Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

woman at desk showing signs of anxiety

Anxiety Disorders, Panic, Phobias and Fear Part 4 What turns the FEELING of Anxiety into a PROBLEM with Anxiety.

by James Porter June 20, 2024

This is a ten-part series about anxiety: How to identify the different forms of anxiety and what you can do to lessen its effects.

Recently, I attended an all-day workshop on 6 forms of anxiety with Dr. Mark Schneider. During the program, Schneider explained that it’s our belief systems that can turn anxiety from an occasional problem into a full-fledged disorder. These anxiety-producing belief systems include:

  • Perfectionism
  • Loss of control
  • Intolerance of uncertainty
  • Negative and positive beliefs about worry
  • Maladaptive behaviors


Perfectionism. Perfectionists come in three varieties. They can be self-critical, other-critical or socially-prescribed. The self-critical perfectionists overreact to perceived mistakes they make and have negative beliefs about their own performance. (I’ll never be any good at this or that.) I had to let go of my perfectionism in order to get over my fear of public speaking. (If I make a mistake in public it will be terrible.) 

Other-critical perfectionists impose their own unrealistic standards on other people. The micromanager or toxic boss is often an other-critical perfectionist. (I’m the only one who can do this job correctly.) And finally, the socially-prescribed perfectionist worries about what other people will think of them. (If my neighbors see me driving this old [or messy] car, they will think less of me.) These socially-prescribed perfectionists often burnout because they work themselves to death trying to meet the impossibly high expectations they believe others have of them. Dr. Schneider described this last variety as “throwing your neighbors under the bus.” 

Loss of control. Conquering stress requires a delicate balance that we play out with our sense of control. We all need to feel like we are in the driver’s seat of our life: This is what it means to have an internal locus of control. Research shows that when you have an internal locus of control you experience LESS stress. People who have an external locus of control experience MORE stress because they feel that someone else (like their boss or their spouse or the deep state) is in the driver’s seat of their life. They continually blame other people and circumstances for the bad things that happen to them.

Therefore, sense of control and levels of stress are intimately related. HOWEVER, it’s important to remember that there are certain things in life like the weather, the economy, and the current political climate, that we simply can’t control. And when we try to control the things we simply can’t control, it’s going result in a lot of suffering and anxiety and stress. To illustrate this contradictory point about control, simply remember: You can’t control the weather on your daughter’s wedding day, but YOU CAN RENT A TENT. Focus on what you can control in a situation and completely let go of (i.e., don’t worry about) what you can’t.

Tolerating uncertainty. Dr. Schneider made an interesting point about tolerating uncertainty. “You all got in a car this morning and drove to this seminar in spite of the fact that you could have gotten in a car accident.” In other words, we had all tolerated uncertainty to some degree. This observation reminded me of how a good psychologist, or any good counselor, can help you put your problems in perspective. “Nobody knows what the future will bring,” he went on to explain, “so we have to get comfortable with the fact that we have no other choice but to act on the best information we have at the time, and then deal with the consequences, good or bad, no matter how they turn out.”

Negative and positive beliefs about worry. Many of us, suffer from the all-too-common misconception that our worrying prevents bad things from happening. Since the odds of something we might over-worry about like the economy crashing or getting laid off, or getting cancer or a plane crashing or being murdered are either low or infinitesimally low. (On 9/11/2001 – when four planes crashed in one day – your odds of dying in a plane crash that day were close to 1 in 450,000.) And yet we think that when we worry about these things long enough, we prevent them from happening. And of course, this simple odds-game – where these bad things are SO unlikely to happen - reinforces the positive belief that worrying is helpful and this false belief maintains and even increases our worrying.

And then there is the opposing or negative belief that worrying is bad. So we worry about worrying too much.

Maladaptive behaviors These include avoidance (e.g., not opening a letter from the IRS, or a credit card statement or putting off an annual physical or colonoscopy. Over-preparation, (e.g., feeling like you need to keep your home or apartment in perfect order just in case someone drops by unexpectedly) and safety checking, (e.g., making overly sure that your children or your parents or a loved one are safe when you ALREADY KNOW they are safe like when they are in school, or being cared for by someone reliable or even when they are fully grown or fully capable of living on their own.)

These are the all-too common belief-systems: Perfectionism, Loss of control, Intolerance of uncertainty, Negative and positive beliefs about worry and Maladaptive behaviors that can turn the occasional feeling of anxiety into a constant, gnawing feeling of anxiety which may eventually lead to an anxiety disorder.

In part 4-7, we’ll look at specific anxiety disorders including Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety, and PTSD. In parts 8, 9 and 10 we’ll look at a variety of treatments for anxiety.

James Porter
James Porter