If there was ever an experience that most of us would like to retire permanently, it’s anxiety. In my extreme commitment to living in joy consistently, which means open to paying attention to all emotions, I find anxiety the most challenging (quite unpleasant) experience.
You know anxiety, yes? Anxiety, the fuel for the overwhelm fire. Anxiety, the thief of fulfilling encounters with other humans. Anxiety, the worried voice that isn’t solving any problems late into the night but keeps us awake anyway.
Most of us have experienced being anxious at some point. This is normal, and it is beneficial when it comes in a small, short dose. Anxiety alerts us to potential danger. It signals to us to pay attention. It spurs us into important action.
However, when the dose gets bigger, productivity through inspired action becomes impossible. We either cannot summon the focus or energy to do things, or we engage in unconscious busyness as a way to find a reprieve. Neither scenario feels good. First, it’s awful to feel ineffective in accomplishing goals or making changes. And second, while the busyness can feel like a solution, more and more and more is required until collapsing with exhaustion is inevitable. That collapse can come in the form of overeating, over-drinking, or needing to numb out on screens.
Here are a few examples that point to anxiety taking up too much space:
• A feeling of being unsafe even if you know you are safe.
• Having a hard time making decisions and second-guessing them when you do.
• The inability to enjoy resting or leisurely experiences unless they have been earned.
• Worst-case scenario thoughts have a stronghold on you.
• Relationship with loved ones suffers because you cannot connect honestly, and when you do, your overwhelm bleeds out on them.
• Sleeping cycles are disrupted.
• Focus turns on something unrelated as a distraction. (For example, you begin to obsess about your body size to redirect your energy and have a “reason” to feel anxious along with a solution like, if only I was thinner, I would feel better. Actually, the original anxiety driver is completely unrelated.)
Often anxiety is so evasive in its feeling that we often cannot determine what is causing it. What it does cause is frustration. Even more frustrating is when we have an idea of what it is, and it doesn’t make sense. (ugh!)
Then it gets worse. (yikes!) A loved one or your own brain tries to apply logic as a solution. This actually increases anxiety because now you feel bad, broken, or inadequate for your inability to just stop being anxious.
Applying logic to anxiety is like teaching your dog algebra. The desired result will continue to remain out of reach.
The answer to anxiety lies in understanding more about your awesome nervous system. Our beautiful autonomic nervous system is designed to spontaneously take care of us. Thank goodness, we don’t have to direct our heart to beat or our lungs to breathe. Thank goodness, digestion starts naturally, and elimination also works without conscious management.
And another important part of the nervous system is our natural, healthy, automatic reaction to threat or stress. This stress response signals us to fight, take flight, or freeze, whatever our system deems best for survival.
Anxiety is the flight response in action. It’s activated and is not deactivating properly. Imagine anxiety as a smoke alarm alerting to the start of burning the gingerbread cookies.
However, once the oven is turned down, it keeps going off unnecessarily, maybe even continuing to shrink as you attempt to reach the reset button.
This is what is happening with anxiety. There is dysregulation in the stress response creating false and constant alerts. The cool thing about your nervous system and anxiety is, there is a way to “reset” it and find regulation again.
Pause. Did you get that? There is a solution to anxiety. Can I get a fist pump and an amen? I mean, this is a cause for celebration.
You are on the first step of healing anxiety right now. Learning about your awesome alert system. Anxiety is the flight response of the body’s built-in automatic stress response. That’s right, it is automatic. You don’t need to think about it; it naturally alerts you to danger. As discussed above, when it is dysregulated, it continues to shout, alert, alert, alert! This is not your fault. Here are a few things that can cause dysregulation.
• Early childhood challenges
• Toxic subconscious beliefs
• Ongoing unrelenting financial stress
• Distorted safety ideas (I’ll be safe when I am this size, or I’ll be safe when I make this much money)
• Untreated trauma (Quick note about trauma: Trauma is caused by events that are too much and too fast overwhelming the system OR too little for too long with the system not getting enough support)
There’s more. The nervous system is highly sensitized to anything that is:
This is pretty much 2020 in a nutshell.
• There are all kinds of new problems, protocols, and ways of being in the world.
• Most of us did not and still cannot predict what is coming next.
• So much is out of our control right now.
Ah-ha! No wonder anxiety is so prevalent right now. You are not alone, nor are you broken. I’m hoping just hearing a bit about what is happening behind the scenes with your biology helps.
So, if logic falls short, what is the solution?
Sensation and Somatic Experiencing.
Sensation is the language of the nervous system. Learning to notice, be with, and experience bodily sensations begin the resolution of anxiety. This may seem simple (and to a certain extent, it is), and yet most of us vastly undervalue the ability to be in and experience the body.
Somatic Experiencing with a skilled practitioner will facilitate deeply connecting to and being in the body, as you start to notice and cultivate the capacity to be in sensations.
With this skill, you can begin to complete some of the stress cycles that have become stuck. These incomplete cycles are what is creating this extreme alert notification being on overdrive. Slowly incorporating Somatic Experiencing tools will help the body to have completion. As the body is allowed to “speak” and be witnessed, anxiety becomes a small whisper to listen to for course correction rather than a tsunami of disruption.
Going back to the smoke alarm metaphor, your excellent smoke alarm will get your attention (as it should). Next, you will develop the capacity to easily navigate pendulating from stress response into a state of peace.
It gets even better. The result is not only anxiety resolution, but you’ll experience a level of freedom and agency to show up for and navigate all kinds of experiences in the world.
Anxiety doesn’t respond to logic. That’s okay.
There is a solution.
Anxiety does not need to be ongoing or so all-encompassing. And the even better news is that it is absolutely possible to do better than manage anxiety.
Once your nervous system receives some gentle attending to, it will regain balance and regulation. Somatic Experiencing Trauma therapy is a brilliant way to facilitate this attention.
Anxiety relief. Ready? Let’s chat more about it. Let’s get you on the journey to more JOY.