Poor anxiety, it gets such a bad rep!
Did you just cringe at that statement? If you did, it’s okay, I totally get it! I used to be team, To heck with anxiety, and F*** anxiety! This was until I better understood the anxious response...
The anxious (fight-or-flight) response exists to protect you. It’s something that happens to all of us, even if you don’t struggle with an anxiety disorder. It’s a physiological reaction that occurs in your body when there is perceived danger. But when you struggle with anxiety, panic, or agoraphobia, your brain is often perceiving many things as dangerous even though there is no true danger present. And once the signal is sent that danger is perceived, you quickly begin to experience the racing thoughts and the physical and mental symptoms.
And instead of feeling like the anxious response is protecting you, you feel like it’s working against you because it’s leading to all of these really challenging thoughts and feelings. Trust me, I get it! Once the signal went to my brain telling me that it perceived danger and the symptoms kicked in, well, I would convince myself that I was in danger and there was no way that it wasn’t leading to something terrible.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia, you likely fear the anxious response. And what you likely fear most is your body’s reaction to the anxious response and to the symptoms. You also probably have a very memorable first experience with the anxious response...
I had my first very memorable experience with the anxious response when I was in high school. I was at a track meet, running in an event, when I experienced a panic attack right before the race started. I didn’t know what to do! I immediately walked off of the track and into the bathroom where I began frantically throwing water on my face like you see in the movies (yeah, it didn’t help). I didn’t know what was happening and I just wanted the feeling to go away so badly. I remember feeling so scared, helpless, trapped, and embarrassed. This panic attack led to a very big fear of experiencing another panic attack. Sound familiar?
I then developed a heightened awareness of every sensation that was happening in my body. I began to notice when my heart was beating faster than usual. I began to notice when my breathing changed. I began to notice when my stomach was doing weird things (aka just digesting food). I began to notice when I just didn't feel one hundred percent. Even though many of the sensations that I experienced were completely natural, I found myself always thinking that I was on the verge of experiencing the symptoms or panic.
I would almost always convince myself that the feelings would lead to panic, or that something terrible would happen. Additionally, in an attempt to get ahead of anxiety and prepare myself for a possible panic attack at all times, I began to check for anxiety symptoms even when I wasn’t feeling anything at all… which only led to anxiety and panic. Just a little tip, you can’t get ahead of anxiety. If you’re trying to get ahead of it, you’re likely already anxious.
I was so afraid of my body’s reaction. And even though the anxious response couldn’t hurt me, it felt like it could. So I began avoiding, a lot. I started to avoid going places and doing things that often led to anxiety (which was pretty much everywhere and everything). I found myself constantly bailing on plans. I found myself constantly questioning myself and my capabilities. And worst of all, I found myself in almost a constant state of panic. And avoiding only made my journey harder, and it heightened the anxiety, symptoms, panic, and fears.
At one of my lowest moments, I knew that I had to work to change my approach and my response to the anxious response, as well as my perspective. After all, I had endured hundreds of panic attacks and not one had led to anything catastrophic. The only thing they ever led to was discomfort, embarrassment, sometimes a trip to the ER, and me feeling absolutely and utterly depleted.
So I began to acknowledge what was happening in my body when I felt anxious. I began to acknowledge that my body was trying to help me rather than hurt me. I began to allow myself to feel all of the discomfort. I began to remind myself of my strengths and abilities for working through hard things. I began taking healthy action. Ultimately, I began to show my brain that it was falsely protecting me.
Lots of people ask me, “So do you still experience anxiety?”
And of course I do, I’m human! Everyone experiences anxiety. I think where lots of people go wrong in the recovery journey is that they try to get rid of anxiety, which is impossible. It’s truly about changing your relationship with it. It’s about not fighting it, not trying to suppress it, and not avoiding feeling it. It’s truly about changing your approach and your response to anxiety.
It’s not you versus anxiety. You are capable of having a healthy relationship with anxiety.
And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been struggling, or how badly you’re struggling, or where you currently are in your journey... A great starting point is working to change your approach and your response to anxiety.
If you’d like some additional help from yours truly, check out a replay of the free class I hosted recently. Here it is: PANIC TO PEACE — 3 Steps to Leave the Symptoms, Panic, and Fears in the Past and Fast Track Your Way to Peace! It’s full of lots of helpful tips and tools, including some Q&A’s at the end. And let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you.