The thief is anxiety. What! you might say. How can anxiety rob me of part of my life? Let me give you a general explanation first, then I’ll get more specific with some examples that will make it very clear.
First, you have to understand that anxiety is an emotion that often makes people very uncomfortable. Anxiety is similar to fear, but with fear there is a real danger. With anxiety there’s little or nothing to be afraid of. Flying on a commercial airliner, for example, is the safest form of transportation. Yet millions of people are extremely anxious about flying, but have little or no anxiety riding in a car, a much riskier means of transportation.
The body’s response is similar in both fear and anxiety. The autonomic nervous system, which controls many internal functions in our bodies, kicks in and we feel many uncomfortable bodily sensations, such as trembling, palpitations (rapid and strong heartbeats), feeling warm and sweating, rapid breathing, perhaps even hyperventilation with chest pain. Because these sensations, which are symptoms of anxiety, are very aversive, we want to escape from them. The most common response is to avoid the situations or circumstances that set off anxiety, which usually brings immediate relief. It’s a very seductive process: discomfort, then avoidance, again and again, which becomes a habit pattern. But the short term gain in comfort leads to long term dysfunction, which can seriously interfere with people’s lives. Let me give two examples.
Almost everyone has heard of panic (anxiety) attacks. Intense anxiety symptoms develop suddenly, which frighten many people who experience them, even after they learn what they are and, in fact, are harmless. If the attacks recur, which they often do, many come to associate them with the places in which they occur, especially in places where they feel stuck or trapped. They begin to avoid these places, and other places too, because they fear the attacks. This condition is called agoraphobia. It can make people’s world very small; sometimes it worsens to the point they will not leave home. Anxiety has stolen a large portion of these people’s lives.
Here’s another example. The most common phobia is public speaking. Many people are so public speaking anxious they refuse to do it at all. They will not take jobs or promotions which require speaking in public. They may be highly qualified otherwise, but they avoid any employment in which they are required to speak in front of groups of people. When they won’t apply for jobs which they are qualified for, or accept promotions to such positions, anxiety has pulled off another theft. Opportunities and talents are lost. Careers can dead end long before a person has been able to demonstrate what he or she can really do.
There are many other examples, but let’s move on to what you can do when you realize anxiety is stealing parts of your life. There is one thing that is absolutely essential. Somehow, you must break the pattern of avoidance by actually facing, gradually or all at once, the parts of your life anxiety is stealing. This solution isn’t easy because it will make you uncomfortable, the very thing you have been avoiding. But you must do it if you are to regain the missing parts of your life. Otherwise, they will always be missing.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said “do something that scares you every day”. Obviously, she understood this problem. 150 years ago, Rudyard Kipling remarked “of all the liars in the world, some of the worst are our own fears”. The solution to the problem has probably been known for as long as history has been recorded.
If you can’t do it yourself, seek professional help. There are mental health practitioners who understand anxiety problems and disorders, and know how to help people get better. Whatever you decide to do, give it your best shot. Don’t let anxiety continue to rob you, so that one day you won’t be sorry you didn’t fight back.
There’s a thief out there that few people know about. He’s no ordinary thief, for sure. He sneaks up on you, robs you again and again, and you probably don’t even know it. You can’t see him, and he’s as silent as fog in the night. So there’s little warning that he’s at work.
What he robs you of are parts of your life, sometimes quite large parts. And you seldom notice him because he’s kind of sneaky. He
from the pen of psychologist Ira Dubinsky
takes advantage of you because you want to be comfortable and feel good all the time. Some people go through a whole lifetime and never recognize what he’s doing, or what they’re missing from their lives. Who is this sneak, you ask?