Next, it is important to identify what is not going right in your life, so that you can take some practical steps to deal with it. As we have mentioned before, no one suffers from disabling anxiety disorders if their needs are being met in balance and they are making the best use of their innate resources.
Therefore, something, somewhere, has gone awry. So, when you have calmed yourself down and are in a more relaxed state of mind, try to take stock.
If you can recall when your anxiety started (whether in the form of generalised anxiety, panic attacks, a phobia or OCD), are you aware of anything that was happening around that time that particularly unsettled you? For instance, did your symptoms start at a time when you were experiencing an upheaval or major change (such as a new job or school, a new home in a new area, a new baby, a break up of a relationship or a bereavement, or perhaps retirement)?
Were you anxious about someone's else's wellbeing? Or a crucial exam? Perhaps there was a combination of stressful events? If you can identify such a circumstance, this is useful information for you, as it tells you when your own stress levels reach a pitch that you find difficult to cope with. (A lot of people, however, can't recall anything specific, and it doesn't matter if you can't, either.)
We would now like you to turn your attention to what is happening in your life at the moment and to take the emotional needs audit opposite.
As you do so, try to really think about each question and be as honest and probing as possible. If you have already identified yourself as a black-or-white thinker, you might be tempted to say that none of your needs is being met. But that is unlikely to be true. The very fact that you are in a position to be concentrating on this book suggests that something in your life is working.
Perhaps, as you consider the following questions, you will find that many things are working well (or could be), but one big area of dissatisfaction is overshadowing the rest. Or it could be that certain needs are getting met but not in the healthiest way for you.
The paragraphs below are intended as a guide, to get you thinking, so, as you work through them, make a note of any areas that you become aware of in which your needs are not being satisfactorily met.
Do you feel secure at home, at work and in your environment?
For instance, do you live with someone with whom you have a loving and caring relationship or with someone you are fearful of who constantly criticises you - or do you reluctantly live alone? If you are a young person, is your parents' or carers' relationship a good one and do you feel secure in your relationship with them? Are you confident at work or school or do you feel undermined or bullied by peers or a boss? Is your work culture authoritarian or inclusive? Is your job secure? Do you dread social occasions where you don't know anyone? If you have a mortgage, can you pay it? Have you been assaulted on the street or burgled at home and are you fearful of it happening again? Do your fears prevent you from doing some things that you would otherwise want to do?
Do you feel you receive enough attention?
And, if so, is it necessarily of the right type? For instance, do you spend most of your time doing things for other people, such as your children, partner or parents, at the expense of your own needs? Do you ever feel that certain other people sap your energy, wanting all your support and a sympathetic ear at any time that suits them, but are prepared to give little back? Are there people who are genuinely interested in what you think and feel? Do you feel appreciated?
Or do you spend a great deal of time alone, whether you want to or because you feel you have no other option? Do you feel too shy to participate much on social occasions or fear them so much that you avoid them altogether? Do you get attention by being anxious and fearful, or by creating scenes and dramas?
Do you think you give other people enough attention?
Do you wholeheartedly spend time doing things with (or for) your friends, children, relatives or needy neighbours? Can you 'hear' what your partner says to you or do you hear only what you expect to? Do you listen to what colleagues have to say? Do you enjoy being the centre of attention, for instance through giving speeches or seminars or presentations or per-forming on stage? Do you engage in certain activities just to win attention - for instance, turning to politics or taking up a sport, just to share the interests of the new love in your life? Are you genuinely interested in what others think and do, or just in how their opinions and actions affect you?
Do you feel in control of your life most of the time?
For instance, do you have sufficient responsibility in your work life or too little or too much? Do you have targets or deadlines that you struggle to meet? Can you take the respon-sibility for important decisions in your life? Does someone in your life have too much influence or power over you? Have you recently lost your sense of control, perhaps because of the arrival of a new person at work, a new baby or the introduction into your life of difficult in-laws? Do you feel you should be able to control things that, in fact, you can't - such as how much your children study or how well they do in exams - and blame yourself if things don't tum out as you think they should? Have you developed a physical disability or chronic illness that has taken away a measure of your control? Or per-haps you have debts and other financial worries that you feel you cannot control? Do you feel out of control of your body or your thoughts (resulting in panic attacks or compulsive behaviours?) Maybe you feel left in the dark by others about things that affect you - for instance financial matters or information relating to an illness or treatment?
Do you feel part of the wider community?
Humans are social animals and need social connections. Do you know people outside your close family and circle of friends? Do you help others, such as neighbours, or through voluntary work of any kind? Are you involved with a church or other religious institution? Are you involved with any neighbourhood schemes or local politics or do you participate in any community activities, such as a local drama group, football team, aerobics class or parents' group? Or perhaps you are a school governor or a member of a charity's management committee? Do you have people you say hello to on the street? Have you ceased to participate in regular activities because of a particular changed circumstance, such as loss of a job, a newborn baby or a disability or chronic illness? Have you withdrawn from activities you enjoy because of anxieties, such as fear of a panic attack or the need secretly to perform compulsive activities?
Can you obtain privacy when you need to?
Do you have anywhere in your home that you can withdraw to, to quietly reflect or get on with some task or hobby in peace? Do you have a space that is deemed yours, whether a bedroom or a study or a tree house or a den? Do you feel that your space is constantly invaded by family members? Do you work in an open plan office and, if so, does it offer any meas-ure of privacy, such as screen partitions? Do you feel that your private belongings are respected, and not pried into? Can youl do you take off somewhere alone, if you need to? Are you always available via mobile phone during the day and evening?
Do you have at least one close friend?
That is, is there someone in your life you trust completely and who trusts you, and with whom you are in contact a lot? Do you see them often? Do you do things together? Do you see them less since you or they started a relationship with a new partner? Do you care what they think about you? Do you want the best for them, and do they want the best for you? Could you call on them for help at any time? If you are lonely, do you try to mask it with the anaesthetic of alcohol?
Do you have an intimate relationship in your life?
That is, do you feel totally physically and emotionally accepted for who you are by at least one person. (This could be your be your close friend.) Is there at least one person who you know will always be in your comer, if the going gets tough? Can you tell them anything? Do they as honest and probing as possible ... " comfort or advise you, when you are down, and bolster your confidence, and enjoy your successes? Do they think you are fun or funny and a great person to be around? Can you be yourself with them? Or have you lost the person who meant most to you in your life? For instance, has a serious relationship recently ended? Are you grieving for someone who has died? (Bereavement can make us feel sad and bereft for a long time but if you are still completely grief-stricken two years after a loved one's death, that is no longer normal grieving.) Do you drink - or did you start - to mask the pain of bereavement or separation? Do you feel fearful that a partner will stray or is your partner fearful that you might stray? (Sometimes agoraphobia develops in response to accusations of infidelity from the other partner or as a means of 'keeping an eye on' a partner, because they must stay close by to take over domestic chores such as shopping, child collection and so on.)
Do you feel an emotional connection to others?
Do you have family and friends you care about a lot, apart from your closest friend? Do you feel cared for by them? Do you speak to or see them often? Or have you lost touch with family or friends or stopped seeing them just lately?
Do you have a 'status' in life that you value and that is acknowledged?
We only know we are accepted by the wider community when we get feedback in the form of acknowledged status. For instance, do your relations, friends, partner, neighbours or colleagues - respect you for the roles you play in life - at work, socially, as a parent or talented musician, knowledgeable gardener etc. - and do you feel valued for how you perform them? Do you feel suitably rewarded or appreciated for what you do? Do at least some people give you high status in at least one area of expertise? Do you feel you should have achieved more, or that others have done better than you? Do you feel you fit in somewhere, or do you feel an outsider; a non-entity? Do you feel inferior or hostile to others or often jealous of them? Do you yearn for what you haven't got? Do you feel you have been denied chances in life?
Are you achieving things in your life that you are proud of?
We all need to feel a sense of achievement. For instance, on balance, are you doing what you want to do with your life or have you outgrown or lost interest in what you are doing now? Do you enjoy the way you spend your time and feel satisfyingly stretched by it or do you feel out of your depth? Do you like new challenges? Or do you avoid challenges and stick to what is comfortably familiar, blocking out the thought that perhaps you could achieve more? Do you feel unsatis-fied, not challenged, stuck, perhaps because there is nothing further you can achieve at work or your children have grown up and left home? Or are you resting on your laurels - relying on a major past success to feel good about yourself?
Do you feel competent in at least one major area in your life?
When we know we are competent at something, whatever it is, we have evidence that we are not useless. So, do you think you are good at at least some of what you do, whether that is being a parent, holding down a job, managing a career, play-ing a sport, or using an important life skill such as sewing, gardening, cooking, car maintenance or whatever? Can people rely on your skills? Do people respect your skills? If you don't feel competent, you are likely to have low self-esteem, which comes from a sense of inadequacy and lack of self-belief.
Are you mentally and/or physically stretched in ways that give you a sense of meaning and purpose?
There are three main ways we find meaning and purpose in our lives. First, we all need to feel needed or that we can do something that is of value to others. Are there people in your life who need you? Do you have a caring role as a parent or adult child of elderly parents or within a caring profession? Do you engage in activities that have meaning for others, such as helping out in a charity shop, visiting elderly people, walking a sick person's dog? Secondly, do you have activities that interest and continue to challenge you? (Even if you are retired from work, retirement from life is not an option: you need to stretch yourself and set realistic goals for yourself, whatever age you are.) Thirdly, do you have an overarching philosophy or approach to life that helps you see life as intrinsically meaningful? Do you have a commitment to something bigger than yourself that stretches you, be it spiritual, political, a determination to save the environment or to raise health standards in developing countries?
What have you found out?
When you have completed your audit, you may find that your life is working better than you thought, and that your anxiety is blowing a lot of things out of proportion. Or maybe there are definite areas of unmet need that could be triggering your anxiety or keeping it going. Or maybe you are meeting some of your needs in unhealthy ways, at the expense of your health or of your relationships with other people. Perhaps your anxiety itself has just become a habit and this habitual anxious response is now stopping you from getting your needs met. It could also be the case that, once you have dealt with a specific problem such as panic attacks or compulsive behaviours, you will have no unmet needs, because the circumstance that triggered them is in the past. If so, it is useful if you have become aware, from the quick' stock-taking' exercise you did before the audit, of the kinds of stresses that might leave you vulnerable to anxiety in the future. Then you can act promptly to reduce your stress burden or to apply the anti-anxiety techniques you are learning.
How well are your emotional needs being met? - summary and checklist
You might like to use this checklist when carrying out your own emotional needs audit. Rate, in your judgement, how well the following emotional needs are being met in your life now, on a scale of one to seven (where 1 means not met at all, and 7 means being very well met).
- Do you feel secure in all major areas of your life? For instance, in your home life, work life or environment?
- Do you feel you receive enough attention?
- Do you think you give other people enough attention?
- Do you feel in control of your life most of the time?
- Do you feel part of the wider community?
- Can you obtain privacy when you need to?
- Do you have at least one close friend?
- Do you have an intimate relationship in your life (i.e. you are totally physically and emotionally accepted for who you are by at least one person)?
- Do you feel an emotional connection to others?
- Do you have a status in life (whatever it may be) that you value and that is acknowledged?
- Are you achieving things in your life that you are proud of?
- Do you feel competent in at least one major area of your life?
- Are you mentally and/or physically stretched in ways which give you a sense of meaning and purpose?
If you have scored any need at 3 or less, this is likely to be a major stressor for you. Even if you have scored only one need very low, it can be enough of a problem to have a serious, adverse effect on your life, and could well be the cause of your anxiety/stress.
Continued in this article: Set specific goals for yourself