This is Evelyn (or Evi as we affectionately call her), and for the past seven years she has allowed me to be part of her life. One of the greatest things we can learn from Evi is how she copes with anxiety.
She has many anxieties, but the behaviors she exhibits are all similar – she hides, barks, shakes, or cries. Through these behaviours she seeks safety, tries to protect herself, or signals STOP.
No matter how silly her anxieties seem, it is important to listen to these behaviors and try to respond.
Evi doesn’t have the ability to think like a human, and logic doesn’t have much sway over her fears. We can’t explain to her that the loud noise was not something harmful, that we will be right back to see her, or that the vacuum won’t in fact eat her. Instead we find ways of communicating with her that help her feel safe, lessen her anxiety, and respond to her on an emotional level.
Evi is the best teacher of this communication approach. Her gentle and cautious nature causes others to feel safe around her. She will cuddle you when you are crying, give you space when you are mad, or give you attention when you seem lonely.
My partner and I take steps to make her feel safe or to help her calm down. She knows she can come to us if she is anxious, and she seems to know we will protect her from harm.
When she isn’t pushed towards facing her fear, she will approach it slowly and sometimes learns not to be afraid. When she is given support, the things that scare her have less power and her reactions are less intense. When she feels safe she can face her fears at her own pace, and with time overcome them.
Evi has taught me to respect my own boundaries and need for safety; that safety allows me to do my work and help others. She has taught me to try and notice the signals others send when they don’t feel safe or need support. We often expect those around us to be responsible for their own stress or anxiety. By noticing the signals others send out we can shift how we interact with others and this can have a significant impact. She has taught me that being safe is not a weakness, and that having boundaries can help us learn and grow.
If you struggle with anxiety or stress like Evi does, reach out to one of our professionals today. We can help you with self-care and to build boundaries that help you feel safe and allow you to grow.
Kate Emery – Masters of Counselling Practicum Student