Learning To Understand What You Need, And Ask For It (Despite Anxiety)


Asking for what you need - whether it’s in a relationship, from your family, or at work - can feel a bit daunting. Far too often, “asking for it” makes us feel like we are a nag, “too needy,” or in some cases, downright bossy.

Communicating what you don’t need - or why you feel certain negative emotions - that can feel a bit like playing with fire.

Emotional intelligence, the capacity in which we can both understand and communicate emotional information, is truly a skill. For someone with generalized anxiety disorder (a mental illness that impacts roughly 18% of the population), it’s a skill most can only dream of.

Those with anxiety unconsciously control their emotions in abnormal ways. For someone without anxiety, asking for help or communicating how important a date night is might feel daunting. For someone with anxiety, fear, uncertainty and non-stop worry control her thoughts all day long.

“Oh, it might be silly to mention how I’d love a date night this weekend,” for someone without anxiety quickly spirals into “If I mention I want a date night and he finds it annoying we might get into an argument. If we get into an argument, he might not want to go on the date night… Or worse what if he tells me he doesn’t want to go on any date nights with me anymore… Ever. No that’s silly. I’ll just tell him. Oh, it’s dumb. I don’t need a date night, anyway.”

Which leads to the best part: for many people with anxiety, especially me, this means emotions tend to be pushed down and held in as long as possible. Avoiding confrontation, not wanting to be a bother, and generally wanting to keep things status quo, is a lot easier than popping the cork on that champagne bottle of emotions.

Problem with that is that as it turns out, studies have linked the repression of negative emotions to increased stress and the release of emotions to better health and longer lives. So what’s someone with anxiety to do?

I've been learning a lot about congruent emotions as I am on a journey to deal with anxiety and depression. “Mood-Congruent Behavior” means that expressed actions are consistent with how one feels. When you behave in a way that is congruent it means that you are acting in a way that is the same as how you truly feel - you know what you want and how you feel, and you are asking for it and expressing it.

Here are some of my successes (and failures) so far with “mood-congruent behavior”.

#1: Think it through first.

I can do this. I’m psyched up. I’m confident. I am going to say what I think. I am going to be confident in my conviction and tell the world what I need… And I am going to sound like a huge brat doing it.

It’s really important to think it through first. You have to start from a place of self-awareness before anything else. What do you want to communicate? How do you feel and what do you want the other person to learn? In any conversation there is room for misunderstanding and miscommunication, so to start off by thinking about the message you want to communicate, you can try to avoid that.

#2: Don’t back down.

When you’re so used to pushing down your own feelings, it can be really easy to just back down the moment you get (or think you get) any opposition. In my case, the opposition was imagined and I was ready to back down and call it a loss in asking for what I needed. Luckily, my partner wasn’t letting me off the hook.

#3: Ambivalence gets in the way.

I mean, maybe I’m wrong but….

This is an anxiety problem. This is a woman problem. Being unsure if you should feel a certain way or whether or not you’re expressing it correctly can be frustrating. For me, my anxiety around that often manifests itself in anger and leads me to “lash out” on my loved ones when I struggle to express myself.

The key here is to go back to your confidence in your own emotions. You’re allowed to feel however you feel and you need to trust yourself to express that. Bottom line: the person on the other end of the conversation cares enough about you to hear you (and if they don’t, you don’t need ‘em).

For those who struggle with anxiety, communication can be hard. But learning to understand your own emotions is a huge first step to expressing them… and ultimately, to getting to a healthier mental place.