Working Mindfully With Anxiety: Anxiety Symptoms As Health-Seeking Signals -Part Two

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Therapeutic Life Coach and Organizational Consultant at ChainFree Living Coaching and Consulting Services
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist, therapeutic life coach, educator, and author specializing in emotional healing and living authentically as one's true self. She is the founder of ChainFree Living (http://chainfreeliving.com), an online hub offering free resources and community peer-support to people who wish to consciously experience their innate wholeness. Her book, 'You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self', will be published in 2017.
Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

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Viewing Our Anxiety Symptoms as  Health-Seeking Signals Inviting Us To Heal

In last week’s post, Working With Anxiety – Part One, I presented a case study to illustrate how anxious feelings and symptoms may at times be acting as a ‘health-seeking signal’, i.e., a ‘wise guide’ inviting us to heal ourselves at a core, root level. In Part Two, I expand on ideas presented in Part One, taking a closer look at how loss of connection with self and others may fuel anxious feelings and addictive processes; the risks associated with anti-anxiety medications; and how those suffering from a generalized / chronic anxiety disorders might benefit from engaging in alternative forms of treatment, including Mindfulness and Meditation practices. I also include links to additional resources pertaining to issues covered in this article.

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

Self-Medicating To Feel Different / Better

Loss of Connection With Self and Others: Anxiety And Self-Medication

For those individuals like ‘Jeremy’ (refer to Part One, linked above) who experienced turbulent childhoods as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional and/or traumatized family system, the experience of anxiety can begin very early in life, although it is often not noticed by primary caregivers, teachers, the family physician, or others who might be able to appropriately intervene. Children, teens and young adults with undiagnosed anxiety may begin to ‘self-medicate’ with substances such as food, drugs, or alcohol and activities such as excessive TV watching and video gaming in an unconscious attempt to quiet their distressful symptoms without even realizing that they are seeking some kind of temporary or permanent relief.

Adults who did not experience anxiety when younger may develop an anxiety disorder without being consciously aware of it, and they, too, may begin self-medicating with substances. Having worked in several drug and alcohol treatment centers, I can say with certainty that unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated anxiety was often fueling the process of addiction, meaning, the addict began using substances initially to escape a sense of internal discomfort that was not recognized as anxiety at the time. In short, a fundamental experience of disconnection from self and others along with unrecognized anxiety symptoms were identified by nearly every drug and alcohol addicted client I have worked with as being at the root of his or her addictive patterns and behaviors. To learn more about loss of connection with self and others, read my article, below:

The Pros And Cons Of Anti-Anxiety Medication

 

As discussed in Part One of this article, medication can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem and it’s usually not a long-term solution. Anti-anxiety medications also come with side effects and may lead to a dependence on the medication. With the popularization of psychotropic medications to treat a variety of mental and behavioral health disturbances, most any type of uncomfortable feeling or symptom is viewed by both patients and their doctors as something to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible. It is increasingly common for family doctors to write out a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication after only a brief discussion with their patient regarding the distressing symptoms being experienced, without recommending that the patient also confer with a Mental Health professional, such as a therapist or counselor.

Mindfulness Meditation And The Reduction Of Anxiety Symptoms

 

While taking anti-anxiety medication to minimize distressing feelings and symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person suffering from anxiety can pursue, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; keeping an Awareness Journal as part of ongoing Psychotherapeutic-based Intrapsychic / Family Systems work (as discussed in the above Case Study); engaging in deep breathing exercises; yoga; daily physical exercise; and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor.

Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.” In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level. You can learn more about this important study and other similar studies via the below two links:

5 Minute Quick Anxiety Reduction – Guided Mindfulness Meditation

Working Mindfully With Anxiety

As the above discussion illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journaling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.

For additional resources pertaining to Mindfulness Meditation as an alternative, non-medication based treatment for anxiety, you may explore the ‘Headspace’ link below. And please feel free to share your experiences of anxiety in the comment section – I’d love to hear from you.

© 2016 Rebecca C Mandeville MA

Working Mindfully With Anxiety: Anxiety Symptoms As Health-Seeking Signals – Part One

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Therapeutic Life Coach and Organizational Consultant at ChainFree Living Coaching and Consulting Services
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist, therapeutic life coach, educator, and author specializing in emotional healing and living authentically as one's true self. She is the founder of ChainFree Living (http://chainfreeliving.com), an online hub offering free resources and community peer-support to people who wish to consciously experience their innate wholeness. Her book, 'You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self', will be published in 2017.
Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

What Those Anxious Feelings May Be Trying To Tell You – And Why It’s Important To Listen (Part One of a Two Part Series)

What if anxiety is more than a clinical disorder to be treated, but serves as a barometer of our overall mental and emotional well being? This article focuses on anxiety as a ‘health-seeking signal’ inviting us to reconnect with the truest parts of ourselves that have been neglected or repressed. Included is a recent example from my work as a licensed Psychotherapist illustrating how anxiety at times acts as an important messenger inviting us to heal psycho-emotional wounds sustained in childhood and adolescence, if only we are able and willing to tune in and listen.

-Article by Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, MFT

What Is Anxiety?

Clinical signs of anxiety
Clinical signs of anxiety

Anxiety is commonly believed to be an automatic, ‘built-in’ response to perceived threats, and is often referred to as our ‘fight-or-flight arousal’, or ‘fight or flight response’ as a species. Therefore, it stands to reason that children who grew up in chaotic, possibly traumatic home environments where their fight or flight (arousal) response was frequently activated are susceptible to developing various kinds of anxiety disorders even prior to the onset of adulthood. Hence, it is a concern that physicians and psychiatrists whose patients report feeling anxious typically prescribe anti-anxiety medication but do not always recommend that their patient also see a qualified Mental Health professional to explore the possible root cause(s) of the anxiety as well as to identify possible additional or alternative (i.e., non-prescription) treatments.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety

Although anxiety can take on many forms, the below are signs and symptoms commonly associated with this behavioral health disorder:

  • Excessive Worry and Rumination
  • Irritability / Anger
  • Sleep Disturbance / Insomnia
  • Poor Concentration / Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle Tension / Mysterious Aches and Pains
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Blood Pressure Spikes
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Heart Palpitations / Chest Pain / ‘Panic Attacks’

Psychotherapy As A Means Of Successfully Treating Anxiety Disorders

What if anxiety was not always something to be avoided and/or medicated away, but was instead something it would benefit us to be curious about? One way that I invite my clients to explore this possibility is to ask them to tune into their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations the next time they notice they are feeling anxious. What is happening right then in the moment? Was there a possible ‘trigger’ initiating the anxious sensations? As the following Case Study illustrates, this simple exercise can provide surprising insights regarding what a person’s anxiety ‘signals’ might be trying to convey.

The Wisdom Of Anxiety: A Case Study

Journaling when anxious can be helpful
Journalling when anxious can be helpful

I once had a client (whom I will call ‘Jeremy – not his actual name) share with me in session that he had recently felt extremely anxious when he entered a hotel lobby on a business trip. He attributed this to what he thought was the ‘Generalized Anxiety Disorder’ (GAD) he had been diagnosed with by his family doctor years before, prior to beginning his psychotherapeutic work with me. I suggested early on in therapy that he begin keeping an ‘Awareness Journal’ and to write in this journal whenever he was feeling particularly anxious. During one such onset of extreme symptoms that occurred during a business trip, Jeremy realized while writing in his journal that he had started to feel anxious when he saw a certain type of old-fashioned couch in the hotel lobby he had just walked into. Upon further reflection in his Awareness Journal, Jeremy suddenly realized that the retro-style couch looked nearly identical in style and in color to a couch that was in the living room of the home he had lived in as a child. Needless to say, this gave us much to explore in this and future sessions as he began to remember and share traumatic events from childhood that up until then he had unknowingly repressed.

Over time, the chronic, ‘generalized’ anxiety Jeremy had been suffering from for years receded as he continued to work diligently in psychotherapy to reconnect with the wounded, ‘lost’ parts of himself he had unknowingly disconnected from during childhood while growing up in a chaotic, unpredictable, alcoholic family system. He eventually chose to stop taking his anti-anxiety medication under the supervision of a physician and is able to self-manage any anxious sensations that arise via deep breathing exercises and Mindfulness Meditation practices I introduced him to in therapy, along with Somatic-Psychology techniques (for more information on the use and efficacy of Somatic-Psychology in the treatment and healing of trauma refer to Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma). Jeremy also continues to self-reflect in his Awareness Journal, which has become a critical aspect of his ongoing psycho-emotional healing and growth. (Note: Details of specific client cases have been changed to protect privacy).

Anxiety and Psychotropic Medication

lossy-page1-303px-Prescription_medication_being_dispensed.tiffWhile taking psychotropic medication to minimize symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person can pursue, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Family Systems work (as discussed in the above case study); deep breathing exercises; yoga; daily physical exercise; holistic / body-oriented therapies (such as Hakomi Therapy and The Feldenkrais Method); Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction; accupuncture; massage; medical cannabis (now supported by research); and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor,

Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.” In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level.

Working Mindfully With Anxiety

As the above brief discussion illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journalling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.

A Special Note of Caution: It is recommended that a person experiencing frequent anxiety symptoms get a complete physical to rule out disorders like Graves (Thyroid) Disease, hormonal imbalances, and other medical conditions that can cause extreme and/or chronic anxiety.

Read Part Two to learn more about Anxiety, Addiction, Self-Medication, and Mindfulness Meditation and also access free resources:

http://chainfreeliving.com/2016/06/08/working-mindfully-anxiety-part-two/

Take my free brief quiz, ‘Are You Living As Your True Self?’ (hiding our real selves behind a mask can also cause us to feel anxious).

Ten Strategies For Discovering and Being Your True Self

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Therapeutic Life Coach and Organizational Consultant at ChainFree Living Coaching and Consulting Services
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist, therapeutic life coach, educator, and author specializing in emotional healing and living authentically as one's true self. She is the founder of ChainFree Living (http://chainfreeliving.com), an online hub offering free resources and community peer-support to people who wish to consciously experience their innate wholeness. Her book, 'You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self', will be published in 2017.
Rebecca C Mandeville, MA

Article By Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, MFT

If you find yourself continuing to act out old patterns and roles that no longer serve you, this is more than likely interfering with your ability to create mutually rewarding, respectful, and reciprocal relationships. Below are my ten strategies for getting in touch with your true self so as to create an integrity-based and emotionally rewarding life.

The True Self Lost In Childhood

Although living as one’s true self in an emotionally honest manner might seem like a natural and easy thing to do, those of us who grew up in a family system that did not support our uninhibited and natural expressions may have gradually disconnected from the truth of who we were, i.e., our core essence, so as to be accepted by those we were dependent upon to meet our most basic and fundamental needs. As described by various experts specializing in dysfunctional family systems, it is often the case that children who grew up in these types of chaotic, unstable environments find some semblance of identity and emotional security by taking on one or more family roles, such as ‘the hero’, ‘the scapegoat’, ‘the rebel’, ‘the caretaker’, or ‘the clown’. But in unconsciously disconnecting from our true self in order to emotionally survive, we may later find ourselves as adults people-pleasing others and hiding behind a facade, with no idea how to express and live our truth.

The Truth Doesn’t Care If You Like It Or Not

“The Truth doesn’t care about consequences. It’s concerned with the Truth. It doesn’t care if you’re liked or not liked. You won’t always be liked for it, and sometimes you will be disliked for it. As long as you’re acting in the world based on what you like or don’t like, or what others like or don’t like, you’re not in the realm of Truth. Truth insists that we not only be truthful, but that we act truthfully. It’s not enough just to know the Truth. You have to be it – to act it, and to do it.”~ Adyashanti

(From ‘The Impact of Awakening’)

Are You Hiding Behind A Mask?If I were to ask you right now, “In what situations, or around which people, do you feel most yourself, and most creative, free, and alive”, what would be your answer? Alternatively, if I were to ask you, “In what situations, or around which people, do you not feel like your real, authentic self and/or less than who and what you sense or believe yourself to be?,” how might you respond? Contemplating these questions can be provocative, to say the least, and there may be no obvious or easy answers at first. In addition to considering these questions, you might also like to to answer a few questions included in a brief quiz I created that will help you determine if you are hiding behind a mask and/or struggle to live as your true self.

How To Live and Speak Your Truth

If you feel ready to shed anything about yourself that feels false and fearlessly live from a place of emotional honesty, personal integrity (inspired by your principles and values), and a direct knowledge of Self, the ten strategies I designed to assist my psychotherapy and coaching clients will aid you in this courageous quest. If you are not already seeing a competent therapist, counselor, or coach who can support you in your efforts, you might consider engaging such services before implementing the strategies listed below.

My Ten Strategies For Discovering and Being Your True Self 

  1. Recognize You Have A True Self Nature: Each of us enters the world possessing an innate, core, true self. Each one of us is an ‘original model’, and as such we all have unique gifts to offer to the world.
  2. Remember And Reflect On When You Felt Happiest As A Child: Think back to when you were young. When did you feel most free, happy, and alive? Take a few minutes after reflecting on what caused you to feel joyful in your youth, going back to your earliest conscious memory. Then write about the people, places, things, and activities that brought you the greatest joy while you were growing up. This simple ‘remembering and reflection’ exercise can put us deeply in touch with the innocent purity of our original true self nature.
  3. Make A Commitment To Recover And Reconnect With The Joyful, Innately Pure, Authentic Essence Within: In a certain sense, recognizing and consciously reclaiming our own unique, true self nature is a paradoxical process of finding and embracing what we never really lost. It is an excavation project, of sorts, i.e., it is a process of uncovering, discovering, recovering, and consciously reclaiming who (and what) we in fact have always been, and will always be – That which is most true, honest, expansive, and alive within ourselves, yet constant and unchanging.
  4. Make A Decision To Release All That Feels False And No Longer Serves You: Becoming authentic and emotionally honest requires that we be willing to release the parts of ourselves that we were conditioned to become by the various social systems we have been immersed in like a fish swimming in the sea, from our family-of-origin to the cultural and social systems we currently identify with, and everything in between. Ask yourself if you feel ready to begin doing that. If not, I encourage you to explore what might be inhibiting you from living an emotionally honest and authentic life. Change is never easy. It’s never too late to “get real”!
  5. The Process Of Letting Go: I often ask my clients who are engaged in a process of true self recovery and reclamation, “Is this (person, place, thing, behavior, situation) serving you at the highest level today?” Whatever is not serving us at the highest level is more than likely not serving others in our life at the highest level either, regardless of how it may seem. It ultimately serves no one when we allow ourselves to remain small, diminish our internal light, and hide our truth from others (and perhaps even from ourselves.)
  6. The Only Way Out Is Through: It is often during this process of letting go of all that now feels false that long-buried emotions unconsciously repressed in childhood may surface, resulting in our possibly becoming sad, anxious, angry, and even genuinely depressed. At times such as this it is imperative that a person feel he or she is not alone in the valiant task of facing any painful feelings and memories that may arise head on, versus avoiding the challenging, difficult work of genuine transformational growth; therefore, this is a time when the help of a trusted therapist, counselor, transformational life coach, and/or a psychoeducational peer-support group can prove to be invaluable to a person engaged in the task of reclaiming and authentically embodying his or her true self.
  7. It’s Okay To Experience And Release Old, Pent-Up Feelings From Childhood: It is also not uncommon for a person whose true self nature was shamed and dismissed in childhood to find they are experiencing feelings of intense anger, even rage, during this critical transformational time of inner self-exploration and excavation. This can especially surprise those who strived to be ‘nice’ their entire lives to avoid upsetting others and risking conflict. I like to remind my clients during such times that the word ‘courage’ includes the word ‘rage’, and successful passage through the dark night of the soul is ultimately brought about by processing these more difficult feelings and emotions that society labels as ‘negative’. Those who were victims of neglect and/or other forms of abuse in childhood are especially prone to finding themselves overwhelmed with these darker, extremely intense feelings; thus, working with a licensed psychotherapeutic professional and/or abuse recovery network such as Adult Survivors of Child Abuse can be especially critical during this phase of recovery, healing, and growth.
  8. Pay Attention To Your Dreams: I have also learned from both personal and professional experience that this is a time to pay attention to one’s active imagination, dreams, and fantasies, as suggested by the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, for these signs and symbols emanating from deep within our unconscious invariably reveal important keys to a given individual’s growth, including acting as an inner wise guide, when one understands how to begin to interpret the personal and universal symbols contained therein. A book that I often recommend to clients for such creative dream work is Jeremy Taylor’s Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams.
  9. Release The Limiting Views Of Others: This is also a time when a person might report to their therapist, transformational life coach, or support network that they are feeling increasingly uncomfortable around family members, colleagues, and friends if those relationships were dependent on their being a certain way -A way that now no longer feels authentic, embodied, or emotionally true. This is especially the case when one has knowingly or unknowingly been playing out a particular role within a given relationship and/or system (e.g., hero, rescuer, ‘black sheep’, enabler) and/or been an unwitting recipient of another’s psychological projections (a process whereby humans defend themselves against their own unpleasant impulses by denying their existence while attributing them to others). At some point you may have no choice other than to make it clear that you are no longer willing to distort or hide your true self in order to protect the feelings of others, and that you simply will not accept being manipulated into living out old, familiar role(s) in the dysfunctional system’s ‘script’ (typically one’s family-of-origin) so that the status quo can be maintained.
  10. You’re Not Obligated To Play By Other People’s Rules: If it wasn’t clear before, once you commit to live your life authentically it will quickly become evident that every system has it’s ‘rules’, be it a family system, a work system, a political system, etc. This is a good time to remember that whatever the system can’t change, control, and/or accept, it will attempt to diminish, label, reject, and even (in extreme cases) ‘eject’. And this is why I see each and every person who is engaged in a sincere process of true self recovery and reclamation as being heroic, for it is no easy task to realize the truth of who and what one is while attempting to maintain relationships with others who may be demanding we “change back” (whether overtly or covertly) so that they might feel more comfortable, in control, and secure.

Living As Your True Self

As illustrated in the above ten strategies, remaining committed to an ongoing transformational process designed to further our personal and professional growth, enhance our relationships, and increase our overall sense of confidence and well being is not always a simple or enjoyable task, especially in the beginning. And yet, those who decide to do what it takes to live from a place of emotional integrity and fearless honesty invariably discover that it is worth the effort required, for it is by courageously committing to recovering the ‘lost child’ within that we are able to become the true self we were always destined to be. And what could be better than that?

A Book About Wholeness…

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ChainFree Living Book

What if we were to embrace all of our emotions as welcomed guests, recognizing them for what they are: Wise guides that seek to lead us toward the experience of genuine transformation,’true self’ liberation, and a felt-sense awareness of our innate wholeness?

In her book, You Are Already Whole: On Discovering and Being Your True Self, Rebecca C. Mandeville, a licensed psychotherapist and transformational life coach, shares the unique 11-step pathway she created to assist her clients in their efforts to heal and transform at a deep, core (root) level. To embark upon this pathway, we are challenged to expand beyond the commonly held view that emotions are either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, instead re-envisioning even our most painful feelings and sensations as being health-seeking signals emanating from an infinite intelligence that innately lives within us all; signals that, if paid attention to and mindfully followed, will eventually lead us toward the experience of emotional freedom and sustained well being that is grounded in a direct knowledge of the true self.

 This Book May Be Especially Helpful For People Who:
  • Feel ‘imprisoned’ in an old family role (e.g., ‘scapegoat’; ‘hero’; ‘clown’; ‘caretaker’; ‘rebel’)
  • Grew up in a distressed family environment
  • Feel they must hide their real self behind a mask at times
  • Struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction, and/or codependency 
  • Repeatedly find themselves in unhealthy, ‘toxic’ love relationships
  • Have difficulty asserting themselves and setting appropriate boundaries
  • Consider themselves to be a ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP)  
  • Are on a spiritual path and/or participate in a 12-Step program

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I appreciate your interest in remaining informed.

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

Visit Rebecca at her ChainFree Living website to learn more about how you can live in an authentic, emotionally honest, energized, and enlivened manner beginning today, as well as access free resources, including an online support forum and community bookstore.

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