Apr 29, 2019 • Written by Suzan Myhre
Anxiety 101: Some Thoughts
Okay, so let’s say the obvious out loud. We all have anxiety!
It’s important to get that out of the way, because otherwise we are very tempted to scan for whether we are normal or not. Mostly, we come up abnormal, right? Not today! Today we are all in the same boat.
However, the winds of anxiety do not blow with the same force. Some winds are faint, and we feel discomfort. Like when we are about to take a test, or if we are meeting someone for the first time, or trying something new. Have I triggered any of you? Are you like Whoa! The breeze feels more like a gale wind. I want out of the boat!
No worries. The wind can blow at varying degrees. It often does. It’s annoying when we didn’t see the weather forecast and suddenly our hair is blinding us and we are in full blown panic.
Triggers happen- light, medium, and strong. Including everything in between.
As a therapist, I see many struggling with a variety of anxiety disorders. Here are a few types of anxiety disorders listed in the diagnostic statistical manual.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive and constant worrying, reduced or excessive sleeping patterns, issues of over or under eating, physical headaches, and/or abdominal pain.
Panic Disorder occurs with recurrent panic attacks that can last between 10-15 minutes or longer. This type of severe anxiety can be manifested in chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath and can often feel like you are about to die.
Social Anxiety Disorder is anxiety that happens in social situations. It becomes a disorder when it is so pervasive that you start avoiding social situations because you do not have the ability to cope.
Notice that all of these categories list not only behaviors, but physiological symptoms. There has been a long standing myth that anxiety is “only in your head”. This is usually said in a very degrading way, the way culture looks at emotions as a shameful part of our human existence.
Science is showing us the extent to which anxiety is activated in the midbrain. The limbic system is the “emotional brain” and can be activated when bad memories that are stored become triggered. What happens in the brain is also happening in the body. The body stores memories of those exact triggers. The eyes store the position one’s vision was in when a traumatic event occurred.
When I was 8 years old, my chronically ill brother was sent to a hospital for awhile. My parents did not tell me that he was gone or why. It was not spoken of (at least not that I can recall). I could sense his absence and the “no talk” rule around it. There was tension in the air, and I started feeling afraid. I asked to sleep in his bed. I missed him, but did not have the words to express what I was feeling. I also probably sensed my parents heightened anxiety. That night I woke up at midnight with an excruciating stomach ache. I now believe I was having a panic attack. My parents rushed me to the emergency room and the doctor proceeded to examine me. Super traumatic. The whole thing lasted a couple of hours and when we went home, my parents were told, “there’s nothing wrong”. I can remember my dad being very upset with me. My mom was irritated, I was tired and somehow, the ache subsided. I did not return to my brother’s bed.
Of course there was something wrong! The wrong was that no one was talking about what was wrong. Complete disconnect!
Richie was gone, and the family was worried out of their minds about what was going to happen to him. As a result, I generally hate emergency rooms. I have a sense of being “out of control” and my body can get triggered and react to the memory of what happened to me long ago. Why? Because my brain and my body are keeping the score. My body remembers even if my mind does not register it all in that moment or the ones to follow. The mind/body connection is powerful.
We know now that trauma can get stuck in the brain. This is why veterans of war react to loud noises and why they can feel pain in a limb that was amputated. It is because the pain is in the brain.
Not all anxiety is the result of trauma. However, severe anxiety and panic are usually connected to traumatic past events; events that feel overwhelming in the moment and shut down all logical thinking.
These are real problems. I did not want to panic about my brother being gone. I did not ask to struggle with anxiety, just as I did not ask to have a thyroid condition. But I do. I have some stuff, and I am tired of feeling ashamed and guilty for being a part of the human race.
I am human.
I am a child of God.
He loves me just as I am, not as I should be.
He knows me and He knows my suffering and He is here to help me. I hold onto Him because even when I am confused and do not know, I know He knows. This is my comfort. To know He knows. To know He loves me. He is not ashamed of me. He cares for me.
So sisters, let us come together. Let us be real versions of ourselves and trust each other with our stories and with our struggles. We are here to help each other, not hurt each other. If you struggle with anxiety, please reach out to tell someone. Connection is healing. Lets connect with God and with one another.