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How to handle anxiety and big emotions related to changes that life brings unexpectedly

July 29, 2019

Written by Jay Reed, MSW, LCSW-QS


Several years ago I was working with a young teenager who was struggling with anxiety. She had experienced several big changes and was finding it hard to develop ways to manage her new normal. I clearly remember one of our discussions about change. We had spent a great deal of time talking about and processing change which lead her to ask me “would it really be so bad if nothing ever changed?” Well, honestly yes! I had told her that change is one consistent reminder that we are alive. It is constant and change, no matter how hard is necessary. I can appreciate her anxiety, in fact I understand her anxiety about change.

According to the Association of Anxiety and Depression roughly 40 million adults in America deal with anxiety. In fact it is the MOST common mental health diagnosis in America. I am not surprised by these numbers, because the majority of people I work with have experienced anxiety. The AAD also reports that only 36% of people seek treatment. What!!! How can that be? Well simply put it’s the shame and stigma about anxiety that prevents us from seeking help.

Much like my young client, many adults battle with the constant sense of anxiety because life is always changing. Many of the people I work with are dismissive about how they ended up anxious, often telling me “it came out of no where!” Heck no it did not! Anxiety is there, hiding in the background as we navigate through life. Can you remember a time you felt nervous about a new job? Or excited to go on a first date? Raise your hand if you were anxious the first time you met your future in laws?! Anxiety is there, playing it’s part in your life; but how does anxiety become unhealthy? Or so disruptive?

Well, anxiety takes root in our fears about the worst possible outcomes. We quickly become worried about our future. Our sense of control takes a hold and BAM anxiety has its prefect storm. Anxiety can drive any sane, rationale person into a full blown panic attack. When we become hypersensitive to these constant changes we become anxious. The constant changes, both good and bad create for most people a sense of unease. Change for most people equals no control. Anxious people crave control. I often recommend structure and routine for my anxious clients. I encourage them to create a sense of control where they can, so they feel better quipped to handle that which they cannot control. There is very little in life we can control, this is usually where the battle lies when navigating anxiety. When we are feeling anxious we often try to control the things we cannot change. The serenity prayer comes to mind here; accepting the things we can change and things we cannot while knowing the difference.

Anxiety is no match for insight and self awareness. When we become in touch with ourselves, accepting that we can only control so much we lower the expectations we put on ourselves. Understanding that anxiety only has the control you allow it to have. Life will always change, that’s the beauty of it. Many years ago a wiser person told me “the bad news is nothing ever stays the same, but the good news is nothing ever stays the same.” This storm will pass, the anxiety can diminish and you can learn how to embrace life’s changes. 

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