Feeling Anxious?17 December 2022
How anxiety works and what you can do to overcome it.
by Gloria Battini
I’ve been suffering with OCD and anxiety for most of my life but I wasn’t always aware.
For the most part (when I was younger), I didn’t think much of it, I genuinely thought that everyone’s brain worked the same way. Which is probably the best and worst thing at the same time: the best because I didn’t grow up thinking that there was something wrong with me (or at least with my mind) and the worse because I had to get to my late twenties before I realised that no, that’s not how everyone’s brain works.
Between the ages of 25 and 31 I was at my absolute worst. The feeling of anxiety was constant. I don’t remember a day, or even an hour, during these years, when I didn’t have anxiety. It was just there, like a part of my body, only it wasn’t visible. I felt it in my mind through intrusive thoughts and compulsions (OCD), and in my body as a constant feeling of worry, fear and gasping for air. It was horrible.
OCD is a bitch. It gets you to do stuff that you don’t want to do and the worst thing is that you know what’s happening, you know it’s illogical but still, it’s holding such power over you that you can’t do anything but succumb. And the waste of time. Hours of your life gone for nothing.
When I first started working with the coach who helped me overcome OCD she made me write down all the compulsion on a piece of paper. All of them. When they were happening, how many times and every thought connected to each one of them (this is actually something I also do with my clients today, it’s incredibly helpful to raise your awareness).
I had a list of 40. Hours of my day lost into this. Every cycle, every ritual, every compulsion.
It took me 18 months of super focused work to get out of all the physical rituals but I did it, and it changed my life, literally.
Where am I going with this?
Well, before we get into this, I wanted to first paint you a picture of what it means to live with things such as anxiety and OCD, it’s not the same for everyone, of course, but one thing I’m sure of is that it isn’t easy and it can destroy you.
The thing with anxiety is that it’s actually part of life in general so we also have to learn to live with it and make it work for us so let’s see how it can be good. No really, I’m serious.
How does anxiety actually work?
In their book “Rewire Your Anxious Brain” Catherine M Pittman PhD and Elizabeth M Karle MLIS define anxiety as “a complex emotional response that’s similar to fear. Both arise from similar brain processes and cause similar physiological and behavioural reactions; both originate in portions of the brain designed to help all animals deal with danger.”
Let me give you an example so you can see how without that fear/anxiety response function in the brain we’d be in big trouble.
Imagine you’re walking down the street and all of a sudden you see a big wild lion charging towards you, what would your response be? You’d probably feel terrified, anxious and your stress levels would be off the charts – consequently you’d run for the hills and try to find safety.
Now let’s imagine the same scenario but without a fear/anxiety response, what would you do if a lion was charging towards you but your brain didn’t signal the danger to you? You’d get eaten alive. No, really.
This is why the fear response is good, because it signals you when there’s danger around and you must find safety. Without it you wouldn’t run, you wouldn’t see the danger and end up in very risky situations.
So if stress response is good, what makes anxiety so challenging to live with?
This is where we distinguish fear from anxiety. We feel fear when we are in front of actual danger (aka the big lion) and anxiety when we are overcome by “a sense of dread/discomfort but aren’t, at the moment, in danger”, Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle explain.
For example, you left the house for work and halfway there panic arises: Did I close all the windows? Have I left the hair straighteners on? Have I locked the door?
I am sure we’ve all felt a little anxiety every now and then and that’s manageable, but the challenging part is when it becomes part of your daily life in such a way that it disrupts your way of living, starts limiting you and affects you mentally, physically and emotionally.
Let’s take the example of going to work and let me show you what it was like when I was struggling with OCD.
Ready to leave the house in the morning, just before I opened the front door that sense of dread took over me and my mind started racing: Is the gas off? – Proceeds to check the hob and boiler 3 times as catastrophic scenarios went through my head.
Ok, the gas is fine. What about the bedroom? Have I left anything on? – Proceeds to check windows, curtains, dressing table, door, everything 3 times as the probability of the end of the world occurring in the next 2 hours became more real in my mind.
Ok the bedroom is fine.
I must check that the cats are ok and fed and their litter is clean. I have a feeling that something really bad is going to happen if I don’t do it.
Proceeds to check and guess what? Everything is fine.
And then some other thought comes in and I must check, three times for everything. Over and over again.
Until, 25mins later, I finally make it out the door and I am now late for work.
That’s a glimpse of what it feels like to live with anxiety and to what extent it can disrupt your life.
What you don’t see there is the heart racing, feeling light headed, palms sweating and me gasping for air.
Every day. For years.
Did you get anxiety just reading that? I know, right?
So yeah, when it gets to those levels, it’s hard to manage and it’s like something external has complete power over you. It’s not your life that you’re living. You’re just getting by while trying to stay alive.
Is anxiety all the same?
The good thing about this is that no one with anxiety is doomed to a certain way of life. There’s so much that can be done to gain power over it and shrink it in such a way that you are no longer affected by it. Yes it can still be there, but you know how to handle it and you’re back in control of your life.
In order to understand what we can do about it we first need to know that not all anxiety is the same. Not only in terms of how people experience it but also in the way that it originates in our brain.
We have cortex-based anxiety and amygdala-based anxiety.
We experience cortex-based anxiety when it shows up as a result of intrusive/obsessive thoughts, intense doubts and worries or being stuck trying to find a solution to a problem (in the brain the cortex is the pathway for our thoughts, imagination, conscious memories and logic).
With the amygdala being the part of the brain primarily responsible for our emotions and emotional behaviour, amygdala-based anxiety is the one that comes for no apparent reason, catches us by surprise and affects us more physically than mentally: nervousness, aggressive impulses and bodily changes just to name a few. For example, since the amygdala works on our subconscious mind, this type of anxiety can be connected to certain environmental changes triggering a subconscious memory.
So what can we do about it so that we start living a normal and even fulfilling life?
The first and most important thing you can do about starting to manage your anxiety is to determine where it comes from and how much it’s actually affecting you.
For this I would suggest taking out your journal (or a piece of paper if you don’t journal) and start doing a little assessment. Some questions to help you out in this process could be:
★ How often do I feel anxious during a 24h period?
★ During an anxiety episode, what physical response do I notice? (e.g. heart pounding, avoidance of certain places/situations, obsessive checking, unable to relax, inexplicable worries/doubts, anger, overwhelm, muscle tension, sweat etc.)
★ What thoughts (if any) are going through my mind during an anxiety episode? Do they vary or are they recurring?
★ How long does an episode last?
★ In what way does anxiety affect my daily life? (e.g. I am often late for work)
★ On a scale of 1-10 how bothering/annoying is it?
★ If anxiety wasn’t there, what would you be able to do that you can’t now?
Once you have made your assessment you should have a better idea of what kind of role anxiety is playing in our life.
Anxiety doesn’t have to rule your life, there are many ways in which it can be overcome and you can regain control over your life and your thoughts. Working with an expert can be incredibly life changing and bring you to a transformation that you never thought could be possible.
I am saying this because I suffered for a long time and, with help, I was able to turn things around. So much so that now I help people do the same.
If this speaks to you and you’d like to know what’s possible I would love to chat, you can book a free consultation at this link.
There is so much life waiting for you 🙏☺️
Gloria is a certified Life and Personal Performance Coach (ICF), Narcissistic Abuse Survivor and has also fully recovered from OCD. She helps women come home to themselves by healing from the aftermath of toxic relationships, overcoming anxiety, setting healthy boundaries and re-establishing a deep connection to their soul. Her unique method combines Coaching, Astrology and Moonology.
While Coaching is the main tool she uses, each session is infused with intuitive wisdom, a close look at your personal astrology, the use of oracle cards and different visualisation and meditation techniques, it’s very unique to each person. In her sessions, she also often includes “mini trainings” on how the brain works. Gloria believes that knowledge is power and very often the mere understanding of why your brain is doing what it’s doing helps you be in control of your mind and thoughts.
Working with Gloria you will learn how to reprogram your brain and get rid of the limitations that have led your life up until this moment as well as how to use those powerful and invisible energies that are abundantly available to us. This allows you to create an effortless life because you’re leading in a way that is most natural to your soul.
If you feel called to explore this further or you have questions, get in touch through the contact form below or book a free 30 mins consultation.