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Don’t Let Anxiety Become Chronic

I’ve been struck by the number of recent clients with anxiety problems.

Anxiety is a cluster of bodily reactions to a cue, either internal or external. Anxiety involves the release of cortisol into the bloodstream, with accompanying symptoms of increased heart rate, tensed muscles, shortness of breath, and most of all, a sense of impending danger.

Anxiety is a warning that something is wrong and needs to be changed, challenged or avoided. It serves the all-important function of keeping us safe.

Anxiety is dangerous when it becomes chronic: high blood pressure, foggy or irrational thinking and reduced immune system functioning, among other things. Our bodies weren’t built for chronic anxiety. Witness the number of combat veterans returning with PTSD, a more extreme anxiety disorder.

I did a little research into the comments people have made to articles on my website. Thirty-six people made direct reference to anxiety in their comments. I’ll refer to three.

Maria wrote, “…This is my exact issue and I struggle with it daily: to stay or go. I have decided to have a separate place, one in city (condo) and one in country, as every evening my anxiety level rises when I hear the first crack of the beer can.”

Maria is reacting to an external cue, the sound of her husband opening a can of beer. This spells danger. She reduces her anxiety by going to a separate safe place. However, if his drinking proves chronic… She is already facing what she may have to do.

Joanna responds to an internal cue: “…my indiscretions while blacked out have forced me to lie to my love and my friends and hide secrets I’m terrified will come to light someday. I can’t sleep half the time and suffer from chronic anxiety. And yet, after my shift, that glass of wine is so inviting.” The impending danger causing her anxiety is that she will be exposed. She medicates with alcohol as a stopgap measure.

Syd speaks of her partner’s anxiety: “I was in a one-year relationship with a wonderful man…He calls himself a functional alcoholic…In addition to the drinking he has severe anxiety that he refuses to medicate or seek therapy for, which is probably a large part of why he’s drinking…”

The impending danger for this man is the unknown about the future. What would happen if he got out of the cycle of anxiety and drinking? Does he have past trauma he is afraid to face? Is he afraid to face a career decision (he is a new PhD) which might force him to move far from home? Contrary to what Syd believes, her partner does medicate his anxiety, but he does it with alcohol. And that has created its own set of problems.

In all 36 comments there was reference to a chronic situation involving actual or potential chronic anxiety. All 36 expressed fear about a relationship. (It is also true that all 36 involved alcohol as either the problem or attempted solution, but that’s another matter.)

Clearly, if you find yourself becoming anxious, do something to change yourself or your situation so the anxiety does not become chronic. Remember, the anxiety is there to alert you to change, to challenge, or to avoid something.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide. http://drneillneill.com

1 comment to Don’t Let Anxiety Become Chronic

  • Sandra

    Hi Dr I am 40 and decided in January 2016 I would leave my husband after 15 years of Marriage, three children and a life with him choosing beer over our family every day.

    However, I am still there. Sleeping in separate rooms.

    He owns his own business and is very successful. However, I have begged pleaded, cried and have written numerous letters to him over the 15 years describing how I feel and how things have to change.

    When he realized I was serious about leaving in January he quit drinking a month later and has not drank since. He cannot understand why I can’t go back to normal life and why I would still want to leave after he has made such great changes. He has become very doting and brings me tea, caters to me even though I do not request or expect it. He has done a 360 in his behavior and I am very confused as to how this works.

    In our 15 year marriage he repeatedly lied and made it clear that I cannot trust him. Now he wants me to forget everything from the past and trust that he has changed forever. Our dynamic is very damaged and my children have also been greatly affected by his abuse of alcohol in the past. They do not trust him or expect him to follow through on any promises he makes. They are 16, 14 and 11 years old.

    He has always had control of our finances due to his owning the corporate business. In the past when I have tried to leave, he made it very clear that I own nothing and he owns everything. I recently went back to school and have training that is paying off working for myself and doing well at my new career. I have lost extensive weight over the period of this past year and suffer from anxiety to the point where I take medication now in order to sleep. The sound of his footsteps upstairs above my room at night also give me anxiety.

    He is trying to be very loving and kind but I see occasionally the inside of him is still the same as it was in the past. And that is very bothersome. We live in a small town community where alcohol is encouraged and excepted as the norm.

    I desperately want to have my own life back and protect my kids from the future of alcoholism but I am scared to leave and be on my own in a community who thinks his behavior is completely acceptable. My oldest child does not want to leave the area because of his friends even though university is just 2 years away. My husband keeps trying to convince me this change is forever but my past tells me never to trust him again.

    I need freedom from the rat race. I’ve gone to counseling since 2007. He only joined in January when I said I was leaving for good. He was very upset when both my doctor and counselor recommended a trial separation. Since then I have spent the year with this new stranger whom I barely recognize due to his kind and gentle behavior. Which is out of character for him. Since he quit drinking he also lost the majority of his friends. Now he no longer has drinking friends, he has more time to spend with us and seems to think that is where is our growth begins again.

    I have spent the past year on eggshells trying to be supportive of this new change with him but feeling like I am betraying myself on the inside by not getting out for good. I know buying a separate residence is expensive but I feel a year away from him allows us both to determine who we are. I have started loving me and putting myself as a priority over him and his alcoholism. It feels great. I look at him now and love him but don’t trust him which has also destroyed our intimacy.

    Any thoughts on a new path would be greatly appreciated.

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