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  • Writer's pictureStacy G. Smith, MS, LPC

Overcoming Anxiety: Tip #21

The "Rear View Mirror Syndrome" is not an actual medical diagnosis, but a fictitious term given to someone who consistently looks to their past as a guide for their future. For example, if an individual is presented with a great job opportunity they never saw coming, they may look to their past (their rear view mirror), realize they have never worked in such a high-level position before, and immediately begin to feel anxious. Thoughts may include, "I've never done this before," "How do I know I can handle this?" "I've never worked for such a large company." Moving into uncharted territory can cue intense anxiety and feelings of low self-confidence. Often, we may turn down incredible opportunities because of this anxiety, and stick to our comfort zone - what we know so well.

But remember, everything we know well now was once new to us. Embracing new opportunities is a symbol of growth, not failure. It is a symbol of courage, and strength. Just because we have never done something, does not automatically mean it will turn out negatively.

When we look to our past and realize what we are about to face is unfamiliar, we may quickly engage in "what if" thinking. "What if this job doesn't work out?" or "what if nobody likes me at this school?" or "what if I make a fool out of myself?" Going back to Tip #20, it is important to look for the facts, or proof, that the new venture in front of you will turn out as negatively as your mind may think. Chances are, you will have difficulty finding proof. In this case, try combating the anxiety with positive "what if" statements - "what if this job turns out better than I expected?" "what if I make many close friends at this school?" and "what if my colleagues are quite impressed with my work?"

Now, I'm not saying the rear view mirror isn't important, because it is! However, what happens if we're driving, only looking out of this mirror? We'll crash! The same applies with life. While it is important to look to our past for knowledge, lessons, guidance, and experience, it will become quite challenging to grow and move forward if we are living in the past - only basing our future endeavors on what we know with 100% certainty we have experienced before.

The first step in overcoming the rear view mirror syndrome is to practice doing something new, no matter how small. It can be trying a new food, or taking a new route to work. Feeling comfortable with small, new challenges will help prepare you for the larger ones to come. Getting started can be the most challenging, but giving yourself that small push means you are empowering yourself to do great things - to do new things. And if you feel hesitant, remind yourself that you have gotten through every setback and challenge you have ever faced, each one bringing you to where you are today.


DISCLAIMER: The blog posts shared on contain the opinions of Stacy Smith, MS, LPC, and do not reflect the opinions of any organizations or affiliates. While Stacy is a licensed mental health professional, all blog posts on her site are for informational purposes only, and are never a substitute for professional advice catered to your individual needs. Stacy Smith is not liable for any diagnosis, treatment plans, or decisions made based on the information presented on this website. Furthermore, commenting on posts does not mean a treatment relationship has been established with Stacy Smith.​

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