When anxiety sets in, it can feel debilitating, only making it harder to reach out for support. It also has a funny way of making us feel like whatever it is we are feeling uneasy about is something we need to figure out or control on our own. But, I’m here to tell you, you can’t do it alone. None of us can, and the desire to make sense of things on our own is one of the biggest hurdles that gets in the way of finding true relief. Anxiety not only causes excessive worry, but it can also drives us into isolation. As you can imagine, this only creates a negative feedback loop. The more isolated we become, the more anxious we feel and the more frightening it is to reach for help.
Acknowledging anxiety is the first step, and thanks to websites like this, finding help can feel far more accessible and approachable. The information here can help you see that you aren’t alone in how you’re feeling and can help you make sense of your experience and symptoms. So, I commend you for finding yourself here in the first place, it shows you’re willing to look deeper and care for yourself more earnestly.
Finding People to Connect With
But the journey shouldn’t stop here. Information and self-help articles can be quite valuable in the initial stages of finding relief, but there’s one thing that remains missing: authentic connection to others. The process of sharing with others what we are feeling and going through can be healing within itself when we are met with empathetic understanding. We are often our toughest critics and in my experience as a clinician, some of the harshest things I’ve heard spoken in my office is what clients say about themselves, to themselves.
When I ask for my clients to repeat the negative things that they had said about themselves, it comes out with ease. However, when I ask them to imagine that they are saying this to a loved one, like a child, niece, or nephew, their eyes go wide and they unanimously report back, “I would never say that to them.” Why? Because it’s not only hurtful and harmful, but it’s not the right solution or approach to the larger issues at hand.
It’s human nature to want to jump in and fix or criticize, not realizing that our default ways of coping are a dead end road. More often than not, what we all are in need of is more compassion, from ourselves, and from others. Maybe even a new perspective, which is something that can only be offered by another person. So, how do we reach for others?
Start with what and who you Already Know
Support can look different for everyone. Maybe it’s calling up your mom after a tough day at work, or getting dinner with a friend who can always manage to make you laugh, or even going to church to pray and be in communion with others. Start with what, or who, you know. When we are feeling anxious, we tend to have more constricted beliefs, one of them being that we don’t have many people in our lives to turn to for support.
To combat this, I often have my clients create a list of all the different friends and family in their life. Start with your immediate family, then work outwards to extended family. Then consider the different groups of friends you have, based on how you met them. These are some common categories: friends from childhood, high school, college, neighbors, mentors, teachers, coworkers from different jobs, people you’ve met from playing sports, social networks/clubs, workshops, church.
Once you’ve created this list, I encourage you to look it over and reflect on just how many people have touched your life and that you’ve connected with. Maybe there are some names you forgot about over the years or a friend you’d like to deepen your connection with. Reaching out doesn’t always mean a phone call or in-person visit, it can start with an e-mail or connecting via social media. Start wherever you need to, but don’t stop there.
Making new Connections
If you feel like there’s a lack in your current network of friends and family, see if you can identify an area or interest where you’d like to meet more like-minded people. This is where classes or workshops can be a great way to make new connections! Maybe there’s a ceramics class you’ve been wanting to try, or perhaps try hanging around at the end of your weekly yoga class to socialize a little.
There are also websites like MeetUp.com or apps like Hey! VINA that help streamline the process of finding the right people for you based on shared interests. With websites like this, it’s important to remind yourself that everyone is coming in feeling the same way and you’re all looking for the same thing. Don’t be afraid to start small here, just making one small connection can lead to deeper lasting friendship later down the road. Volunteering can also be a great way to meet new people, while giving yourself a nice confidence boost that you made a difference. Worry tends to take away our sense of power, so doing something meaningful for a greater cause can help remind us of our capabilities.
Find a Therapist
Friends and family are a great starting point, but for more specialized support for coping with anxiety, finding a therapist or therapeutic group can be life-changing! I firmly believe there’s a therapist out there for everyone, and finding the right one for you can be a little daunting. Resources like My Well Being, Psychology Today, and Open Path allow you to search for therapists that best match your specific needs. Many therapists offer a free phone consultation prior to meeting for an in-person session, knowing that finding the right connection is important before committing to anything. So, don’t be afraid to set up consultations with a few different therapists to feel out which one best resonated with you. It’s important that you feel safe, understood, and heard by your therapist so keep an eye out for these qualities when speaking with each one. Finances should never be what gets in the way of getting support, so if you need a lower fee, check out your local mental health clinics to see if they offer individual or group therapy.
It’s easy to say “you’re not alone in this,” but it only becomes real when you step outside of yourself, reach for others, and experience firsthand what it feels like to be supported. It can be scary to make the first move, but as author Cheryl Strayed so beautifully put it, “this is how you get unstuck. You reach.”