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Thoughts around a generation's journey to adulting...

“Anxiety” or “anxiety”?

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Many parents tell me that their adult child suffers from anxiety. “My child cannot / will not do XYZ because they have anxiety.” I have heard about “anxiety” so many times that I have learned to tap the brakes a bit and explore that one.  
 
“Anxiety” (here with a capital A) is a clinical diagnosis, and that is serious stuff. Not something I would run past or make light of.   
 
In common usage, though, “anxiety” (with a small A) means a feeling of worry or dread about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. We all have anxiety sometimes and while it is unpleasant, it is not the stuff of therapy.  
 
I find that while growing up, some young adults were taught to place great emphasis on their own happiness. (Which is good, to a point.) They were also sheltered from emotionally bruising experiences. (Not so good, maybe.) But as they transition from being kids to being adults these experiences – or lack of experiences — can manifest in an unhealthy degree of sensitivity, an emotional fragility. For these people, feelings of common anxiety can take on exaggerated importance as if unhappiness, uncertainty or dread should be avoided at all costs.   
 
When these people then dialogue with parents or other adults about their feelings, “anxiety” can take on the power of a safeword that means, this has to stop, this is not good. “I don’t do anxiety and I CANNOT do things that make me feel anxious.” After a while it can start to sound like the clinical (capital A) “anxiety.” And then everyone walks gingerly around the anxiety-inducing topic. Anxiety wins!  
 
I offer an alternative lens – that young people often have anxiety because they doubt their own capability relative to a situation. Perhaps they have underdeveloped confidence or courage, or they have not yet learned to how to process discomfort, challenge, accountability, risk-taking, setbacks, or failure.   
 
In working with clients, I challenge that simply feeling anxious is NOT a reason to avoid doing something. We look behind the anxiety and try to identify if what is really going on is a gap in capability, confidence, courage, etc. I find that clients are often quite able (when facilitated) to recognize the doubts or fears that are behind their anxieties. And then those feelings of dread become much more manageable.  
 
And every time a young person steps up to do something that makes them anxious – whether it goes well and they celebrate the win, or it goes badly and they fail but don’t die — it gets easier to step up the next time with increased confidence and even optimism. 

 Anyone who would like to connect with me or explore these topics more is invited to visit my website at www.otoolecoaching.com

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Martin O'Toole

Marty is a great listener who asks a lot of curious questions. When he asks about your day or how you are doing, he really wants to know. And he comes equipped with a supply of anecdotes and stories that keep the time together interesting.

He is practical and results-oriented. He believes in showing up every day to do the work and learning by experience. He preaches action orientation, resilience, entrepreneurship, and the importance of good decision-making.