I lie awake at night for hours fretting over the day ahead. What can I do to regain control of my life?
PROBLEM: I’ve always been somewhat nervous before beginning new things and I think this is not uncommon. Since I was young, I have found attempting anything outside of my comfort zone a challenge. Anything that involved new or previously unseen elements left me a nervous wreck.
As you can imagine, my social life growing up was not easy, as I would feel crippling anxiety before going to parties, or on trips away or in the lead-up to exams. I felt this got easier in my early 20s, when everything was so new all the time I had no choice but to just go with it.
But now I find myself reverting to a state of panic much worse than ever before. I lie awake at night for hours fretting about the day ahead because of my fear of what I have to do come daylight. When I do eventually wake up the next day, I have to undergo a brutal inner battle with myself about whether to leave bed and face my responsibilities or not. I question whether I could just avoid having to deal with everything ahead by hiding away at home.
I normally do win the battle and face my day, but lately I’ve been finding it harder and harder to see why leaving is the better choice when the anxiety involved is so horrible. I find myself in a constant state of panic and fear thinking about what I have to do. What can I do to get control of my life again?
ADVICE: Anxiety seems to have taken over your life. There seems to have been a long, steady progress to your current elevated state. Dealing with this situation will require a many-pronged approach, and my guess is that it will take some time to reach a stage where you will wake up feeling good.
At the moment you sound almost paralysed with the fear of the approaching day. Maybe you would benefit from a trip to your GP to see if there is some help you could get while you initiate the many things that will help you gain control of your life.
You were not born full of fear; all of us were born full of confidence and motivation, but slowly we picked up on comments and had experiences that led us to believe that we need to protect ourselves from many aspects of life. Gradually we can come to think that this version of ourselves is the real thing, and we try to mask this self to the outside world by pretending that we are okay.
This is exhausting. As we become more burned-out, we can only manage short exposure to the world before retreating to our safe place, often our home or our bedrooms. Becoming better at this is akin to torture. You sound as though you have finally had enough and now want to become free of these fears.
This anxiety needs to be tackled in the mental, emotional and social spheres of your life. Your fears are supported by beliefs and self-commentary that are negative, persistent and untrue. CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) has a proven track record in tackling these damaging thoughts, and you might benefit from some sessions with a psychotherapist or from looking up the many supportive CBT sites online.
Emotionally, fear creates a reaction in us that is primitive. We all know of the flight, fight or freeze response, and in your situation this flight response has become chronic; it is a reaction way beyond the need of the situation. You need to learn how to bring your physiological response to a calm place when it is over-reacting.
Mindfulness, meditation and yoga have all developed quieting techniques that have been 5,000 years in the making. The concepts behind these traditions are simple, yet the practices are difficult, so participating and learning with a group is strongly advised. The effects are slow-burning, so give yourself a year of practice before evaluating your success.
Anxiety and fear make us back away from social situations due to the fear of exposure, but the loss of support and comfort from others is not one you can afford to dismiss.
Everyone knows what it is like to be trapped in fear. By sharing your experiences with people you trust, you will garner sympathy and the push you need to engage with life again. Being honest and taking the risk of trusting others is a good first step in tackling the blocks to your confidence. Creating that closeness and connection will benefit everyone.
Anxiety is one of the biggest issues we are facing in our world. When you emerge from your cocoon, you will find that there is experience, knowledge and support available to you from all quarters of your life.