Recently, I was having a discussion and the topic of anxiety came up. The context of the conversation surrounded around anxiety and loneliness. The conversation went back and forth from reasons people feel anxious, to how most people are so anxious they end up becoming lonely. However, before we dive deeper into the details from this conversation allow me to establish an understanding of what anxiety is and what it feels like.
Have you ever felt an emotion that carried a strong tension with it? Such as a strong feeling of worries or intrusive thoughts that you couldn’t help but feel tormented by? Have you ever experienced physical changes like heart pounding, sweating, or headaches during an anxiety episode? Whatever the case, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America you may be one of the 40 million American adults who suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
Is loneliness causing your anxiety?
When it comes to anxiety one of the key components that is often overlooked is loneliness. According to a Cigna Health study nearly 50% of all Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone. Loneliness can often be at the center of someone who is struggling with anxiety. What is ironic, even though a person may experience such intense feelings of emptiness, often times they are not alone in their external environment. Many times family and friends are within their immediate environment, providing moments of distraction from the emptiness; despite the desire to connect, feelings of worry and disconnection conquer most moments.
It may seem crazy to think that a person can have family and friends around them, yet feel alone or abandoned. Excessive worry coupled with loneliness causes exactly that; a person to feel empty, alone, and abandoned. When someone is in this state of mind it makes it difficult for them to connect with other individuals, even though there is a strong desire for human contact.
Contributing factors to my anxiety and loneliness
There are many contributing factors for challenges with anxiety; this can show up as difficulty concentrating, experienced restlessness, and racing or unwanted thoughts. These are just a few of the symptoms that someone may experience. Each person may have a slight difference in expression, however, one thing that is central is the belief that if the problem were relieved then comfort would be received. If you’re like me you might be asking yourself, I wonder what this looks like in real life?
A typical situation involves a person struggling emotionally with an issue like intrusive thoughts; thoughts that are laced with content like… I always (blank)… or if only (blank) were different I would… These types of thoughts hijack a person’s mood, making them irritable, easily frustrated, and snappy, which can lead to more anxiety.
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety, here are a few questions to ask yourself to begin unhooking yourself from being emotionally hijacked.
- What is triggering my anxiety?
- What is one thing that I can control RIGHT NOW?
- Is this a life or death emergency?
- What can I use to anchor me in the present moment?
Projections into the future
If there were a way to magically take away anxiety from the world and allow those affected to reclaim their lives. I’m sure a lot of people would be relieved, however, that is not the world we live in today. In today’s world many of us are struggling with some form of anxiety. One of the chief reasons for the challenge is people are making projections into the future.
There are so many of us struggling with things that have not yet happened; we worry excessively about the future, what it entails, and the future problems that will arise. When we make these projections into the future, it takes us out of the current moment and projects future problems into your current circumstance. The present moment is already challenging enough. If we could learn to pay attention to our emotions in the moment, and effectively address whatever is there we’d have an easier time at managing our anxiety.
There are many tools that help with alleviating anxiety and loneliness. One of my top suggestions would be to learn effective coping skills like physical exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation exercises. Roughly one fifth of all Americans are dealing with some form of anxiety, however, many of us do not possess the tools to effectively manage it. Below are a few tools that I use with my clients to help orient them to the present moment. All the while developing the tools necessary to manage each decision with a conscious approach.
Tools to use
White space is a term that I don’t remember where I acquired its name, but I consistently use it and reference it. White space is the point between stimulus and response. Basically it is the point between something happening and the response time, the response time would be considered white space. The more white space you create the better your response to the situation. Here is an example. There are two people driving in separate cars on the freeway. In car number one the person is driving a sports car and soaring at speeds above 90 miles per hour. In car number two the person is driving in a minivan at a cruising speed of 70 miles per hour.
Both individuals have their cell phones on their lap and receive a text message at the same time. What they don’t realize is that they’re approaching a traffic jam. Each person looks down at their phones, by the time they look up they are forced to quickly react to oncoming traffic. The time between looking up from the phone and reacting to the traffic is considered white space. The person with more white space will have more options as it pertains to responding to the traffic jam. As we play out the scenario from above, the person driving the minivan would have more white space than the person driving in the sports car.
The goal of this example is to recognize that we can all benefit from utilizing white space. There are many times our emotions get the best of us. Taking time to think about the situation, or process the information prior to reacting will greatly increase your chances of a successful interaction.
Mindfulness is a very effective tool in managing anxiety and loneliness. The goal of mindfulness is to have a heightened awareness of the current moment; being fully engaged in whatever is happening in the Now. There are many people who lack awareness of what needs changing in their lives. Mindfulness is the tool that allows you to identify the problem. Identifying the problem is just the start, mindfulness will also help to manage the problem by first regulating your emotions. In order to handle the things going on in your external world, you must first be able to manage your internal world.
We do not have to continue struggling with loneliness or anxiety alone there is help. Tools can be learned to manage difficult emotions and stressful situations that arise. Remember when we make projections into the future it causes anxiety, because at the root of the anxiety is a desire for control. We don’t always have control of our future, but we do have control of our present moment. Learning to manage the present moment will allow us to manage our future experiences.
If you or someone you know is tired of struggling with anxiety and wants to regain living a vibrant life, filled with purpose and calmness. Please, reach out to us at Hope Avenue Counseling Services we’d love to help guide you in your transformation.