Stress and Anxiety
Stress: ‘Mental, emotional or physical strain cause often by anxiety or overwork’
Anxiety: ‘nervousness or agitation, often about something that is going to happen’
Compulsion: ‘the strong wish to do a particular thing, especially if the wish is unnecessarily or unhealthily strong’
Stress is word we commonly use to indicate a build up of tension. But what do we really mean by this term? It has become a cover-all definition for discontent, we may say ‘if it weren’t for the strains of modern life then I wouldn’t feel this way’ knowing that ‘a good holiday’ will resolve this. We may be signed-off with stress from work. But is your GP being helpful because the real condition we are in is depressed or anxious? If so, this carries a stigma with it, it is seen as an ‘abnormal’ reaction. Fearing what others may say and the implications of having this on our medical notes, our GP opts for ‘stress’ – but the prescription will be the same; good rest and anti-depressants.
The question you may ask yourself is: Do you feel (or do others comment) that you give too much of yourself? The place of therapy is to discover how to take care of yourself whilst managing unavoidable life circumstances that have become overwhelming. What we are experiencing results from a weak-spot in our belief system. At some level you are compelled to Be Strong – the result is overdoing, taking on responsibilities because you ‘have to’, because ‘if I don’t do it no-one else will’. The hardest thing for ‘over-doers’ can be to value is a simple sense of being – to realise that just sitting still is equally as valuable as achievement; so you may have become achievement-oriented to a degree that is self-defeating.
When the ‘must-do’s’ of life seem to have taken over, we might call this ‘mustabation’. Principles, duty and commitment have become muddled with guilt; the result is neglect of yourself. You may be left with a feeling of resentment, having given too much of yourself without realising it (carers and mothers as well as employees). Or you may enjoy your role, your work but feel a poverty in other areas of life. Relationships go undernourished, the need for relaxation is ignored or cannot be justified when ‘there is so much to do’.
I have been working with people who identify with these problems for 9 years in private practice. Before this I worked for 5 years with anxiety and depression in Community Mental Health settings. In therapy you can discover the ways in which you put yourself under unnecessary strain, where you fill in the gaps where others might or should be helping. Driven by an internal force of which you are unaware you ‘Rescue’ the situation or other people. This may be fuelled by a ‘need to be needed’. In so doing we diminish other’s capacity to take charge whilst simultaneously feeling victimised by other’s apparent neediness.
Letting go of this can take place when the relationship with the therapist gives you permission to delegate responsibility – just because you feel accountable doesn’t mean you actually are accountable.
You can make sense of the roots of these drives and gain insight into the ‘payoffs’, and examine whether these gains are truly worth the price to you. You can learn to distinguish between pleasing others and pleasing yourself and become more self-directed. You can learn to prioritize, to attach importance to things of your own choice, and to make sacrifices only when there is a real necessity to do so.