe that you’ll knock your panic disorder on its ass one day, then there’s work to be done, and some of it will be both difficult and scary.  Nothing will change or improve just because you say it will or hope it will or want it to.  Without action, your words become meaningless and without substance.  All bark, no bite.  That’s a paper tiger.  Don’t be a paper tiger.

I’ve been a paper tiger in the past. At my worst, I’d often talk about how I was done feeling the way I was feeling and about how I was going to make a change.  Then I’d go right back to avoiding anything that might trigger anxiety or panic.  Then I’d feel even worse about myself for saying those things and not following through. This is why being a paper tiger has nothing to do with character or personality flaws.  Is really about the negative impact on recovery plans and progress. There are practical real-world consequences for failing to walk the walk.  Your self-image and confidence can be eroded, and if you’re struggling to gain the support of your friends and family you run the risk of eroding their confidence in you too. How many times can your spouse or employer hear about how you’re going to beat this, only to watch you retreat into your safe zone the again the very next day?  See how this can be an issue?

So what do we do about the whole paper tiger problem?  Should we stop talking about recovery or thinking about it?  Of course not!  NEVER stop thinking about it.  Never lose confidence or belief in your ability to improve things.  You absolutely have the courage and strength inside you that you need to get this job done.  We all do!  Instead, start working on actually walking the walk.  It doesn’t mean giant impressive leaps forward from completely homebound to world cruise within a week.  It does mean taking small steps forward every day no matter how you feel.  Small steps add up to big distances over time, and that’s what we’re looking for.

If you haven’t left the house in two months, then just standing on your front porch for a few minutes, even if you’re in full panic mode, is progress.  That’s walking the walk!  Practice your progressive muscle relaxation techniques.  Practice your breathing techniques.  That’s walking the walk too.  Learn a bit about meditation and how to calm your mind.  Practice that. That’s also walking the walk.  Start doing the things that you fear. Do them over and over, working on relaxing when all you want to do is run and hide.  That is walking the walk!

So go ahead and talk the talk from time to time.  Then take some steps forward, no matter how small they might be, then be proud of yourself for backing up your words with meaningful actions.  Goodbye, paper tiger.


Intro/Ending Music Credit: Title Autumn Day (Kevin MacLeod – incompetech.com) Licensed underCreative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 

Photo Credit: Frederick Homes for Sale via Compfight cc