MANY OF THE MOST ANXIETY-PRODUCING situations
involve other peoples' expectations of you and how you respond
to them. The problem with trying to respond to other peoples'
expectations is that for the most part, you're responding to
your own ideas. Sometimes people tell you what they expect, but
most of the time you're stressing yourself out because of what
you think someone expects of you.
People like you and I people prone
to anxiety perceive the world differently than others.
We perceive more danger, we see things to worry about, and we
often interpret unthreatening events as threatening. That's what
Jimmy and Jane are going to have dinner
at a restaurant with their friends tonight. Jimmy is ready to
go and Jane is still getting ready. Jimmy is sitting down reading
a magazine, quite content. But Jane is prone to anxiety and she's
stressing. She knows Jimmy is waiting. She feels the silence
as ominous. She is hurrying as fast as she can. She feels pressured.
She moves too quickly and drops a glass of water on the floor
and it breaks. Now she's really frantic and quickly cleans it
up, tripping over herself because she's trying to move so quickly.
She imagines in her mind that Jimmy is
out there fuming. She knows he hates to be late. She's trying
to move as fast as she can. She is really sorry and feels anxious,
but she's still got about ten minutes before she will be ready,
and she can't stand the pressure any more. Finally she rushes
into the other room and blurts out: "Why don't you just
go without me! I'll never be ready on time!" As she finishes
this statement, she rounds the corner only to see that Jimmy
has dozed off and her statement has woken him up!
All the stress was in her head. Not that
she made it up. Jimmy has told her before he likes to arrive
early to places. A few times he has expressed impatience with
her. But she remembers those times very well and doesn't remember
the other times, which in reality are more numerous, when he
wasn't bothered at all by her lateness. Past stressful moments
are easier to remember for an anxiety-prone person than nonstressful
What should Jane do? She doesn't want to
stress out so much. First, she can ask Jimmy at the time. When
you assume you know what another is thinking, you can ask them
if it's true. There is always the possibility that when she asks,
Jimmy is in fact feeling very impatient but lies and says he's
fine. That's one of the reasons for assuming people have
a tendency to be nice and thus not be completely honest. But
if you ask sincerely, most people most of the time will tell
you the truth, so the responses you get are more likely to be
true than the assumptions you make in your head.
Second, she can thank Jimmy for being patient.
And third, she could solve the problem.
If this has happened before, Jane is aware that it takes her
longer to get ready than it takes Jimmy. She could solve that
problem so it is no longer a problem. She could start getting
ready earlier, for example. Then she wouldn't be running late,
so it wouldn't produce the extra adrenaline in her body.
The key thing to remember is that much
of the stress you might be feeling is coming from your assumptions
of what other people expect of you, and handle the situations
accordingly. Less anxiety will be your reward.
Don't assume. Ask.
Thank people when they help
Solve the problem so it doesn't
happen any more.