Anxiety – Why Hope Matters

Anxiety - Why Hope Matters

I’m never quite sure when it’s going to happen. You would think after all these years, I would have some kind of warning sign before it starts. The situations are different. The settings and people change, but the feeling is always the same.

I was probably 8 years old when I first realized it was there. My older brothers were watching the original Friday the 13th movie. I snuck downstairs and watched from the steps. I didn’t quite understand that it was fiction. I started having thoughts about someone doing that to me — killing me. Later that night, I woke up in a cold sweat. It seemed to start from inside. My stomach was in knots, my pulse was racing, and I found it hard to breathe. I tried to call out for my mom and dad, but I found it difficult to move any part of my body. I was paralyzed with fear.

I had no idea at age 8 that I was having my first anxiety attack. 

Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Earthquakes were my first major trigger. I used to lie in bed going over my escape plan in case one hit during the night. I was told that they sound like a train before the shaking starts. Any noise I heard made me activate my plan. 

The rational part of my brain knew there was not an earthquake, but my fear and anxiety always won out.

As I got older, the anxiety became more debilitating. Car crashes, planes veering off runways, home invasions, my parents dying, mass shootings — anything that provokes fear in people, I perseverated on.

Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, compulsive behaviors, fear, worry, apprehension, nervousness. I’m not sure which one came first. Daily tasks are challenging because I view them through a lens of worry. It takes me longer to get things done. I process more. Spend extra time going over plans — verbalizing them out loud so I don’t miss anything.

Repeating myself often, because for some reason, I find comfort in hearing things more than once.

Then it happened. I was finally able to say the three words that seem so difficult to say. 

I need help.

I was 40 years old. 

I knew she had to ask all the questions. Go over the list of signs and symptoms and check the boxes that I answered “yes” to. My eyes traveled down the page and I noticed that most of the “yes” boxes were marked with an X. 

I know anxiety has always been something I live with, but sitting in my doctor’s office that day was the first time I saw it on a piece of paper. The first time I realized that maybe it has taken over my life.

After she completed the questions, she looked up and asked me to describe what it feels like — how it impacts my life. I found myself stumbling. I couldn’t answer why I have anxiety. I wanted to shout at her, “Have you seen my fingernails?” There’s nothing left of them. Sometimes the energy in my body is so intense that the only way I can relieve it — even the smallest amount — is to pick and chew my nails until there is nothing left.

I couldn’t come up with a complete thought — one that made sense after it left my mouth. How do I explain these suffocating thoughts and feelings that occupy so much of my life?

I finally just told her that my anxiety is debilitating — I’m scared. I hate it and I’m not sure it will ever leave me. 

She tried to reassure me that with the right treatment plan, I can gain control over this. Control. Isn’t that what anxiety is? Trying to control situations that I am afraid of. Control. Something I try to do too much — too often. 

Maybe the right treatment plan is to control less. 

I know what I worry about doesn’t makes sense. Irrational, illogical, emotional, crazy. Those words describe the thoughts in my head. 

Sometimes I just wish I could hit the pause button.

I know I need to be reassured constantly. There are many times I want to apologize to the people in my life. Tell them that I’m sorry that I need to be told over and over again that it is going to be OK. 

I can imagine that living with me is difficult, and I’m sure loving me is even harder.

I know what I say and do sometimes is irrational, but it is very real to me.

Sometimes it is just downright exhausting and my body screams relax, but I can’t sleep. 

I’m not sure if it will ever leave me. If I will wake up one day and be free of the pressure — the weight. What I do know is that there are days when it doesn’t take over.

I find on those days that there is one common theme. I choose to live with hope. My heart wins out. 

When I lead with my heart, I find that my body slows down. It’s easier to breathe. My thoughts are clear, my smile is genuine, and my life feels full.

I have learned over the years that my journey can and will be filled with hope. I do not have to let anxiety define who I am.

If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, contact your general care physician for help.

(This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post and is reprinted here with full permission.)


Sara LindbergAbout the Author: Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg is a 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counselor. Combining her 20-plus years’ experience in the fitness and counseling fields, she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. When she is not running, working with teenagers, or driving her own kids crazy, she manages a Facebook page called FitMom. Sara has a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She does not consider herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts and access to a computer. She gains inspiration for her writing from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.

7 Comments

Anonymous

I have been on and off with someone who is 45 with depression anxiety and a few other things as well. I am 41. I have 2 elementary age kids and she has 1. I love her, no matter what she has going on. She is a beautiful person inside and out. Its been years and i have not given up on her even when she has given up on me. I love her and her daughter very much. I try not to be overwhelming and just give her her time when she needs it. But sometimes that time last 1-6 months, it’s tough. As i am sure it is for her. However, i love her very much and understand. But this is taking its toll on me….i can look at it as disrespectful for not getting a text on my kids b days or any other event. But i understand. I do not want to give up on her. She is worth it. her Anxiety etc do not define her….her wonderful personality and beautiful heard do. However I do not get a chance to let her know as much as I would like…sometimes for long periods of time. I never know what shes up to or if she met someone else. I miss her…i love her and her daughter…

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Christine McSweeney

I split with my partner because he didn’t like my boys they are 22 and 24 and his kids in their late 30 didn’t like me my partner lost his wife to cancer about 5 years ago. Also he wrote a letter to my father saying how bad my children are treating me also he had a gambling problem.

His daughter is a control freak we are trying to make things work but I cannot get out of my mind how she treated and the way she docent like me.

How can I get these thoughts out of my mind .

I do like him

Reply
Cathy

I am sixty yrs old and have lived with the type of panic and anxiety you are describing.. I can honestly say that I rarely use honk about it today. Occasionally, a feeling or unusual stress will make me pull back and practice all the techniques I’ve learned. 1-learn as much about anxiety as you can 2-exercise, for me it was walking, a lot! 3-work on desensitizing. Your fears 4- find a good therapist to talk it through 5-for me, taking the right medication really, really changed my life. It all works, but not overnight. Peace

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elizabeth

I am supposed to be on an airplane right now, but I’m not. I had planned to go to a friend’s 40th birthday weekend, and wanted to help her celebrate. But as the weekend approached, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. Immobilized. The whole weekend – from flying to sleeping on air mattresses to staying with strangers (I don’t know her other friends) to leaving my children and husband – became unbearable to consider. My friend is so upset that she won’t speak to me. I feel ashamed. Alone. Inadequate. Broken. Your words brought me solace. Despite your anxiety, you carry hope. And I do, too. Like lockets worn around our necks, carry hope around for each other.

Reply
Chris

I just want to say I know that feeling of frustration that comes with wanting so bad to do something, and then just thinking (or overthinking) about it brings overwhelming anxiety. I find myself turning down activities once in a while if it’s too “complicated” or I have to make too many decisions. I miss when I was younger and could wing it and not worry so much about every detail. Sorry you had to miss time with your friend – maybe when she gets back you can talk to her about it and plan a date together to celebrate.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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