Thursday 19 September 2019

Ask Allison: 'I am continually anxious about the health of my loved ones'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

'You only have control of yourself and how you respond to the outside world'
'You only have control of yourself and how you respond to the outside world'

Allison Keating

Q I am constantly worried about the health of others. A parent's heart condition (which is completely manageable).

My partner had to see a specialist recently but had to wait five weeks. I couldn't concentrate in work with worry. I couldn't sleep at night; when I did, I would wake up in cold sweats. It turned out he's just prone to indigestion but I couldn't help but imagine the worst. Logically, I know there is nothing I can do and that everyone is fine but it's beginning to haunt me, the anxiety is becoming ever more present. I am in a loving relationship, I like my job, and I live happily with my family. Everything is perfect, it seems, but how can I shake this worry?

Allison replies: Is perfection your trigger? There seems to be a sense that you are waiting for it all to change. An irksome feeling of 'this is all too good to be true' or 'this must be too good to actually last'. It's like you feel 'fear' is lurking behind your life as it is now, threatening to steal away the most important things that you value, as you say you are so grateful that your life is happy, content and healthy.

Your worry is casting shadows over your thoughts even when all is well, right now. Just remember, these are your thoughts, and once you have identified your triggers then you can work on changing how they are impacting how you feel and the consequential behaviours, such as disturbed sleep and peace of mind.

That sense of trepidation is just thoughts. What you need to identify are the beliefs propping up these worries. This is an odd question but do you believe in happiness?

Do you believe happiness has a time limit?

Do you believe that you are only allowed a certain amount?

What was the narrative on being happy or healthy in your family?

Sit with these questions for a bit of time. Reflect on belief systems that may need an update or at least a reboot.

Do you feel that you really deserve to have a good life or that it is even possible? Do you ever feel guilt for things going well? Again, sit with this before you answer 'of course I do'. To truly know ourselves and why we think and behave as we do, we have to explore all the way back to the foundations and origins of our core beliefs. Many of which you accepted, internalised and may never have questioned. I invite you to dig deep, and see what comes up.

The anticipatory anxiety and worry is possibly an unconscious coping mechanism that may lead you to feel that your worry balances out the excess 'good', in turn making you feel like you are in control of the uncontrollable. Such as life, death and health.

Worry can be an activity that is of course unpleasant but it can feel unconsciously purposeful to many who feel their good fortune or 'luck' is outside of themselves and that by engaging in worry they are somehow helping redress the situation.

Let's get to the heart of this. Quite simply, you don't want things to change in your life and I can see why. The crux of anxiety is uncertainty and that dreaded sense of not being in control. The idea of mortality, such as that of your parents and your partner, are 'haunting' you. The idea of the future loss of their death fills you with fear and anxiety thrives on future fear. Reading this, apart from being painful and morbid, it is also incomprehensible as you may question and worry with thoughts such as 'I couldn't cope' or 'I couldn't live without my dad/mum or partner'.

Don't let live people haunt you. I'd recommend reading Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom which could help focus less on death and focus more on living your life with intent and being present as it is right now. This is a work in progress. It's about identifying faulty thoughts and core beliefs you may hold about life and that good times, things and relationships don't last.

I'm going to slightly inoculate against my last sentence by stating that by accepting the truth that life is uncertain and unpredictable, coupled with the truth that bad things happen to good people, an odd freedom comes from said truth that you only have control of yourself and of how you respond to the outside world. This is the only internal certainty you have within the uncertainty of everything that is outside of you and your control.

This act of accepting things as they are stops the frustration to how we want them to be.

Do you have specific beliefs about heart health? Do you have any specific fears such as someone having a stroke to a heart attack? Where and when did this start? Whose fear is it? Often we carry health fears from parents, sometimes even more so if they don't verbally express it - not uncommon in the Type-D personality associated with heart issues whereby the patient finds it difficult to say how they feel. The last few weeks, did you fear your partner had heart issues as well?

The very best thing to do with fear is to face it. Ask some questions:

⬤ What worry had you waking up in a cold sweat at night?

⬤ Did you answer your worst case scenarios of 'what-ifs'?

As you face down fears with answers and by finishing out the fear scenario story you can begin to see that you have always written the script. It's time to re-write it to how it is, and to how you would like it to be with your two feet planted in today and you take tomorrow when it comes. Letting go of the illusion of being in control can bring the biggest freedom.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

Weekend Magazine

Editors Choice

Also in Life