Stepping Away Routines Can Make You Feel Anxious
Recently, I’ve been considering making some changes in my personal and professional lives. The changes aren’t huge, and some of them only require me to switch things to another day or time. However, the amount of anxiety and stress I’ve felt when all I’ve done so far is to think about making these changes is making me reconsider how much I need routine to manage my stress.
Using routine to manage stress isn’t all bad. It's helpful if your anxiety often hijacks your day. The problems enter when you choose not to do things differently because the thought of change creates anxiety and the uncomfortable feelings hold you back from something you’re excited about.
Keeping Things The Same Might Reduce Anxiety But It Also Keeps You Stagnant
Anxiety can creep, or jump, in when things don’t go as planned, but it can also arise when we intentionally shake things up. The discomfort we feel isn’t really about the changes themselves. It’s about our perception or interpretation of what the changes mean. I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say that each Sunday morning you dedicate a certain amount of time to getting ready for the week ahead. Maybe you straighten up your house, go to the grocery store and go through your work schedule so you feel prepared for the week to come. This gives you the sense that all is right with the world.
Now, you and your partner have been talking about getting new bikes. You both love to ride but your bikes are old and in need of repair, so you haven’t been riding them much lately. You decide to bite the bullet and buy new ones. Now you have these beautiful new bikes! Your partner suggests creating time to ride on Sunday mornings, before it gets too hot.
You really want to ride your new bike, but now the thought of it makes you anxious and irritable. You might attribute the anxiety to the act of riding the bike or to fear that your to-do list won’t get done. The reality is, your anxiety peaked because your sense of “all is right with the world,” has disappeared.
How We Perceive Change Can Make Us Anxious
When your sense of stability is rocked, your brain thinks that there’s a threat it needs to manage, and your body responds:
- Your heart might race.
- You might feel tightness in your chest or throat.
- Your stomach might begin feeling upset.
- You might become hyper-aware of things touching your skin.
- You might get an overwhelming feeling of discomfort.
Our body’s reaction to the perceived threat cranks up the anxiety. It happens unconsciously and within milliseconds of the stimulus. Because it happens so quickly, we often attribute our discomfort to the event or situation where the change occurred, or we might attribute it to the person who suggested the changes. And, without thinking it through, we react.
Using the example above, you might yell at your partner for suggesting Sunday mornings as a time to ride bikes. You might decide you no longer want your new bike or question whether you even like bike riding anymore. You might go along for the ride but resent your partner the whole time, and wind up feeling upset, anxious and unhappy.
So, how do you do things differently? How can you learn to respond in the moment with intention, instead of reacting without thinking? In my next post I’ll discuss how you can slow things down, identify your feelings and begin to recognize the perceived threat for what it is: just your perception and interpretation of the events — not your reality.