If you experience anxiety, then you probably don’t need anyone telling you how it affects your life. You’ve got enough firsthand examples.
But what I think we need more of is stories about how people handle their anxiety in healthy ways, especially when the story has a happy ending.
One of my most vivid experiences with anxiety and overwhelm was my first sexual experience after my divorce. Even though I’d known my partner for several months and trusted him, that experience was equal parts arousal and anxiety for me – although I didn’t realize it until afterward.
Before I released my attachment to overwhelm, I avoided intimacy by creating impossible criteria for my partner to meet in order for me to say yes to sex (the proverbial “jumping through hoops”). So while I was overwhelmed by anxiety in the story I’m telling, the fact that I let myself experience it was a sign of healing.
Later, as I lay in bed alone trying to fall asleep, what could have been pleasant memories of my experience triggered me instead. I literally writhed with anxiety, reliving every moment of the experience when I’d felt awkward or uncomfortable. Body issues, performance anxiety – memories of brief moments got totally blown up by my anxious mind.
My first instinct was a common human experience: projecting the blame onto someone else. I started crafting all the reasons why it was my partner’s fault that I felt so extremely uncomfortable and listing all the things he had done wrong. (Which he didn’t, but that was my story in the moment.)
Blaming the other person did nothing to make me feel better. It rarely does, right? Sure, there’s a minor sense of relief when the burden of responsibility is lifted off our own shoulders, but shifting the blame doesn’t resolve anything – it only prolongs the experience.
Before I healed my Core Wound, I would have stewed in this situation for days, but now I’m able to shift out of patterns in a few minutes or hours because my ego can’t hide the truth from me anymore.
By the time I woke up the next morning, my mind was a bit clearer and I returned to what my life experiences have proven: I am 100% at cause for everything that happens to me. That doesn’t mean I blame myself, because blame requires me to be a victim. It means that I am the root cause of anything I experience – I attract what matches some part of my energy – and that if I want to have a different experience then I need to change the root cause.
I also acknowledged that the man I chose to be with was a very caring and attentive partner who would have done anything to help me feel safe and satisfied if I had communicated my needs to him. But I hadn’t.
Instead, I’d entered into that encounter already overwhelmed by anxiety about being with a new partner. Rather than acknowledge those feelings, I’d tried to squash them down and navigate around them so that they didn’t ruin my chance to be close with him.
But as you know if you also experience anxiety, it doesn’t stay squashed down. It lingers in the background, letting us accomplish what we need to but shrouding the experience in a numbing veil. In my story, for example, being anxious didn’t keep me from experiencing physical pleasure, so it was only after the fact that I realized I hadn’t enjoyed our time together.
Anxiety eventually surfaces, as it did for me that night when my mind highlighted each of the uncomfortable moments that I had been unable (or unwilling) to witness while they were happening, with the added problem that now those moments were past and there was nothing I could do to fix them.
Thankfully, because of who I am and the skills I have, as my mind eventually cleared and I saw myself as the root cause, I was able to do something about it:
I spent half a day carefully and intentionally revisiting every moment that made me uncomfortable and unearthing the reasons why. Like I said, body issues and performance anxiety, but also acknowledging the impact that the overall anxiety itself had on my ability to connect with and trust my partner.
Then I used my healing talents to instantly retrain my brain, which offers the double gift of removing the anxiety from past memories and shifting my energy so that type of experience won’t repeat itself. I could feel the tension immediately release from muscles that had taken on defensive postures in my stomach, back, and jaw.
That healing process also prepared me to communicate with my partner about the experience. I’m glad I did, because as a very smart and empathic man, he already knew there was a problem; sadly though, he blamed himself for it. And if I’d talked with him before doing my healing work, I might have agreed that it was his fault. On the other hand, being able to discuss it without projecting blame not only freed him from that guilt but also gave him space to share anxiety he had been feeling too.
What’s the takeaway from my story? There are a few:
It’s best to let yourself feel what you feel. I’m not saying it’s always easy or convenient or leads to the desired outcome. I’m also not saying that you’re doing something wrong if you repress your feelings in the moment; sometimes it’s the best coping mechanism you have. But when those feelings eventually do surface, give yourself time and permission to feel them – because that’s their only chance for dissipating, and because it’s the only way to get to the wisdom on the other side.
Take some space to process before airing your grievances. It doesn’t matter if it’s a personal situation, work situation, or something else. If you go in hot, it’s unlikely to work out well.
Within that space, deal with your stuff. Be willing to see that the root cause is within you, not someone else. Arm yourself with practices that help you process what you’re feeling, emotionally and physically. Simply breathing slowly for 5 minutes is surprisingly impactful to calm your nervous system and emotions. If you know techniques that can shift emotional patterns of anxiety, overwhelm, unworthiness, unlovability, etc., or have a healer who can help you, that may be even better. The benefits of doing that work are unlimited.