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.

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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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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