I’ve spent a LOT of time analyzing anxiety – studying where it comes from, biologically what happens in the body, and mystical theories. I’ve also spent a lot of time documenting different strategies on how to cope with anxiety, so I’ll share some of that with you today.
In terms of biology – Anxiety is the fight or flight response. Something has sparked the survival instinct in you that says, “You’re in immediate danger! Quick! Either put up your fists or RUN AWAY!! THIS IS LIFE OR DEATH!” All of this happens in the less evolved part of the brain nestled inside of the neocortex – the Limbic system in us. Meanwhile, our rational evolved pre-frontal cortex is like, “What are you freaking out about? There’s nothing happening.” And this is where judgment of ourselves really intensifies matters. Because once we start saying to ourselves, “I’m overreacting” we belittle ourselves (often adding depression to the mix) and have little hope of actually figuring out what’s going on.
Our minds are a complex interaction between the evolved parts (the prefrontal cortex) and the primal parts (the limbic system and the “reptile brain” autonomic functions). However, since the primal parts don’t know how to speak in words (frontal lobe – far, far away from the limbic system) – we must learn how to interpret their signals.
For years, I tried meditating, a LOT of exercising, reading, affirmations, pretty much everything you can think of besides medication. I really did not want to take medication. Then, in 2014, I was going through a very stressful time and having convulsive panic attacks which were scaring my stepdaughter – really, if it wasn’t effecting people around me, I probably still wouldn’t have gone to the doctor! But because I knew I needed to keep my sanity for her, I went and was fortunate enough to have a fantastic doctor who listened to what I was going through. She prescribed sertraline and buspirone and seriously, it was life changing. I was internally warm for the first time that I can remember. Walking down the stairs was a challenge because I could actually feel my legs – I had no idea I was living as a floating head all of this time, totally disconnected from my body. I was actually viewing life through first person view instead of 3rd person. AND! The best thing is, I continued doing all the things that were supposed to help and they actually did! Meditation, exercise, even sleep, everything was so much more effective. I was afraid that medication might ‘change me’ or make me a zombie, but it did exactly the opposite. I would just lay in bed and enjoy feeling my own body heat itself. This was the first time I felt “back in my body” again.
As a teenager, we had this furnace in the hall next to my room, and I would lay in front of it trying to get warm. But it was like the cold was on the inside and I couldn’t get the warmth past the skin.
Another part of anxiety was the racing thoughts. Darting from here to there, up and down and around again. At around the same time I started taking medication, my husband was also experiencing intense anxiety said he had never experienced it like that before. He’s normally a very level, even keel type of person and really didn’t know how to handle it. I remember saying to him, “It’s like you’ve eaten way too much sugar and your brain is foggy and racing – but you haven’t eaten any sugar.” He was like, “YES, exactly!” I like to think that it helped to have someone near that understood – even if I couldn’t make it go away.
When I feel really anxious, I feel like I can see the particles in the air. Everything is intensely bright and loud.
I’ve had really intense night terrors – there was nothing to fight, nothing attacking me, just extremely real. I once dreamed my husband and I were going to bed and all of these children were around. I told them they needed to go to bed and all but one ran off. The one girl sat at the end of our bed. I picked her up to carry her to bed and she fell limp in my arms. Her head turned to the side with a slack jaw and half of her skull was missing with the brain exposed. I woke myself up trying to scream and when Brian asked me what was wrong I told him about the dream and told him the girl was “pretending to be alive“.
I still haven’t figured out a solid way to get rid of anxiety for good. But I have found a few ways to transform it into excitement and use the extra energy for good.
- Racing thoughts – WRITE IT ALL OUT. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it doesn’t even need to make sense. Take a timer, set it for 5 minutes and just try to get out everything that’s in your mind. If the timer buzzes and you’re still writing, keep going and go until you can breathe again. If you finish before the timer, then say to yourself, “Wow, all the things I’m worried about fit into less than 5 minutes.”
- CLEAN something! Anything. And really take your time to see the difference. The floors work great for me, especially the corners, because you have to get on your hands and knees into “working posture”.
- Think about how much time you’ve spent being anxious. Say to yourself, “Something bigger than myself knows that this thing is bothering me – I’m going to trust in it that it will take care of me.” Trust in God, the Universe, Family, Community, whatever you believe in that’s bigger than yourself will help you realize you’re not alone and you don’t have to figure it all out yourself.
- Realize that sometimes, anxiety just happens for no reason at all. Once you stop looking for a reason, you break the cycle of “Why am I anxious?” Cut off the dialogue in your head with the anxiety. Instead, start a conversation with gratitude. “Why am I thankful today? What am I looking forward to in the future?”
Being anxious is a repetitious and addictive cycle that feeds off of itself.
Be thankful that you experience human emotions with such intensity – this means you’re a very empathetic individual, meaning you’re very in tune to those around you and desperately want to help. Let go of control and start trusting that everything will be okay in the end. Once you realize you’re stuck in a rut and determine you’re ready to move on, only then can you really break out of it. But don’t expect to be ready right away, it’s a process. And it’s totally okay to run around in this circle for a long time until finally – you’re just bored of doing the same thing over and over again. Get bored of being anxious!
Once that happens, you can transform the anxiety to energy you can put into the things you have control over and be aware of the things that are out of your control.
Then we can focus more on becoming who we want to be, rather than who we were or what happened to us (often lending ourselves to blame and giving up our responsibility and power to others), only then can we move forward with our lives.
“You have many habits that weaken you. The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”