As a therapist, I often work with many clients who live with anxiety. That should come as no surprise as anxiety disorders are among some of the most common mental health conditions, especially in the United States. Around 40 million people deal with an anxiety condition annually. One question that comes up from time to time is, “is my anxiety genetic?”
We’re in a golden age of tracking: We track our steps, our sleep, our time on Facebook and other sites we deem “productivity killers” (looking at you, Instagram). But one thing we still don’t track or think about much: the amount of time we spend worrying.
You know the problems that come with over-scheduling yourself, but you do it anyway. And so you’re stressed, and you’re exhausted. All the competition for your time is manifesting into more anxiety, but you have little time to reflect on what you want and what you need to stay well.
If you want to ease your chronic unrelenting stress, then, “be less busy” is the obvious answer — but it’s an annoyingly unattainable one. After all, if you could just knock things off your to-do list to make time for an afternoon of reading by the fire, wouldn’t you be doing that already?
Your friend comes over after a bad day. Huffing and puffing, he brings it all to you: His boss was a jerk, he accidentally deleted his presentation, and spilled coffee on a new white shirt. Suddenly, you find yourself tense, even though you were having a relaxed day.
There’s a name for the phenomenon of stress spreading: second-hand anxiety. Second-hand anxiety, or second-hand stress, is not a psychological diagnosis, illness, or disorder. It is, rather, a neurological phenomenon that refers to the way emotions spread.
Understanding how second-hand anxiety works not only teaches us more about the social nature of emotions, but can also help us keep our cool when other people’s negative emotions overwhelm us.
In my practice, I see many clients who grew up in very anxious families. Parents may have suffered from generalized anxiety, social anxiety, agoraphobia, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Often, these parents were never formally diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and it’s only after the fact, during adulthood, that clients are able to recognize and understand how anxious their parents were — and how it has affected their mental health, both during childhood and into adulthood.
I approach the holidays with a sense of trepidation every year. I get to our large annual family Christmas gathering and struggle with the small talk and the added attention in brings. How is the job going? What have you been doing the last year? How do you like the city? What have you been writing? Are you dating anyone? Oh no. The way I stutter and stammer and try to hide in a corner with just the baked goods for company, I may as well be the grinch.
While I love the festive spirit, getting to see family and friends who live far away, and picking out gifts for everyone I love, there’s no denying my anxiety can outshine all the holiday cheer. Enter the difficult combination of social anxiety and the holidays. Continue reading 9 Ways To Manage Social Anxiety During The Holidays
1. I want to be strong, but I can’t.
On the days when I was really struggling, I simply could not muster up the strength to even get out of bed. I would for fear that you would resent me. I wanted so badly to be the man you needed, but I was broken and I had no clue how to fix myself.
2. When you cry, it destroys me.
On the days when you could no longer handle the person I had become and broke down, my heart broke into a thousand different pieces. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I was empty inside. Continue reading 12 Things I Wish I Could Have Said to My Fiancé When I Was Crushed by Anxiety
How many trips does it take to remember that packing only hours before a flight is an anxiety trigger? At least one more, I guess, because there I was, stuffing clothes into my suitcase and sporadically scanning a list of items I needed to bring.
The feeling that I must be forgetting something carried over to the wee hours of the morning when I opened my phone to call a taxi. Confirming the ride only made the anxiety come on stronger. In a few minutes I’d be out the door and out of luck if I had indeed forgotten something.
Waiting at the gate, I was mentally bouncing back and forth between what I could have left and the problems that could come up during travel. Would I arrive OK? Would there be delays? Will I miss my connection? Will there be taxis available if I arrive late? Am I going to get stuck next to somebody who snores on the plane?
The questions of worry flowed freely through my mind. Continue reading How I Finally Learned to Manage My Anxiety While Traveling
Braving crowded stores to find the perfect gifts, family gatherings with relatives from far flung places you see only once a year, busy irregular schedules and traveling and decorating and wrapping presents and preparing food, and, of course, don’t forget the office holiday party.
’Tis the season…to be anxious.
With all these holiday activities to worry about, for many people, an office party may seem like a blip on the radar, approached with a combination of obligation, resignation, and for some, maybe even a little excitement. But if you live with anxiety, work holiday parties are probably high on the list of seasonal stressors. And you’re definitely not alone. Continue reading Holiday Anxiety: 5 Tips for Surviving Office Holiday Parties
It’s hard to have social anxiety. You feel like everyone is judging you, and you’re frequently uncomfortable in your own skin. It can also be difficult to date someone who suffers from social anxiety. Sometimes it can seem like your life is being constricted in ways you didn’t sign up for, and that issue can lead to resentment and irritation. Here are some tips to keep in mind when your partner has social anxiety, so the relationship can withstand the pressure of this disorder.
1. Try Hard to Empathize With Your Partner
You may not have social anxiety, but do you have any other issues you wish you didn’t have, or that you are actively working on improving? Most people wish they were different in some way or other. For instance, if you struggle with ADHD, it is useful to compare the conditions in your mind, saying, “I don’t try to forget things, and my partner isn’t trying to be scared of social situations. We both struggle.” Continue reading Dating Someone With Social Anxiety: 6 Tips from a Therapist