“I’m Only Trying to Protect You.” Anxiety has the best of intentions

It’s 3:00 in the morning and you’re up thinking about whether or not the next mass shooting is going to be in your home town or if you’re going to be able to afford healthcare the next month.  It’s a regular NASCAR game of racing thoughts and anxiety kicks off its little party in your brain and body.

It can be so frustrating and exhausting AND it can be helpful to understand the intentions behind your anxiety.  Anxiety which can show up in many forms: panic attacks, hypervigilance of one’s environment, fears and phobias or certain situations; all of these started as a way of trying to help or protect you.  I invite you to think about anxiety starting as an answer to pain.  Anxiety feels like a dog paddle, frantically keeping our lips above water, up and out of pain.  It is usually the pain of feeling vulnerable in some ways, maybe we once felt truly helpless or powerless or maybe it is our way of protecting ourselves from getting hurt or feeling rejected.  Usually, we are anxious about something that we have no control over whatsoever.  So the intention of anxiety is to try to regain a sense of control, but it really makes us feel more powerless.  We are focusing on that which is NOT in our control and not paying attention to things that are (like stress management, eating right, taking care of ourselves, being present with our families, speaking our truth, taking action where we can, etc).

When our thoughts race, our system is trying to prepare for the next crappy thing that’s coming down the pipe. Our brains think, “If we can see it coming, we can be better prepared.”  The problem is, even though our system’s INTENTION is protection, the IMPACT is draining your adrenal system and pumping all kinds of stress chemicals into your system.  For those that have experienced some kind of trauma, this becomes even more intense.  The brain actually ONLY starts to process negative experiences as a way of protection because processing positive experiences leaves us open for the punch.  Feeling joy is vulnerable, but only processing negative experiences leaves us feeling pretty dang depressed.

So what do you do?  I have talked before about becoming the ultimate “inculder” of your emotions.  The same applies here.  If we can catch our anxiety with compassion, rather than frustration, it will naturally soften.  Begin to speak to it as though we were our own best friend.  “I know you are trying to protect me AND I know that I am stronger. I am first going to appreciate how you have protected me, but then I am going to lean into vulnerability and trust that I am strong.”   If you have had trauma, I encourage you to find a certified EMDR therapist as this can really help to process through painful experiences that may still be getting in your way in the present.  Allowing your system to process through the real pain will allow anxiety to lessen because you won’t be dog paddling trying to avoid it.  Ultimately, we want to be able to process not only negative experiences, but joyful ones as well. We want to be able to experience joy, be authentic and vibrant and take the power back from our pasts- like a bad “a.”

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