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What the Hell is Anxiety and
Why does Anxiety Feel Like Hell?

I could not figure out which of those lines to make the subject, so I decided on both. Please, hold your applause.

I hope this finds you in a place where you can sort through this email and find solace. That is the point of me sending these monthly musings around topics that have left many of us in the dark in our own healing.

I hate anxiety. Hate it. Part of that hate stems from the first time (in my late teens) someone explained that the heavy sensation in my chest, the lack of oxygen, the inability to soothe myself was: an anxiety attack (later renamed as a panic attack). While I have better coping skills on what to do with anxiety now, at the time there was little coping. You only know your body is experiencing something that feels unbearable. Looking for a definition was not as important as finding immediate relief.

I have approached most of my healing this way. When I was diagnosed with cPTSD, I was looking for answers and felt lost.

My therapist: “There is a newer therapy that might help. It’s called EM…”

Me: “I’M IN! Here is my social security number, blood sample, and my credit card. I…AM…IN!”

There were no conversations around what may work and what wouldn’t. There was prolonged stress, lack of diagnoses and definitions, and frankly, I would have done anything that was recommended. Fortunately for me, EMDR worked well.

Over 13 years later since I got that help, I look back and often question “Why didn’t anyone explain what anxiety was?” “Ok, so I have cPTSD. What does that mean?” I wrote A Survivors Guide to Trauma Recovery hoping to empower people who are approaching this process as their own best advocate. Meaning, they do not have the answers, but they are educating themselves as best they can to offer themselves every potential resource that could bring healing. I speak as a survivor who feels like there is so little information that speaks survivor language. Messages that break down the experience with more validation over the mind and bodies responses and less guesses as to how to make the story go away (tip: they don’t).

Reminder: I am not a mental health professional. I am speaking this from my experience, with the hopes that it can be translated to help others find paths to heal.

What is anxiety?

  • The inability for the mind and body to accept/adapt to an experience in front of them.
  • The surge of memories from our past self, warning our present self to pay close attention.
  • The nervous system telling us that things as they are are not ok.

How does anxiety show up?

  • Tightness in chest.
  • Sweating, clammy hands.
  • Cramps, diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears

How do you soothe anxiety?

  • It will be different for everyone.
  • It will be different for everyone.
  • It will be different for everyone.

When anxiety is coming from a place of warning (I remember something about this, and it is not a good memory), it sends a flush of intensity to us, in whatever way our body will receive. In real time, anxiety is difficult to manage because that intensity is usually not just one symptom, but many, and at once.  It is unrealistic to think we can always pause and name it as anxiety.

But, when we can:

  • We can begin to learn breathing techniques that send the messages back to the brain that regulates the nervous system, and the intensity begins to slow down (because we are listening).
  • We can pause long enough to know that the message is coming from a triggered part of our mind/body, and that message is clearly important, as is the part of us who carries the original wound.
  • When possible, we can learn to exit situations that tend to increase anxiety and ask what ways our mind and body function best in that type of environment. Then create the proper boundaries to be in those situations while acknowledging that the anxiety deserves respect.

Again, there are so many layers to this. When I began googling to see if I could add some links here, almost all of the articles lead to the 392 ways we are supposed to address anxiety. Guess what that brought about in me? Yeah.

Please hear me out:

  • Anxiety is a draining experience. It is scary, exhausting, and sometimes comes with shame. That shame is misplaced, and it is not serving you. Anxiety is often attempting to send messages that no one (so far) has been willing to hear.
  • There isn’t always a deeper meaning behind feeling anxious. A reason? Sure. But, sometimes being human in a world that is loud, busy, demanding, dismissive, is enough to feel anxious and need reprieve. No questions asked. Just reprieve.
  • When there is an old story being triggered, there is tremendous healing in pausing and asking “Who needs me here? My 10-year-old self, who thinks the way I saw those people yelling, means something bad is about to happen?”  “My 15-year-old self who had that terrible experience and every time they are around _______, they shrink, then come back harder and louder asking for space?” There is so much healing in this.

So much of this is learning to BELIEVE the truth behind our body’s response. That synchronicity has so much power in it. Again, hard to get there? Yeah. Worth it to try anyway? Absolutely.

If you have never done breathwork exercises, I can’t stress enough the power in them. That may mean intense breathing while going for a long walk and yelling every five minutes. But, learning to pull in things that tell the body “I am listening. I am here to help you resolve the things that you need clarity about. I hate how this feels but I respect that you need something from me.” Healing in real time. Seriously.

As you sign off, in case you have the space for this:

  • Breathe in through your nose for four to five seconds and then hold at the top for three.
  • Exhale slowly through the mouth while counting to six.
  • Inhale: “I acknowledge my body is doing it’s best.”
  • Exhale: “I will respect that it has been through a lot.”
  • Inhale: “There are many of us trying to understand what we are experiencing.
  • ”Exhale: “My story matters.”

Repeat with compassion as often as possible.

As always, I am grateful we have a space where we speak openly and can trust we are each on a path trying to find ourselves less anxious, and more relieved.

I am so glad you are here!


PS: For those like me, who feel anxious in public (large crowds, heavy traffic,  LOUD anything) I have found noise canceling headphones to be extremely beneficial. I will often have on my nature sounds app or soft classical music (try “September Song” by Agnes Obel) and it makes a significant difference while in public. I hope that helps!


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