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
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 (apa.org) 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 nami.org) 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 (adaa.org/finding-help), 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.