“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