You are in a relationship with anxiety. (Thanks to Dr. Reid Wilson for introducing me to this concept.) Every person alive has a relationship with anxiety. What kind of relationship do you have? With OCD and other anxiety disorders, the relationship usually is dysfunctional.
Perhaps anxiety is like an abusive partner. It beats you up. It wears you down. You walk on eggshells to avoid triggering its wrath. When you try to leave, anxiety tells you that you need it to keep you and others safe. You fear you will never be able to escape. Or perhaps you wrestle daily with anxiety, going round after round but never breaking free.
Perhaps it is a codependent relationship. WebMD lists signs that you might be in a codependent relationship. (I modified them a little.)
- Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life because of anxiety?
- Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors caused by anxiety but stay with anxiety in spite of them?
- Are you giving support to anxiety at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?
It sounds funny to talk about staying with and supporting anxiety. You try to escape. You try desperately to fight it. Yet you are stuck. Arguing with it, fighting it, trying to avoid it, but ultimately giving in to it’s demands. What a miserable way to live!
What does a healthy relationship with anxiety look like? Healthy relationships include clear boundaries and effective behaviors. Anxiety serves a useful purpose. It warns of danger and prepares the body to take action. In a healthy relationship, a person experiences anxiety, evaluates the danger, and takes appropriate action. With anxiety disorders, the mind and body prepare for action when there is little immediate danger. The person believes the danger is more likely than it really is. Or the person recognizes that it doesn’t make sense but can’t seem shake the feeling. In either case, the person often takes ineffective action, getting caught up in a vicious cycle of avoidance and rituals.
There is no way to prevent anxiety, nor would we want to do so. It is normal and sometimes useful. However, there is a way out of the suffering. You can learn tools to practice clear boundaries and effective behaviors when anxiety comes knocking on your door. You can change your relationship with anxiety.