Being Single and Dealing with Anxiety

In our culture, single adulthood is a time when people are particularly vulnerable to anxiety because it is a time of strong expectations for creating a foundation for “when you really grow up.” Messages about career, marriage, and children begin to dominate many people’s lives that previously had been occupied with creativity and exploration. Single adults often show up in therapy with anxiety associated with one of three kinds of experience: Physical sensations such as shortness of breath, racing heart, and shakiness, for which no physical cause can be found.

  • A tremendous sense of pressure and fears about not being able to live up to expectations or a sense of being a failure.
  • Worry and a sense of panic that get in the way of moving toward goals.

For all of these experiences, young adults have found it helpful to identify the expectations placed on them and evaluate whether those are fitting for them. Often these expectations come directly from their families, but are really nested within larger cultural ideals.

  • Elizabeth couldn’t stop focusing on her inability to catch her breath and her pounding heart. When she realized she had used family connections to gain a job that wasn’t satisfying and acknowledged to herself that she really wanted to be an artist, these feelings stopped.
  • In his first business job, Tom was preoccupied with thoughts of failure and compared his progress against other people’s promotions. Looking at the bigger picture and at what was most important to him helped him appreciate both his job and other aspects of his life.
  • Lynn always expected that, in her twenties, she would marry and have kids. As she approached her thirtieth birthday still single, she felt a sense of growing panic and despair. Once she recognized how the panic was keeping her from enjoying anything, she realized there could be other ways to live a productive and enjoyable life.

Questions for Single Adults

  • What do you think are the cultural messages, in terms of expectations, for you at this time of your life?
  • What do you find most fulfilling in your life?
  • If you were to be guided by fulfillment instead of the pressure of expectations, what would that be like? Would that be a good thing or bad thing? Is there a middle ground that would be more fitting for you?
  • Who would support this kind of direction for your life? Why?

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