A Backpack Full of Anxiety

How heavy is your anxiety backpack?

Are your shoulders tense? Is your jaw clenched? Are you numbing out on your phone right now to avoid the swirl of chaos in your mind? I invite you to take a moment and unclench. Take a few breaths and notice your body, notice where you are holding tension, and with your outbreath let that tension go.

We are an anxious people. Anxiety is the top mental illness in the US. Everyone struggles with some degree of anxiety, be it low grade or high alert. Anxiety is a major issue, but where does it come from?
Sometimes the source can be short term; you’re late for a big meeting, you have a project due, you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re waiting for results from a doctor, you’re at the dentist. Lots of things cause us stress and then once completed the stress may be alleviated.

The causes for long term anxiety go deeper and farther back. If we look into our past, into our childhoods, into our traumas, we can usually find the original source for the fountains of anxiety that exist within us. Are you nervous about driving? Maybe you were in an accident as a kid. Do you fear getting a shot? Perhaps you carry a memory of being jabbed by an unskilled nurse when you were young. Do tests make your blood pressure shoot through the roof? Maybe the expectation of perfection from your parents still haunts you.

I didn’t realize how much anxiety I’d carried around throughout my life until about 8 years ago. I’d moved out and started to put more space between me and my childhood home. Our house was often a place for walking on eggshells, and doing things “right”. I’d been inside that environment for so long that I didn’t even realize how much stress I was carrying while trying not to piss someone off.

If I did step out of line or fail to meet expectations, the result was any combination of rage fueled explosion, silent treatment, guilt trips, and passive aggression depending on who got upset and when. Good behavior was certainly drilled into my bones on a surface level, but it was the daily undercurrent of caution that left a deeper imprint on me and how I operate in the world. It wasn’t just my behavior I had to be on the alert for either, it was the actions and reactions of my parents who would constantly trigger each other, with me in the middle.

As a young adult, out of the house and becoming aware of my stress response, I realized that slamming doors, dishes banged into cabinets, cars peeling out of driveways, loud voices and noises – all spiked my adrenaline, even if these actions were just innocuous daily occurrences with no animosity behind them.

Worse yet, and hardest to overcome, slight changes in my partners energy and body language, a certain glint in the eye, would put me on high alert and I would move into fix-it mode, because my anxiety and codependency did not allow me to sit with anything less than peace.

Anxiety fueled me to abandon myself inside relationships simply to keep the road free from confrontations of any kind. I’ve had maybe 2 or 3 verbally violent fights and one somewhat physical fight in my years of bad relationships, because I had to be pushed really really far to get to that space.
That’s not a brag, it’s a testament to my lack of boundaries and backbone. I used to be willing to put up with abusive behavior just to keep the boat from rocking.

As it turns out, I realized later, all I managed to do was recreate my home life inside my relationships. I was still walking on eggshells with my partners, I still withdrew inside myself to feel safe. I still allowed people absolute control over me and I still grappled for control over any situation that seemed like it might lean towards tension or an argument. It turns out, you can’t let go of anxiety when you’re hanging on to “control” by your fingernails. The stress triggers from my childhood had followed me into adulthood.

Letting go of that low grade but constant anxiety has been challenging. Learning to speak up and voice my boundaries and my needs in spite of anxiety has been an uphill battle but I’ve improved. I am able to sit with uncomfortable emotions, I can allow my partner the space to be in a bad mood and not go into panic mode or fix it mode. The expectations inside my relationships are clear and defined, so any stress or anxiety is actually naturally diminished.

How do you get to a place of healing from your own anxiety? Begin by seeking the source. When was the first time you remember feeling that way? Got it? Good. Go back further. Dig as far back as you can and then move forward from there. Learn to see your adrenaline spikes, your insomnia, your body tension, as a sign to pause and identify the trigger.
Awareness and dismantling of the system, giving voice to what comes up, and growing from there will help you heal.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. If you feel like you might need some assistance in identifying the source of your anxieties please feel free to reach out and set up a session with me. You don’t have to carry that weight alone and you can recover!

Stay Wild,

Coach Amanda

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