Clients tell me various and sundry reasons for having anxiety. Some say, “I know you tell me I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier.” First, I eschew the word “should” and would never even tell them that. Second, what’s the point of condemning yourself to a worrier identity when it makes you miserable? The statement does no good and a lot of harm.
Clients say they’re anxious because:
- I don’t know what I’ll be doing this summer.
- My husband may be fooling around.
- I can’t fit into my clothes.
- I don’t know where I’ll move to when my lease is up.
- My family is angry at me for telling the police that my neighbor tried to molest me.
- It’s almost hurricane season (note: I live in Florida).
- I have a wedding to go to soon and people will see how much weight I’ve gained.
- My child is having trouble in school.
- I need to have surgery on my ankle.
- My mother is coming to stay with me for three weeks and we don’t get along.
You may decide that some of these situations are definitely worrisome. I understand: you’ve been trained to think that if something might hold a threat to you, you need to become anxious about it. Not true! For example, I was talking with a highly anxious client about her upcoming surgery which she shrugged off as being out of her control (so why worry), but she obsesses about getting a better job. Another client was frantic about his upcoming surgery but has changed jobs numerous times since I’ve been treating him and never once has expressed anxiety that he wouldn’t be able to find one.
Humans are programmed to automatically feel fear when in danger but not all of us experience fear in the same way or at the same things. Genetics aside (due to neurotransmitters), continuing to experience anxiety when we perceive a threat is a learned response. Some people have learned and habituated themselves to become anxious, believing they need to feel it and are powerless to stop. It hasn’t occurred to them to choose to feel another way when they’re fearful or uncertain: angry, amused, appalled, disappointed, curious, challenged, sad, excited, or indifferent. So, try this: Instead of feeling anxious, pick another feeling to experience, then problem-solve and plan how to handle a troublesome situation. Never tell yourself you feel anxious because of a situation. The problem isn’t in the event, but in your reaction to it.