In the 30 years I have been a psychologist in Brisbane and now in Toowoomba, by far the most common issue people come to therapy for is anxiety.
Typically, these people are:
So then why are they seeing me, a psychologist?
Truth is, they're exhausted. You try being all these things all the time and see how you feel! Seriously though, they are often tired. Really tired. Being reliable, hard working, well organized and available to people is exhausting. They don't complain (well, not often, and if they do they soon apologise and get back to work) so others assume they like doing all this work, at work, at home, in the community, for the family...
And they do like it, but after a while, it can become exhausting.
When inevitably they start to show signs of weariness, anxious people do their utmost to keep it a secret. No one must know that they can't perform like they would like to. And so the cycle of being there for everyone continues until symptoms of anxiety begin to interfere with daily living.
Symptoms like feeling really tired with aches and pains. Or trouble sleeping as their poor tired brains try to figure out a way of keeping people happy, even though they can't keep up with all that's being asked of them (or they're doing it just because no one else will). The anxious person might start to become reluctant to go out. They might prefer sitting on the couch.
Small cracks will begin to appear in their otherwise happy, generous disposition. You might notice small, uncharacteristic outburts linked to seemingly small issues like 'who forgot to pick up the dry cleaning?' or 'who let the dog in the house?'.
In rare moments when they are still, the anxious person might notice a tightness in their chest, or pins and needles in their arms, or a queasy stomach, and more often than not, a growing inability to focus conversations at hand.
And here's the kicker: if they continue to ignore these symptoms and continue the behaviour that's aggravating it, their anxiety will continue to get worse.
Sleeping and eating may be the first and often worst areas affected. Their once sunny positive disposition has now turned to irritable and impatient. Control becomes a key coping strategy as they try to gain back some semblance of being able to juggle everything perfectly. They will want to control the smallest aspects of everyone around them, and yet they'll continue to feel the control slipping thought their fingers.
And so the tiredness grows and the chaos increases.
If the anxious person continues to keep their anxiety a secret, they may then begin to experience moments or periods of panic.
It's at this point that I will see anxious clients, when things have turned to sh#t. And then, with a bit of help and luck, they begin again to see the light.
Research indicates that anxiety is highly treatable. It's surprising how soon clients report improvement in a few sessions as they take time out to reflect on their current coping strategies and how these may be adding to their problems and not helping them.
Anxious people need to learn not only how to have down time, but that it is necessary to do so. They need to learn that they don't have to be there for everyone at the expense of their own needs. They need too, to learn what their own needs are.
So good are anxious people at meeting the needs of others, they often know your needs before you do. They have paid scant attention to their own inner life and wants, and this is one of the changes that must be addressed. They need to learn how to say 'no'. Saying no from time to time is essential. Anxious people need to learn that it's ok to make the occasional wave. Even better, they need to learn that it's ok to be angry, or get angry when others fail them. It's not ok to be abusive or violent, of course, but it's ok to say, 'not happy, Jan.' The anxious need to learn that their bodies and minds crave rest, that the fight/flight switch has been turned on too long, and needs to be switched off, given some time to recharge.
So, in all, a word of advice: don't whatever you do wait until things become unbearable!
Clive Williams PhD