As told to Anna Maxted.
What if? What if? Anxiety is so insidious.
For a lot of men it’s difficult to accept that they are anxious.
Isn’t anxiety normal, they ask me hopefully, despite suffering enough to seek professional help. The truth is, everyone feels anxious now (especially now) and again.
But an overwhelming and persistent sense of unease or dread, habitually kept at bay through alcohol, weed, compulsive exercise, over-work (we certainly have a choice of drugs or distraction) isn’t normal even if it’s common.
More importantly, living under the tyranny of anxiety is wretched and exhausting.
But why does anxiety remain such a taboo subject with men? It still seems easier for them to express worry through anger. But beneath their agitation lies fear.
The vast majority of my clients are men, and I see this often. Many don’t feel comfortable enough to admit they feel anxious – to themselves, let alone their partner.
Others know full well what causes that ugly gnawing sensation in their gut, and the whirl of chaos that they can only control by numbing themselves physically or mentally.
But they don’t feel safe or comfortable enough, not even with those they’re supposed to be close to, to confide it, or take steps to address it.
So they live with their anxiety.
It makes men doubt themselves, feel terrible, powerless – it’s paralysing, inhibiting. It’s that feeling in their chest or pit of their stomach that something isn’t right.
They sense impending doom – many feel as if death is stalking them. Perhaps they’ve had health issues, or a loss – and believe they will not survive.
They carry this burden all day, at work, at home, in their parenting, and through sleepless nights – it perpetuates, mutates, amplifies – it becomes a fear of the fear.
Anxiety can loom large at any time. It might hit when their first child is born – they might feel a pang of envy, because their partner is besotted, and fret, what kind of a monster am I?
It can become acute in midlife when they realise their childhood dreams are unfulfilled and they have nothing to replace them with but the drudge of life.
What could be more anxiety-provoking than to feel trapped – that there’s no way out?
If we have merely a functioning and operational relationship that doesn’t give us the love we believe we need to feel safe – and we don’t know how to make ourselves feel safe – we turn to numbing techniques.
So how can we help men to feel safe? Because when people feel safe and loved, there’s far less room for fear or anxiety.
Yet the answer isn’t just in feeling loved by significant others. (Anyway, it’s hard to force someone else to change. We have to change.)
The key is that we must learn to become a good parent to ourselves.
That’s not just about quitting the booze, the gambling, or easing up on the daily 10Ks – yes, of course shedding unhelpful, unhealthy coping mechanisms is part of it (you stop fooling yourself that this is working for you) but merely treating the symptom of your anxiety isn’t enough.
Just as you don’t kill a weed by snipping its leaves – you dig up its root.
We must treat the cause of anxiety.
Most rehab clinics focus only on getting patients to kick their habit, which is why they have such a high relapse rate (70 to 92% if you’re asking).
Back in real life, with real pressures, people fall at the first hurdle, because their underlying issue remains.
And what is our anxiety’s origin? It’s a belief that we’re not good enough, that something bad will happen to us, that our circumstances should be different, that we’ve done something wrong.
How do we get rid of it?
We work on ourselves. This is because the secret to a contented life – as opposed to one mentally fraught, riven with anxiety – lies in being a compassionate parent to our inner child.
Inner child, you say? I’m 49! 33! 57! Ah, but how old are you emotionally?
Because I assure you that the little lost and misunderstood nine-year-old you, that roughly treated 14-year-old you – those younger selves go nowhere.
The hurt remains. And it’s only when we can understand, respond, and soothe all of our selves that we repair the wounds of our past.
Until that point, we feel anxious – because secretly, we don’t have faith in ourselves.
Plus, if we can’t contain our own fears, our inner critic (the harsh voice in our head, the ghost of an unkind influence from the past, telling us we’re stupid, can’t cope, a disaster) runs riot.
Unless we compassionately parent ourselves, anxiety rules us.
We viscerally feel it. When we resort to numbing mechanisms – drink, drugs, gambling, sex – we’re seeking to distance ourselves from the anxiety.
We can’t bear to be alone with our thoughts. Some people dissociate entirely – it’s as if they leave their body.
As a therapist, I help men to reconnect with themselves, mentally, physically, spiritually.
Men I see in my practice tell me “I don’t know who I am, I’m an actor in my own life, I don’t know what my purpose is – and I have no idea why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
That’s frightening. It means they have no identity, no core.
They do of course – but it’s hidden under so many defensive layers.
I help these men to find a way back to themselves. To know themselves again.
Consulting a professional isn’t always essential.
There are many simple anxiety-relieving techniques we can apply in our daily lives to help ourselves – an ice pack on the back of our neck, listening to our favourite music, walking in nature.
I like to employ a wealth of resources, as well as talking therapy (focused, practical, and nurturing – not endless analysis). Ancient traditions, such as chanting and meditation, are scientifically proven to calm a traumatised brain and soothe anxiety.
Sound healing and breathwork, medical Qigong, various forms of yoga, mindfulness. All powerful, combined they are transformational.
They help us to take charge of our anxiety – without having to resort to weed, alcohol or other sticking plasters.
But life is never perfect.
Sometimes you will still feel lost, or scared, or apprehensive. But you’ll know how to deal with it.
You can take charge of yourself again.
We’re here to help.
Contact us today for a free no-obligation conversation.