Have you spent a sleepless night worrying about a loved one? Perhaps it was your teenager who was out past curfew or your spouse who didn’t manage her diabetes. Feeling anxious in such a situation is understandable. It’s scary to feel like thingsare out of your control and possiblyheading for disaster.
When you have a loved one who is making “bad” decisions, worry can take over your life if you don’t know how to keep it in check. My colleague, Elizabeth Cush, an expert in treating anxiety, wrote this week’s blog post to support those of you who are experiencing worry and anxiety about a loved one.
Its really hard to watch someone make bad or harmful choices or to see a loved one make decisions you wouldnt have made given the same circumstances. Maybe you worry because:
- They drink or smoke too much
- They cant control their anger
- They quit their job
- They hang out with the wrong people
- They gamble
- They dont pay their bills
I know that as a mother, wife, and friend, I have had times when one or more of the people in my life did things that made me feel worried, angry, or hurt (and sometimes all three). It was hard not to get consumed by the worry. So, how do you stop worrying and quiet your mind when youre concerned about a loved one but powerless to get him or her to change or make better decisions?
Relationships can create the perfect storm of emotional ups and downs, bringing with them waves of anxiety. We want the people in our lives to be happy. We dont want them to struggle, to feel pain, or to cause pain and suffering, but we really cant control a lot of what others do. That can bring on a lot of anxious feelings.
If you experience anxiety, this lack of control can make your anxiety worse. You might believe that if you could just control this thing whether its someone elses behaviors, life events, or future outcomes then you would feel better. You stay awake worrying about what needs to be different, what needs to change, and how to make that happen. You get stuck in the what ifs,” or if onlys. But the reality is that you cant control many of the things going on around you. I might even venture to say you cant control MOST things!
My clients sometimes say, if only my loved one wouldnt __________ (you fill in the blanks). Its ruining everything. Ive told them time and again that they need to stop. I cant sleep at night because I worry about what will happen.
Worrying increasesstress and it doesnt create change or stop bad things from happening; it only makes you more stressed. Im not saying that you shouldnt worry about the people you love. I am saying is that the worry wont make it better, and sometimes it makes you so stressed that it becomes hard to do anything else.
So how do you ease the anxiety that arises when the people in your life arent cooperating? Here are seven steps to get you started:
- Take three slow deep breaths.
- Be curious about the part of you that wants to be able to control the behaviors of others. Maybe you say to yourself, Theres a part of me that wants to keep things under control. I wonder what that part is afraid of?
- Remind yourself that your anxiety is prompted by your fears about the future and of not being in control.
- Gently remind yourself that you can voice your concerns or opinions, but its up to others to make changes. A gentle reminder to yourself might be, I cant control what others choose to do or not do. I can only tell them how their behavior affects me and how I feel.
- If the people in your life dont change, be mindful that this might cause you distress. You might feel anxious or scared. You might say out loud, Im so afraid because __________ isnt changing. It makes me feel powerless and I worry about what might happen if they dont change.
- If someones behavior hurts you or puts you at risk, its important to create healthy boundaries or choose to spend time away from that person. If youre not comfortable doing this, you might need to practice or get some support.
- Offer yourself some compassion. You might still feel worried about the people in your life. Saying to yourself, This is really hard for me right now. I care about them, and I care about how theyre affecting me creates a space where you can feel compassionate toward them and toward yourself.
Wanting the best for others is human. We want the people we love to make healthy choices, but that doesnt always happen. If you need support and someone to help you work through the difficulty, seeing a therapist can provide a safe, non-judgmental space where you can share your feelings.
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and blogger in Annapolis, MD where she hosts theWoman Worrierspodcast. In her private practice,Progression Counseling, she helps women who feel overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out find more connection with themselves and others, allowing them to live their lives with more ease, intention, and purpose. Elizabeth was recently a featured guest on theWomen In Depthpodcast andSelling The Couchpodcast. Shes worked in the mental health field for over 10 years and is a certified clinical trauma professional. Elizabeth incorporates mindfulness and meditation into her psychotherapy work.