Living With Anxiety – Important New Insights

Living With Anxiety - Important New Insights

We all feel anxious from time to time, but for many people, anxiety is a daily intrusion. Anxiety is driven by a strong, healthy brain that works too hard to be the fearless protector. An anxious brain is super-sensitive to threat, which means that it can often hit the panic button ‘just in case’. This is a great thing when there’s trouble about, but when it happens too often, it stops being a great thing and becomes an anxiety thing.

Anxiety is a physical response, not a chosen one. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but it becomes a problem when it gets in the way of everyday life. Anxiety is so common, chances are that if you’re not struggling with it, someone you know or love probably is. 

Here are some discoveries from science that are helping to make sense of anxiety and offering new ways to manage it. And if you can’t trust science …

Important New Insights Into What Works.

  1. Five sessions of massage can significantly reduce anxiety. Massage. I know. You’re welcome.

    It’s often the way that the things that are super-good for us aren’t always fun to do, but then this happens – and it’s glorious, like, ‘sign me up for the rest of my life’ type of glorious …

    Research has found that five sessions of Swedish massage can significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety, as well as a reduction in cortisol (the stress hormone). Swedish massage is one of the most common types of massage and involves the more traditional, deep tissue massaging. People diagnosed with generalised anxiety (almost constant anxiety), received two 45-minute massages a week, for six weeks. As early as the fifth session (week three), they showed a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms. There was also brought about a reduction in depression symptoms.  

    A review of previous research found that massage therapy reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) by an average of 31%. It also increases serotonin by an average of 28%, and dopamine by an average of 31%. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine are linked to anxiety.  The exact reasons for this are unclear, but the importance of touch in human mental and physical well-being is well-established. Frequent touching (wanted touching not creepy touching) has been found to improve the immune system, decrease heart rate and blood pressure, strengthen connections between people and improve well-being generally. But if massages aren’t your thing …

  2. Weighted blankets help with anxiety.

    Research has found that weighted blankets can provide relief from anxiety symptoms. They calm the nervous system in a similar way to being held. It’s no secret that the way to comfort a baby is to snuggle it in a swaddle wrap. The need for touch pressure (the type that comes from a hug or a massage) isn’t just for babies – it’s a basic human need and weighted blankets are a way to meet this need. The heaviness from the pressure of the blanket stimulates the deep pressure touch receptors in the body. This relaxes the nervous system and helps the body to feel more relaxed, grounded and safe. 

  3. Gut bacteria can cure or prevent symptoms of anxiety.

    It’s widely accepted in the scientific community that gut health is a big player in mental health. We know there are trillions of microbes that live in the intestinal tract. These send signals to the brain that can change mood and behaviour. Research published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found that anxious mice calmed down dramatically when they ate the healthy microbes collected from the poop of calm mice (ok, gross, but clever). Mice are often used in experiments because of their biological and genetic similarity to humans (and because there are some things that, for love or money, we humans will not do). When researchers fed the stressed mice the same probiotics (live bacteria) found in the calm mice, the behaviour of the anxious mice continued to improve for several weeks afterwards.

    Gut bacteria are the rock stars of the mental health world. It’s a good thing they’re microscopic because if they were any bigger they’d be demanding leather jackets to keep them happy and speciality foods like fermen__ Oh, wait … 

  4. Fermented foods can reduce anxiety through gut bacteria.

    The healthier your gut, the healthier your mental health. A recent study found that people who tend to be socially anxious report less social anxiety if their diet contained fermented foods (which contain probiotics). 

    ‘It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety.’ – Professor Matthew Hilimire, lead author of  the study, University of Maryland, Baltimore. 

    Fermented foods are probiotic powerhouses that work by increasing the good bacteria in the gut, the home of our ‘second brain’. They include:

    · miso,

    · yoghurt (look for the ones that say they contain live and active cultures),

    · kefir (a drinkable yoghurt, slightly more tangy),

    · sauerkraut (fermented cabbage),

    · kimchi (fermented cabbage – the Korean version), and

    · tempeh (made from soybeans – tofu’s nuttier, chewier, firmer, less processed cousin).

    A warning though – the introduction of probiotics to has to happen slowly. When probiotics kill off pathogens, they release toxins. It is these toxins that are likely to be already contributing to symptoms (depression, anxiety, physical illnesses). When probiotics are increased suddenly, the release of toxins is also increased suddenly, and whatever symptoms you’ve been struggling with couldm worsen. Gently, gently.

  5. Still on food … Omega 3 supplement reduces inflammation and anxiety.

    In a study published in the journal, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, an omega-3 supplement was found to reduce anxiety by 20% compared to a placebo. The amount of omega-3 in the supplement was about four or five times the amount of fish oil in a serve of salmon.

    The authors suggest that people should consider increasing their omega-3 through their diet. There are three types of omega-3. EPA and DHA are found in fish, particularly salmon and tuna. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends eating fish or seafood at least twice a week. The third type of omega-3 is ALA, but the body uses this mainly for energy so the conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited. ALA-rich foods are walnuts, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, meat from grass-fed animals. 

  6. There’s a song for that. Science says this is the ‘most relaxing song ever’ – and it can reduce anxiety.

    Sound therapists and Manchester band Marconi Union teamed up to produce the quintessential relaxation track using proven elements of scientific theory. The song they created is ‘Weightless’ and research by the British Academy of Sound Therapy found that it was able to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) remarkably. Research found that the song decreased overall anxiety rates by 65%, bringing participants to a level 35 % lower than their usual resting rate. The relaxation effect was evident even though participants were given a stressful task to complete in within a stressful time constraint. ‘Weightless’ is eight minutes long but the ride is a blissful one. You can listen to it here.

    A warning though – The researchers warn that the song is so relaxing, best not listen to it while driving. 

  7. Kids with anxiety benefit significantly from mindfulness because of the way it changes brain activity.

    Anxiety troubles more than one in four adolescents aged between 13 and 18. A study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, found that the more mindfulness kids and teens practised over a 12 week period, the more their anxiety improved. The study involved kids and teens 9 and 16. They had all been diagnosed with different types of anxiety including generalised, social and separation anxiety. The mindfulness-based techniques included meditation and yoga. After 12 weeks, there were obvious changes in brain activity:

    •  increased neural activity in the cingulate – a part of the brain involved in processing cognitive and emotional information; and

    •  increased activity in the insula – a part of the brain that is involved in emotional processing, perception, self-awareness, empathy, the ability to listen to music and how the body feels emotionally, which guides us to either approach or avoid a stimulus.

    For fun ways that kids can practice mindfulness, see here.)

  8. Mindfulness changes the structure and function of anxious adult brains too.

    In an extensive analysis of 19 separate mindfulness/anxiety studies, it was found that mindfulness was ‘associated with robust and substantial reductions in symptoms of anxiety.’ In fact, mindfulness was found to be as effective for anxiety as cognitive behaviour therapy – one of the most popular treatments for anxiety. Mindfulness changes the structure and function of the brain to strengthen it against anxiety.  To read how mindfulness changes the brain, see here. For a simple way to practice mindfulness, see here, or try the free Smiling Minds app (here you go) which has mindfulness exercises for kids to adults.

  9. Exercise. It’s a little bit magic.

    Some neurons are born with the personality of puppies – easily excited and always ready to switch on. In the right amount and at the right times, these neurons are gold. It’s because of them that we can think quickly, act quickly and remember. Too much of a good thing though, is too much. When too many of these neurons getting excited and fire up unnecessarily, anxiety can happen. To stop them getting too carried away and causing trouble, the brain has a neurochemical, GABA, which is the brain’s ‘calm down’ chemical. If the levels of GABA in the brain are low, there’s nothing to calm these over-excited neurons. 

    Exercise works by boosting GABA in the brain. Most of the substances that ease the symptoms of anxiety (alcohol, medication) also work by boosting GABA. Whatever gets your heart going counts as exercise. This will be different for everyone. It doesn’t have to mean thrashing yourself on a treadmill to the point of ‘can’t … talk …. can’t … breathe’ if talking and breathing are more your thing than running (hand goes up). A brisk 20 minute walk or 8-10 minutes of going up and down the stairs a couple of times a day will also do it. Whatever works for you. Try for something you can do at least five times a week. See here for ideas on how to get exercising when one of your favourite things in the world is ‘not exercising’.

  10. And if vigorous exercise and you are still working on your relationship …

    If you deeply committed to the belief that the words ‘vigorous’ and ‘exercise’ should be kept apart, it’s okay – science has something for you too. New research has found that non-aerobic exercise like relaxation like yoga can also ease anxiety. Relation and exercise. Now there’s a lovely pairing. Lovely.

  11. So if exercise is good for anxiety, how does ‘not moving’ stack up?

    When it comes to anxiety, not moving is not great. In a review of previous studies, researchers from Deakin University in Australia found that sitting or low energy activities can make anxiety worse. We know that exercise is hugely beneficial for anxiety because of its effect on the balance of important chemicals in the brain. It’s not surprising then, that a lack of physical activity makes anxiety worse. 

  12. Putting feelings into words can reduce anxiety.

    Using words to describe intense feelings can relieve anxiety. In a UCLA study, 88 people who were scared of spiders were asked to … wait for it … approach a massive live tarantula and touch it if they could. (What could go wrong?)

    The ones who said what they were feeling were able to get closer to the spider and showed less physiological symptoms of anxiety than those who used neutral or no words. The more negative the words, (as in ‘terrified’ rather than ‘nervous’), the greater the effect.

    Previous research has shown that verbalising feelings decreases activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain that initiates the fight or flight response) and the physical symptoms of anxiety. 

    ‘This is ancient wisdom. Putting our feelings into words helps us heal better. If a friend is sad and we can get them to talk about it, that probably will make them feel better.’ – Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience.

    Naming an emotion seems to soothe the nervous system and allows the right and left hemispheres to work together. We know that during anxiety, the right hemisphere seems to be more active. This is the seat of emotion and feelings. The left hemisphere is dominant in words and logic. When the right hemisphere is dominating, feelings can be overwhelming and not make a lot of sense. The left hemisphere is ‘this is what’s happening’, the right hemisphere is, ‘and this is what it means for me’. When the left is brought on board (by using language), it is able to give structure and meaning to the feelings. As Marc Brackett from the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence, explains, ‘If you can name it, you can tame it.’

  13. Go on. Strike a pose. 

    Striking a power pose for two minutes will change the brain in ways that will reduce anxiety and build confidence and assertiveness. Research conducted at Harvard by Amy Cuddy found that when people expanded themselves into a high power pose for two minutes, they experienced a 20% increase in testosterone (the dominance hormone) and a 25% decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). Higher testosterone leads to greater confidence, while lower cortisol leads to an increased capacity to deal with stress. It’s a powerful combo that together can reduce anxiety significantly.

    The best thing about this is that the pose can be done in private. It’s about the physiological changes that are triggered by the pose, not about what other people see. Any pose that increases the space your body occupies is a power pose. Think Superman with legs wide apart, hands stretched out in front, chin up, chest out. Alternatively, channelling Wonder Woman – legs apart, hands on hips, shoulders back and chest – will also have the same effect. Ditto for a starfish pose – arms and legs outstretched and wide apart. A power pose is anything that makes your physical presence bigger.

  14. An unexpected way to deal with performance anxiety.

    Research conducted at Harvard University showed that relabelling ‘anxiety’ as ‘excitement’ improved performance during activities that induced anxiety. Anxiety and excitement are similar in many ways. Both are characterised by high arousal and other physiological experiences – sweating, butterflies, racey heart. Labelling a feeling as ‘anxiety’ sets up thoughts of everything that could go wrong. Relabelling the feeling as ‘excited’ brings to mind more positive, productive thoughts of what might be.

Fascinating New Insights Into What Anxiety Does and Why.

  1. Why anxiety can trip you up when people are watching. 

    That anxious slip-up when people are watching – who hasn’t been there? Being watched during an exam, a race, or a performance can sometimes end in anguish – and it can have nothing to do with skill or knowledge. Nothing at all. People who care about what they do, tend to care about what people think. 

    Now, neuroscientists have found the part of the brain that makes anxiety spoil the party by flooring you at the worst time – when people are watching. The trouble comes from a brain network that neuroscientists like to call the action-observation network (AON). This network helps us figure out what other people are thinking or feeling based on their facial expressions and the direction of their gaze.

    The part of the brain that helps us to control our fine sensorimotor functions (inferior parietal cortex (IPC)), forms part of this network. Researchers found that the IPC receives information through the network about what other people might be thinking or feeling and uses this info to generate the best motor action for the task – or not. Here’s what happens … If we believe the people watching want us to do well, we’re more likely to perform well. But, if we pick up any negative cues from their facial expressions, eye direction or movement, the IPC shuts down and our performance hits the dirt. What this means is somebody looking at their watch while you’re speaking can be enough to give the IPC the message that they might be bored/ indifferent/ think you’re rubbish – and it will shut down. 

    Researchers suggest that the way around this is to work at believing the audience want you to do well.

    ‘It’s important to believe that the audience is supporting you and wishing for your successful performance,’ Dr Michiko Yoshie, neuroscientist and lead author of the study.

    To strengthen this belief, practice performing in front of people who you know support you. Performing in front of family or close friends will activate a positive pattern in the brain and boost confidence. Your experiences matter. 

  2. Social anxiety is genetic, but environment is key.

    One of the most exciting discoveries in psychology in the last decade or so is that the brain can change according to the experiences it is exposed to. This means that although genetics are important, they are NOT destiny. Research has found that the risk of developing social anxiety is heavily influenced by genes, but whether or not you actually have social anxiety at any given point is most strongly influenced by the environment. As with anything in psychology, something is only a problem if it causes a problem. It’s normal to worry about what people might think, but that worry tips into social anxiety when it starts getting in the way of life. It generally appears in adolescence and rarely after the mid-twenties if you’ve never had it before. It can often get better in time. The study found that two-thirds of people who had social anxiety in their twenties no longer met the criteria for diagnosis ten years later. 

    ‘Even people who have a good, secure upbringing can experience social anxiety. However, if you have an inherited risk, you can learn to defy the tendency of avoidance and know what to do if the anxiety appears. Although the genetic risk is long-lasting, it does not mean that you have to live with the symptoms. There are good treatments for social anxiety. The treatment involves exposure to the feared situations and acknowledging your anxiety.’ Fartein Ask Torvik, researcher, Department of Genetics, Environment and Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

  3. Anxiety interferes with decision-making. Here’s how …

    Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience explains how anxiety can roll good decision-making. The trouble happens in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the area at the front of the brain that is heavily involved in planning, weighing up consequences and organising thoughts in a logical, rational way to get to a good decision. Anxiety numbs a group of neurons in the PFC that are specifically involved in making choices. This interrupts the brain’s capacity to screen out distractions. The distractions can be physical (as in things in the environment) or thoughts and worries. (For ways to stop anxiety steering decision, see here.)

  4. People with anxiety see the world a little differently. Not better, not worse, just different .

    People who are living with anxiety have something in common. Their brains have a unique wiring that causes them to interpret things as harmful, even if they aren’t. The scientists call this ‘overgeneralisation’. In people who have anxiety, emotional experiences cause changes in the brain that persist even after the emotional experience is over. These changes cause difficulties in being able to tell the difference between the original experience and subsequent experiences. What this means is that rather than assessing the potential harm of things in the environment with fresh eyes every time, people with anxiety tend to overgeneralise and interpret everything as potentially harmful. 

    The differences were found in the amygdala, the part of the brain that helps keep us alive by noticing any potential threats in the environment. It is also responsible for the experience of intense emotion, and the changes that happen in the body as a result of the fight or flight response. Increased activity in the amygdala has been associated with panic attacks and anxiety.

    The researchers stress that the flexibility of the brain that leads to anxiety isn’t ‘bad’. 

    Anxiety traits can be completely normal, and even beneficial evolutionarily. Yet an emotional event, even minor sometimes, can induce brain changes that might lead to full-blown anxiety.  Rony Paz, Researcher, Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

  5. Anxiety can steer you to the left.

    Research from the University of Kent has found that anxiety can influence the direction you walk in. Not in the way a bakery at 8am can change your direction (come on – we’ve all done it), but in the way an active right brain can. People living with anxiety have more activity in the right side of the brain, which can steer them in a leftward trajectory. As part of the study, volunteers were blindfolded and asked to walk in a straight line towards a target they had already seen. The more anxious ones veered to the left. The research indicates that the brain’s two hemisphere’s – the left and the right – are associated with different systems of motivation. The right is related to inhibition, the left to approach. People who are feeling more anxious and more inhibited will have more activity in the right hemisphere which will tilt them towards the left. Who would’ve thought?

And finally …

Anxiety is so common. If it isn’t causing trouble for you or someone you love, it’s very likely that it will be for at least one person in your close circle. It’s useful then, for all of us to be a bit savvy about it. There is so much research happening around anxiety and with every new insight, we get closer to understanding more about anxiety, which brings us closer to managing it. We’re getting there. 



Thank you for the very helpful article! Very well written and loved the clever humor. A joy to read.

Meg Logan

Hi there

I have only just stumbled across your site and articles, and I have to say that I am “excited” (see what I did there?!?) to read more. I am grateful for your insight and understanding as well as your practical advice. I cannot wait to listen to Weightless.

I have suffered from generalized anxiety for many years now, but I have experienced a marked increase in the severity of anxiety over the last 18 months. I contracted the Coxsackie B virus and there seems to be a strong possibility that it has triggered Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME). Being an A type personality (highly strung and a perfectionist with OCD tendencies at the best of times), I have really struggled to come to terms with my new “life” (or lack thereof!). It is a constant battle to fight the demons everyday and to accept my new limitations. I am unable to do any exercise, but I will be making a concerted effort to implement your other pieces of advice.

Thank you for your understanding of this awful condition.


Andrea Addington

I love your articles Karen. Thank you so much! You provide such useful information for myself as a therapist and as an anxiety sufferer. I am so grateful to have found your website.


Enjoyed reading the article ,my grand daughter suffers with anxiety ,,she is now home schooled which has helped plus she now has her own horse as looking after animals keeps her calm

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Helen thank you! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the article and that your granddaughter is finding ways to manage her anxiety. Animals can be wonderfully calming can’t they.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome! Weightless is pretty amazing with what it can dIt’s interesting isn’t it that something like mindfulness which has been around for so long, is now getting so much scientific attention. I love that this is happening and yes, hopefully, the more attention it gets, and the more it finds its way into our everyday lives, the better for all of us.

Doing Good Together™

Thank you for these tips and especially for pointing out the benefits of mindfulness for children and adults. As we get more and more awareness of the benefits of mindfulness, we might see an overall change in stress levels for our society, and especially our families. Also, the song “Weightless” was indeed quite relaxing – thanks for sharing!


in so much pain-barely functional for 5 years-no meds work! Feel like giving up…

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Monica keep fighting for you. I can hear how much pain you are in and I completely understand how disheartening it is when nothing feels as though it’s working. There will be a way to feel better, it’s a matter of finding the right combination of things that work for you. Keep working with your doctor and see if you can add in some of these strategies as well. There is a way through for you. Keep going. I wish you strength and healing and hope you find some comfort soon.


thank you, great information. Ive suffered for over 20 years with anxiety, and now my son is suffering. What helped me doesnt work for him, and people dont understand why. Also, how do I explain that my son can go to work (around the corner from our house) but cant go anywhere else. He has been diagnosed with Agoraphobia, but people dont understand it.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Marie. I hear you! One of the difficult things about anxiety is that there is no one single thing that works for everyone. That’s why having a ‘toolbox’ is so important.

It makes a lot of sense that, your son is able to go to work but can’t go anywhere else. For him, work would be familiar and contained. People with agoraphobia typically have a few places that feel safe, but other places, particularly crowded or unfamiliar or open spaces might be a no-go. Agoraphobia is a fear of crowded or open spaces, or anywhere that escape might be difficult (keeping in mind that anxiety is a heightened sensitivity to the possibility of threat or danger). This is why familiarity is so important. I wish more people were able to understand anxiety. It would make it so much easier for the people who are struggling with it. Hopefully as the research starts to widen, this will happen. I hope these strategies are able to bring some comfort to your son.


Thankyou Karen . Your articles ( especially this one) explain a lot about my life trajectory. I was always an anxious eldest child – with the most loving parents , growing up in a happy and loving home . Mum told me that when I was 5 I asked what was a conscience . Mum explained it was when you were thinking about what what was good and right versus bad and wrong . I responded …’oh Mum I think the bad is winning’. I went on to boarding school( we lived in remote Aust) where I was a high achiever performing well in all grades. I developed Anorexia Nervosa at 16 yrs , went on to becoming a nurse and midwife( again topping my classes) and now at 65 years still working have been treated for alcohol dependency and anxiety and depression. Your article explains a lot . Thankyou Karen.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Helen. I’m so pleased the article has helped to bring more clarity for you. Your experience makes a lot of sense – a high achiever, a creative, deep thinker – these are the wonderful strengths of an anxious mind. It sounds like your anxiety as also brought you pain, as anxiety can too often do. We’re learning more and more about how an anxious mind works and how to strengthen it to stop anxiety being so intrusive. I wish we knew these things a long time ago – perhaps it could have eased your path a little. I hope you are able to keep healing and moving forward. Know that there is remarkable strength in you.


Thank you so much for your website and articles. They are very helpful to me and my family. All best to you!


This is my favourite blog! I really appreciate your articles on anxiety. I find your writing so practical and easy to read. Thanks for all the tips and insights.


It always kinda blows me away how simple, yet effective and articulate your articles are. Thank you, not just for this article, but for all if them. I get more out if these than I do from my counselling sessions.
I just now clued in to the fact that my anxiety has been a lot more under control since I made yogurt a daily part of my diet.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Thanks Kerrie. I’m so pleased the articles are helpful for you! It makes a lot of sense that your anxiety has settled since you’ve been eating yogurt regularly. Sometimes the little things can make so much difference.


I love the insights you’ve shared! I feel mild-ish anxiety that I’ve never really worked to change because it hasn’t too badly affected me, but my daughter has seriously high anxiety and depression that have become worse and worse from age 12 (she’s now 14). I have read about several of the points you mention, but this article is so comprehensive and clear it makes me feel hopeful we can implement some changes. I’m gushing now, but I’m excited that it is an enjoyable read so that I can have my daughter read it, too. Thank you!

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Mary you’re so welcome! I’m so pleased that the article has brought some hope for your daughter. It’s not unusual for anxiety to worsen with adolesence (which starts at around 12-ish).

What happens is, as part of adolescence teens go through massive brain changes. They get about a billion new neurons to give them the brain power to learn the skills they need to develop through to adulthood as healthy, capable, beautiful adults. The problem is that the brain doesn’t develop evenly during adolescence. It develops and strengthens from the back to the front. It begins with the instinctive, anxiety-triggering, emotional amygdala and the final part to develop (in the early 20s) is the calming, rational, logical pre-frontal cortex.

This means that for a while, the amygdala at the back of the brain will be dominant in decisions and behaviour. This happens for all teens, which is why they can seem to become more emotional or aggressive as they hit their teens, but for your daughter, it sounds like it’s anxiety. The part at the front of the brain that is able to soothe the amygdala and calm down any unnecessary anxiety won’t be fully developed until around the early 20s so it’s influence at the moment isn’t as strong. The strategies in the article will really help things along and help her brain to strengthen against anxiety. The brain doesn’t only change as a part of natural development, it also changes with the experiences it is exposed to. This is why things like meditation or mindfulness, exercise etc are so imporant in managing anxiety. You sound like a wonderful support for her. She’ll be okay. This is a great opportunity for her to influence the way her brain develops and learn really important coping skills that will hold her strong for the rest of her life.


Thank you for your kind words, explanations, and encouragement. I appreciate the help and hope I feel through your articles. It is amazing to look at all this emotion from a scientific perspective.


Thank you so much Karen for your excellent article.
I immediately posted it on my FB Group “Emotion Healing Mastermind Forum” and sent it to a few of my coaching clients.


Thank you Karen for this article. I am in my 60’s and have suffered from anxiety and depression, especially social anxiety since I was a child. I’ve been in therapy, taken medication, and tried some of the things you mention but without consistency. I am struggling with it right now, particularly at work where I’ve withdrawn to the point going to work is an agony for me. It is debilitating! I am going to pull several of your tools together and see if I can get some relief!


Iv’e just come across this article and found it very interesting and helpful.
Barbara I just wanted to say please don’t feel alone ,I’m sorry life is a struggle for you at the moment and I just wanted to send you a big hug.It’s a lonely battle at times but we keep on battling 🙂

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Barbara I’m sorry you your anxiety is causing you so much pain at the moment – I wish nobody had to struggle like this. I so pleased that you are going to try some of these. I feel really hopeful for you. Think of it like drops in a bucket. It will be hard to notice the difference with one drop, same with two or three, but over time (weeks or months) those drops add up and the difference will be visible. Keep going. Love and healing to you.

juliette rogers

I so thank you for providing these helpful suggestions (except regular exercise – impossible) and informing us about the work on understanding anxiety. I am riddled with it, from the time I wake up until I finally get to sleep. It’s so interfering, extreme and debilitating! You should hear my breathing! The chronic, crazy behaviors that have developed from it. Gotta go. I’ve been procrastinating a deadline for a week now.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Juliette you’re so welcome! I hear you on the exercise thing. It’s okay though – managing anxiety is about having a bit of a toolbox so you can have a few different things to draw on. Hopefully these will give you a few ideas for different things to try. I hope you’re able to find some comfort amongst them. (And good luck with the deadline!)


Hi Juliette! I would love to see if I could help you with your difficulty exercising. I am a health coach and we provide solutions that are only 30 minutes of movement/day. Please send me an email if you’re interested to connect.


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The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️
Such a beautiful 60 second wrap of my night with parents and carers in Hastings, New Zealand talking about building courage and resilience in young people. Because that’s how courage happens - it builds, little bit by little bit, and never feeling like ‘brave’ but as anxiety. Thank you @healhealthandwellbeing for bringing us together happen.♥️


Original post by @healhealthandwellbeing:
🌟 Thank You for Your Support! 🌟

A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for the "Building Courage and Resilience" talk with the amazing  Karen Young - Hey Sigmund. Your support for Heal, our new charity focused on community health and wellbeing, means the world to us!

It was incredible to see so many of you come together while at the same time being able to support this cause and help us build a stronger, more resilient community.

A special shoutout to Anna Catley from Anna Cudby Videography for creating some fantastic footage Your work has captured the essence of this event perfectly ! To the team Toitoi - Hawke's Bay Arts & Events Centre thank you for always making things so easy ❤️ 

Follow @healhealthandwellbeing for updates and news of events. Much more to come!

#Heal #CommunityHealth #CourageAndResilience #KarenYoung #ThankYou

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