Names of all clients have been changed.
Stress is a normal part of life. Many people feel some anxiety, worry, or tension some of the time. If you are reading this article, you may be worried that your stress has risen to a level beyond normal, and you may have begun to wonder whether you are experiencing anxiety and need some help.
The first response to this concern is that if you think you might want some help with your stress, you deserve to get it. There is great benefit in the support of a therapist to learn how to navigate and negotiate life with less worry, tension and stress.
In this article, I describe five of the most common ways anxiety might take form and negatively impact your life. If one of these resonates with you, I encourage you to reach out.
“I worry too much. I get fixated on the worst that could happen and play it out in my mind. I’m always thinking that things will go wrong and it makes me feel on edge all the time.” Julie has built a habit of worry that sometimes gets in the way of her enjoying her life. Julie wishes that she could be more relaxed and more spontaneous.
When her work friends invite her out at the end of the workday she worries that she won’t be able to get her housework done or won’t get to sleep on time, so she almost always declines their invitations.
Even when she goes home, however, she’s not relaxed. When she orders groceries, she worries they won’t arrive on time for her to get to sleep. When she tries to go to sleep, she worries about all the things she will need to do the next day. “I want to be more relaxed and have more fun, but I don’t know how to do that and get everything done on time.I know the worry doesn’t help but I can’t stop.”
In therapy, Julie realized that her worry was a form of control. In our sessions, she learned to be more in the moment and less fixated on the possible ways that things could go wrong.
“I’m too concerned about what other people think of me. I avoid asking questions because I don’t want to seem stupid.I agree to everything my friends want to do– even things I don’t like to do– because I want them to like me. I don’t even ask for the exact food I want at a restaurant because I don’t want people to think I’m fussy. I feel like I am walking around on eggshells all the time, and I’m tired of it, but I don’t know how to just let go and be myself.”
Amber is a classic people pleaser. She is so focused on creating a positive impression on others that she’s not clear about her own desires. While we all want to have good relationships, it’s most important to have an honest relationship with yourself first. Amber is living from the outside in and it’s making her feel ungrounded and pushed around. Instead, she needs to live from the inside out, where her preferences are as important as the other people she’s around.
In therapy Amber learned to be less anxious about the impression she was making and more interested in being in an authentic relationship with others. In our sessions we discussed that she needs to believe that people will like her even when she is her true self.
Fear of Change
“Sometimes I worry that I’m too much of a creature of habit. I’ve been realizing recently that I’m scared to try new things… even small new things. I usually eat the same foods, I go to the same coffee shop, and I suggest the same restaurants when my friends ask where to meet them. I end up wearing the same kinds of clothes even though I sometimes think it might be fun to try something new. I even walk the same way to places I’m going, even though I sometimes feel bored.”
Barbara is afraid of change. She is so focused on her routines that she is missing out on all the things that life has to offer. And she can tell! Barbara feels bored and uninspired but she also feels stuck.
In therapy we talked about her worries about what would happen if she let go of control. In our sessions I supported her as she experimented with trying new things, expanding her world, and feeling excited again.
Fear of Being Alone
“I feel scared to be alone. I don’t like to admit it, but I know it’s true. I hang on to partners longer than I should. I’m always more comfortable with my sister or a friend or someone to hang around with in any free time I have. I’m always socializing-I even like to go food shopping with someone. Everyone thinks that I just like people, but I know it’s more than that. I feel really empty and anxious if I spend time alone. I guess I don’t really know how to be on my own.”
Latoya depends on others to feel at home in her own skin. She struggles to feel comfortable unless she has someone to share her thoughts and feelings with. It’s normal to enjoy company, but it is important to enjoy your own company as well.
In therapy, Laytoya worked on how to be alone and feel complete. In our sessions, Latoya became her own best advisor, relaxing into her own company, and learning to listen for her own ideas.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I always worry that something in my body is going to go wrong. If I have a cough or a rash or an ache, I google it and assume it’s the worst case scenario. A few times I’ve even gone to urgent care, and it ended up being nothing. I don’t actually have any health problems, it’s just when I get an idea, I can’t drop it. Since COVID, of course, it’s gotten a hundred times worse. Even though I realize that I’m going to extreme measures, I haven’t really ended the quarantine. I can’t stop thinking about how bad it could be.”
John has health anxiety. It’s normal, especially during these difficult days of the pandemic to worry about your health. When protecting your health dominates your thinking, however, it might be time to speak with a therapist.
In therapy John learned that trying to control his health was making him too anxious. In our sessions John learned to accept the risks that everyday life brings, and learned how to let go when he became fixated while still adequately protecting himself.
Anxiety Is About Control
At the core of anxiety is a desire to protect ourselves. In order to keep ourselves safe, we sometimes try too hard to control things: it might be our environment, other people, or our health.
In all cases, what starts as a reasonable concern (a desire to be safe) can grow into something that disrupts our ability to feel relaxed, happy, and resilient. Anxiety is what happens when we control too much.
Therapy can help you restore balance so you can feel both safe and relaxed in your life as it is.
Reach out today to see if I can be of help.