Dealing with Situational Anxiety

Whelp, it’s the last day of the month and I’m finally sitting down to write this post, and that just seems to go along with how this month has gone for me! I’ve talked a little bit about how I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but this time we’re going to talk about seasons more generally. Sometimes we are in a season of life that is just TOUGH, and it’s especially difficult if it’s combined with SAD, or any number of other things. So, how do we keep our heads up?

First of all, I am absolutely not an expert. I did happen to get a graduate degree in Psychology, so I suppose I have a general foundation for psychological issues, but I did not pursue a career in counseling and was not licensed. Anything I share here is either from personal experience or observations of others. Also, according to my therapist, “situational anxiety” is not an actual diagnosis, though we’ve agreed that it should be.

I’m not an expert, but one of my dear friends is, and she graciously agreed to add her two cents to my post. Thank you so much, Sara!

Anxiety is a natural, and wanted(!), bodily experience that helps to keep us safe in the face of threat. However, when anxiety shows up too often, too severely, and/or when there is no actual threat, it can be cause for great distress.

And it is not an uncommon experience. Around 19% of the US adult population experiences an anxiety disorder in any given year (, and this number is even higher if we take into account anxiety experiences that aren’t formally diagnosed as a disorder, such as subthreshold symptoms (symptoms that don’t quite meet clinical criteria) or situational anxiety (time-limited anxiety that shows up related to specific situations or experiences) (Haller et al., 2014). What triggers situational anxiety will vary from person to person, but some common causes include workplace stressors, exams/school stressors, presentations, meeting new people, pregnancy, and life changes/transitions (e.g., Nooryan et al., 2012; Ross et al., 2002; Vieira et al., 2022)

Sara O’Brien, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychological Science at Carthage College

How do you know you have situational anxiety?

Well, if you have it, you probably know something’s not right. But maybe you haven’t named it. I won’t pretend to know everything about this “diagnosis” or how everyone might be affected, but I will share my own experiences because I think more people need to talk about these things in a loving and understanding way. When I’m dealing with situational anxiety and stress, everything seems hard. Even the most mundane, typical life stuff feels impossible most days. I feel like I’m drowning on the worst days, and at best I’m wading through water trying to accomplish everything. Ever tried to run in water? It’s hard. It’s especially hard with two little children! I am exhausted, and I lose my cool and cry more often than I would like to admit. If you feel like any of this, I hope you know you’re not alone. I also hope you know that you can get help!

Ok, that fits. Now what do you do?

Don’t beat yourself up. You’re still a good wife, mom, friend, and person if you’re struggling. I promise! It really doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the trenches, trust me, I know, but it’s true. So the very first thing I suggest is to give yourself grace. How would you treat someone you love who felt like this? Try to remember to treat yourself with the same kindness.

Get help! Yes, you can talk to a trusted friend, and you should talk to your spouse or someone close so they know how to support you. It’s also important that you’re not navigating this alone, and an outside perspective is often needed to get you moving in the right direction. I highly encourage therapy. I know winter is especially tough for me, so I try to remember to line up counseling in the fall to get ahead of it a little bit. My counselor and I talk about everything from frustrations I have, to struggles with relationships, to simplifying my routines, to how to beat depressive moods, to what I’m doing as a side hustle. We cover everything and it helps to have that outlet. I highly recommend finding a professional you can talk to like that!

This is so important! Less than half of people who experience significant anxiety seek professional help, yet there are many effective treatments that can increase your coping and decrease the negative impacts of anxiety. Therapist availability will vary by region but here are two sources that can be useful in finding an anxiety specialist:

Sara O’Brien, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychological Science at Carthage College

Do what you can. If you don’t have the capacity to do all of your responsibilities, just do something. Don’t give up. Wash and put away one dish – pro tip, pick the biggest one because it will look like you’ve done more. Do one small load of laundry, even if it ends up piled on your kitchen table. (Ask me how I know that happens.) Be honest with yourself and members of your household and ask for help keeping up the chores. Drowning in dirty laundry and dishes and tripping over clutter will make everything worse, and even though it’s incredibly difficult some days to even think about catching up on housework, it’s worth it. So do a tiny task, delegate, ask for help, hire someone if you can swing it. Do whatever you can to achieve or maintain a tidy and peaceful environment.

Take care of yourself. Don’t skimp on your personal hygiene. In fact, take a longer shower or bath. Use your fancy lotion. Do your nails. Give yourself a facial. Do something that makes you feel pretty, even if it seems silly or unnecessary in the moment. Go to the gym, go for a walk, or do a workout video on YouTube. Try to prioritize making healthy meals. That’s the first thing to go for me. So one thing I do to get back on track is to pick an healthy and easy meal I enjoy and have it every morning. It doesn’t take much effort at all, and it definitely makes me feel better. My go to is a big bowl of nonfat Greek yogurt, topped with frozen blueberries, sprinkled with granola, and drizzled with honey. It is simple, yummy, nutritious, and makes me feel a little fancy, which is always fun. I try to keep healthy options for other meals and snacks, and make sure I have plenty of drinking water, but at first, sometimes changing just one meal is all I’ve got the capacity for. Remember, just do what you can. Move your body and do your best to take care of it. I know it can be really hard to do this, but it really helps!

As best as you can, prioritize sleep as well. Lack of sleep is strongly associated with anxiety and when we don’t sleep enough, it can feel harder to cope when that anxiety comes on. This is easier said than done (I’m a mama in the trenches as well, with a 4 year old who regularly disrupts my sleep!) but if we can follow Ginger’s “do what you can” mantra and be willing to leave some other things undone in the name of sleep, those few extra minutes can do a world of good.

Sara O’Brien, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychological Science at Carthage College

Be social. Yeah, I know. When you feel like crap, your house is a disaster, and you can barely find the energy to find clean socks for everyone, how can you be expected to get out and be social? Well, it is not easy! But, what I have found is that it’s not just about getting out, but about choosing the right events and people. Some things or people leave me drained, which is more apparent when I’m in this season of struggle. So pay attention to that. Maybe those things and people need to be removed (or at least reduced) from your schedule even in your good seasons! And the opposite is true. If you’re leaving an event feeling lighter, remember that! Who was there? What were you doing? Those are your people. That is your thing. Do more of that thing with those people! I’m not going to go into specifics here because it will be different for everyone, but pay attention to how you feel when you’re leaving places, and I think you’ll know what I mean.

Notice that everything I’ve said so far is just about doing what you can. It’s about focusing on what you can control: your health and wellness, your household tasks, your personal interactions, and how you spend your time and energy. All of these things are in your power to maintain or improve upon. Now, are there stressors in each of these areas that are out of your control? Sure. But what I’m learning about situational anxiety, is that the “situation” is typically something out of my control, or at least it feels that way. And that’s why it’s so crippling! But, the truth is, I can’t make other people do things. I can’t magically fix everything that’s bothering me. I have very little power over anything other than how I personally get through the day. So no matter what the situation is that is adding stress and anxiety, I think the only thing we can do is learn how to keep going. Keep wading through the water. Do what we can. Get help when we need it. Give ourselves grace. And have some faith.


Haller, H., Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Gass, F., & Dobos, G. J. (2014). The prevalence and burden of subthreshold generalized anxiety disorder: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry14, 128.

Nooryan, K., Gasparyan, K., Sharif, F., & Zoladl, M. (2012). Controlling anxiety in physicians and nurses working in intensive care units using emotional intelligence items as an anxiety management tool in Iran. International Journal of General Medicine5, 5–10.

Ross, L. E., Gilbert Evans, S. E., Sellers, E. M., & Romach, M. K. (2003). Measurement issues in postpartum depression part 1: anxiety as a feature of postpartum depression. Archives of Women’s Mental Health6(1), 51–57.

Vieira, A., Sousa, P., Moura, A., Lopes, L., Silva, C., Robinson, N., Machado, J., & Moreira, A. (2022). The effect of auriculotherapy on situational anxiety trigged by examinations: A randomized pilot trial. Healthcare10(10), 1816.


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