Anxiety: one thing you need to ask yourself
Anxiety is your body's way of telling you that your life is threatened. But when this persists while you are actually ok, life becomes unbearably difficult and joyless. Here I explain a core principle that can help to address and shift anxiety once and for all.
Many people struggle with anxiety. And there is a large variety of treatment approaches. Here I want to highlight one specific question that I believe needs to be asked of every person suffering from anxiety. Ask yourself one thing: what happened to you, usually some time in the first 10-15 years of your life? Very often, a very threatening experience occurred during which you feared for your life. Something horrible happened. This situation didn't get processed, is left unresolved, and leaves you in a permanent state of anxiety.
The current documentary on the BBC: "Nadia: Anxiety and Me" shows a clear example of this. The show accompanies Nadia, of "Great British Bake Off" fame, on an exploration of her own long term anxiety and her attempt to get better. There is one big thought the show left me with- early on in her therapy, it emerged that this was triggered by a horrible racist bullying experience in her youth. I don't know if we just didn't see it- but the (white) therapist didnt make much fuss about this, even though he had been very empathic just before. And he focuses on addressing something more practical and immediate, which of course is also important. I appreciate that nonetheless he does suggest that it would be important for Nadia to get further support with regards to this trauma. And her trauma is a collective one, not hers alone.The show inspired me to write about this aspect of anxiety, which I learnt from my supervisor- to always check with clients who suffer from anxiety about whether they had a life threatening experience in the first 10-15 years of their life.
Anxiety is the body's natural reaction to danger. But if something terrible happened to you when you were young and you weren't able to get out of the situation, you can be locked in that state.
This is important to address, ideally in a held, facilitated space. In a psychotherapy session we can establish a container in which it feels possible to go back to that scenario and find ways to complete it.This doesn't mean spending hours searching around your childhood- indeed it is quite targeted. Your anxiety is a good compass. You may need to react in a way that wasn't safe for you at the time. When you go back now, you are going back with the wisdom and capacity of your adult self. When you let yourself react- call for help; fight back; run away; add a protector- you are closing the loop that has remained open and has troubled your nervous system and your psyche for so long. This isn't just idle mind games- you are actually helping your nervous system to get out of its 'fight, flight or freeze' response. This is needed so that you can return to a normal state.
What you explore in connection to the past is also deeply important for you now.
The reaction you didn't get to have but are now bringing back to the original situation- that is a pattern you need in your life now. Maybe a long time ago something happened and you felt powerless at the time to stop it. You froze, had to keep silent and endure. Chances are that even in your life today, in your relationships, at work, there will be recurring moments when you freeze and feel unable to bring in your point of view or stand up for yourself. The pattern is repeating. What you did when you went back to the past to complete this situation shows you how you can intervene with current situations. Often this means connecting to your strength in a way you haven't been able to do before. This is a meaningful journey that will give you access to parts of yourself that you might not have even known of before. Addressing the unfinished business from the past opens the door to engaging with your present- finding out what you need to be able to Iive happily.