Do you struggle to relax because you feel you need to be alert? You feel apprehensive. Tip toeing around. Anticipating what will happen next.
I know I did in my home and still do in certain situations. It’s that fight or flight response. As the child of an alcoholic, you learn to be on edge. To be alert and ready for whatever comes your way. Not all parents that drink are aggressive and abusive, but their moods are unpredictable.
It’s a horrible feeling to be on edge, your body tenses up and you feel frozen to the spot. Sometimes you might hold your breath, waiting for what’s to follow. Will your parent shout and scream, criticise you, hit you, startle you or act unpredictably?
I remember sitting on the stairs, listening to my parents argue. Having no control to do anything about it but sit in fear of what will happen. So many situations like this happened in my home. Waiting for Dad to come in from work, depending on his mood will depend on how I acted.
Running over various scenarios in my head, planning my exit in case he got violent so I could get away. These are all things I do unconsciously as an adult now because it’s my “go to”. I automatically think that way, but now, I’m usually not in danger so that fight or flight response isn’t really very helpful to me.
All you want is to feel safe, and some how that scared child has become an anxious adult.
Struggle to relax
There was no way I made the connection with how I felt as a child with how I was an an adult, well not for many years and not without help. I feel that I have to keep myself safe, my sister and I often talk about how quickly we scan a room, looking for potential threats. That being on edge from childhood has us doing this automatically.
Ridiculous isn’t it? We aren’t children under threat from our drunk parent anymore.
You may not notice this, but often your body will tense up, whether that’s your jaw, clenching fists or your body. Whatever it is, notice it. You won’t do this every time, but now you know you can start to pay attention.
Make a list of the situations that cause you to feel tense or times you struggle to relax. e.g. when you’re overwhelmed, too busy or being with new people / in new situations. Then when those situations arise, you’ll be aware that they may cause you to feel hyper-alert and you’ll struggle to relax and enjoy yourself.
Then when you find yourself in the situation, feeling yourself tense and on edge. Ask yourself these questions:
- Have I felt this way in my past/childhood? (pay attention to the feeling rather than the thoughts)
- Are there the same/potentially the same issues in this situation?
- Is it possible the outcome/situation could be different?
- What do I need in this situation to make me feel safe/OK?
Often asking for help and sharing how you’re feeling can really help to relax you, let go of the fear you have of what may or may not happen.
The more you do it the quicker you’ll get at it and it’ll become a habit. Then you won’t need it at all, because you’ll have found ways to make you feel safe and relaxed.
Here are some more tips that may help you relax
- Think about a stress ball or something portable you can carry with you – it can take your focus off whatever is stopping you relaxing
- Breathing is one of the best things you can do when feeling stressed and hyper-alert
- Some people like doing puzzles, games on their phone, taking a bath, listening to music. Discover what will work by testing a few out (but sometimes it needs to be a quick solution and portable – a bath if you’re out socially won’t work!)
How I struggle to relax
Even though I love to organise, when I’m the person responsible I struggle to relax because I feel the arrangements are all on me. I want people to have a good time, so I then worry they are and don’t enjoy it myself.
So this is a good example for me, so I can reflect on that now and start to ask others for help. Let people know and if they can see I’m worrying they can reassure me. It’s not noticeable that I’m struggling but people will see it as me “fussing”. Alternatively, I can not arrange events, or not be the sole person responsible.
Also if I know I have lots of things to do, I struggle to relax if I don’t get those things done. Once they’re done, I can let myself enjoy doing nothing (or as close to nothing as I can!). This links into my need to achieve and feel I’ve accomplished something. I’ve always been told that being lazy was bad, that I had to make the best use of my time and in the most efficient way.
That’s not all bad but if you’re someone that takes things to extremes, it’s not particularly healthy.
Until you’re aware of your triggers, you can’t really put things in place to help you. Also, it’s no good saying you’ll do something if you’re not likely to. So make sure you pick strategies that you’ll do and that work for you.
Learning from your eggshell experience
Ultimately the reason you’re feeling this way is because of the alcoholic home you’ve lived in. You had to adjust to the unpredictability of life, which left you feeling like you had to be super alert because the situation could at times be dangerous. So now as an adult, you perceive life in the same way and fear situations that are potentially safe.
This can make you highly sensitive which has good points, but it comes with it’s challenges. It makes you hyper-alert to people, places and things around you. You are usually very intuitive and empathic to others. You’re hurt easier and it can be hard to switch off, small things bother and concern you.
Ultimately because you’re home life was probably out of control (at least out of your control), being on alert helps you to feel in control, but as the quote above says, this is you trying to control the external. If you focus on the internal, helping you feel safe then you’re less likely to need to be hyper-alert.
So what can you do to make yourself feel safe?
I’d always say to trust your gut instinct, but you may also want to look into letting go of your inability to relax and need to be on alert. Do you want to be able to relax more and not feel you’re on hyper-alert?
We can use Emotional Freedom Technique together which has transformed the thinking and lives of my clients, even after only a few sessions. Using this technique to help you feel safe and relaxed will give you the reassure you probably crave! Click here to find out more.