It is normal to feel anxious when highway traffic goes from full speed to a screeching halt in a matter of seconds. Or when your child’s school gets placed on lockdown and all you get is a notification from the media. Or when the credit card bill statements come in larger than expected. Or when the doctor’s office leaves a message that the doctor wants to deliver test results in person. These are anxious moments and it is normal to feel apprehensive about the next course of events.
But some people are anxious about nearly everything. An ordinary conversation about where to go for dinner sparks fretfulness over who will and won’t be there. A regularly scheduled annual visit to a doctor expands to concern that cancer will be discovered. A routine phone call from a boss strikes fears that termination is emanating. This type of anxiety produces intense feelings of fear which can greatly impair decision making.
Having it is one thing, but living with a person who has it can be frustrating. So how can such attacks be handled?
- Keep fears at a distance. Allow the anxious person to express their fears but don’t absorb it. Think of their fear as beading up like water off a duck’s back. Because of the oily feathers, it just rolls right off without penetrating.
- Don’t add to the worry. Remember that the anxious person’s fear does not need to spread. When others give the nervousness weight, it can grow to a size much larger than anticipated. Don’t feed it.
- Express boundaries. Don’t be afraid to insert a boundary when the anxious person is speaking. For example, “This is not the time for this discussion,” or “Can we talk about this later this evening?” Boundaries give a chance for reflection before things get out of control.
- Step away. When the downward spiral of anxious thinking takes over in an obsessive manner, walk away. This will likely frustrate the anxious person but that is their share of the responsibility. Stepping away is self-care.
- Don’t replay. No matter how hard a person tries to get distance from the projected anxiety, a bit still seems to creep in. Allow for a few minutes of reflection but come to a decision quickly and then stop replaying the conversation.
- Use logic. Apply logic to the anxiety. Is it well-founded? Does any of it have merit? Keep the parts that do and discard the rest. Usually, there is an ounce of truth in each anxious attack so acknowledge that and place the rest aside.
- Find calm. After an anxious engagement, find some calm. A personal favorite of mine is going outside and breathing in a natural environment. There is something about nature that helps to put things into perspective and reset heightened senses.
- Don’t reengage. One observation about anxious people is that usually after the worry is expressed, they feel better while others feel worse. There is no need to rehash the moment if the anxious person is done. Leave it be or things might get more intense on the second go around.
- Understand anxiety. Some anxiety is a manifestation of a mental disorder, a learned behavior from a parent, a triggered trauma memory, an allergic reaction to food, an undiagnosed medical condition, an addiction, or unresolved depression/anger/guilt. The initial reasons for the restlessness may not be apparent and do require some expert opinion to properly diagnosis. Encourage the anxious person to see treatment. Some anxiety can be easily resolved.
There is always hope for the anxious person and those living with anxiety. Properly addressing the issue takes some time but is worth the effort in the end.