Absorbed Anxiety. Did you know this exists? Well, it does. Think about when you go to the airport. If you are anything like me, you walk in and are relaxed and excited about your trip. Everything seems normal, then, all of a sudden, worry you will be late or miss your plane consumes you even though you are early, you are always early, so why are you so stressed?
Absorbed anxiety is the answer. For many people flying is their biggest fear, and their anxiety is at an all-time high while at the airport. Actually, those who are afraid to fly often have anticipatory anxiety, which means they are often worrying about flying long before they even get to the airport. When someone is afraid to fly the idea of going to the airport, being at the airport, and actually flying is so overwhelming that they worry about the airport long before they are even there. This anxiety before someone even gets to the airport is called anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety refers to the anxiety one feels in anticipation of an event. Aureen Pinto Wagner, in her book Treatment of OCD in Children and Adolescents, states, “the anxiety prior to an exposure, is much greater than the anxiety experienced during exposure”. Now, imagine what the anxiety level is like for a person who is about to fly by the time they actually get to the airport. Generally, it’s pretty high.
You may still be asking why does the on time, relaxed traveler also get anxious at the airport? Well, you may not know this, but anxiety is energy, and we can absorb others’ nervous energy. Yup, emotional energy is actually contagious, which is great when it is excitement, joy, or any other positive emotion. Not so great when it is the less-than-desirable emotions such as anxiety, anger, negativity, and any other negative emotions! You can actually absorb someone’s anxiety without even realizing it. Some people are more in tune than others with the emotions they are surrounded with. Have you ever been waiting in line and just known the person in front of you is feeling frustrated and anxious and they haven’t even said a word? They are emitting their anxious emotions, and you are absorbing them. Or, in my case, the person behind me is absorbing my anxious and frustrated emotions, because I generally do not like to wait in lines, especially when there are 20 options and only 3 open lanes!
So, why is it important to be aware of and have an understanding about absorbed anxiety? Being able to differentiate between your own and others’ anxiety can help you ensure you are not using your own precious energy to deal with the emotions of others. Carrying the weight of our own negative and positive emotions is work enough! In Judith Orloff’s article, How to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Negative Emotions, she points out that adding someone’s emotions to our own “can trigger panic attacks, depression, food-, sex- and drug-binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis”. I don’t know about you, but I definitely do not want to experience any of these things because of the emotions of others! Judith also lists 6 things you can do to “detach” from other people’s emotions, such as have awareness you are absorbing others’ emotions, surround yourself with positive people, and distance yourself from the negative emotions. To read all six of her tips I suggest you read her entire article!
The anxiety tools I use most often when I realize I am absorbing others’ negative emotions is, first, to acknowledge it is happening and then to assign the emotions to where they belong with facts. For example, at the airport I say, “This is not my worry. I am not only on-time, but super early”. I often have to remind myself of this several times throughout the bag check and security check process, as that is where I tend to feel others’ anxiety most. I also keep myself distracted while waiting by reading so as not to witness the discomfort and/or arguing of others who have either absorbed anxiety or are dealing with their own anxiety.
If you are a person dealing with your own personal anxiety or are prone to absorbing others’ negative emotions and have not been able to get a handle on it, the counselors at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando can help. I, Amy Smith, enjoy working as a child counselor, teen counselor, and adult counselor with clients who are working to control anxiety and control worry (as well as many other topics). The other counselors at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando and I look forward to helping you “throw facts at worry” to take the power away from anticipatory anxiety and absorbed anxiety! Give us a call at 407-355-7378 to set up your free phone consultation!