Ask Fiona: How can I stop my anxiety spiralling out of control?
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective to an anxious mother, and a woman who is cheating on her boyfriend
PLEASE help, my life is being crippled by constant worry. I have been like this for as long as I can remember, but since I got married and had children it seems to be so much worse.
After the kids started school, I couldn't get through a day without convincing myself my husband had died in a car crash or one of my children had been abducted. Now, if my husband is a few minutes late in getting home, I can't help but fret. If I don't know where my children are every second of every day, I am a gibbering wreck too.
My husband says I need to stop worrying because it never solves anything. He also thinks it will start to affect my health. Part of me knows he's right, but I still can't stop. Other people seem unaffected by the worries of modern life; what is wrong with me?
FIONA SAYS: Worry and anxiety are a normal part of everyday life and everyone is affected by them. Others may seem unaffected, but I can assure you that is not the case. What these seemingly relaxed people can do, though, is set aside these feelings temporarily to carry on with the demands of life. Please note that I say 'temporarily' because, in my opinion, no one can completely discard these powerful emotions.
In your case, though, they have taken over and it is important you develop some coping strategies. As your husband says, constant worry will take a toll on your emotional and physical health.
I get the sense from your email that you do not work and that your children are at school so, as a first step, try to get active and be busy. This could be a hobby, a sport, voluntary work or a part-time job.
It doesn't matter what you do, just as long as it takes your mind away from the spiral of negative thoughts. As part of this process, you might also try to develop some new friendships, because having friends to share your anxieties with could really help.
Secondly, look for ways to actively relax. This could be through things like yoga and tai chi or it might mean learning some mediation and breathing techniques.
Lastly, share your worries. When worries threaten to spiral out of control, talking them over with a family member or a trusted friend can make them seem far less threatening. It seems a cliche, but a worry shared really is a worried halved, so, getting out and about more and meeting new people could help you develop these much-needed friendships.
If this is difficult for you, or you struggle to implement any of the above suggestions, please speak with your GP. Your levels of anxiety are quite high so if a few simple steps do not help, it may mean your anxiety needs to be treated.
It might be your doctor suggests medication of some kind, or it may be that they decide to refer you to a counsellor. You could also visit MIND (mind.org.uk) or Anxiety UK (anxietyuk.org.uk) as both of these charities have a lot of information I think you'd find useful.
SHOULD I TELL MY BOYFRIEND I'M CHEATING?
I've been living with my boyfriend for the past three years. At first, everything was fun and exciting, but for the last few months it's felt flat.
I suppose this explains why I've started seeing another guy who is on the same course as me at college. He's great fun to be around and, although I know he's seeing someone else as well, I feel he's what I need right now.
My problem is, I hate having to lie to my boyfriend and sneak around just to get some time with this other guy. I really don't want to hurt him, but I'm not sure how much longer I can keep this secret.
Is it over between us?
FIONA SAYS: You're thinking about leaving him and you've described your relationship as 'flat' – if this relationship isn't already over, most would agree it is in serious trouble. More importantly, you're already hurting him by seeing someone else and when he finds out – as he may well do – he'll be hurt even more.
You say you hate lying to him, so I think it may be time for you to tell him honestly what you are feeling. This will very likely end things between you, but would this be any worse than how you're already feeling?
Finally, ending things with your boyfriend won't end the sneaking around if you continue to see this other guy. So perhaps a completely clean break with both will give you a clearer mind with which to think about what it is you really want from a relationship.
IS HE INTERESTED IN ME?
My marriage ended last year but we were both quite happy to go our separate ways, as we had drifted apart for several years. I had no plans to look for another relationship but I've already fallen for another man.
We met at a party and got chatting. Since then, we've met up a few times at a local charity coffee morning and spent a lot of time just talking. He's kind and easygoing but a little shy, I think, so I'm not sure how he really feels about me.
Is he interested in me or have I misread all the signals? I hope not because I do like him.
FIONA SAYS: He's certainly interested in you, though at this stage it's not clear whether this is simply for friendship or something more serious. What you do next depends on how patient you are.
I get the sense from your letter that this is all still very new, so one option is to give things a little more time and see how they develop. Alternatively, if you want to force the pace a little, I see nothing wrong with gently suggesting he might like to meet up with you socially, perhaps for a meal, a film or a concert.
If he accepts, great. If he doesn't, please don't feel too disappointed; you will still have made a good friend and they're not easy to find.
I'M TERRIFIED OF GETTING PREGNANT
In the three years I've been living with my boyfriend I've been on the pill, and I've also made sure that my boyfriend uses a condom.
Not because I am afraid of getting an infection – I trust him completely – but because I'm really terrified of getting pregnant.
I'm so afraid of being pregnant that I've started making excuses to avoid sex altogether and, although he's been patient, I'm afraid he's going to get fed up with me.
Why am I doing this to him?
FIONA SAYS: I see two possibilities here: Although you've been together for three years, it's possible that while you say you trust your boyfriend, you still have some slight doubts about him. The second possibility is that you have a fear of what being pregnant will mean for you, both physically and psychologically.
A certain amount of doubt is normal, but your fear has grown to the point where it is now interfering with your enjoyment of a normal sex life.
Counselling might help you pin down exactly what you are afraid of. Is it that you simply don't want children now or with this partner? Or do you never want children? Or is it that you are afraid of the birth process?
Whatever the root cause, your doctor can help you by looking through the range of contraceptive options and finding the one that will be most effective and suit your lifestyle.
Finally, have you spoken to your boyfriend about how you feel? He may be confused and in need of reassurance himself about why you're avoiding sex.
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.