Denver counselor Gideon Killion shares some insights about the impact of anxiety.
We all have moments of anxiety in certain situations, whether it’s a performance review at work or waiting to hear the results of a medical test. But for some of us, it goes beyond that, with anxiety showing up much more often and in more ordinary situations. When it does, this kind of anxiety can have a real impact on your relationships and work (not to mention your ability to enjoy life). If this sounds like it might be you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 18% of Americans over 18 have experienced the effects of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something that I have struggled with, so I know what it’s like. I’d to share with you some of the signs of anxiety to watch out for, as well as what you can do to get a handle on it.
Signs of anxiety to watch out for
Here are some of the most common signs that anxiety is interfering with your optimal functioning. One or two of these experiences could be due to other factors, but if you find that multiple items are relevant to you right now, anxiety could be the culprit.
Things to watch for at work:
- You have intrusive thoughts about your own shortcomings, in which any mistake becomes a catastrophe.
- You avoid normal interactions with people, such as by procrastinating on returning voicemails.
- You feel overwhelmed, “out of control,” or like you can’t cope with job expectations.
- You are extremely nervous about meetings, presentations, etc., to the point of having physical symptoms (such as nausea) or being unable to participate.
- You find yourself arriving late or leaving early in order to minimize the time spent at work.
Things to watch for in your close relationships:
- You feel annoyed by or suspicious of the other person with no particular trigger, or your reaction seems out of proportion to what the other person has done.
- You make excuses to be alone rather than with the other person (for example, saying that you don’t feel well or have to work late).
- You are rarely able to relax with your partner or have fun together.
- You are so focused on your own thoughts or worries that you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner.
- You have feelings of dread or pessimism about the relationship, even though it has previously felt stable and supportive.
If several of these descriptions apply to your experience in a relationship or at work, you may be seeing the side effects of anxiety.
Things that Don’t Help When You’re Anxious
It may be hard to know what to do when anxious feelings come up. These are a few of the most common — but also least effective— responses to anxiety.
Ignoring it: For many people, the natural tendency in trying to cope with anxious feelings is to minimize or deny the problem. You may find yourself hoping that anxiety symptoms will just go away on their own. What often happens, though, is that trying to ignore anxiety can make it worse—either more frequent or more intense.
Isolating: A common side effect of anxiety is self-consciousness. You may worry that you’re acting strangely around others (or that they will guess how anxious you’re feeling). Although trying to stay away from others provides a short-term solution to this problem, isolating yourself can make coping with anxiety more difficult in the long term.
Self-medicating: It’s tempting to use alcohol or drugs to take the edge off your anxiety symptoms, but they come with their own problems, like dependency. There are healthier ways to address the problem.
Handling anxiety on your own
If mild anxiety is having a negative effect on relationships or causing problems at work, you may be able to counter it simply by providing yourself with in-the-moment techniques to reduce anxiety right away. Here are a few things that can be immediately useful at times when you notice you are feeling anxious:
Count blue things. It sounds ridiculous, but this simple trick can be very effective in calming your nervous system. Look around the room and silently identify each thing you see that’s blue: “the spine of a blue book, a blue highlighter, two people wearing blue shirts.” This technique works because it tricks your brain into shifting gears and focusing on a cognitive task.
Listen to the ticking of a clock or analog watch. This has a soothing effect for most people because a clock ticks at about the same speed as your own normal resting heart rate. You don’t even need an actual clock or watch—a virtual one will do. Search for “ticking clock” on YouTube, or download an app like G Clock that replicates the sound of the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Engage in proprioceptive actions. Proprioception refers to your own physical sense of your body in relation to the things around it. Thus, any action that involves proprioceptive input can help to calm your nervous system. This can be as simple as chewing gum, or as complex as playing a ball game like basketball or football in which your body comes in contact with the ball. Other simple proprioceptive techniques include squeezing a stress ball, pushing your palms against a wall, or eating a crunchy food like pretzels.
Getting help with your anxiety
When your anxious feelings don’t respond to the simple techniques listed above, or if you feel so anxious most of the time that you’re having difficulty functioning in your normal work and home routines, it’s a good idea to get professional help. Anxiety can be treated through counseling as well as through medication, or both.
A medical doctor, like your primary care physician, or a psychiatrist, can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe medication. It can take a few tries to get the right medication and the right dose, and all medications can have side-effects, so it’s important to stay in contact with your doctor during this process.
Counseling is also an effective treatment for anxiety, for most people. Simply talking to a counselor on a regular basis can be helpful for some people, but the treatment can also include things like uncovering subconscious thoughts and feelings, challenging or defusing intrusive thoughts, or practicing mindfulness and relaxation skills. If you are wondering whether counseling might be able to help you with your anxiety, I would be honored to talk to you. Please contact me and we’ll set up a free, 30-minute consultation at one of my Denver counseling locations.
Anyone who has tried to change something big in life — such as giving up a bad habit, or starting a good one — knows that it isn’t easy. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, and a quick Google search will probably reveal plenty. But one thing that makes it harder is that we often do not see the whole picture. We do not see all the things that we get out of the status quo — things we would lose if change actually happened.
A while back, I was working with a couple in marriage counseling. The big problem in this couple’s relationship was the male partner’s alcohol addiction. His wife wanted him to quit drinking, and he said he wanted to quit, too. Yet over and over, she discovered that he had been drinking and lying about it. We met a number of times, talking about wounds from his past, poor self-esteem, and so on, but after a while, it became clear that under the surface, probably unconsciously, he did not want to change. Promising to change but not actually doing it was actually working well for him.
The costs of the status quo were obvious — pain, shame, fights, fear of losing the relationship. But the benefits of the status quo — and the costs of change — were not. Every time he wept and apologized, and promised to do better, his wife would flood him with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. She would tell him how much she believed in him, and how much good she saw in him. Now, obviously there is absolutely nothing wrong with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. But counter-intuitively, his pattern of alcohol addiction had become a very effective means of getting them. And on top of that, he got to keep drinking.
Now, I am certainly not saying that this was the reason for his addiction, or that the addiction ended when the whole picture came into focus. Overcoming substance addiction is usually a long and difficult road. But this man could not begin to walk down that road until both he and his wife saw what he was getting out of staying where he was.
One good reason you and your partner might need marriage counseling or couple counseling is that you have a issue you can’t agree on, or a problem you haven’t been able to solve. And no matter how many times you’ve gone around in circles with each other, having the same conversations or the same fights, it never gets much better. For many couples, these fights create emotional wounds that make it even more difficult to resolve the problem.
During therapy sessions with a marriage counselor or couple counselor, you and your partner will probably gain a deeper understanding of the pattern in which you are stuck. You will probably also learn more about the underlying, basic needs that you are both trying to meet through your relationship. And hopefully, in the process of learning these things, you and your partner will gain greater appreciation and empathy for each other.
Bottom line? If your marriage or relationship seems stuck, think about marriage counseling or couple counseling. Yes, it takes courage to admit you need some help, but isn’t your relationship worth it?