Myth #1. You can tell when someone is anxious.
Ironically, people experiencing anxiety can look perfectly calm. The image of someone hyperventilating and breathing into a paper bag does not always mesh with the reality of anxiety. Anxiety can be felt internally without showing on the outside. People can hide a panic attack in a variety of ways and with various remedies.
Divorce often brings on intense anxiety. The fear of the unknown or an unwanted situation can bring up new emotions and physical symptoms that you have never experienced before. It is important to share how you are feeling with your friends, family, your physician, and a licensed therapist. There are ways to support you through this challenging time—the key is open communication.
A racing heart and tightness in the chest is scary, but even a trained observer may not notice what you are experiencing unless you share. The same is true of other symptoms of anxiety, such as feeling dizzy of nauseous. Other noticeable symptoms are sweating or blushing, but you may not realize them as indicators of anxiety..A core part of anxiety may involve thoughts such as “I’m going to die,” or “I’m going crazy,” or “I sound stupid.” Unless these thoughts are vocalized, those around you will not know how to help you.
People’s behavior can vary greatly from day to day or moment to moment. They can feel they are handling their divorce well, and suddenly become emotionally overwhelmed. The most important factor to someone experiencing anxiety or a panic attack is that they need to feel safe.
Myth #3. If someone is anxious, you should try to calm them down.
When someone you care about is experience anxiety, the knee-jerk response is to say, “Relax— it’s going to be okay.” Unfortunately, this reaction can backfire in a couple of ways. This comment can feel diminishing, and the person is likely to feel that you haven’t heard or understood them. Secondly, it’s difficult to relax on command. If it were easy, the person would have already done so.
Another well-meaning, but unhelpful thing to say is, “Have you tried yoga?” or, “How about meditation?” While yoga or meditation can help many people, sometimes people with anxiety have difficulties with these activities, particularly meditation. The act of “letting go” or “focusing on your breath” without a lot of personal guidance can make some people feel more stressed, out of control, or even worse. This lack of focus can be especially intense during the overwhelm experienced in divorce.
Most adults recognize the physical manifestations of anxiety such as increased heart rate, sweating, gastrointestinal distress, muscle tension, and throat tightness. People don’t often realize that difficulties with focus, memory, sleep and relationships can all be related to anxiety. Anxiety can be very intense but it is highly treatable.
Myth #4. People with anxiety are weak.
Some of the most successful people struggle with anxiety as they process the stress of dissolution and changes within their family. They get up every day and face the future, even while feeling fear of the unknown.
“When we face our fears, we are able to pursue the life we want. Working with a therapist will involve treatment that is more nuanced, but people with anxiety are anything but weak. They are actually quite brave.”Leah Hill – Founder and CEO, Divorce Strategies NW
In addition to just dealing with their divorce, part of effective treatment involves gradually handling the situations that cause you anxiety. Facing anxiety and fears can rewire the messaging in your brain that brings up old traumas, causing anxiety and pain. This is why people who are afraid of heights go up in tall buildings. People who are afraid of rejection ask others out for a date. People who are afraid to be alone make hard choice(s) and leave an abusive relationship.
When we face our fears, we are able to pursue the life we want. Working with a therapist will involve treatment that is more nuanced, but people with anxiety are anything but weak. They are actually quite brave.
Myth #5. Anxiety is not a big deal.
We’ve all felt anxious at one time or another, making us think that we know what someone else is feeling. A major decision like divorce will bring anxiety out in even the most even-keeled person. Preventing your anxiety from hurting your relationships requires noticing and acknowledging anxiety before it turns into anger. Once you “catch” yourself, you can choose to either temporarily distance yourself and use a calming strategy on your own, or share those feelings with the people in your surroundings.
Having a diagnosed anxiety disorder is different than feeling stressed or nervous from time to time. Having an anxiety disorder means that anxiety is impacting your life. You may be avoiding things you need or want to do because of anxiety, and worry about when a wave of anxiety may engulf you. Try reducing your tasks, schedule specific times when you will complete specific tasks, and give yourself breaks about every 45 minutes. Be kind to yourself, accepting that it is completely normal for your function to be compromised during this stressful time in your life. Try to resist judging yourself and feeling shame if you feel out of control.
Divorce can bring on anxiety and fear, as your whole life is shifting and changing. When you share your thoughts and emotions with others, don’t be afraid to expose your vulnerability. If you have anxiety, or know someone who does, seek help from a licensed professional who can support you in your journey toward emotional freedom in life.
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