How to Cope with Wildly Different Anxiety Levels

How to Cope with Wildly Different Anxiety Levels

Pop quiz! On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your anxiety level these days? How about your significant other? And what about your kids? Are you a 9 while your significant other is a 4 and your kids are a 2? Do you feel safer at home, but your partner keeps prodding you to hop on a plane for a little vacation, and your kids are begging you to let them visit their friends? Or are you on the lower end of the scale itching to host a party while your family’s fears are holding you back?

If you’ve got an anxiety level mismatch in your home, it can escalate tension, ramp up fear, fuel frustration, and irritability, and wreak havoc with your relationships.

At Amen Clinics, many patients have been struggling with mismatched anxiety levels within the home. Here’s how Amen Clinics helped them and what you can learn from their experience.

How Anxiety Imbalances Can Sabotage Relationships

One couple named Sarah and Shawn contacted Amen Clinics for help saying this has been the most difficult challenge they’ve gone through in their entire relationship. On the anxiety scale, Sarah’s a 9—actually, closer to a 9.5—and Shawn’s hovering around a 3. She feels safer cocooning at home, having groceries and meals delivered, and disinfecting everything multiple times a day. Shawn, however, thinks he’s invincible and is one of those “don’t worry, be happy” types. He doesn’t see any danger in going out to restaurants, visiting friends, or hitting the gym.

Whenever he sets foot out of the house, even if it’s just to go to the grocery store, Sarah unleashes a tirade, telling him about all the frightening statistics she’s seen that day on social media. She tells him he’s putting himself and her at danger of contracting COVID-19 and thinks that means he must not love her very much. He counters that she’s overreacting and too much of a worry wort who needs to lighten up. It’s led to some marital conflict that has left them wondering if their relationship will survive.

Another Amen Clinics patient had a similar problem with her teenage daughter. Amy’s teen daughter Olivia said she was done with the quarantine and needed to go visit her boyfriend and other friends. Hearing this, Amy felt waves of anxiety wash over her as she imagined her daughter contracting the virus and having to be put on a ventilator. It conjured up painful memories of Amy’s own mother years earlier who had gone into the hospital for cancer surgery that led to complications, including being put on a ventilator and suffering a blood clot stroke that ultimately killed her.

For Amy, her past anxieties related to her mother’s death came roaring back to life with the threat of COVID-19. She was so terrified that her daughter might get sick, have to be put on a ventilator and die as a result. Her daughter’s cavalier attitude infuriated her and filled her with dread.

With therapy and treatment at Amen Clinics, these two families were able to develop better communication and understanding to align themselves more equally and strengthen their relationships during these challenging times. Here’s what they learned that you can draw from if you’re also in an anxiety mismatch.

6 Things You Can Learn from These Amen Clinics Patients

1. Avoid the 4 Horsemen.

When communicating, avoid what renowned author and marriage therapist Dr. John Gottman calls the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”—contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Contempt implies that you know better than the other person. Criticism goes beyond criticizing specific behaviors and attacks a person’s character or personality. Defensiveness is when you flip things around to be someone else’s fault, effectively making you a victim who is powerless to change anything. Stonewalling is when you shut down and refuse to engage in any conversation or in any effort to find solutions. For Sarah and Shawn, changing their conversations from contempt and criticism to mutual respect and shared responsibility made a dramatic difference.

2. Share the reasons behind your anxiety.

If there are reasons for your heightened anxiety, like Amy’s experience with her mother’s death, share that with your family member. When others understand where your angst is coming from, they are generally more willing to work with you to come up with solutions you can all agree on. When Olivia learned about how her grandmother died, she softened her stance and became more willing to find solutions that worked for both her and her mom.

3. Don’t be too controlling.

Making ultimatums and attempting to keep others in lockdown can backfire. Teens tend to rebel when parents are overly controlling. For Amy and Olivia, this meant allowing her Olivia to visit her boyfriend as long as she agreed to wear a face mask, maintain physical distance, and stay on the patio at his parents’ house.

4. Create clear goals.

Have each member of the family write down their goals for this extraordinary time and share with the others. Is your goal to keep everyone healthy? To keep the home humming with positivity? Sarah and Shawn found ways to create shared goals that helped them feel more united.

5. Help lower high anxiety.

Shawn learned that rather than attacking Sarah for her fearful feelings, it is more helpful to encourage rational thinking and healthy behaviors that reduce anxiety. He discovered how to help her talk back to the frightening ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) that infested her mind. He bought and prepared anti-anxiety foods that help fight nervousness and keep blood sugar levels balanced. He joined her in doing some gentle exercises like yoga that reduce stress. He also checked into natural supplements—such as GABA and magnesium—that help calm busy minds. In your family, if someone’s anxiety levels go through the roof, consider seeking professional help and offer to accompany them for moral support.

6. Encourage healthy anxiety.

Having some anxiety is good for you. According to research, the “don’t worry, be happy” people die the earliest from accidents and preventable illnesses. When you or a family member fall at the bottom of the anxiety scale, it can be a sign of underactive frontal lobes, which is associated with impulsivity, risky behavior, and poor decision-making. This is often seen in people with ADD/ADHD or undetected head injuries. Shawn’s brain scan showed “sleepy” frontal lobes and with treatment, he developed healthy anxiety levels and took fewer risks. In your family, brain imaging can help determine if extremely low anxiety is related to underlying brain dysfunction.

Anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

2 Comments

  1. Best article ever written. It applies to every area of life: money, private vs public schools, etc.
    The 4 horseman…absolutely necessary to understand.
    Anxiety levels differ for very real reasons.
    The best…write down your goals. Shared responsibility and power greatest help in leveling anxiety levels.
    Take action and apply. Oh, and review and revisit regularly.
    THANK YOU.
    God Bless you all.
    Stay well and stay safe.
    Ksr

    Comment by Kathryn Rodenbach — July 29, 2020 @ 2:27 AM

  2. I wonder about not only disparity between family members, but day to day changes in individual anxiety levels based on the “fear du jour” coming from media outlets. I have a family member who is especially prone to riding a roller coaster of emotions which is hard to manage and live with because it is hard to plan not knowing which level of anxiety I am dealing with that day. I think it also causes me to over compensate on my side waffling through different levels of emotion and anxiety in response.

    Comment by Janet Jones — July 31, 2020 @ 8:20 AM

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