How to Relieve Anxiety

By Lorraine Faehndrich

In order to relieve anxiety, it’s important to understand what anxiety is and where it comes from.

Many people think of anxiety as an emotion.

But what I see is that anxiety is not an emotion, rather it’s a physiological response to suppressed emotion.

This is important to know, because lasting relief from anxiety, just like vulvodynia or other pelvic pain, comes from working with anxiety as a response to suppressed emotion.

And just like vulvodynia or other pelvic pain, when you get to the underlying emotions, the anxiety goes away.

There’s a simple formula I teach my clients to help them relieve anxiety.

Anxiety = Stressful Thinking + Suppressed Emotion

When you work with the stressful thinking and feel the underlying emotion, the anxiety goes away.

So, let’s look at these two components.

Stressful Thinking

Stressful or fearful thinking triggers the sympathetic nervous system (aka the Fight or Flight response) which releases a whole host of stress hormones and neurotransmitters that contribute to increased tension, decreased blood flow, and the sensations of anxiety or panic in your body.

And, when it comes to vulvodynia and other types of pelvic pain, there is no shortage of stressful or fearful thinking.

On top of normal stress and worries about life, most women with pelvic pain are struggling with thoughts like:

What if I never get better?
I’ll never be able to have sex again.
My partner will leave, or I’ll never find one.
My life is over.
I’m damaged.
I’m alone.
I’m doing something wrong.

So one part of relieving anxiety is to start identifying and working with these thoughts. My blog post How To Think More Positively When You’re In Pain. includes a step by step process to help you effectively work with these thoughts.

It’s not enough to simply push these thoughts out of your mind. Even if you’re able to do that (and most women can’t), it won’t reverse the effect the thoughts are having on your body and nervous system. To do that, you need to use the process outlined here.

Getting a handle on your thinking can significantly reduce anxiety. But it’s not the whole story. It’s the first part of the equation. The second part is suppressed emotions.

Remember:

Anxiety = Stressful Thinking + Suppressed Emotion

Suppressed Emotion

The second big contributor to anxiety is the body’s response to emotional energy.

Emotions are energy that is meant to move through your body.

When you have emotions from current or past experiences that your brain decides are threatening, your muscles will naturally tense and your breath will get shallow to stop that emotional energy from moving.

When emotional energy isn’t moving (or is stuck in the body) you may not feel the emotion in your body, but you can end up with a lot of other problems instead, like anxiety (and pain).

According to Dr. John Sarno, author of The Mindbody Prescription, when emotional energy is unconsciously held in the body, by physical tension and shallow breathing, the brain/nervous system registers that something is wrong. This triggers the sympathetic nervous system response (there’s that fight or flight response again) and contributes to the feelings of anxiety or panic in your body.

Women can hold a lot of emotional energy in their body, and that contributes to anxiety, as well as pelvic pain and depression.

Some of the issues I have seen underlying anxiety, for myself and my clients are:

  • Unresolved trauma
  • Unfelt emotions around past or current experiences (ie. death of a parent, loss or change of a job, divorce, illness of a spouse or loved one, becoming a parent, etc.)
  • Extreme perfectionism, self-pressure, and/or self-criticism
  • Feelings of shame around sex and intimacy, or anything else
  • Cultural, religious, or family conditioning that emotions, in general, are dangerous, bad, or unacceptable

In order to survive or succeed in our lives, we unconsciously bury these things and all of the emotional energy that goes along with them….and all of this gets held in our body, triggering the fight or flight response, and contributing to anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

Steps to Relieve Anxiety

Anxiety = Stressful Thinking + Suppressed Emotion

In order to relieve anxiety then….

1) Work With Your Mind

First, get out a paper and pen the next time you feel anxious and write down all the thoughts that are going through your mind. Dig a little. Don’t just write down the thoughts you’re initially aware of, breathe into your low belly, get curious and start to uncover the thoughts that are running in the background behind the most obvious ones. Get them all out on paper. Once you’ve identified those thoughts, work with them using the steps outlined here.

2) Feel Emotions

To do this, first, move your attention out of your mind and into your body. Notice that you have a body. You live in a body. You are not just a mind.

Then you’re going to notice and name sensations in your body and at the same time breathe a gentle continuous breath. That’s it. It’s simple but not necessarily easy, for reasons I go in-depth into in my blog post: How to Feel Emotions to Relieve Pelvic Pain. I’ve also got a step by step process to help you feel emotions there.

These 2 steps together, working with your mind and feeling emotions, are an incredibly effective way to relieve anxiety.

You’ll need time to practice and learn these skills, but once you’ve got them, you’ll be able to stop anxiety in its tracks; dropping the negative spin cycle of stressful thinking and stress hormones, and replacing it with the sense of peace, safety and wellbeing that come from allowing your emotions to flow in your body.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and haven’t been able to relieve it with therapy or medication, I encourage you to take the time to learn these skills and follow these steps.

You do have the power to get to the root of your anxiety and relieve it.

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