There is a natural way to stop severe anxiety from controlling your life. Here are three steps that are guaranteed to help you treat anxiety, including anxiety attacks, once and for all.
“Healing requires from us to stop struggling, but to enjoy life more and endure it less.” – Darina Stoyanova
There are a few things we seek more in life than to feel loved and safe. This is especially vital in childhood when we depend on others to love and care for us, to keep us safe and help us make sense of the world. Many of us, however, grew up in an environment that was less than optimal for our developing brain.
When instead of stability, love and safety home meant chaos, constant yelling, neglect or abuse we may grow up fearful, overly sensitized to danger, feeling unworthy, unloved and broken. Mentally surviving such environment often depended on dissociations and countless defenses we set up to protect ourselves.
Those safety walls that kept us out of harm’s way in childhood often end up being our prison in adulthood. They sabotage our growth, keep us small and asleep, anxious and unfulfilled.
I was not conscious of my own defenses until I started dismantling them brick by brick. Feeling stuck, angry and resentful, at some point I decided I’ve had enough! I began the proverbial peeling of an onion and discovered layers upon layers of stories I’ve been telling myself about who I was, and what was my place in the world.
3 Healing Practices To Shift From Chronic Anxiety To Embracing Yourself and Life Fully
Healing starts with awakening and a willingness to dismantle our stories.
The drive to seek safety is in our nature, encoded into the oldest parts of our brain. This has functioned well in terms of evolution but on an individual level, it is what often fuels our depression and anxiety.
Safety often means getting stuck – we’re unwilling to look back but are afraid to move forward.
Staying in our comfort zone means safety but it also diminishes our life experiences. We don’t go after what we want and need to feel fulfilled, because we don’t believe we deserve it. We don’t dare to do things we know we should because we are afraid to fail and lose what we already have. We don’t reach out or challenge the status quo, accepting that where we are is as good as it gets.
Growing up I learned not to trust anyone, I learned to stay quiet and not make waves. My vigilance and staying small worked at keeping me safe. But it eventually led to isolation, anxiety, and resentment. Only when I embraced trusting the unknown and leaving the safety net behind did I learn that most things work out in the end and I was strong enough to deal with what didn’t work out.
More and more, I dared to challenge myself and reach for what I wanted, even when I was afraid. As I learned to trust myself, I discovered my inner-strength and slowly built confidence.
I learned to embrace life fully – ups and downs and in-betweens. I experienced aliveness, radiance, and wakefulness more often. That made my life more meaningful and vibrant and became a fuel that kept me going.
The road of awakening is littered with years of accumulated pain and regret we need to face. When we strip away our defenses, it may become unbearable. Instead of getting overwhelmed by it, we can bathe our pain in compassion. This was the hardest part for me.
Growing up, we learn to treat ourselves from how those with authority treat us. If we were abused, we will learn to self-abuse. If we were neglected, you will learn to self-neglect. If we were chronically criticized, blamed and punished, we will subconsciously do that to ourselves too.
Compassion was a foreign language to me but I was fluent in self-blame, self-criticism, and self-judgment. I was raised to believe that the harder we push ourselves the better our lives become. And I was relentless. Self-criticism was etched into my brain through years of beating myself up for any mistake, real or perceived. When things went wrong I blamed myself for everything, even for things that were out of my control.
Whereas a child I judged myself as bad, now as an adult I thought of myself as broken. Awakening meant rediscovering my worth and finding compassion for myself, especially in times of struggle and pain. It meant filtering my thoughts of self-criticism and replacing them with self-compassionate thoughts and feelings. It meant placing my hand over my heart and telling myself everything is ok, that I am safe and that the fear will eventually pass. It meant treating myself with the same amount of warmth and understanding that I afforded others. It meant being gentle and caring toward myself and putting myself first too.
Self-compassion allowed me to open my heart up again – to myself and others – and thrive. I had to learn how to become the greatest advocate of me. I learned boundaries and self-care.
I learned to be vulnerable, allowing all emotions to guide me, trusting that I have the inner strength and resources to handle whatever comes up.
For decades I struggled with acceptance because I was trying to accept what wasn’t truly me. And so I was at war with myself. The walls I built around myself I adapted to survive. But they no longer served me – they had to be dismantled. This wasn’t who I was anymore. In fact, I wasn’t sure who I was now but I was willing to learn.
Failing to find peace in the outside world, I turned toward myself. I realized that by fearing to face the pain and shame, by running and pretending that I’m fine I continued the cycle of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, only this time I was the perpetrator. So I had a choice, continue to self-abandon or find the courage to heal. To find the inner peace I was craving I turned to mediation.
Meditation means different things to different people. For me, it was learning to listen and practice letting go. It was observing my thoughts and the knee-jerk reactions I had to those thoughts – and release them.
Desperate for change, I committed to loving and accepting myself as I was, no matter what showed up. Slowly, all the assumptions, false beliefs and judgments that I have made about who I thought I was started to fall apart. When I looked underneath the mask of perfection and people pleasing I discovered who I truly was and what I needed and desired – I rediscovered my authentic self.
I embraced my strengths and developed compassion for my shortcomings. I reframed shame into wisdom and pain into growth.
I stopped searching for validation outside and instead learned to validate myself. I realized I was deserving, worthy and whole – and that I was still learning and growing to be a fuller expression of myself.
I reconnected with my inner child and uncovered a deep longing to become friends with my deepest self. Instead of trying to “fix myself” I began to see myself in an entirely different light. I was returning home.
Healing is a hard and often painful journey that doesn’t feel immediately gratifying, and so we want to run the other way. Keeping things out of my conscious mind served as a protective mechanism all these years. Now, I was looking under the rug, bringing pain and shame up to my conscious mind, recalling and processing trauma, and facing hurt I didn’t even know existed within me. It was difficult to keep going.
At the same time my perspective started to shift. I slowly learned to manage my fears and come out the other side stronger. I learned to give myself what I needed including love, care and support I so craved growing up. I started feeling more empowered, finally able to let go of anger towards those who I felt betrayed me. I learned acceptance and that brought me more inner peace. Years later, I’m grateful I found the willingness and strength to put myself first again.
Healing looks different for everyone. Meditation, journaling, and yoga worked great for me. I reignited my passion for drawing, gardening and took long walks with my dog. I also did EMDR therapy and learned that I can dance stress out of my body.
Whatever the path, healing takes a lot of work and courage. Oftentimes, it will feel like walking through fire and you’ll be afraid to take the next step. Many times the only thing that will keep you going is the dread of falling back into the pit of darkness and despair. Keep going. Notice what’s shifting. Pay attention to how you’re feeling on your good days as well as bad. Remind yourself that this is a gradual process and you’re doing the best you can.
You will need a lot of care and support through this process. Nourishing your mind, body, and soul is necessary in order to build your inner strength and resources. So is reaching out to friends and therapists who can walk the path with you.
If all of this seems daunting, don’t be discouraged – it’s all worth it. Once your perspective shifts, once you awaken to life, with compassion and acceptance you realize you have choices: to do things differently, to invest in yourself and your wellbeing, to stop playing the same old tapes, to put yourself first too, to love yourself. And that is life changing!