The Incredibly Useful Thing I Learned About Anxiety

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What have I learned? I’ve been studying anxiety and stress for the past 2 years. When the shock finally lowered after being diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in 2017, I decided to figure out why I was responding the way I was. Sweating, agitation, lack of sleep and a huge lack of clarity were some of the main symptoms I was dealing with caused by a persistent relationship with adrenaline. 

 I learned that the natural chemicals we manufacture are only useful temporarily when they serve a certain emotion. But now I was living in a constant “fight or flight” mode, which was doing more harm than good. Continually living in this state felt like it was deteriorating my psyche in away. I felt like a different person, kind of zombie-like.

 So, I learned anxiety is as biological as it is psychological, duh. Of course I’m no doctor and I want to make sure it doesn’t seem like I am trying to come across like that. This is just my experience, my findings and stories as a “lay person” dealing with these illnesses. 

 Bringing anxiety with you everywhere you go affects your interaction with people. My vanity will not allow me to come across badly with people: friends, family, listeners and strangers. It doesn’t matter what relationship I have with them. This causes anxiety to be wrapped in stress with a heavy side order of internal conflict. I was miserable.

 And when the human body is in this state, you can probably guess that healing is not optimal. Homeostasis is not in this place-is! So I dug deeper and discovered something called “Polyvgal Theory.” Polyvagal Theory is an incredible discovery by a man named Dr. Stephen Porgas. There’s lots to it, but his research showed him that along with our nervous system’s response to threat, a new state is present in the human evolution of our nervous system. This is good news! Porgas calls it “social engagement.” He believes when in that state we feel safer and this causes us to be healthier and it really speaks to staying connected with people and not isolating like many of us do.

 Your cell phone buzzes, not just once, someone is actually calling you - a person you know. You don’t have a beef with them, but you’re not sure you have the time or energy to have a chat right now. You feel a bit too low and maybe stressed to do it. Buzz-buzz! But before that final buzz goes away you answer. Ho-hum, “how ya doing?”  And you end up having a great convo, the perfect chat really, because it snaps you out of your mood and it lifts you up for a while. In my mind, this is the greatness in Porgas’s “social engagement” discovery. It gives your nervous system the help to make you “flow.”

 So keeping the information about polyvagal theory top of mind can help with anxiety and stress. There are other methods we can use to make sure anxiety doesn’t take up a permanent residence in your days. 

It’s important to break the bad pattern with an action of some type. like ...exercise, bottle of water, call a friend, humming, breath, meditation, self-hypnosis.  

Another cause of anxiety that I discovered really surprised me. It was one of those things where you say, “Really?” Then you comprehend what it actually is and you say “Well, of course.” That cause of anxiety is “childhood trauma.” 

We all know someone who is so insecure and needy that they are difficult to deal with. It’s just that nothing is easy with them. Usually, I find myself quietly asking “what happened to you as a child?” Turns out that is right in many ways. Research shows that what happens to you around age 7 to 11 has a major impact on how you see life as an adult. So if you’ve been victimized with trauma during these years, it leaves a mark. This is a tragic thing to realize. And some therapists believe all of us most like have experienced damaging trauma during these adolescent years, including before and beyond. 

What kind of trauma leaves a mark that must be addressed and healed eventually. I was surprised to learn that it can be almost anything. Dad forgot to pick you up for an important game, being shouted at or scolded for something and bullying to any degree. So, trauma does not just include violence, verbal or sexual like I had thought. The body and nervous system keep score in many ways that are difficult to overcome - ways we never knew much about in the past. All that matters is how the individual receives the shock of it. 

And there it is again, shock or trauma, fight or flight, Polyvagal Theory. Stephen Porgas and his followers have saved so many depressed, anxiety-ridden, in-shock victims from ruin.

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is talked about so much these days and that’s a good thing. Our men and women in the military deserve our highest respect and greatest sympathy if they have experienced trauma. But, of course, PTSD doesn’t only fall on vets. It could be argued that trauma is trauma and during this Coronavirus pandemic, almost all of us have experienced trauma. Trauma that needs to be dealt with.

All of this also means when doctors told me I had stage 4 colorectal cancer in 2017 it caused a trauma shock like nothing I’d ever experienced before in my life. And along with everything else, I was experiencing those horrible PTSD symptoms.

Not some victimhood of the traveling pants to everyone - sissy-ville. No, it’s about finding solutions to the things that have held us back. Naming our pain and overcoming it try for a reasonably happy life.

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