My surprise was audible as I explored a research study documenting life events that clients labeled as “anxiety provoking.” Here is an article of similar content.
Yet, research points to marked anxiety arising from change that we might classify as positive. Of course, it is generally understood that anxiety surrounds life events such as financial hardship, death of a loved one, physical health concerns, and marital disagreements. However, it may be less obvious to consider the difficulties associated with events like the birth of a child, getting married, buying a house, going on a vacation, obtaining a promotion, and embarking on career change.
Ironically, the life events that could be considered “positive events” that would likely amount to future growth are also events that rank extraordinarily high on the study participants’ anxiety scales.
An interesting way to test this: Ask a friend, a family member, or a coworker to tell you about the most important memories of things that have happened to them. Maybe some of the responses will sound like, “I remember when I saw my son for the first time,” or “when I asked her to marry me, and she said yes, I was on top of the world.”
How can the events that mean the most to us also be the same events that cause us the most stress?
It turns out that all change involves stress and anxiety.
Let’s dive into this a little further…
From the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, structure, routine, and ritual provided a sense of security within a world that was quite dangerous. Anxiety itself provided an adaptive framework to help keep human beings safe.
I explain this to my clients using the “Sabretooth Tiger” scenario. Imagine that you are a hunter-gatherer, and you are traveling with a team member looking for a new food source. Within your journey, you and your traveling companion witness a Sabretooth Tiger, an elite predator that poses a real threat to human existence. Our brain signals communication using neurotransmitters; we begin to take in more oxygen, our pupils dilate, our experience of pain lessens, and we become ready to engage, run away, or stop (flight, flight, or freeze).
At this point, you may be thinking, “Bob, Sabretooth Tigers don’t exist anymore.” Although you are correct, our old hardwiring for these instincts remains intact, providing the basis for our experience with anxiety.
So how does this show up today?
Here is how this presents within my work with clients. Much of my experience within the field is related to helping people with substance use disorders embark on the journey through recovery. Some would arrive in my office with a lack of awareness or surprise regarding the challenges that manifest during recovery. Taking steps toward change that could result in personal growth can be very anxiety provoking. I often hear the following themes in my clients’ self-talk: doubt, low self-worth, paralyzing fear, and hopelessness.
How can this information help you?
If you are encountering change and life events, feeling anxious is totally normal. Anxiety can present in our thoughts as negative self-talk, such as “I can’t do this” or “I am terrible.” Anxiety has a propensity to skew our thoughts and our perceptions and may be a barrier to learning new information.
In the therapy business, there is an old saying of “lean into the discomfort,” as it is often how the most incredible growth takes root. You are capable of change, and engaging in the change process ultimately promotes growth and resilience.
Contact Us to Connect with a Therapist
Come talk to us about your anxieties. Big or small, we are ready to help! At Greenway Therapy, we have multiple therapists who can guide you on your journey, provide resources, and support you.