Identifying Sources of Anxiety

As night falls and the world slows down, anxiety sneaks up on me like a bridge troll.

“You’re a bad person!” The bridge troll screams, “You make all your friends sad! People think you’re rude and insensitive and STUPID! Everyone is still thinking about that dumb thing you said six hours ago!” 

I’ll be relaxing with my husband and doggies in the evening, sipping a glass of wine and generally enjoying myself, when it’ll hit me. Suddenly, I’m seized with anxiety.

Three million American adults struggle with the same bridge troll. What a jerk.

What gives me anxiety? What gives me joy?

Many things in my life give me joy: listening to music with my husband, walking our doggies, playing the guitar or the piano, singing, writing, spending time with friends, and lacing up my hiking boots for a forest adventure.

One thing gives me anxiety: other people.

Friendships and family bonds can be an incredible source of joy and connectivity in our lives, but they can also be a source of sadness, frustration, and yes, worry.

I worry about the impact I have on others.

I worry that I don’t make other people feel good. That I don’t make other people feel heard. And sometimes I make mistakes where the other person, in fact, doesn’t feel heard or supported.

All I can do is vow to behave differently next time – to enact concrete steps to do better  – to keep track of what kind of person I want to grow into. And still, I fail.

The true source

If my anxiety is focused on the people in my life, does that mean that people cause my anxiety?

You would think. But no. Not really.

My friends, my family members, my colleagues… don’t actually have anything to do with my anxiety.

My anxiety stems from myself. It stems from my self-talk. It stems from assumptions. From not having control over past actions and current opinions.

Look, I could feel super anxious every time I use a toaster. I could cower when the toast dramatically pops up. I could blame my feelings on the toaster.

But the toaster is just being a toaster.

And my friends are just being my friends. My family is just being my family. And I am just being myself.

Questioning my Anxious Thoughts

I have a Benjamin Franklin streak in me, which makes me consider everything I’ve done and judge my own actions.

The bridge troll says, “You said something negative. That means you’re a negative person. This is a fixed part of your character that you cannot escape.”

The healthy mind says, “You’re typically positive and joyful. You feel bad about this because negativity is not a part of your character. It’s okay – just stay on the positive side so you can lift people up.”

So what makes you anxious? What happens when you zero-in on your anxiety triggers? Is it something you can avoid (like alcohol) or something you really can’t (like family)? How do you handle it? Do you re-frame it in any way?