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Managing Anxiety by Focusing on Values Instead of Comparing Ourselves to Others

In today's busy and social media saturated world, it's easy to become overly focused on what everyone else is doing. This comparison often leads to increased anxiety and a sense of inadequacy, not feeling good enough. Social media use is at an all-time high and a recent Australian study has identified its effects on stress levels and emotional wellbeing (Hurley et. al., 2024). "Students reported feeling stressed from comparing themselves" (Hurley et. al., 2024). Comparisons of appearance, happiness, achievements and popularity, caused negative self-reflection, feelings of overwhelm, low self-worth, low self-esteem, loneliness, isolation and exclusion.

The Anxiety of Comparison

Participants also reported the high expectations placed upon them via social media particularly perfection of appearance, personality, happiness and achievement created increased levels of anxiety. A study by Wagstaff, Wolf and Smith (2024) surveyed 252 mothers and found social comparison to have a significant effect on well-being. When investing time spent interacting with the social media platform Instagram the portrayal of mothering became skewed and this unrealistic expectation had a direct effect on respondents well-being. The impact of comparison on self-esteem, mental health and anxiety is therefore significant. However, if we develop a strong foundation, know and align with our personal values, day to day we are faced with less uncertainty and therefore less anxiety and improved mental health. This blog post will explore the importance of understanding and aligning with our values as a strategy to manage anxiety and lead a more fulfilling life.

Understanding Your Values

What are personal values? Values are the principles that guide our motivations and our actions. Simply our values help us to determine what is important to us. Aligning with our values helps us determine how we treat ourselves and those around us. What one person believes is an important value another may not. For example, a person may feel the need to report a wrongdoing by a colleague because honesty is one of their core values. However, another team member may l disagree because loyalty is a more important value to her.

A value is a fundamental belief or principle that guides behaviour and decision-making over the long term, reflecting what is important in one's life, such as honesty, compassion, or family amongst many others. A goal, on the other hand, is a specific, tangible achievement or outcome one aims to accomplish, such as completing a project or running a marathon. Values influence the setting and pursuit of goals, ensuring they align with what truly matters to an individual. When we work towards a goal that aligns with our values, we can appreciate the process towards the goal even if the goal is not reached. This is because we have acted in line with our values.

Importance of Values

If we live true to our values, we can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Why? When we align with our values, we increase our sense of well-being by better understanding ourselves, creating a sense of coherence, and prioritising the things that matter most to us (Russo-Netzer & Ofer, 2024).

Values provide a sense of direction and purpose, helping to buffer against the anxiety of comparison and keep us motivated to continue personal pursuit. If we pursue goals that do not align with our values, we will struggle to reach them and if we do, we will be exhausted, possibly burn out!

The next time something or someone pushes your buttons at work or at a family gathering ask yourself, how is this situation conflicting with my values? What is important to me that is not being considered in this moment? Aligning with our values gives us not only a sense of purpose, but direction and this can be especially helpful during difficult times.

Aligning with Your Values

To align with your values, it is necessary to first know your values and that may take some self-reflection, learning the vocabulary and setting goals that align with your values. If we do not consider our values when making life decisions we will tend to make decisions based on what others may want of us. Deciding on the career you follow is often fraught with wanting to please our parents or another significant person. This is a dilemma which is often brought into the therapy room. Someone has been slogging it out in a career chosen to adhere to their parents’ wishes. Instead, we need to choose a career that aligns with our personal values, that caters for our own needs and not that of others.

Overcoming Obstacles

If we consider the differences of values within our family of origin for example, think back to a time when you attended a family gathering and conversations got difficult or someone through a flippant remark which caused you to become distressed. What was really happening in that moment? If, for example being inclusive is important to you and someone has made a derogatory comment about another person this will be causing conflict as it is threatening your personal value system. This is something that truly matters to you. Often the expectations of putting family first, showing up to those occasions because of other expectations causes worry and anxiety. Knowing our values deeply helps to understand our responses in these situations which then helps us to regulate our emotions. Another helpful tool is to employ mindfulness strategies to stay focused on what truly matters to you. This helps to re-align with your values on a moment-to-moment basis. An important aspect of values work is knowing our values can change over time, particularly after major life events. Through the experience once important may be replaced with a new value.

In a Nutshell

Living to our values ensures greater life satisfaction and overall wellbeing. Our confidence grows because we make decisions that make us feel good! We become comfortable with being different and we celebrate these differences because after all we are all different and that is what makes us human! When we align with our values we stand out from the crowd, we flourish, we tend to shine.

I encourage you to take the first step towards identifying and aligning with your values. There are plenty of online tools to help you work out your values.

If you would like support in living a value orientated life reach out and let's chat.

  • Hurley, E. C., Williams, I.R., Tomyn, A., & L. Sanci, (2024). Social media use among Australian university students: Understanding links with stress and mental health. Computers in Human Behaviour Reports, 14, (1).

  • Russo-Netzer, P., & A Ofer. (2024). Activating values intervention: an integrative pathway to well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 15. 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1375237.

  • Wagstaff, D., Wolf, N., & Smith, N. (2024). Comparing, competing, and the good mum ideology—Maternal well-being in the context of social media. Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences. Advance online publication.


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