Are you having any of these symptoms of anxiety?
- Beating yourself up?
- Not knowing how to let go?
- Not wanting to appear silly or stupid?
- Not wanting to make someone upset?
- Worrying that you will make a mistake?
- Not knowing how to slow down and relax?
- Worrying about not knowing how to calm down?
- Worrying that you are not good enough or that something bad will happen?
- Constantly convincing yourself that if “only this and that” is done, than you will be okay?
Up until I became a therapist (and did my own therapy), I thought I knew what anxiety was. I thought that anxiety is simply that nervous feeling that makes you tight and short of breath. I thought that the only thing that I can do with that anxiety was to think positively and give myself a pep talk that everything will be just fine (or to complain to my husband about it!). After all, how often do we hear from society: “Just change your attitude!” or “Be grateful!”
Well, my definition of anxiety was incomplete, and my way of dealing with it was not sustainable. Not only that, the messages from society made me feel even worse about myself because if only “changing my attitude and being grateful” was that simple, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems wouldn’t be so prevalent.
What is it that I didn’t know?
I didn’t know that ANXIETY is actually just a DEFENSE—ruminating thoughts and beliefs that were literally using energy ineffectively and compromising my ability to solve problems, have fun, be creative and curious about life.
These defenses—often in the form of preoccupying thoughts and beliefs (but not always!)—only take people away from physical symptoms of anxiety (nausea, clenching, deep in the pit of the stomach, a jittery core, or rapidly beating heart).
After all, we all would rather get lost in our heads and ruminate (about work, about how our partner is wrong, or about the weekend) than to feel clenching in the chest or nausea. Anxiety counseling can help you understand this “mechanism” of affect and how to manage it better.
Little to say, using our defenses is not a long-term solution to our anxiety.
Did you know that under your defenses and anxiety, such as shame or guilt, there are hidden seven core emotions—FEAR, SADNESS, ANGER, EXCITEMENT, SEXUAL EXCITEMENT, JOY, AND DISGUST? Did you know that anxiety is only an INHIBITORY EMOTION (along with shame and guilt)?
Why is that important and what does this mean?
Basic understanding of emotions (what are they, how do they show up, how do they get blocked, how do they get “metabolized” in our system) is key in helping you with your emotions and your anxiety. We cannot “fix” or change something unless we understand what is there to fix—if anything!
Now, more often than we think, our past experiences have taught us that certain CORE EMOTIONS are not acceptable. For example, if you were labeled “too sensitive” when you were sad, you might have learned that your core emotion of sadness is not allowed and that there is something wrong with you for feeling sad. As an adult, if sadness gets evoked in you by seeing someone else being sad, the INHIBITORY EMOTION of anxiety will UNCONSCIOULSY get triggered in you to “protect” you from feeling sad. Fascinating. Sadness, is only 1 out of 7 core emotions, so you probably have plenty more lessons about your anger, fear, joy, etc. Anxiety counselor can help you make sense out of how your inhibitory emotion of anxiety is only protecting you from feeling your core emotions.
The inhibitory emotions literally act like a red light that sends the signal STOP: “Don’t feel that!” When that happens, the emotional experience switches from the core emotion to the inhibitory one. BUT, that does NOT mean that that core emotion disappears. In fact, it stays deep inside of our system—unattended, unprocessed, and unmet. We end up alone with that emotion, and often we cannot even access it ourselves. If these emotions habitually get left alone, anxiety, depression, self doubt, shame, destructive beliefs, addictions, and more can start creeping in making our lives miserable, confusing, and not full.
What can we do about this?
Well, we can first help you understand how does anxiety come up in you. Some people get dizzy, feel a knot or clenching in their stomachs, or they breath shallowly, or they get jiggly legs or they simply space out and get confused. Anxiety counseling is first about making your implicit ways of coping explicit, and then, it is about developing flexibility in the way you cope.
Anxiety can be very creative, so sometimes – if not always – anxiety is combined with shaming messages such as “Don’t be so sensitive!” or “What is wrong with you?” or “Pull it together you should be stronger!” We would have to understand what types of shaming messages did you learn to tell yourself.
However, understanding is only one part of the work and understanding alone does not bring enough long lasting results. Practice brings results! Practice with feeling your core emotions is what brings relief to anxiety and to shame and to other defenses—not more practice in feeling your anxiety (flooded feeling of overwhelm OR completely detached feeling of “I am fine!”)—but practice in feeling CORE EMOTIONS. Moreover, the true transformation happens when we can not only learn to feel our core emotions, be with the sensations of them, but then to let someone else in to that feeling so we no longer have to be alone with it. That is where the magic happens.