- Written by John Brauer
The process of adoption is a difficult one in many ways, and a common reflection of that difficulty is the anxiety which it provokes. This can be either a manifestation of an ongoing anxiety disorder or an anxiety response unique to the situation.
For many people, adoption follows on the heels of a long journey, including fertility assessments and treatments, perhaps miscarriages and stillbirths or inability to become pregnant. Such experiences often have the effect of destabilizing one's confidence in the general idea that "everything will be all right," largely because it has not lately been true.
When this happens, a common reaction is to become anxious about many aspects of life, sometimes realistically and sometimes to a degree that is out of proportion to the situation. Learning to tell the difference is a key factor in managing anxiety. Sometimes this is as simple as stopping to explore the situation and its possible outcomes, but more often it will require exploring the situation with one's support system, to assess and weigh outcomes against the costs associated with different actions.
The issue which makes anxiety particularly difficult lies in the way that anxiety perpetuates itself. As one responds to one's anxious feelings, some of the actions which are chosen can serve to actually intensify the anxiety over the long run. The responses which do this can broadly be thought of as "indulging actions." This is not meant in the sense of one being self-indulgent, but rather as a means of looking at the rewards and consequences of a behavior pattern.
Rewards are any outcomes that make a pattern more likely to happen again, and punishments are outcomes that make the pattern less likely to happen again. By way of example, if Mike is anxious about his job status, and reduces that anxiety be calling his boss to make sure he isn't losing his job, then his anxiety will temporarily go away. This rewards the whole anxiety process, because making the anxiety go away is a reward for the anxiety pattern, and makes it more likely to happen again. In other words, if Mike habitually eases his anxiety by calling his boss, this will have the effect of actually INCREASING his anxiety. Now, if there is an actual benefit to this repeated asking, then it will perhaps be worthwhile. Unfortunately, it is more commonly true that it does not help (the boss will give the same answer repeatedly), and may actually have a non-beneficial effect (such as annoying the boss). In this case, the anxiety is increasing because of the indulging behavior, without any associated benefit.
A more useful approach is such a circumstance is to find a way to manage anxiety WITHOUT indulging it, and therefore without increasing the likelihood of more anxiety. There are many good books available which address this issue in depth (some of our favorites are available here), but in a nutshell, they combine a couple of central themes.
First, you must learn to relax yourself on command, through some sort of relaxation training. Second, you then will apply the relaxation skills to allow yourself to experience anxiety without engaging in indulging behaviors. This will lead to a gradual desensitization to the anxiety producing situation, and you will become less and less inclined to react with anxiety. The more frequently you expose yourself to this process, the more quickly the anxiety will ease. Conversely, the more frequently you engage in indulging behaviors, the more the anxiety will intensify. This approach as described is rather generic, and is most easily used with guidance from a therapist who is familiar with anxiety reduction approaches.