When I previously saw patients who suffered from stress and anxiety, many of them had struggles due to worries and uncertainty about the future. No matter how many medications I prescribed for them, no matter how many relaxation techniques I taught them, they still had debilitating anxiety and stress.
As a psychiatrist, I also struggled in how to help these patients who were coming to me for relief of their suffering. Despite addressing the low-hanging fruit of prescription medications and relaxation techniques, I still needed to address the reasons why they were anxious and stressed in the first place.
During these challenging times with anxious and stressed patients, I often thought about a proverb my medical school professor would recite:
“Don’t Give In- Give Way”
I asked Dr. R about where he came up with that proverb, as he often recited this to us when we were challenged as medical students and psychiatry residents, learning to deal with the struggles and distress of our patients.
Dr. R gladly obliged, and told the story of a patient he saw, a woman in her 40’s. She had seen Dr. R due to anxiety and stress. The patient was let go from her job due to declining company profits. After years of dedicating her life to her career, she was now faced with unemployment, age-discrimination, and being ‘over-qualified.’
The patient had significant worries and uncertainty about the future- and rightly so. Dr. R stated that if he were in her shoes, he would likely have the same worries and the unsettling feeling of uncertainty.
But he suggested to her to not give in. Giving in would just have her consumed by her thoughts of worry and uncertainty about the future. Giving in would lead to debilitating anxiety, as she would be all in her thoughts, and this would essentially paralyze her.
In addition, he also suggested that she not give up. Giving up would lead to avoiding her fears and worries, and having no hope for the future. This would eventually lead to anxiety and depression as well.
So instead, Dr. R suggested she give way. Giving way is not about giving in…it is not about focusing on your fears and worries about uncertainty. Giving way is not about giving up…it is not about avoiding your fears and worries. Giving way is a different way of thinking, where you accept the situation. By accepting the situation, you then can identify the factors which are in your control to change, and those that are not in your control to change.
The patient decided to give this a try, where instead of giving in to her worries about uncertainty, she gave way to them. In giving way, she was able to see how much experience and skills she had to offer. She came to the realization that she needed to retool and to shift to another career, while still piggy-backing on her skills and previous experience. Although it was a struggle financially and took a lot of self-education and formal education, she was able to find another satisfying job. She had given way to her worries of uncertainty, and in the process, was able to shift her life and hence her anxiety lifted.
By focusing on the realities and things she could control, the worries about uncertainty went away. In fact the real worries about an uncertain future then made her retool and educate herself to be in a position to be employable again. Had she focused on the uncertainty, she would never have taken action, and would have likely had worsening anxiety and depression. Giving way was a better solution than giving in or giving up.
On the other hand, giving way is not a magical, pop-psychology, fad technique. It is about real work to not give in and not give up. It is about real work, sweat, and tears to really give way- giving way to really examine yourself; giving way to assess the reality of the situation; giving way to take inventory of things you can change; giving way to accept the things you cannot change.
So when you are anxious and stressed with worry about an uncertain future:
“Don’t Give In- Give Way”