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Exploring Anxiety: The Vicious Cycle and A Path to Empowerment

Monday, February 28th 2022 10:00am 12 min read
Dr. Jessica Renfer drjessica.nd

Licensed naturopathic doctor with expertise in lifestyle transformation, healing from chronic disease and natural fertility & preconception.

An estimated 31.1 percent of adults have experienced symptoms of an Anxiety disorder in their lives, and most likely there is an even greater percent that have gone undiagnosed, or would fall into a high functioning anxiety category. For some the experience can be crippling. Even in its mildest forms, anxiety reduces quality and enjoyment of life and self. In this article we will explore Anxiety, the reasons for it, both physical and emotional, as well as some helpful steps to begin healing and resolving our anxious tendencies.

Why do we get Anxious?

The experience of Anxiety is a part of our natural alert system. We feel symptoms of anxiety when our body, emotional body, or energy bodies have encountered something foreign or seemingly unsafe. This function is an important part of our sympathetic nervous system, and yet it has often become exaggerated or uncontrolled, resulting in chronic and extreme Anxiety. While we often relate the sympathetic nervous system to “Fight, Flight, Freeze”, we can extend this into including the states of “Alert or Vigilant”. Hyper-vigilance is a common experience for those suffering with chronic anxiety. Thus, the sensation of Anxiety is not always a problem per say, however when it becomes our modus operandi it can dramatically affect our wellbeing, mentally and emotionally and also physically.

Alert vs Aware

Before diving into anxiety, let’s explore the differences between being Alert or Vigilant, versus Present and Aware. The reason is that this is a core area to balance for anyone suffering with anxiety. The concept of awareness is central to self healing, transformational and consciousness studies. One of the benefits of meditation practices is an enhanced state of awareness. When we are present, grounded in our bodies and hearts, we are Aware of “Here and Now”. This is an absolutely vital concept to healing from anxiety. We can achieve the same, and in fact better, readiness to face any challenges, from a state of Awareness rather than from a state of Vigilance. Awareness is presence, and trust in self, such that we trust we will be alerted when necessary. We trust that we will respond when needed, because we have cultivated the ability to be present. We can relax in the in-between moments, hovering more towards that parasympathetic state of rest and enjoy, knowing that if we need to get revved up into sympathetic mode for some reason, that we will. This is quite different from believing that in order to stay safe we have to be constantly scanning, eyes searching, wondering, figuring out, analyzing, and assessing our environment (or self) for threats.

Consider this example: when our nervous system is in Parasympathetic mode, our vision is more expansive, we are better able to see in the peripheral fields, such as when we are in nature, we have in a sense wider vision and are able to take in more of our environment. When in alert mode, or sympathetic mode we have enhanced focal vision, which does allow us to better focus on what we are looking at, however this narrows our range of vision. In fact one way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is to allow our eyes to soften and see “more”, which is much easier outside with a vast terrain in front of us and surrounding us. This is true of all of our senses, including our intuitive sense, all of which are better able to function when we are in a receptive, at least somewhat relaxed state. So often, as we free ourselves from Anxiety, we often discover at the core of our behaviors are belief patterns that perhaps aren’t or at least are no longer true. Perhaps as a child we did have to be on alert mode to stay safe or have our needs met. Perhaps we have experienced trauma that left our nervous system and emotional body feeling unsafe, therefore programming us to be vigilant. There is no shame in any way that we are, or have been. Rather, we can set the intentions to understand ourselves, and find our way into greater harmony within ourselves as well as in how we relate to the world.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

The most common physical sensations associated with anxiety are rapid heart rate, shallow or difficulty breathing, narrowing vision, and an increase in the speed and repetition of thoughts. Sometimes it can also be associated with stomach pain, diarrhea, tingling hands and feet. Often anxiety can result in Insomnia and ADHD type symptoms as well. In fact some of what is diagnosed as ADHD is actually Anxiety when studied via brain mapping. The symptoms can be mild or in the case of Panic Disorder, completely debilitating. The original triggers are usually one of the following: 1) Physical 2) Mental/Emotional 3) Situational/Social.

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