The Anatomy of Anxiety + 5 Ways to Help

This post is me thinking out loud, as I try to sort through some ideas and concepts bouncing around in my head. Some of them have gelled, some are not fully formed yet.

Like physical anatomy, it’s broken down into component parts for explanatory purposes – one part not being independent of the others. As with all disease, I recognize that anxiety is multi-factorial, and that other considerations (chemical & nutritional imbalance, traumatic experiences, etc.) come into play. I’ve distilled my observations into basic components from which my understanding of the state can continue to develop and expand.

As a holistic health student, I was promised that clients would show up with the very thing I needed to learn… or heal within myself. Indeed, ailments showed up in clusters, honing my skills with various issues, and brought me countless lessons for my own health and growth.

Last year, when my GP suggested that my adult-onset asthma was anxiety-based, I’d brushed it off. My acupressure practitioner then told me the state of my tongue indicated anxiety. The word anxiety started crossing the lips of more & more of my clients. In the last few months, two of my dearest friends confided their struggles with it.

OK Universe, I get it!

Time to own that the picture fits, examine my experiences and those of others, and put some serious thought into what’s going on.

What I’ve come to observe is this: it’s electrical.

uncontrolled lightningAnxiety is a state of unused potential energy.

It’s easiest to understand physically, like what happens when you get over-stimulated by too much sugar, say. You get spacey, your nerve-endings vibrate frenetically and you’re filled with a restless inability to settle. You might even get heart palpitations.

We tend to balance an offending escalation of erratic energy with equal and opposite energy.

We balance our use of too much sugar with an over-consumption of meat, which comes with its own set of health issues.

Anxiety, the disorder characterized by feelings of fear, occurs when that same jittery restlessness happens within the 4 levels of the psyche. It’s an erratic state of unused internal potential – completely out of control. Like an electrical current that’s built up with nowhere to release, you go haywire (have a panic attack).

The age of information has us completely over-stimulated mentally. Too much CNN and our fears are off the scale. Too many nutrition blogs and we don’t know what to eat. Too many self-help videos and we feel helpless.

We breach the fine line between healthy awareness and information overload all the time. We breach the fine line between healthy stress and anxiety.

I see it most clearly in my newly pregnant clients, who, instead of being filled with the joy and beauty of new life, are afraid to put a toe out of line (or the wrong bite of food in their mouth) lest it hurt the baby.

No matter the source of our worries, we try to quiet our whirling thoughts with too much TV or net surfing, which really only stimulate the nervous system further.

Emotionally, the mental & physical over-stimulation has turned us into cortisol and adrenaline junkies. Coffee, extreme sports, the evening news, relationship, money & work issues, the increasing intensity of our favourite TV shows (which we watch to relax!): we spend the entire day keeping that high going.

From a physiological point of view, these constant hits of emotional high drain the adrenals (our batteries) and leave us in a constant state of alert, anticipating disaster: fear.

Then, we close ourselves off from the full range of feelings in our bodies with medication, junk food, alcohol & other drugs, and yet more TV & Facebook.

Last year, I had a client with anxiety that was rooted in a long-suppressed piece of grief and anger, which she refused to address. A recent event brought it all up again, yet she continued to dance around the part that needed to be faced head-on.

Emotions are energy-in-motion. The harder you work at resisting the energy that wants to emerge, the more it’ll push back. You eventually lose stamina, have panic attacks or burn out.

It’s happening spiritually too, as not enough time & energy spent in communion with the greater Whole.

I think of my grandmother, and other women of her generation, with a deep devotion to Mary and the Catholic church. It was always a foreign concept to me, as I’d thrown religion out the window. For years, my sense of spirituality had gone with it.

Instead, we idolize the rich & famous, we worship sports teams, we diet & exercise with religious fervour. We don’t spend enough time in the present moment. We spend too much time analyzing the past and worrying about the future.

In the case of Meggan Watterson, it wasn’t a suppression of her spiritual energy that caused the build-up of potential. It was a lack of direction for that potential to flow, as she struggled with the denial of the Divine Feminine within western theology.

The last piece of the anxiety puzzle is our unused intuitive or psychic energy. This aspect of who we are has been so forcefully & perpetually negated that there’s a nigh insurmountable back-log of fear around letting it flow.

Many intuitives suffer from anxiety. This one’s a two-edged sword. First, in that you would be highly vulnerable to the energies around you: others’ emotional states, electro-magnetic pulses from countless electronics, the low-frequency vibrations from all the fear-mongering.

(We’re all sensitive to these influences, some of us are merely more tuned into them, and their effects.)

The second challenge for psychic anxiety is to own (and open up to) the vast potential behind it. I’ve heard that the Long Island Medium suffered from debilitating anxiety disorder until she started using her gift.

And then there’s the increased incidence of all this during perimenopause (Nature’s time of dispersing unused potential), but that’s a whole topic for another day.

The wiser solution for addressing anxiety is also a simple matter of electricity.

When I use the word “simple” I don’t mean to belittle the condition or deny the challenge involved in overcoming it. (Simple is not necessarily easy.)

grounded lightning

To reduce the danger of too much unused potential energy, ground it or convert it to kinetic.

With the (physical) sugar example, this would mean, well, stop eating so much sugar. Then, ground your body with mineral-rich greens and engage in some physical activity to burn off the excess.

Internally, you could

  1. Ground yourself…literally. Find a way to connect with Nature – walk in the woods, sit under a tree at the local park, play in the grass with your dog or your kid, dig in the garden.
  2. Come back to the safety of the present moment with a grounding meditation. When one of my anxious friends asked me how to do this, I recorded the one that helps me best when I’m completely out of sorts. Click here to read more about it and get your copy.
  3. Acknowledge the state you’re in and deal with the underlying issue. Hire a professional/coach/therapist to help you through whatever is worrying you the most right now.
  4. Express yourself! Draw, paint, carve, dance, sing, write – find an art-form that resonates with you and moves the energy.
  5. Get together with friends (or a support group) who will listen to you unconditionally, who will help you name and honour your feelings, who will celebrate your gifts in all their glory.

How does this theory resonate with your experience of anxiety? How have you effectively dealt with anxiety? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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22 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Anxiety + 5 Ways to Help

  1. Pingback: Feeding your Soul | Whole Health

  2. Pingback: Navigating the Perils of Perimenopause | Whole Health

  3. I always know when my son is experiencing anxiety. His facial tics will start. He is autistic. What I do: I evaluate what he has been eating, especially when we go away, reduce the sugar and starch immediately and increase the greens. What he does: Draws all day long, and complains [with a smile] about the reduction in the sugar and starch and increase in the greens.

  4. Anxiety is a state of unused potential energy. You know, I remember studying with Susun Weed. A woman got up and asked her about feeling anxious and having anxiety attacks in the middle of the night and she couldn’t sleep. Her response was to use the time and energy she had to do what she was suppose to do. What was she thinking about. What did she want to do. Go do it she said. Do it in the middle of the night. I felt sorry for the woman, because she didn’t want to hear that. She preferred to stay in her thing about anxiety…that is was out of her control and she so wanted susun to save her. I always remembered that. And it affected me deeply and still does to this day.

    Your post reminded me of that great teaching. Of using the energy moving in you to do what which is calling you. Such brilliant widow. Such an incredible ‘cure.’

    Amen Sister. oxoxoxo

  5. Cathy I am fortunate to not suffer from anxiety, but am going to keep this handy so that I can reference it before working with a client who does find themselves stuck. Thanks!

  6. I love the science you put behind anxiety and how simple (but not easy) you put the solution. I completely agree that the speed of life is exponentially increasing and unless we take action to dissolve the energy, anxiety is pretty much guaranteed. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Perhaps it’s my scientific past coming back in odd ways; as soon as I started to see it that way, it just flowed – in fact, I may have to elaborate more in a longer format one day.

  7. Cathy, this was both beautifully written (clear, flowing, great analogies) and very helpful. Your words framed things I sometimes have a hard time articulating, despite having done similar work for over two decades. Lovely.

    • I hear ya, Holly. Though I mainly work alone, I’m always grateful to have the wisdom of others in my circle to help expand on what I know and do.

  8. thank you for this honest look at anxiety and its sources, cathy (i love the title of your post, by the way). anxiety is such a tricky foe, isn’t it? i see daily how it affects my clients, and i’ve definitely had my own experiences with it. i am finally at a place where i can recognize when i’m having anxious thoughts, and take the action needed to calm myself (usually writing in my journal – #4 on your list).

  9. Resonant for me Cathy, anxiety is tricky like you say, motivating or debilitating, finding the fine line is crucial. Love your tips..esp. the grounding , very important one for me. Too much exposure to TV and internet increases my body’s anxiety…I need to shut it down early in the evening or it interrupts sleep.

  10. My episodes of anxiety are always triggered by safety issues and things that are out of my control. I had my first anxiety attack when I was in college. It came out of the blue and was frightening. As I’ve matured, I have grown to understand why I feel this way and I now give myself permission to have a glass of wine or even take a xanax when necessary. I recently learned about tapping, so I will try that first as well as meditation for the calming effect. Great post, Cathy! Thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Lori. Things being out of control – especially internally – is a big one for me too. Though I don’t get full-on panic attacks, the dis-order of things can send me on quite a ride. So glad to hear you’re finding pro-active ways of dealing with it.

  11. Loved this post, Cathy. I am reminded by a conversation that Rick Hanson initiated on axiety and a phrase that has stayed with my ever since: “Action absorbs anxiety.” For me, just knowing that anxiety is energy moving through me and that I can create a deliberate action around managing that anxiety helps.I love the actions you present here. Thank you.

  12. Cathy, this was a particular meaningful post for me. I know I have a “closed loop” of emotional and eating triggers when I am stressed. It’s a good reminder for me to be mindful of the traps, and focus it in another direction. Thank you!

    • I like the “closed loop”, Julia. I totally get that: when something is so ingrained that you just follow the usual steps and it takes real effort to send the circuit in a different direction.

  13. WOW, Cathy that is super powerful! The prednisone I am taking right now has me feeling like an amped up raw/edgy nerve. Reading this post makes me see clearly that it has me in an anxious state, with lots of unused energy. I have been doing a little extra exercise & painting to calm myself, but reading your words really validates how I have been feeling. Thank you for that, it really helps!

  14. This post is both validating and empowering. Your theory resonates with me 100%. Your thoughts are spot on, as are your tips for alleviating the anxiety. I’m bookmarking this so that I can return for positive reminders when I find myself “there.”

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