I don’t usually share the content of my weekly emails with anyone but my email subscribers, but last week’s email resonated with so many people and I know that it’s a message that many need to hear. And if you’re on my email list, keep reading! Some of this will be familiar but I am diving in a little deeper.
My first experience with anxiety was when I was about 7-years-old and it’s one of the most vivid memories that I have as a child. I was on a school field trip and we went to a local farm to learn how maple syrup is made (yup, such a New England thing).
I remember standing in a field, feeling nauseous and just not myself, and feeling a tingling sensation jolt through my body that went from my head to my toes. I had no idea what was happening at the time but I was so scared. I remember frantically searching for my teacher. Once I found her and told her that I didn’t feel good, she reassured me that I’d be okay and she held my hand and walked me back to the farm store and sat with me until the rest of the class came back. I remember feeling so embarrassed!
It was after this anxious moment that I started to notice that I dreaded rides on the school bus, field trips, and school itself. And what I dreaded most was the feeling that I felt that day, the feeling of not being in control.
Let’s face it, experiencing anxiety as a child is absolutely terrifying. You have no idea what’s happening, you don’t have the skills to process the feelings and emotions, and you don’t have the communication skills to share what you’re struggling with. And it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I began to understand why I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.
1. A big contributor of why I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia was childhood trauma. When a therapist first talked to me about trauma, I thought, nope, I’ve never experienced trauma. And I thought this because people often only talk about the more obvious traumas, like physical or sexual abuse, or losing a loved one. But trauma can also look a lot less obvious, like emotional neglect, divorce, bullying, or being raised in an unpredictable environment.
I grew up in a household with a parent that was emotionally unavailable and also displayed really unpredictable moods and behaviors. I often witnessed lots of yelling, outbursts, and things being slammed around. All of these things made me feel as though I wasn’t in control or safe, and so as a child and even into my teenage and early young adult years, I craved being in control and feeling safe everywhere I went and in all situations. This was my brain's way of protecting me.
As I got older, I realized that always seeking control and safety was actually causing me to experience anxiety, panic, and the symptoms. I was constantly convincing myself that I was trapped, not in control, and not safe, even when it wasn’t my reality. This was such a tough, but helpful realization.
If you can relate to any or all of this, I want you to know that you can heal. You haven’t done anything wrong. You haven’t caused the anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia. You aren’t broken, or unfixable, or crazy. There are very good reasons why you are struggling with what you’re struggling with, and the reasons aren’t your fault.
2. My thoughts - What actually caused me to feel out of control and unsafe. When we experience anxiety or panic in certain places or situations, we often think that the cause of the anxiety or panic is the place or situation. And when we do this, we start to avoid the places or situations that we’ve felt anxious in.
Here’s the thing, it wasn’t the field trip, the school bus, or school that caused me to feel out of control or is what caused the anxiety.
Just like it’s not the car, or traffic, or being alone, or being far from home that’s causing you to feel out of control or anxious. If you associate places or situations with anxiety, you'll likely feel anxious every single time. So what’s actually causing you to feel out of control and anxious?
Can you guess what I’m going to say?
Yep, it’s your thoughts and your reaction to them.
Sure, I experienced some very real symptoms on that field trip, but I wasn’t actually in any danger or unsafe. With the help of my thoughts, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t in control and unsafe in that situation.
Fast forward to my teenage and young adult years, I convinced myself of this on a daily basis. Whether it was when I experienced symptoms, or in places or situations that I had experienced anxiety, panic, and the symptoms many times before, like at school, at work, riding in a car or on public transportation, in traffic, or when I was alone.
If this is currently you, it’s okay! You can work to rewire your brain and create new and healthy pathways that don’t have your thoughts creating anxiety, panic, and the symptoms.
In June of 2021, I’ll be releasing an online course that is designed to teach you how to rewire your brain and undo the anxious thoughts so that you can experience peace. I'm so excited!!
For now, don’t avoid the places or the situations. Avoidance will make the fears and anxiety even bigger. Take small steps. Focus on what you can control and keep taking action. You are so very capable.
And if you aren’t already on my email list, jump on it! I share lots of helpful tools, tips, and inspiration there on a weekly basis and I’d love to have you become a part of my email family.