Trapped by anxiety
Have you ever tried to explain why you can’t get on a flight to someone who doesn’t understand? Or tried to get out of going to a party because the thought of being in a group or talking with strangers is overwhelming? Ever felt that your world is getting smaller and smaller because you are limited by what your anxiety will ‘let’ you do?
Anxiety can affect people in so many different ways and can take many forms. The type I’m discussing in this article is this kind of life-limiting, self-defining anxiety which stops you living the life you want to live. Sometimes you want to do something more than anything else in the world, but you feel paralysed by the fear of what could happen or whether you would cope. That can be so difficult to explain to loved ones, as often logic gets involved (“you know it’s safer to fly than to drive” – sound familiar?). But anxiety isn’t logical; you can’t reason yourself out of feeling the way you do. You may not understand yourself why you feel that way, let alone be able to explain it to someone else, and that can be really difficult and can cause tension in your relationships.
Anxiety can be totally debilitating and isolating, and it has a tendency to feed into itself. So, maybe you had a panic attack and now you fear having another one, so you are having anxiety about the sensation of having anxiety. A really common and natural reaction to this is to avoid situations where this has happened, and if it happens again more situations become ‘out of bounds’. This is how your world starts shrinking, because in your desperation to avoid feeling those horrible feelings of anxiety, you create more and more ‘rules’ for yourself to live by, i.e. ‘I must walk the long way home’, ‘I will never go there again’ or even ‘I can’t leave the house’. It’s a way of trying to feel safe and secure, which are very important feelings to have. These rules to live by can be a way of being in control when a part of our lives feels out of control. It’s understandable then that if someone says in effect ‘forget your rule, come and do x with me’ that they may as well be asking you to fly to Mars because that rule has been an essential cornerstone in making your world feel safe.
This is where counselling can help because our rules for living are often managing the immediate emotion without understanding why we feel we need those rules in the first place. Through counselling, we can explore together what those rules are protecting you from, and gently question whether you actually need that protection. We can also look at the themes of safety and security and where those feelings were present or absent growing up. Through finding what else safety can look like to you, you may feel less reliant on those rules to feel safe, which in turn also feeds into itself as your confidence grows and your beliefs about what you are capable of also expand.
It can feel like there is no hope for change but I can tell you that change is possible: whether that’s coming to terms with living with anxiety (which paradoxically can reduce anxiety), to expanding your world just a little bit so that the day to day becomes easier, to even doing that thing that you never dreamed you could. Maybe your first step is to find a counsellor to walk this journey through with you because how things are now doesn’t have to be your future.