How I Finally Loosened Anxiety’s Grip on Me

anxietys grip

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

As a child, all I wanted to do was figure out how to be safe with my family. I didn’t grow up with bad people, just ones who were quick to judge with prejudice, quick to explode with anger, and quick to turn away from you. But, then they could be comforting and loving.

It was beyond confusing.

Because their view of reality was the only one that mattered, I learned to distrust myself, and I learned my feelings weren’t important. Often they were unacceptable.

I got great at pushing my feelings aside.

For years, this fueled my anxiety, but then something happened to change that.

Anxiety Is a Sneaky Tyrant

When anxiety regularly and profoundly affects your quality of life, it’s emotionally exhausting and physically traumatizing.

You concentrate long and hard at keeping anxiety attacks to a minimum.

You know what situations and events make you vulnerable to an attack. You create strategies for navigating your way through them.

This process helps you feel safe when you’re in those situations, but you can’t create strategies for every little thing that happens during your day.

While you’re managing your way through rush hour traffic, meetings, annual reviews, etc., you don’t have the resources to deal with minor instances of emotional discomfort. So you ignore them or push them aside.

But just because your anxiety doesn’t hit you hard and force you to deal with these things doesn’t mean they’re not affecting you.

Anxiety is a sneaky tyrant. It can sniff out unexamined emotions better than a dog can sniff out where it buried Sunday’s ham bone.

While your attention is focused in one direction, anxiety’s sneaking behind your back. Day after day, it’s grabbing up and hoarding those feelings of unease, twinges of fear, and worry you didn’t plan for and pushed aside.

Stored in your subconscious, they mix and fester until suddenly you’re engulfed in an anxiety attack that seems to come out of nowhere.

3 Signs That a Sneak Attack Is Building

As anxiety’s stash increases in size, the emotional build-up unconsciously affects you. This is why you feel blindsided by the attack, but fortunately, you can spot the following warning signs:

1. You fall into old habits of avoidance or become so distracted that you can barely keep a thought in your head.

2. You have ever-increasing bits of unrelated anxiety popping up, and worrisome thoughts you can’t seem to get rid of. Aches and pains throughout your body increase.

3. You skip your regular or daily methods for staying centered, find yourself overeating, or lose your appetite.

This type of anxiety may be slow to intensify, but before you know it, something ignites it, and you’re in the middle of an emotional firestorm.

Just before my last attack hit, I felt like I had a crazy woman in my head. She had a bunch of plates spinning on poles, and she ran from one to another desperately trying to keep them from falling.

When one finally crashed to the floor, the others just exploded in place.

What it Feels Like When a Sneak Attack Detonates

Anxiety attacks are bad enough when you know what’s causing them. But one with multiple emotional factors is worse because anything can detonate it.

When you’re through being engulfed by the myriad of rampaging emotions, and the physical battering ends, you feel relief now that the craziness that led up to it is done.

Still though, the experience is exhausting.

It leaves you as emotionally vulnerable as a child that’s been slapped for no reason it can understand.

You feel out of control and scared about being assaulted again in this way. Physical aches and pains linger because your body is also a storehouse of those emotions.

What I learned is that if you pay close attention to your body’s physical aches and pains, you can connect with the emotional sources that caused the attack in the first place.

How to Use Your Body’s Wisdom to Prevent Future Attacks

When physical discomfort stems from how you respond to the stresses of your day, being present with your body will help release what’s bothering you.

When you do this work, be patient with yourself. Adopt an approach of being tenderly curious about what’s happening with your body.

First, connect with how your breath is moving in and out of your body. It doesn’t matter whether you focus on the breath moving through your nostrils, mouth, chest, or with your diaphragm.

Just pick one to use as a focus for opening your awareness. If you’re having difficulty making a connection, try closing your eyes.

Once you’re intimately aware of your breath, expand that awareness to your body. Relax and let your body reveal to you where your thoughts and feelings are causing discomfort.

Usually one ache will catch your attention. Stay with it and see how it changes or moves. Breathe deeply, and relax as much as you can.

The more tenderness you can bring to what’s going on, the more relaxed you’ll be. Some of the aches and pains will disappear. Some will not, and that’s okay.

As you practice this, thoughts and emotions will naturally surface.

When that happens, be aware of how your body responds to them. Any tightness, new discomfort, or increases in existing aches are all clues that those thoughts and emotions are things you need to look at more closely.

Looking Closely with Safe Journaling

A combination of safe journaling and bodywork can be an effective way of examining your thoughts and feelings more thoroughly.

What is safe journaling? It’s when your journal is strictly for your eyes only and is a place where you feel safe to express the whole of what you’re feeling.

Safe journaling is for expressing everything, even those thoughts and feelings that you judge to be bad, ugly, mean, hateful, nasty, and so forth.

Thoughts and emotions fly through your head faster than you can blink an eye. By capturing and labeling what you’re feeling, you’re slowing down your emotional responses.

This makes it easier to deal with them, and in turn, they have less of an effect on you.

No matter what you’ve heard, having these feelings does not make you a bad person. They’re simply a part of being human just as feelings of love, happiness, appreciation, gratitude, and kindness are a part of you as well.

What’s important is to identify and acknowledge these feelings, while not judging yourself for having them.

When you’ve finished your session with journaling, get in touch with your body’s wisdom once again.

This Practice Has No Downside

Of course, the more you practice, the more knowledgeable you become about how your thoughts and feelings affect your body.

What you feel going on in your body is a good indicator of what’s going on with your anxiety.

If you’re not paying enough attention to those minor feelings of fear, anxiousness, and worry, your body will let you know they’re beginning to accumulate.

Do your body work, with or without journaling, before going to bed, and anxiety will have little or nothing to hoard. It will also help you have a better night’s sleep.

The less ammunition you give anxiety in the way of unexamined emotions, the less it has to grab and use against you.

Anxiety is a tyrant, but put this practice in place, and you, too, can loosen its grip on you.

Photo by Sarah-Rose

anxietys grip

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42 thoughts on “How I Finally Loosened Anxiety’s Grip on Me”

  1. Quinn,

    Great article! It’s helpful to see the three signs that an attack is building. I find the third to be especially true. When I try to make myself so busy I can’t take care of myself then I know it’s time for a mental tune-up! :-) Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Thanks Rachel for stopping by and commenting.

      It’s so true that at certain points in our lives we really do try to make ourselves busier and busier. I wonder if it’s along the line of thinking the more we do, and the faster we do it, the more we’ll have under control?

      Or whether we’re trying to be so busy that we’re hoping everything we’ve ignored for too long will just give up and go away?

      Hmmmmm! I’ll have to ponder that a bit.

      Warmly,

      Quinn

  2. Hi Quinn!

    What wonderful tips and techniques for dealing with a notoriously disruptive emotion! Thank you for sharing your own experiences, in order to help your readers. I particularly liked your “safe journaling” suggestion, as a way to get your get your feelings out, instead of letting them build and intensify, along with your advice to take a break from your thoughts in order to relax and “follow your breath.” Thank you! :)

    1. Hi Alyssa,

      Thank you.

      I’m glad you found some things that will prove helpful – though I know – you know all about following the breath!

      There are many ways to meditate – whether you’re following the breath – or following the pain!

      :-)

      Quinn

  3. Very helpful article Quinn. I always felt lucky because I started getting my panic attacks at school, and the school nurse just told me they were what highly strung, wannabe high achieving teenage girls had, so I sort of got used to them. I was glad not to have the experience of a friend who got them much later in life and thought he was having a heart attack. But it took me a while to understand their path through my body, and what triggered them, or what was likely to create that ‘perfect storm’ of conditions. Your ideas will definitely be helpful to people exploring this, and to normalising and hopefully reducing them for others who suffer with them. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Hi Ellen,

      It’s amazing what we can get used to isn’t it?

      Especially when different levels of anxiety show up in their own unique ways in your body.

      Thank you for sharing with me that you think people will find my ideas helpful. I figure if this happens to me, then maybe it happens to other people as well.

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  4. Hi Quinn,

    What apt metaphor for anxiety – a tyrant! I certainly lived and struggled with it myself for many years, and I can beyond doubt testify your techniques work for lessening its power.

    Being a recent convert to journaling, I have found it to be a great tool for busting limiting beliefs that cause anxiety. I often catch myself thinking in the middle of writing; do I really believe the nonsense my mind is trying to convince me of? Which helps to see the situation from another perspective.

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    Andrea

    1. Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for the vote of confidence! I always hope that if something works for me other people can put it to use too!

      Tyrant was the nicest metaphor I could come up with, but it does seem apt with its self-centeredness, unpredictability, and determination to have its own way!

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  5. Quinn, you’re story is a remarkable one and to express what you have written here must have taken a great deal of courage (not to say some emotion!)

    I’m unsure if I’ve ever personally experienced a panic attack, or maybe I have and labelled it as something else?

    Regardless, through your writing here, I got an deep sense of what it must feel like to experience a level of anxiety that wholly consumes you.

    The 3 signs and the tips you have provided are empowering as I’m very aware that some of those dear to me experience the challenges with anxiety that you describe. I’m extremely grateful for your insights. Thank you.

    Incidentally, I’ve never heard of ‘safe journaling’ despite being very familiar with the exercise you describe. From a practical point of view, I would be interested to know what suggestions you have on what you do with your journals once they have fulfilled their purpose?

    With gratitude.

    1. Hi Rob,

      You are so right about it being difficult to write about such personal experiences,

      At times I felt like the PushMe-PullMe animal from the original Dr. Dolittle.

      On the one hand, I wanted to use my experiences to help people, but on the other, I didn’t want to expose to much of myself!

      I’m glad that you found my story helpful for both understanding how helpless you feel when an attack strikes, and for finding useful information in it that you can pass on.

      With regards to the journaling, once I fill up a book I let it sit for a while. It’s almost as though we’re both resting up after a tough series of fights. Then, when I feel the time is right, I go through it for any ideas that may have come up that I didn’t capture in my idea book.

      Putting it to the side again, I’ll run across one day and take a look through it. If it has nothing more that I need to know from it, I release it, rip the pages out, shred them, and discard the cover. If I had a fire pit, I’d burn the pages as that does have more of the releasing energy to it.

      I think being able to let the journal go is the important part. How you make sure that every word in it remains private to you, even in its destruction, is what works best for you.

      I hope this helps.

      Thank you for your understanding.

      Warmly,

      Quinn

      I hope this helps!

  6. Hi Quinn,

    That was a great post I must say. I cannot say I identify with anxiety attacks, as it has never happened to me. However your story inspires me. It inspires me to take charge of my life today.

    Thanks for sharing Quinn

    1. Hi Toby,

      On any given day, I think we can exert more control and treat ourselves in more supportive ways. Though that’s much easier said than done on some days rather than others isn’t it?

      I wish you all the best and hope you’ll share the results of what you’re inspired to do so people can find inspiration from you.

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  7. Well written article Quinn. It’s nice to know what to look for in yourself as well as others who may not be aware of what they are experiencing. Thanks for sharing such a personal journey.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thank you for the compliment on my writing, though I can’t take all the credit as I had help in getting it to this point.

      Anxiety takes so many different shapes and can be easy for people to dismiss so any change in awareness is a good thing!

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      Warmly,

      Quinn

  8. Quinn,
    Great article. I know when my body is burnt out-I will lose the appetite or tendency to constantly eat which sets in the attack-I will follow your wisdom next time it happens.

    1. Hi Ann,

      Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful. Funny isn’t it that it’s one side of the seesaw or the other – either you’ve lost your appetite or you can’t eat enough!

      It would be so much easier if it was just one or the other, but anxiety likes to have all the bases covered doesn’t it?

      Wishing you all the best in taking care of yourself and outsmarting this sneaky tyrant!

      Warmly,

      Quinn

  9. Wonderful and enlightening post, Quinn. Thanks for sharing it.

    The first step I believe is always to pay attention whether one has the signs of anxiety. But as we all know, identifying those signs could be hard, or taboo for some people. We may think everything’s fine, but perhaps because everybody else around us is having anxiety too. If one is aware that such exists, better things will follow.

    Like Toby said above, I used to be confident that I didn’t have anxiety attacks. But now, as I read different resources, I think that I didn’t totally understand what anxiety is. I might have missed the point.

    Thanks, Quinn!

    1. Hi Ethan,

      I think you hit the nail on the head: “We may think everything’s fine, but perhaps because everybody else around us is having anxiety too.”

      According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) approximately 40 million people over the age of 18 are challenged with some sort of anxiety!

      The odds are good that we’re surrounding each other, and of course, the tyrant has different levels and innumerable faces.

      If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Warmly,
      Quinn

  10. Hi Ann,

    Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful. Funny isn’t it that it’s one side of the seesaw or the other – either you’ve lost your appetite or you can’t eat enough!

    It would be so much easier if it was just one or the other, but anxiety likes to have all the bases covered doesn’t it?

    Wishing you all the best in taking care of yourself and outsmarting this sneaky tyrant!

    Warmly,

    Qunn

  11. Hi Quinn,

    Wonderful post indeed :)

    Your nurturing environment and the experiences in the upbringing phase of life are so important. I think much of the reasons and secrets of our miseries lie in our childhood.

    You’re so right when you say that anxiety is emotionally exhausting and physically traumatizing. It drains you off and the covering up or ignoring of anxiety is a grave mistake that people make.

    I totally agree with you on the ways anxiety sneaks, making us feel miserable and we are often caught off guard. I’ve seen someone close to me having a panic attack and it certainly seems like being empowered by some strange person – you aren’t yourself.

    There are so many ways you can keep a check on your anxiety and stress, and seek easy ways of relief. Breathing and expressing yourself is important so as not to suppress the feelings and thoughts to given them a chance to transform into a daemon.

    I’m sure this article would make sense and be of immense help to those who are undergoing such a phase in their life. It takes time and effort, but it is possible to tame the anxiety.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead :)

    1. Hi Harleena,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post.

      It sounds as though we could have a good conversation on all the different ways we can help our family and friends to manage their anxiety.

      Thank you for recognizing that I was trying very hard to create a nurturing environment. There’s a lot of shame surrounding anxiety, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t add to it.

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  12. Wow! Just wow!
    This a brilliant post, Quinn! I felt like I was right there with you!

    Congratulations on being so vulnerable and courageous. I can only imagine what it must have been like to get this story out.

    Personally, I tend to lean towards angry outbursts rather than panic attacks. But most of your advice holds true for that situation as well.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    1. Oh, Debasish! Thank you!

      Since you’ve been through the same process – you know how difficult this was! Doubly so because I kept bumping into my need to not expose myself too much!

      Somehow you being angry surprises me, but now that you mention it . . . I’m going to have to give some thought to the possibility that my anxiety attacks increased the more I got my temper under control.

      Interesting idea!

      Take care Debasish,

      Quinn

  13. Hi Quinn
    You have raised an important topic. I am sure everyone can connect with your post. I feel sorry for your childhood events. But, I am happy you have come out of this anxiety trap
    Whenever I feel myself in an anxious mode, I concentrate on my breathing. It is a best way to soothe ourselves. By exhaling, I wipe out all the negativity. By inhaling, I bring in lots of positivity
    Journal is really an effective way to ease out stress. In this process, we can easily express our emotions in a free manner. Writing has a powerful impact. It feels so good, isn’t? I can’t even express the joy of writing in plain words.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful life lesson. Have a lovely life, buddy

    1. Hi Yatin,

      Childhood was tough. Of course, it wasn’t all bad, but the things you learn at an early age influence you throughout your life.

      Meditating and focus on the breath has definitely been a big help. Though I might argue that there are times when only chocolate will provide the necessary soothing – provided you eat it in a mindful manner, of course!

      :-)

      But we are in 100% agreement on the writing!

      Thank you for commenting!

      Warmly,

      Quinn

  14. Hey Quinn

    A very honest and open post. I enjoyed reading it.

    What stood out for me was your will not to be defeated by anxiety. People may go through it without recognizing it as anxiety. So this post will do wonders for people who aware of the triggers, but not sure why they happen.

    I did not think about aches and pains being a part of anxiety. But it makes sense when you describe the way you do. I thought this was a great post, full of insight and tips to be aware of.

    Thanks for an informative post.

    Rachel.

    1. Hi Rachel,

      Well, I do have to give credit to my childhood for the ‘never giving up’ attitude. There were a lot of things that if I wanted to do them, then I had to teach myself how to do so, like learning how to ride a two-wheeler. bike.

      Who knew it would be such good training for dealing with anxiety! LOL!

      I’m glad you found my post helpful. Thank you for letting me know!

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  15. Great post, Quinn. The three signs you described really gave me something to think about. I had not connected those dots before, but I will certainly be aware of it now!

    1. Hi Nicki,

      I’m so happy the article was helpful for you.

      Wishing you all the best in managing what challenges you!

      Warmly,

      Quinn

  16. Many thanks for your so insightful and helpful blog. However, I feel we shouldn’t forget the deep-reaching help many of us feel religion brings, whatever Faith we have ( and personally I believe that GOD works through all Faiths).

    1. Hello Robert,

      I write and share what I do because it is my hope that what I have learned will be beneficial in easing peoples’ suffering. I’m glad you found it helpful.

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  17. Hi Quinn,

    Thanks for this. I found it especially interesting ’cause I resonated with many of the points you made yet I’ve never experienced a panic attack. Perhaps similar experiences simply show up differently over time? Thanks for sharing so deeply of yourself, and for providing something very valuable for me to chew on :-)

    Lynn

    1. Hi Lynn,

      Anxiety really is a sneaky SOB in that it shows up in so many different ways – and they can change over time as well.

      I’m glad you found it helpful!

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      Warmly,

      Quinn

    1. Hi Mark,

      Defusing is a good term! Sort of like decanting a wine in order to let breath.

      I’m going to keep that in mind – letting the anxiety breath and defuse.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Warm regards,

      Quinn

  18. This is great. Thanks for sharing it. In a particularly bad time I discovered Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and read it. It was very helpful to me. We live in a world where stress, business and violence is all around us. The story we tell ourselves about reality can be quite problematic. I’m still working on my body work skills but, yes, it does work. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Robert,

      I’m so glad you found the post and that it was helpful. Totally agree with you about all the challenges around us, and the bigger one about the stories we tell ourselves.

      Thanks for sharing the book you discovered during a particularly bad time, I’m going to check that out! The book I found in my time of need (literally tripping over it) was Tara Brach’s “Radical Acceptance”.

      May you be like the clear still lake that reflects accurately what is there!

      Warmly,

      Quinn

  19. Dear Quinn,
    This article is wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your story. With all these comments you sure have helped people to understand more deeply about themselves. I’m going to remember the point about ‘noticing’ when the self-care starts to slip, and share on my facebook page. I think it’s easy to ignore some of the signs – maybe because we hope they will go away. Please do write some more, the world needs to read your honesty. Chloe.

  20. oh Quinn, I love this!

    I love that you don’t hold back about the truth of how anxiety impacts our lives, nor do you hold back about how to take control with mindfulness.

    The signs of sneaky anxiety are a wonderful reminder for me.

    Thank you for writing this. It will benefit so many!

    Take good care,

    Jenn

  21. Writing is really a wonderful tool to bring to surface the thoughts and emotions lying suppressed and hidden underneath us which may be causing lot of problems from their hiding places. When we bring them to the surface they start losing their power over us. I have done free form writing a few times and found it very effective for emptying out our deep inner unresolved worries and emotions. I have sometimes experienced a drop or two of tears come automatically in the eyes while doing the free form writing exercise.

    Bodily awareness is also excellent idea. Being aware of what exactly we feel in the body when we are having an anxiety attack is highly useful. I have noticed that I hold my breath and take very small breaths at long intervals whenever I am stressed or worried or fearful. This realization is the first step towards change. I don’t recommend forcing yourself to breathe if you notice yourself holding it. Rather keep thinking about it and how your holding the breath is not doing any good to your anxiety problem. Very soon you may find that you are breathing more freely and frequently than before in anxiety situations without having to force yourself.

    Excellent article. I have enjoyed reading it and have even bookmarked it as I like to read any article I like and enjoy multiple times/

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