Change, even welcomed, can be a trigger for stress and anxiety.
Read on for strategies to help you cope.
We are in a state of rapid change and uncertainty and, even if welcomed, change is often met with anxiety. Learning how to address and manage your anxiety are important tools to cultivate but, before we can get into management tactics, I’d like to shed some light on how I conceptualize what anxiety even is. Anxiety is fear.
Fear of the unknown, the intangible, the things that do not exist in our present environment. Anxiety is fear of things that we hold in our minds like imagined scenarios that have yet to play out in real life.
To understand and learn how to manage your anxiety, you want to start by identifying the underlying root of your fear. We can do this by “unpacking” your anxiety.
Here’s an example of what that might look like:
- Identify the surface level thought or worry: I’m so stressed about going back into the office.
- Ask yourself why you’re stressed: I’m stressed about going back into the office because I’ve gotten used to the extra time that I’ve been able to spend with my partner at home and we’ve gotten much closer in our relationship.
- Understanding the underlying fear: This extra time has brought us closer in our relationship, and I’m scared that losing the time together will mean losing a part of our connection.
Notice that the core, underlying fear is really about the relationship and a fear of losing connection. When you understand what the underlying fear is, you can address the root of the problem rather than spinning your wheels ruminating about the surface level anxiety. In terms of problem solving, you can take mindful steps to maintain your connection, make time for each other in other ways as you adjust to new change.
In reflecting on the moment we’re in right now, we know this: the world is going to change, to open back-up, to return to a version of “normal” whether we’re ready or not, or whether we like it or not. We don’t have control over that fact, but we can choose how to adjust and adapt to those changes, and the narrative we tell ourselves as we do it.
As a therapist I’ve noted common themes in underlying fears over the course of this past year. I will share those themes with you below along with my advice on how to cope & begin to work through it.
Underlying Fear #1: Fear of Judgement
Fear of negative judgement or disapproval is one of the most common shared experiences and comes from a survival instinct that drives our desire to be accepted as part of the group (think safety in numbers). As stores/restaurants/things begin to open up, I’ve noticed three main categories in which people fall with regard to a fear of being judged.
In the first category, there are people who are excited to get back to their “normal” lives. They primarily fear judgement from friends and family (people they know on a more personal level) regarding “reckless” or insensitive actions as they jump back into social outings or more high risk of exposure activities.
The second group of people are those who are afraid to go back and are imagining the worst-case scenario, where none of the rules are abided and their health is in jeopardy. They fear being judged by employers or society as being too extreme or too cautious, often feeling alienated in their attempt to balance maintaining boundaries and self-preservation.
And the last category are people who are on the fence about this situation, they are feeling mixed emotions.
In all three cases, it’s important to remember that we all inherently judge constantly (that is how humans interpret the world and determine what is safe and what is not). So when you are preoccupied by fears of judgment, ask yourself this: Who’s opinion really matters?
Know that it’s human nature to want to be part of the group but also know that we are in times where people can disapprove, feel disappointed, and disagree AND still be okay.
You can tolerate not having those people’s approval all of the time. The answer to this question relies on your OWN opinion, and what’s important to you.
Underlying Fear #2: Fear of Losing Alone Time With My Family
Whether you are parents of adult children who have come back home during the pandemic, or have simply been enjoying the additional quality time you have everyday with your family, going back to a busy and hectic routine can trigger feelings of loss and activate underlying anxieties about abandonment and rejection.
My advice to you is to appreciate what you have now and what you have learned during this past year. Be present with what you have as you re-introduce some balance to your life and begin adding in more people and activities. It’s important to be aware that singular relationships, whether it’s a partner, a parent/child, a friend, are not meant to take on every role in your life and fulfill all of your needs.
Underlying Fear #3: Fear Around the Idea of Creating A New Routine
I understand that this routine you are currently living with has been one that took you a lot of effort and time to get accustomed to. And it feels like just when you get acclimated to it, it’s time to change it up again.
My advice to you is to slowly start now by rebuilding those routines that served your different needs, pre-pandemic. By making this conscious effort now, you will minimize the potential for the spike in anxiety levels when an entirely new routine is thrown at you.
Underlying Fear #4: Fear of Going Back to Work In Person
For many of us, our employers quickly sent us home at the start of the pandemic leaving us to fend for ourselves in terms of best practices for working remotely. Now that you may finally have a comfortable work-from-home setup, you might be dealing with anxiety about going back to in-person workplaces.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about all of the added tasks & formalities that need to get accomplished once you’re back in a different work environment my advice is to take a second, and think of what you can do now. Again, notice that we often become preoccupied with future tasks or scenarios that are not yet even options. If there is an actionable step that you can take right now, go ahead and make some progress, but allow yourself to let go of the steps that you’re holding in your mind for the future. You can write them down as a process of decluttering your mind and allow yourself to feel free of what you cannot change or impact right now.
Underlying Fear #5: Fear Around Anything Else
Here’s something important for you to remember whenever you are feeling anxious: YOU have the power to reframe highly anxiety provoking situations as opportunities to grow. Recognize that the discomfort that may (or may not) arise in this situation of “going back to normal” IS survivable. You can tolerate it, and, maybe even come out the other side stronger and more capable.
A great goal would be to allow yourself the time for this mental health check-in, and to conduct this introspective activity of unpacking your anxieties. Then, you can begin to understand where those fears lie, and how you can address them.
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