By Lisa Campion
Anxiety sucks. I think it’s one of the worst feelings ever. Like broken glass in your gut. I have suffered my fair share of anxiety over the years, some of it quite severe. But I have reached a point of being able to master that emotion so that it very rarely gets the better of me. I have come a long way from the panic attacks of the past and so I would love to share my recipe for dealing with anxiety.
While all different types of people can experience the charms of living with anxiety, it sure does effect empaths and sensitives in a huge way and I have yet to meet an empath that doesn’t struggle with anxiety in some form or another.
Do you know the difference between FEAR and ANXIETY? Fear is a totally legitimate neurological response to danger. Say, for example, you are walking through the woods and a bear jumps out at you. In just a few seconds, your adrenal glands fire and you go into an autonomic nervous system response designed to save your life before you can even think about it.
Fear VS Anxiety
Once those adrenals fire, you will fight, flee or freeze, depending on how you are wired and hopefully you escape the bear and live another day. Yay! That is fear and we really need it. If all goes well, the adrenal rush clears your system in a few minutes and your nervous system resets back to normal. That is fear and it’s a good thing.
While fear is an appropriate response to a dangerous situation, anxiety is a different animal. Say three weeks later you are walking down the same trail and you only THINK a bear is going to jump out at you because the last time you were there one did. You will have the same adrenal response about a thought you are having, rather then an actual bear. So anxiety is a fear/adrenal response but for something that is not actually happening in the present moment.
Anxiety is all about feeling fear due to a thought. It won’t save your life like fear will, in fact if left unchecked; it can actually take years off your life.
Personally, I blame that pesky frontal lobe and neo-cortex of our human brains. Animals without this troublesome organ don’t feel much anxiety since they exist mostly in present time. It’s our obsession with what has happened to us in the past that causes anxiety that it might happen again in the future.
We are thinking about what MIGHT happen again because sometime in the past, it DID happen. And yet, ninety nine percent of the time, nothing really is happening in the moment. We are trapped in WHAT IF LAND. What if there is a bear? What if THAT THING happens again? What if a tornado drops a house on me, because one time that happened! (ok, it happened to someone else, but it was scary!)
There is a terrible cost to us with anxiety. With fear, hopefully what happens is that that adrenalin clears the system in a few minutes and your nervous system resets back to a normal, at rest state. But anxiety, there can be a constant firing of the adrenals; leading to adrenal overload and the corresponding health problems we can have from living in a constant state of stress.
Common symptoms of adrenal gland overload include difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, chronic fatigue, lack of energy in the morning, unexplained pain, especially in the upper back, decreased sex drive, depression, nausea, constipation and diarrhea, unexplained hair loss, food cravings, low blood pressure, low blood sugar and weight gain around the waist.
Yee hah! Sounds like a party, but we all know that overloading the system with stress this way is not good for our physical and mental health.
And yet so many people suffer from anxiety! I just looked up statistics for the amount of people that suffer from anxiety disorders and the numbers runs at about 13% of the general population and I am not sure what the numbers are for empaths in particular, since no one has done that kind of research, but I bet that they are much higher.
The Good News
There are lots of wonderful treatments for anxiety and everyone needs to find their own treatment cocktail. It might include things like-
- Traditional talk therapy
- EFT and EMDR
- Reiki, acupuncture and other forms of energy work
- Relaxation techniques like bio feedback and meditation
Here is my own process for managing it that I have been using for years, first on myself and then with my clients.
I had to learn how to deal with my own anxiety issues, thankfully resolved now and this is the method that I used myself. I had tremendous anxiety problems after the birth of my third child. It was really postpartum depression that came out as anxiety rather then depression. I had awful panic attacks that really left me scared and shaky. The worst one I had, I had to ditch my shopping cart in the middle of the supermarket and I barely made it home.
I had to do something about it, but because I was nursing a baby, I didn’t want to take medications. I learned this method that really worked for me and have used it to the point where I rarely feel anxious, but if I do, I know what to do!
Facts VS Feelings-
It’s important to keep tract of what the facts are versus what your feelings are. The facts are usually pretty straightforward, but if it is something that is connected to our triggers then we can really ramp up the anxiety quickly.
My triggers were around my kids getting sick. My middle son had a cancer scare when I was pregnant with my daughter. He is totally fine, it turned out to be an infected lymph gland in him neck. He has a lovely scar where they did a biopsy but for a while there, they couldn’t tell us it wasn’t cancer. Then after my daughter was born, every time one of the kids would get sick, I would freak out and think that they had cancer and were going to die. That was my trigger. And of course because I had three small children, they were sick all the time! Every time someone would have a sniffle or a fever, I would have an anxiety attack.
After doing a lot of therapy, this is how I began to understand it. The unprocessed trauma of the cancer scare when I was heavily pregnant really left a mark on me. His biopsy happened that day before I gave birth to my daughter. I never had time to process the feelings about that so it was hanging around in my system.
Then the trigger of the kids getting sick would rocket launch me right to “They have cancer and they are going to die.”
I learned to break this down, slow it down and distinguish the facts from my feelings. The fact is that one of them had a fever. That is the fact, it’s pretty simple. Kids get sick all the time and it’s really no big deal. It took a lot of mental discipline to stay with the simple facts, but there is a lot of inner peace there.
Then I would separate out the feelings from those facts. And here is where the flipping out and emotional freak-outs would happen. I would ask myself how I felt about those facts. In the beginning of doing this, I actually carried around a little notebook with me and I would the write the facts on one side of the page, and then write my feelings on the other side. In writing me feelings down in the notebook, it began to release the content of the trauma that I had been holding onto which was basically the primal fear, terror and pain of a mother losing a child.
I also used an affirmation to help me stay with the facts.
“In this moment, I am perfectly safe.”
If you think about it, most of the time this is true. Unless you are really living in a war zone or other violent situation, most of the time we are safe. The problem with unresolved trauma and it’s associated anxiety is that it makes you live either in the past or the fear of the future. You are not really in the moment. In THIS MOMENT you are safe.
Even highly anxious people are often very capable of dealing competently with an emergency. I was like that, even in the worst of my anxiety. I have always had a cool head in an emergency. I can and do deal with a crisis situation with efficiency. So really, what is there to be afraid of? When I learned to stay in the moment and practice mindfulness, l just started feeling safe unless there is actually something horrible happening in the moment.
And then you have skills, a nervous system designed to assist you through those things and plenty of other coping skills. For most of us, we can truly say that ninety nine percent of the time, we ARE safe and when we aren’t, we know what to do.
If you can really own this, you will feel safe all the time. I do.
PS. Here is my favorite book about anxiety- “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living”- By Dale Carnegie
I love this book by Dale Carnegie, I highly recommend you read it. Well written, easy to read and highly practical, it is full of really useful tips and techniques to help you stop worrying and start living! One of his tips that I still use all the time is the ability to accept the worse case scenario. If you have something hard coming up, you accept the worst-case scenario and see if you can get in under your belt. Then hope for the best. This one really works for me.