A shocked Ethan arrived at my office the day after he’d had a visit to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. The doctors there assured him that no, he hadn’t had a heart attack. He’d had an anxiety attack. All he knew was that whatever it was it felt awful. Now, he was terrified it would happen again. Before it did, he wanted to know exactly what was going on, and what to do about it.
Ethan is a Superiority personality. He’s an independent, intense achiever. He’s driven by excess energy, which he funnels into goals of all kinds everywhere in his life. Ethan is always in movement, moving ahead: moving into new projects, moving to avoid boredom, moving to accomplish something, always doing.
Ethan’s style is like his dad’s. As a little boy, Eric watched his dad work two jobs and also be involved with projects on the weekends. Ethan grew beliefs like, “Life is exciting and interesting,” “I can do it all,” and “I never have enough time to get everything done,” “I should hurry.” This is how he’s always run his life.
Ethan started his busyness early. At seven years old he made a model sailboat from scratch, entered it in a contest and won first prize. By eleven, he was handy enough with tools to finish his parent’s basement family room.
At age eighteen he enrolled in college to become an architect. But, he quit in his junior year; he was anxious to get on with his life. So, fifteen years ago at the age of twenty, Ethan started his painting and wallpapering business. It has grown; he now employs fourteen people.
The urgent question now is: (1) what can he do about himself and the situation? He’s jeopardizing his health.
It’s true that by watching any person’s movement, we can discover his/her thoughts about how he should live his daily life. So, Ethan and I started looking at his daily schedule to see how he was spending his time.
His day started at 5:00 a.m. when the alarm went off. It ended around 11:30 p.m. when he turned off his reading light. He spent the hours between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. getting ready for work, eating breakfast, and making phone calls to his various job foremen. From 7:00 a.m. when he left for work until 5:00 p.m. when he arrived back home, he drove from site to site managing his employees, or he helped on a job.
Once home, he’d fix dinner for the family. He, Emily and little Logan, his two-year-old son, would eat. He’d play with Logan for 30 minutes or so. Then, he’d go downstairs to work on this current project. He wasn’t ever free from his heavy internal pressure to achieve and “keep moving.”
“So?” Ethan said, “I’ve always lived this way.” “I replied, “That the trouble!” It never occurred to him that living every minute under pressure wasn’t “normal.” Now, when he checked in with himself, he realized he couldn’t relax anymore.
We began working on the idea of a balanced lifestyle. Ethan got used to the truth that, like everyone else, he had only 24 hours in a day. This is a harsh reality to any Superiority-type intense, driving person. But, this truth remains no matter how hard he pushes or how anxious he becomes.
Gradually, little by little, Ethan retrained himself. He:
(a) slowed his racing thoughts,
(b) learned to discipline his intense feelings, and
(c) moderated his behavior,
(d) learned to own his goals, instead of letting them own him,
(e) lowered his expectations of himself.
His work day looks a bit different now. He:
(a) takes small breaks during his workday to slow his mind down,
(b) practices deep-breathing exercises while he’s driving, instead of planning his next project,
(c) works out at a nearby gym,
(d) plays with his son more.
(e) has a regular “date night” with Emily.
Last time I saw Ethan, he’d gone three years without any anxiety attacks. Good for him.
How About You? Are You Over-Stressed
About Something in Your Life?
Joan Chamberlain is an author, therapist, and life coach with over 30 years of experience helping adults, couples, and teens. She has a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance, a Bachelor's in education, and a Masters in individuals, couples, and family counseling. Her book, Smart Relationships, has helped many people achieve the self-awareness needed to see themselves honestly. Its wisdom has helped them work toward improving their relationships with themselves, their friends, and their families.