There's More To Anxiety Than Meets The Eye

No doubt, you are aware of the impact that anxiety has on your health:

According to the American Medical Association, stress — of which anxiety is a part — is a factor in more than 75% of all illness and disease. That’s a significant statistic. And grim. Name almost any illness or disease and stress will be a factor. Moreover, because stress is so damaging to the body, regardless of the other healthy things we may be doing, stress can override the gain.

from the Feel Chapter, The Simple Seven


Certainly, we should look for ways to address anxiety, if not eradicate it altogether. This is not impossible to do. You’ll understand more in this blogpost.

When we think about anxiety, we tend to think of it having one root cause. Perhaps that’s because we think about anxiety in physiological terms. We associate anxiety with a set of physical symptoms that include things like shortness of breath, sweaty palms, muscle tension, a racing heart, and “butterflies” in the stomach. The symptoms of anxiety disorders are more severe and are usually treated with medication. Medications may relieve the symptoms of anxiety, but they do not address the source of anxiety. If they did, anxiety would go away upon stopping medication.

The source of anxiety is mental. It begins with a thought… which triggers a reaction to the thought, feelings or emotions. Painful feelings and emotions. In turn, triggering the physical symptoms of anxiety. For example, having shortness of breath and sweaty palms at a job interview, especially, when the stakes are high. Maybe you really need the job because you’ve recently lost another one and you’re worried, thinking, “I have to get this job so I can pay my bills,” or if you want the job more than any other and you’re putting all your eggs in one basket.

It follows, then, that there can be any number of reasons for our anxiety and they will differ from one person to the next. But anxiety can also be triggered by unconscious thoughts that are based on individual life experiences. In today’s podcast, I would like to illustrate this with three examples using a technique that I’ve developed called, The Method. The Method helps you to let go of what’s bothering you. The following examples will be about letting go of anxiety.

Here’s the first example. 

A client was anxious about starting a new job. It’s a pattern that she’d had throughout her life whenever she would start something new. Growing up, starting a new school year, in high school or at college. And as an adult, starting a project at work or even living in a new city. And now, starting a new job.

Using The Method, she traced the pattern to an incident in which she was singled out by her kindergarten teacher for not yet learning how to tie her shoes. How painful could that be? Well, more painful than even she’d realized, it turns out. Here’s what she discovered.

Looking back, the client remembered that she wasn't frustrated, worried, or discouraged about not yet being able to tie her shoes. In fact, she didn’t think anything about it at all.

But when her teacher singled her out, in her mind, it raised a red flag. ”Something’s wrong with me,” she remembered thinking as a child. “I am having difficulty with this.” And she remembers immediately concluding, “I have a hard time learning new things.” Associated with her thoughts were her reactions to the experience, her feelings: fear and doubt. Suddenly, doubting her ability to do new things and fearing doing them. This was painful, and rather than dealing with the pain — she was just a little girl — she buried it. This happens more than you think. Especially, in childhood, because as with my client, a child’s brain is still developing and learning and also it’s not common to teach children how to process their feelings. We also bury painful feelings in adulthood. Understand that everyone does this, without exception. We do this for self-preservation.

From that point on, whenever the client would start something new, she would feel anxious. That’s what was palpable on the surface. What was going on under the surface was that she wasn’t aware of the pattern. The thoughts, “I’m not going to be able to do this. I have trouble learning new things.” Along with fear and doubt. Now, you can understand why she felt anxious. You can also see how this could affect one’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

By the time the client and I met later in her life, the pattern had reached the point at which it impaired her ability to concentrate. Fear and anxiety interferes with cognition. Imagine starting a new job in that state of mind. 

But there was more. The client had buried other emotions — hurt and embarrassment. She was hurt by what her teacher had done and embarrassed in front of her classmates. She was also angry for being embarrassed like that. Even if the client’s teacher had been kind to her and hadn’t intended to embarrass her, it didn’t matter. The client was embarrassed. It’s important to understand that letting go involves letting go of all the pain, whether it makes sense or not, whether it might be considered valid or not. Because it’s part of the pain.

The client was also enraged. The client remembers feeling that she was was forced to believe something that wasn’t true: that not yet learning how to tie her shoes was a problem. In the wisdom of her little girl mind, she knew that she would learn, eventually. She felt that her teacher was wrong for sending her and the other students a different message. She felt that the incident was unwarranted and unfair. It brings to light that often children understand things more than we realize, and that talking with them about what happens can help us to better understand them, and maybe even to avoid their burying painful feelings in the first place. Again, her teacher may have acted kindly towards her, but that was not my client’s perspective. And the point of doing The Method is to uncover and release all of the buried emotional painMaybe if the client had said something to her teacher, she would have had a different experience and internalized a different set of more positive thoughts and feelings. But that’s not what happened. When letting go of buried pain, the what ifs? aren’t important. What happened exactly as it happened is what’s important, in order to release the pain. 

Fast forward to today. As she was preparing to start her new job, she was feeling anxious. She was aware of having low self-confidence and self-esteem. Unconsciously, in addition to her fear and doubt, she anticipated being hurt, embarrassed, angry, and enraged, fueled by the thoughts, “I’m not going to be able to do this job. I have difficulty learning new things.”

You might say, “She’s an adult. She should know better.”  But, first, understand that buried emotional pain is unconscious, we’re not aware of it. And, second, long ago, she’d internalized the pain through the perspective of a child, because that’s when the incident happened. A that’s what she carried into adulthood. So, the only way she could process the pain is through the perspective of a child. Note that this can conflict with the perspective of an adult mind when the buried pain is uncovered. Before the pain is uncovered, it can also affect other things. It caused the client to doubt some of her other abilities, contributing to her low self-confidence and self-esteem. Mind you, the client is an extremely intelligent woman. We can only imagine how different her life might have been, had she let go of this pain earlier in her life.

Another client was anxious job searching. The client said, “I initially began using The Method to try and understand the deep discomfort I felt during a period of unemployment and the general confusion I had about my career path. Though I had struggled to find work before, this time I found the anxiety and profound negativity was paralyzing and I was unable to move forward, despite being familiar with the job search process.”

The client traced her anxiety to fears she’d buried as a five year-old growing up in the East Village in New York City during the AIDs breakout. Even though she felt safe and protected by her parents at home, she feared that nothing could save her from a dangerous, unpredictable world outside her home. She’d buried, “Who will take care of me?” along with fear and anxiety about survival matters — that translated into looking for a job, getting a job, and keeping a job. She feared that nothing could protect her and keep her safe from the world’s unpredictability.

Another client was anxious about managing staff he’d hired for his new business. The staff weren’t meeting deadlines or following the business plan. This client traced his anxiety to some hurtful and unsupportive statements made by loved ones when he was in college, suggesting that he didn’t have business skills or sufficient acumen. He was a high achiever in high school and college, but the buried emotional pain made him anxious in his new business venture, believing what his loved ones had once said was true, in effect, fulfilling a prophecy.

So, as you can see through these examples, each client had a unique reason for their anxiety. Please note that anyone can have any number of reasons for their anxiety that may be tied to the same one life experience, a combination of a few life experiences, or any number of life experiences. We should keep in mind that everyone is different, and reacts to their life experiences differently, thereby internalizing patterns differently, even from one experience to the next. The source of anxiety is complex. And yet the path to unraveling it can be simple.

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The information in this post is to be used for educational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice or to prevent, cure, or heal any illness or disease. You should always see your doctor or health practitioner.