The Epidemic of the Overwhelmed, Worried Woman

Stress Anxiety | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Stress Anxiety | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

When people find out that I am a psychologist, one of the first questions they ask is

 “What is your speciality/who do you work with?”

(Sometimes they also ask if I’m trying to read their minds and that’s when I need to remind myself that it’s not polite to roll my eyes.)

When I reply that my primary focus is overwhelmed and worried women, the typical response is:

“Isn’t that all of them?”

“You must be really busy.”

“Can I have your card?”

While I’m incredibly grateful that I have found my professional passion and there is a need for the work that I do, it’s also super disheartening that we have come to a place that we have accepted that a woman’s natural resting state should be “overwhelmed and worried.”

What is contributing to your overwhelmed and worried state?

1.       You think of “worried” as a stable personality trait, rather than something that can be changed. You may come from a long line of “worriers” and been exposed to excessive worry, so it’s the norm for you. You may have integrated “worrier” into a part of your identity and can’t envision a life without worry.  It is not even on the radar that maybe you don’t have to worry so much.

2.       You have unrealistic expectations of yourself.  You feel that you should be able to do it all; be a great mom, great wife, great friend, great professional, great decorator, great cook, great “insert favourite Pinterest board.” This is a great way to end up overwhelmed, because there is no way you can be great at everything.

3.       You have a hard time saying no. Sure, you’re more than happy to bake 100 cupcakes for the school bake sale! Of course, chairing that awful committee is no problem!  You would absolutely love to organize a camping trip for 20 people. Or not. But, saying no feels icky and then you have to deal with the guilt, so you just say yes.  And then feel resentment. And tired. And you vow that you will never agree to something that you don’t want to do again. Until someone asks again.

4.       You link your self-worth to what you do, rather than who you are.  It feels that you need a long to-do list to prove your value. If you’re not doing, you’re not worthy. It is hard to accept that you are enough simply because you are you.

5.       Your coping tank is empty and you need refuelling. When you are running on empty, worry can take over. Most things feel so much more difficult and challenging when you have nothing left in the tank.  

While this overwhelmed and worried state is common, it is not normal or healthy. We cannot simply accept that our lives should make us emotionally and physically ill. One of the easiest things we can do to reduce our feelings of being overwhelmed and worried is to start making a conscious effort to engage in more self-care. Make your own well-being a priority.

If you’re ready to ditch the worry and create a life that truly works for you, please contact me. I would be happy to help you start shedding the overwhelmed and worry label. 

Do I Worry Too Much? 9 Signs that Your Worry is Excessive

Stress Anxiety Worry | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Stress Anxiety Worry | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

It can be hard to figure out what a “normal” level of worrying is, especially if worry is a regular part of your life.  You may describe yourself as a “worrier”, or know that you come from a long line of “worriers” or other people may tell you that you worry too much.  But how do you really know if you worry too much? 

How can you differentiate between regular worry and anxiety that may be impacting your quality of life? 

1.       You worry about everything.  Health, finances, job, your kids, your relationship, vacations, your house; nothing is safe from the possibility of worry.  You may not worry about everything all at once, but there is a constant hum of possible worries.  You even worry about things that are supposed to be relaxing or enjoyable (Am I doing yoga right? Do I feel how I’m supposed to be feeling? Gah, I can’t even get zen right!). 

2.       You worry most of the time.  You may have moments of calm, but for the most part, you’re worrying about something the majority of your waking hours.

3.       You have a plan for the worst case scenario, even though the probability of it happening is pretty slim.  You may even have contingency plans for multiple worst case scenarios!

4.       You experience physical symptoms that flare up during times of stress, including tummy upset or headaches.

5.       You have a hard time just being in the present moment.  Your mind is constantly going and it’s tough to just sit and be.

6.       You plan, plan, plan and sometimes it feels that you’ve planned the fun out of things that are supposed to be enjoyable.  Upcoming vacations?  Between making packing lists, researching accommodations and activities, keeping passports and tickets organized, you are exhausted!  By the time the vacation rolls around you’ve lost your enthusiasm for it or you’re already planning the next thing.

7.       You’re constantly thinking about “the next phase.”  It could be getting married, buying a house, having children, finishing your degree, the next promotion.  Rather than just living in your current circumstances, you’re always looking ahead to the next thing.  While it’s good to have goals and plans, this way of thinking can suck all the enjoyment out of the present moment.

8.       Your sleep is being affected by worry.  You may be having a hard time falling asleep because of the worries racing through your mind or you’re waking up feeling panicked in the middle of the night.  The worry is a constant companion.

9.       Your behaviour is being impacted by the worry.  You may avoid certain activities because the anxiety is too high.  You may be having a hard time initiating an activity because you’re worried about the potential outcomes.  The worry is interfering with the things you want to do.

If any of these points resonate, you may actually be worrying too much. It may be hard to imagine, but it is possible to not constantly be in a state of anxiety.  Know a fellow worrier?  Share this blog post with them.  

Imposter Syndrome: Coping with "I'm Not Good Enough Anxiety"

Imposter Syndrome | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Imposter Syndrome | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

When I first started grad school, we were warned of a very serious condition that would likely affect us all at some point; the dreaded imposter syndrome. 

Symptoms of imposter syndrome could include:

– feeling like were not good enough to succeed at grad school

-feeling like a mistake had been made at the admissions office.  Very soon someone would have to awkwardly pull us to the side and break it to us that we needed to leave

– feeling that everyone around was much smarter, better qualified, and overall just better than us

– anxiety that someone would find out about the fact that we sucked

– feeling that we would never live up to be the ideal “grad student”; we would always be lacking in some way

– feeling like we needed to change things about ourselves to fit in

Sure enough, within a few months (or weeks…or days) many of us came down with imposter syndrome. I remember looking around at all of these brilliant future psychologists and thinking that while I had everyone fooled for the time being, soon enough my facade would crumble and everyone would realize how much I didn’t belong.  Turned out that I was not the only one, as all our anxieties came tumbling out at various times (I’m pretty sure that a mandatory  part of the graduate school experience is having a tearful freak out in a peer’s office).   Unfortunately imposter syndrome isn’t unique to graduate students (although it does seem to be rampant there!).  Many of us may feel imposter syndrome in various parts of our lives.

Have you ever felt like an imposter?  Maybe when you started a school program or a new job?  New moms will often feel that they feel like an imposter (um, why did the hospital actually let me take this baby home?  I have no idea what I am doing!).   You may have even felt like an imposter when making new friends (if they knew the real me they would never be my friend).  Usually we are infected by imposter syndrome when we are doing something new and feel anxiety about our abilities and whether we belong (anxious over achievers are often prone to imposter syndrome).

 How can we cope with imposter syndrome?  Can it ever be cured? 

Imposter syndrome is often linked with anxiety.  We worry about our abilities, our skill set and there is also a fear of being “discovered” by other people.  We do not feel good enough.  While it is very normal to feel anxious when starting a new experience, imposter syndrome can chip away at our belief in ourselves.  We begin to view things through the lens of anxiety and may misinterpret normal growing pains as a lack of our own abilities.  In order to cope with imposter syndrome we need to do a few things;

  • Accept that it is totally normal to feel anxiety in new situations; how the heck are you supposed to know how to do something if you’ve never done it before?

  • Acknowledge that it will take time to figure out how to do things and that once you’ve figured those out, there will be new challenges. We may always feel a bit out of our element

  • Talk to others about imposter syndrome; you may be surprised to see how many people have experienced this

  • Remind yourself of other times when you may have felt like an imposter; did that feeling resolve?

  • Ask for help! I know this is a scary one, since you may be scared that this will reveal that you are an imposter, but part of the learning process is getting help from those who have gone before us

Feeling like an imposter sucks, but over time and with some self-compassion, these feelings can go away.  Know someone who suffers from imposter syndrome?  Share this blog post with them!

7 Signs That You May be an Anxious Over Achiever (Even if You Would Never Describe Yourself as One)

Anxious Overachiever | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Anxious Overachiever | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

We all know one.  That person who always seems to have it together.  She seems to always be on the go, getting involved in committees and projects.  She gets up at 5:00 a.m. to fit in a morning work-out.  She is kind and gracious, with a large group of friends.  Her home is beautifully decorated.  She gets recognition at work.  She always looks put together.  However, despite this, she feels that she is never good enough.  There is a constant sense of “should do more.”  The anxiety may be overwhelming that pops up every now and again or it may be a constant, quiet hum that is always there.  She is always striving to do more, yet it never feels good enough.  She is the anxious over achiever.  She is prone to worry and her way of coping is to achieve.  However, it is never enough.  There is always more to do.  It is exhausting.  

Are you an anxious over-achiever?

  1. The idea that you are an over achiever is laughable (to you).  However, you likely have heard from other people “I don’t know how you do it.”  You may have done really well in school, even gone on to advanced degrees.  You get involved in your community, whether it’s sitting on committees or even starting a group.  You have a skill or talent that you are known for. If you objectively assess, you have probably done things that most people do not do.
  1. You have a difficult time acknowledging your accomplishments.  It might feel like you are bragging.  You minimize your successes (“It’s really not that big of a deal that I made partner at my firm”).  You tend to surround yourself with other accomplished people and feel that you never quite measure up to their successes.
  1. You have a hard time finishing projects because they won’t be “perfect.”  Whether it’s a craft, an article that you’re trying to write, or decorating a room, there is a block.  You have an ideal outcome, and if you feel that you can’t reach it, it’s not worth doing.  The idea of making mistakes terrorizes you.  You have struggled with procrastination.
  1. You would describe yourself as a worrier.  You worry about your family.  You worry about your finances.  You worry about your health.  You worry about your job.  You worry about your parenting skills.  You worry about the future.  The anxiety has likely been a life-long companion.
  1. You cope with the worry by making plans.  You have a plan A, B, C & D.  You make lists (it gives you a thrill to check something off as completed!).  You have an idea of where you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years.  You try to map out your life.
  1. You’re both drawn to and completely confused by “laid back” people.  You can’t understand how someone can just leave packing a suitcase until the last minute.  You’re baffled by their approach to just “play it by ear.”  However, you are drawn to this type of person and may even choose someone like this as your partner (which then can lead to frustrations down the road).
  1. There is a discrepancy between your expectations of yourself (very high), your perceptions of yourself (low) and reality (likely closer to your expectations than you acknowledge).  While setting high expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, you often set them *too* high and often in all parts of your life.  You want to be the best mother, wife, professional, yogi, scrapbooker and baker that Pinterest tells you that you should be.  However, you are hard on yourself, and perceive yourself as falling very short of your expectations.  You have a mental list of the mistakes you’ve made, how you are failing and you are your own worst critic.  If you objectively assessed your successes (or had other people judge them), there is a great likelihood that your reality is much closer to your expectations then you give yourself credit for.

How do you break the anxious over achiever cycle?  First acknowledge that you are one.  This may be a tough one, since it involves accepting that you are indeed an over achiever.  Own your accomplishments and your strengths.  There is nothing shameful about acknowledging it.  Once you have accepted that you are an anxious over achiever, start becoming aware of 1) your expectations 2) your perceptions and 3) reality.  Often there is a tension between the three which can create anxiety; if you feel that you’re never living up to a certain ideal (despite evidence to the contrary) this is going to fuel the anxiety.  You will be stuck in a place of feeling never “enough. “

Often anxious over achievers seek therapy because the anxiety becomes overwhelming.  While over achieving may keep the anxiety at bay for a period of time, as life becomes more challenging, this coping mechanism is just not sustainable.   There is no way to be amazing at all things.  Learning to be more compassionate to ourselves, allowing ourselves to fail, allowing ourselves to lower the bar and learning to tolerate, rather than fight, the anxiety are ways to break this anxiety cycle.  Believe that you are good enough.