Sharon was a 45-year-old woman who led an idyllic life. Her husband had a good job, her children were healthy and they lived in a desirable neighborhood in a beautiful home. By her own description she was an introvert, but had a few good friends and enjoyed doing crafts and decorating. So why was she coming to see me?
Anxiety. Sharon was experiencing near-panic attacks almost daily—for no apparent reason. She couldn’t identify any real triggers. She led a healthy lifestyle – exercised daily and tried to get enough sleep. Nonetheless she was nearly crippled by an overwhelming sense of dread that accompanied her every move. Medication provided some relief, but not nearly enough.
This is a more common story than you might think. I see clients regularly who struggle with symptoms of anxiety, depression, binge-eating or trouble controlling their tempers. For all intents and purposes their lives are pretty stable – they take medication, they have support, and they have good jobs. And yet they are plagued by feelings they can’t seem to shake.
If you are stuck in your own mental health journey, here are some possible reasons why:
- You have unresolved trauma – when I ask people about their “trauma history” most of them say they have never experienced any. After all, not many of us have lived in war-torn countries or have been victims of violent crime. However, from a psychological perspective, the concept of trauma encompasses more than you might think. I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the future, but keep in mind that trauma can be a single event (such as witnessing a serious accident) or a chronic experience (such as being raised by a parent who is an alcoholic). Unresolved trauma can create problems for years and years – even if the brain doesn’t remember the details – the body does, and can cause us to react to even minor triggers as if they are big events. If you see yourself overreacting (road rage?) to minor offenses or experiencing symptoms of unexplained sadness, anxiety or fear, it would be worth exploring the possibility of unresolved trauma with the assistance of a qualified therapist.
- You are not getting enough quality sleep – I have experienced transient symptoms of anxiety for years without any real cause. Since I tend to do “all the right things,” I had long ago decided this was just something I’d have to live with. However, this past summer I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I was surprised to learn I was waking up 14 times every hour (a fairly mild case, though it sounds pretty disruptive to me!). I began treatment and was not surprised to find that my daytime sleepiness decreased dramatically. What did surprise me was a decrease in my anxiety symptoms. As a therapist I know that sleep impacts our mental health – what I didn’t realize was just how much. If you have any concerns about the quality of your sleep, please discuss this with your primary care doctor, because it may be impacting your mental health more than you realize.
- You are not exercising or eating right – I know, blah blah blah. I’m not even going to go into all the details, because you know I’m right. Poor diets (high in sugar and processed foods) and lack of movement make us feel like crap. No amount of medication in the world can provide all the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise regimen. If you want to feel better, you have to treat your body with the respect it deserves.
- You live in a toxic environment – I wish this scenario wasn’t as common as it is. However, the number of people I work with would take a nose dive if no one had to live in a toxic environment. If you have a spouse, boss, sibling, parent or co-worker who chronically bullies, demeans, mistreats or criticizes you, it is very likely that you will remain stuck—no matter how hard you work outside the relationship. Imagine if I have a special plant that lives in a plant home. I come to visit this plant once a week. I take it outside in the sunshine. I talk to it, give it plant food and water and nurture it. When I leave, I return it to the home, but unbeknownst to me, the caretaker is abusive. He carries it around by the leaves, stores it in the basement and drains all the water from the pot as soon as I leave. Week after week I will return to the plant – dumbfounded as to why it looks so unhealthy. I often feel this way with certain clients. We do such good work in the hour that I see them each week – and yet, appointment after appointment, they return to me in a new state of despair. No amount of TLC can overcome a toxic environment – if you’re in one – get some help. You deserve it.
Okay – there are other reasons people get stuck, but these are 4 biggies. By the way – our friend Sharon had some unresolved trauma in her past. Once we worked through it, her anxiety improved dramatically.
If you feel stuck, don’t you owe it to yourself to find out why?
Want to learn more about getting unstuck? On September 15, 2017, I’m launching my new online course: STOP STINGING START LIVING. This course provides help for people who have problems managing their emotions and their relationships. For more information, email me here.