Anxiety and Panic: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop
Anxiety is part of the human condition. All of us live with some level of anxiety—that is normal. When anxiety takes over our life, like a thief in the night, we are unable to live in the present. To not live in the present means that we can’t experience joy, relief or gratitude; chronic anxiety is about waiting for the other shoe to drop. And that is precisely what often brings people into therapy—an urgent wish to get relief from chronic worry.
How Did Anxiety Become My Go-To Place?
Many clients share they think they were born with anxiety, describing this phenomena as a form of genetic programming that can’t be changed. Other clients report that anxiety was always around them; they noticed that a parent, grandparent or other significant adults in their lives were living in a state of worry and fear. With anxiety as a constant, and few opportunities for respite, it becomes hard to imagine that life could ever feel OK—ever feel safe, without a constant need to ‘watch my back’.
For clients whose childhoods have been deeply compromised by danger such as survivors of child abuse, sexual molestation, neglect and violence, anxiety and panic may follow. Children need to be safe in order to thrive, and when the adults or caregivers don’t provide safety, stability and protection, a child’s nervous systems is programmed to survive—no matter the cost, and always at great expense to normal development.
With survival programming deeply embedded, even after the abuse ends and the lack of protection no longer present reality, it is extremely hard to turn off the threat of danger, and the brain is stuck in either a state of hyper-arousal (vigilance) or hypo-arousal (shutting down/dissociation). While these strong coping mechanisms were needed for survival when the danger was present in childhood, they are usually a detriment and obstacle for healthy adult functioning.
Adult clients with chronic anxiety and developmental trauma notice that their repertoire of appropriate responses is limited and ineffective as they continue to rely on outdated resourcing skills. For healing to occur, the brain’s ‘software’ needs to be updated to reflect a client’s present reality. That can only happen in a relationship that provides consistent safely, reliability and attachment repair.
The Window of Tolerance: The Place of Emotional Regulation
One of the tools I use as a therapist to help clients build emotional resilience is The Window Tolerance, a model developed by neuropsychiatrist, Daniel Siegel. The Window of Tolerance is a place to ‘check-in’ with yourself to notice your emotional state—to assess if you are in a state of hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal when triggered or challenged.
When you are not in the Window of Tolerance, implementing regulation strategies, such as self-soothing, healthy resourcing and somatic interventions (mindfulness), is the first order of business in order to bring you back into the present and re-establish regulation.
With practice and patience, it is possible to have greater periods of time experiencing clarity, calm and resilience; optimal healing means that you are able to deal with the challenges that come your way without significant emotional derailment. And that is the recipe for good mental health!
Please, join me on this healing journey!
Contact me for a free-15 minute consultation. I look forward to hearing from you.