Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I think I may have an undiagnosed case of anxiety. I often have panic attacks that seem to begin when some fears I have are triggered. My spouse says I have a tendency to rationalize my fears — which he believes are unreasonable — whenever I begin to spiral down a deep black hole of fear.

I’m not sure what to do. I’ve noticed that I become quite distressed when confronted with situations that I cannot control and try to overcompensate by trying to control whatever I can. I barely even leave the house now.

Can you recommend some reading to help me deal with this? I can’t afford therapy right now, but I’m tired of crying and being afraid of everything.

— Stressed and Afraid

(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

Stressed and Afraid: I’m so sorry.

A start-right-now answer: If you can stream video at home, then you have access to instruction in yoga and meditation. These can bring immediate and proven stress-reduction benefits, to the extent it’s almost shocking — you can feel muscles start to unclench.

Certainly it’s better as a beginner to have someone work with you in person, but if you stick to the very-beginner videos then you might reap enough benefits to get you out the door to a class.

The longer-term answer: You’re in crisis so please pursue therapy anyway, by seeking a provider who will work on a no-fee or sliding-fee basis. Your regular doctor can diagnose and start treating you in the meantime.

If either you or your spouse has employer-provided benefits, then see whether you’re covered by an Employee Assistance Plan. If not, then find out whether your hospital or a nearby medical school offers a clinic. You can also check with the American Psychological Association ( to see whether there are providers locally who offer reduced-cost treatment. A support group might be a viable low-cost or no-cost option as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, at can help you find one.

To get more information on anxiety, NAMI also has a helpline, 800-950-NAMI, and its site includes general information on various mental health conditions. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America does, too (, and provides a list of recommended reading material, as you requested.

Navigating all this is a tall order while you’re feeling anxious, possibly even overwhelming, so ask your spouse to help you. I hope he also does some reading himself; dismissing your fears as “unreasonable” is not productive, even if he is technically correct that logic doesn’t support them. That you now barely leave the house says this is a matter for treatment, not just factual correction.

If willing, your spouse can help by adopting “reflective listening” techniques, ideally with a therapist but also with Dr. Google if needed. Reflective listening is a way to validate someone, where calling fears unreasonable or rationalized only negates — plus, it encourages you to talk your way to what’s really bothering you, and therefore to a calmer state of your mind’s own making.

If your spouse is not willing to try this small adjustment to help you, then you might need to consider that a lack of support in your marriage is at least a small part of what ails you.

Take care and please let us know how it goes.

Write to Carolyn Hax at Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at