Do you tend to find yourself "worried" and stuck in stressful thoughts? Do you find yourself avoiding situations that you wish you could attend out of the fear of being too uncomfortable? Does your worry and nervousness seem to occur with physical sensations such as chest pains, difficulty breathing, or a racing heart? If so, you may be experiencing anxiety.

Why do humans experience anxiety?
We're all wired for survival and the skills necessary to react to life-threatening situations. Our brains are wired to predict what might happen in the future based on experiences of the past, which can mean that unresolved experiences are constantly being projected out into the present moment. Because of this, anxiety can be considered a "signal" pointing to unresolved emotions or experiences. Just as you wouldn't bring your car to a repair shop and simply ask them to remove the "check engine" light, we don't want to treat anxiety solely at the behavioral level. By looking beneath the anxiety signal to the underlying emotions that have not yet been processed, reconnection and healing are possible.

What does anxiety looks like?
Anxiety presents differently for each person...for some it is the pervasiveness of thoughts, worry, anticipation of tomorrow and rumination of yesterday late into the night. For others, anxiety may arise in the body and feel "out of the blue". A racing heart, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and tightening of the chest are just a few common examples. These symptoms can be so frightening that such an experience can become a form of "panic", leading us to avoid these physical sensations at any cost. Unfortunately, this attempt to distance panic can have the opposite effect, and "panic attacks" can become a pattern. Several people describe their anxiety centering around social situations, fear of embarrassment, or social failure to the point that they are continuously guessing what others are thinking. (Interestingly, scientific studies have shown that those suffering social anxiety are prone to guessing far more critical and negative opinions of others than are actually occurring - but the voice of anxiety can be loud and convincing!) However anxiety manifests, it is most always a mentally and physically uncomfortable experience and unwelcome visitor.

The problem with avoidance
Frequently, this high level of discomfort leads us to finding ways of avoiding intense sensations and symptoms and we become increasingly isolated and less practiced at enduring our discomfort. Similar to an unexercised muscle, our skills for coping with anxiety "atrophy". Our world becomes increasingly small. Our brains, once skilled at keeping us safe, now detect danger signs where there is nothing, turning even positive experiences into a terrifying "close-call". Though this is true, we aim to honor the strategies of avoidance alongside our deeper desires for ease and connection so that we can ideally hold an understanding relationship with ourselves that does nots strip a person of their sense of safety. 

How do we reclaim our life from anxiety?
Fortunately, we don't have to be at the mercy of our old programming. With practice and attention, the mental paths we routinely travel are highly re-wireable. We can learn ways of noticing our automatic thoughts, physical sensations, and beliefs -- challenging some of the out-dated survival oriented aspects of our brain that aren't serving us anymore and reconnecting to the emotions we once had to disconnect from in order to survive. We learn new ways of relating to ourselves that allows us deepening capacities for being with a variety of thoughts, sensations, and experiences. In time, our world becomes larger. We are able to trust ourselves to handle shaky situations. We can pursue our dreams and take the pen back in our own story.