Anxiety and Emptiness

Image 8There seems to be a natural and predictable pattern that people experience when healing from anxiety. The following comment on one of my recent blog posts is a sentiment I often hear:

“Sheryl, could you please blog about the “space” that anxiety occupies? This is exactly what I’m feeling right now. There’s nothing wrong; I have nothing to be anxious about. Yet there’s this sadness and empty feeling. I know it needs my attention but I can’t figure out where it’s coming from.”

Anxiety, like all emotions, is energy. Energy takes up space in our minds and bodies. When we attend to the anxiety and it begins to fall away, the space that anxiety previously occupied opens up. What’s often left is emptiness, and if we don’t fill the emptiness with the next obsessive thought or action, you will notice one or both of the following: 1. You’ll open a space for clarity and spiritual direction to enter and/or 2. The underlying feelings that you’ve been covering up your entire life will emerge.

Unfortunately, because we live in a culture that encourage us to remain busy and fill up empty time and space, when most people encounter emptiness they rush to try to figure out what’s wrong, and then they usually fill it back up again when the endless chatter of thoughts: Should I stay or leave? Now that I’m not anxious anymore, this must mean that I don’t care. Instead of pouring thought into the empty space, I encourage my clients to simply sit with it, to make a place for the emptiness; instead of resisting the quiet space, resist the cultural belief that says that there’s something wrong with emptiness.

In the three-stage process of transitions – separation, liminal, rebirth – emptiness is the defining quality of the liminal zone. This means that if you’re in a transition (and we’re all in the transition of life bookended by birth and death, it’s just that some transitions stand out in greater relief during this life journey) and you’ve worked through the first stage of grieving and letting go of the old life, familiar structures, and current identity, what follows is often emptiness. So it often happens for people who find my work that after they’ve worked through the initial layers of anxiety and learn that they’re not alone, the space opens up for wisdom and pain to enter. And, yes, those two experiences – wisdom and pain – are cousins in the inner world of psyche.

The truth is that it’s only when we work through the layers of anxiety that create static and arrive at emptiness that we can begin to find our clarity. As Rabbi Tirzah Firestone writes in With Roots in Heaven:

Sometimes the more powerful response is disengagement, to simply stop trying to appease this dark angel, to stop wrestling – reacting, proving, defending our worth – and sit still. By not reacting to our inner beasts, neither fighting nor trying to disprove them, we create an empty space in ourselves. Just as water requires an empty container in which to be collected, so the Self requires an empty space in us in to which to pour its guidance.

There is a striking passage in the Talmud: “Eyn makom panui l’lo Shechinah: Wheverever there is an empty space, there the presence of God is found.” When we are full of fears and anxiety – or even self-certainty – we make it difficult for the divine forces to enter our lives. But when we empty ourselves, God’s presence comes to fill the space. p. 303

In this sense , the emptiness is normal and healthy. It’s when we allow the emptiness – sit with it as we would a good friend – that something new can arise: a creative thought, an idea, an insight, a sense that everything is okay.

Alongside the clarity and spiritual direction, you may also find that grief, old and new, arises from the womb of emptiness, a lifetime of crying pushed down deep inside or an awareness of the sadness that accompanies a truly open heart. It’s important to distinguish between the natural emptiness that follows working through a layer of anxiety or surrendering into a good cry and the emptiness that results from closing your heart to pain.

Many people have a deep fear of feeling their pain. They’re afraid that if they cry – really cry – they’ll go crazy, lose control, fall apart, appear as weak, or die. These fears began in childhood when nobody was there to support you through your pain. As a young child, the overwhelming feeling of pain is too big for a young body to handle alone. Coupled with the prevailing cultural message around pain of “Get over it”, when a child is left alone to feel her pain, she’ll quickly learn to shut down. The walls jut up around her heart and remain there until, as an adult, she finds herself terrified of anyone coming too close.

It’s at this time, when anxiety or intrusive thoughts and mind chatter quiet down and give way to emptiness, that the deeper pain is invited to emerge. Then you have two choices: to remain stuck in the pain and continue to resist it or to make a choice to open your heart and feel the lifetime of pain that has been living there. As Michael Singer writes in The Untethered Soul:

If you close around the pain and stop it from passing through, it will stay in you. That is why our natural tendency to resist is so counterproductive. If you don’t want the pain, why do you close around it and keep it? Do you actually think that if you resist, it will go away? If you relax when the pain comes up inside your heart, and actually dare to face it, it will pass. Every single time you relax and release, a piece of the pain leaves forever. Yet every time you resist and close, you are building up the pain inside. It’s like damming up a stream. You are then forced to use the psyche to create a layer of distance between you who experiences the pain and the pain itself. That is what all the noise is inside your mind: an attempt to avoid the stored pain. p. 105

Please read that last sentence again. And then again. All the noise in your head – the intrusive thoughts, the anxiety, the what ifs, the ceaseless chatter of what Michael Singer calls your inner roommate – is an attempt to avoid the stored pain.

So here you are on this threshold, a precipice, where the anxiety has quieted and you’re left with the emptiness. If you stop moving and stop searching and find stillness, you’ll touch into what wants to be known. You’ll grieve, yes. You’ll cry out in old pain. You’ll find yourself raw and vulnerable. You’ll open to Spirit’s wisdom. You’ll find clarity. You’ll feel joy. It begins with the willingness to keep your heart open and experience whatever has been living beneath the anxiety.

Real life isn’t a Hollywood movie; it isn’t a two hour, Technicolor, larger-than-life adventure where every edited moment is alive and exciting. Real life isn’t People magazine; it’s isn’t an anthology of glossy paper with airbrushed photographs adorning the pages. Real life isn’t Facebook, a newsreel of snapshots like a window into the highlights of someone else’s life. There are moments – seasons even – of emptiness. We don’t capture those on film because they’re not very interesting to look at from the outside. But from the inside, if you stop and stay still, you’ll find your own inner world that has been waiting to be known that is more exciting, real, and interesting than any Hollywood adventure.

85 comments to Anxiety and Emptiness

  • Colette

    Sheryl,
    I found this article to be so refreshing! I feel like that “emptiness” feeling is something we don’t talk about a whole lot and this is the first time I really put some deep thought into what it means. Very insightful!

    • It’s true, Colette, we seem to have a cultural aversion to discussing emptiness, and yet it’s an essential and common feeling. It’s like we need to fill up every available slot in our lives, both external and internal, because we’re so afraid of our pain!

  • Kiyomi

    Sheryl,

    This is definitely one of my favorite posts. I love it so much. I have been experiencing so much dullness and emptiness but my anxiety has mostly gone away. It is a relief to see that this is just a form of my suffering that is releasing. I will tap into my feelings and be mindful of it.

    Thank you for this!

    • You’re welcome, Kiyomi!

    • Jared

      Hi Kiyomi. How long did it take for your anxiety to go away? I would love for some emptiness to replace my anxiety. With my partner I am mostly anxiety free but sometimes my mind can torture itself with anxiety, which I realize has little to do with my partner. This has lessened with time but my partner & myself both look forward to it being gone for good. Thanks!

  • Gabrielle

    Hi sheryl im experiencing tgis right now ,one thing which is bringing the anxiety back is when my boyfriend and i have nothing else to say ,instead of enjoying the silence i freak out that hes too quiet and hes becoming boring etc ,yet im the type of person that finds a very talkative person annoying ,yes i know its confusing and ive put myself in this anxiety hole of numbness what u call emptiness and full blown anxiety ,im rebuilding my firewall again and my question is can i use this emptiness technique when things go quiet and enjoy the peace ?or isnt it normal for ppl to go quiet at times in relationship?hes a great ,loving,interesting guy and though we are different we share simiarities too please help me thank you

  • ColoradoGirl

    Great post Sheryl.. thank you! Gabrielle- personally I think that quiet space is normal. There are times when my fiance and I have a lot to say to each other and also times when we just absolutely don’t (this last weekend for instance). I think that’s okay.

  • Teri

    Sheryl, it’s a beautiful thing when the right message comes at the right time! Ah, such a wonderful moment of peace and deep appreciation. Thank you for today’s message on anxiety. And quite some time ago I purchased the book “The Untethered Soul”. I believe it calls to be read by me now!

  • hopeful

    this seems to be very timely for me! Thank you, as always!

  • Khadencia

    This post was incredibly timely for me as well (as in, within moments of having an experience of emptiness after my anxiety eased). Thank you!

  • Celeste

    Thank you….. This article is very inspiring!

  • Clara

    I think this is a really important piece, Sheryl, thank you for so beautifully bringing it forward for reflection and discussion. One of the most helpful things that a therapist said to me some years ago was this: “On the genuine spiritual path, we get very interested in emptiness”. I have since experienced myself, many times, that when we step into the emptiness with curiosity – as terrifying and bewildering as it can be – the space always fills with some aspect of Essence (face of God, if you like) that was long lost to consciousness. Very often its the quality my scared little ego was trying hardest to compensate for – hatred transforms to Peace, anger to Strength, effort to Will, neediness to Compassion. Paradoxically, it’s through our emptiness that we become whole.

    • Absolutely gorgeously expressed, Clara. Thank you. And I love what your therapist said: “On the genuine spiritual path, we get very interested in emptiness.” Isn’t it true that the work is to become deeply interested in the places that we typically run from? And there seems to be something particularly terrifying about emptiness – perhaps because it reminds us of death.

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, this is particularly amusing to me because that is just what I am going through right now. I feel on a threshold of my life ready to let go, but scared to loose what I know, which is pain. I have given up facebook, comfort eating, and TV, and have been removing and avoiding people that cause me pain or don’t lift me as a whole person. So now I face the emptiness of what to do with myself now that my soothers are gone. I find myself still fighting it but I also sit with myself now and just ask what is wrong, sometimes there is no answer, but normally it is not feeling good enough or scared. I inner monologue daily and it helps, but in the stillness there is an unnerving feeling of what now….thanks again for your post, as always it is inspiring and wonderful <3

    • Good for you, Jennifer, for finding the courage to sit with this and let go of distractions. I think it’s fair to say that we live in an age where there are more distractions than ever, which means more ways to fill up the emptiness. I’ll always remember driving with my grandpa when I was a young girl and him saying, “Kids these days: they have to have the music on when they’re driving. What’s wrong with silence?” If he only knew how many more ways there are now to fill up the silence!

  • Andrea

    I just finished “reading” (I bought the audiobook) the Untethered Soul and I am so happy that you brought it up! This book was so beautiful and so helpful with my anxiety and it correlates well with your work. Thanks for sharing this information with so many people and again another great post! Be well :)

    • Thank you, Andrea. I read The Untethered Soul several months ago but recently re-read it as it’s been a hot topic on my e-course forum. It’s really such a beautiful book.

  • gabrielle

    Thank you Colorado girl ,this week has been the most tough week this year ,my health has taken a downfall due to my knee injury and severe vertigo ,making me ditatch completelyfrom everything ,making me somewhat confused and having my anxiety fire up like it used to months ago .I think its time that I finally decide that the best cure is relationship knowledge ,though I somehow doubt certain things too making ne feel stuck and fueling more anxious thoughts going back and fort to emptiness.maybe its really time to do the wedding course no matter what !

  • Jenny

    Thanks for this Sheryl, I have been doing fantastic for the last couple of months and I had a glinch in the road there the last few days, I found out someone close to me was critically ill and I also had anxiety dealing with family drama, I was having a converstation with my brother and as he always does he asked me is everything okay -your alright your happy are’nt you, he has insecurities himself and is divorced so he unintensionally puts his insecurities on me not good when I myself over analyze. I replied I am great, I am 80pc happy I said sometimes I find my husband boring or monotone and that he has trouble showing me spontanious affection. Straight after I said this I started to get very stressed and panicked and feel guilty and not right in myself thinking well maybe I just amnt happy, maybe i should leave!! when I was feeling so great before that.

    The real issue is family stress, my sister is having issues with the father of her child and constantly berates my nieces dad in front of my 6 year old neice who is now filled with insecurities and crying that her daddy doesnt love her because of my sister not because of her Daddy he goes above and beyonf for her. I had to tell my sister i did not want any contact from her to which she replied I am not well and I have serious problems. Its okay because this behaviour is not new.

    I know my own patterns and I know what triggers insecurity in my own relationship, its usually alcohol driven conversations that go into unknown territory and maybe unconsciously i am trying to play a role and please other people in my life such as my brother, its like fitting into the person they think i am when really i am no longer that girl I am now an adult.

    Its hard for me to truly understand why i say something and afterwards feel so anxious about saying it and focus on it for days afterwards..

    • Brianna

      Even when I am good I get a little bit of emptiness, which then will make my mind start to race. But I agree when I get stressed even if it has nothing to do with my boyfriend ill start feeling empty and then it’ll go onto my relationship. I hate it so much. I feel like in the beginning of the anxiety when I was able to be clear and calm I was happier, thinking of my future with my boyfriend and feeling that love. That was 5 months ago. Now it’s like I just feel empty. I was able to feel something even when I was anxious it felt like it was behind my heart but something was preventing it from coming forward and I know it was the love. Now I don’t feel that. It feels like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. I want those happy/loving feels back :(

      • Jenny

        sorry to hear Brianna, I went for counselling and it really did help, i have being doing great. i would recommend it you have to get counselling and if you are depressed get help for that too.

        I have been doing great and its just i beat myself up a lot such as if i do say anything negative about my husband to anyone i cant seem to let it go and it creates alot of anxiety, i was kinda hoping someone would have a little insight into my post but i think as with everyone on here we know within ourselves. You will be okay focus on the positive more too. lots of love. X

  • Jenny

    i think my husband is more aware the m

  • Jenny

    sorry more aware then me that there will be dips in the road but it gets me down, just have to accept it.

  • Katy

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thanks for your Lovely post. I have also been experiencing this emptiness at times recently. After a lot of relationship anxiety passed, what was left.. Emptiness combined with some dullness.

    I have been exploring these feelings, the other week I met up with 2 close friends for lunch. It happened to be a day I was feeling quite empty and dull. I was tempted to cancel, I was thinking ‘what sort of company can I be at the mo’. I thought I had nothing interesting to say.

    No exciting stories, no drama like I used to. When the girls ask ‘how are you’ it’s considered strange to say ‘empty thanks, you’.

    But at the same time I didn’t want to put everything on hold just because I don’t have much to say at moment. With this new found exploration I think all relationships change.

    I did still enjoy lunch with the girls, I can do more ‘active’ listening rather than just waiting to speak.

    It’s an interesting concept, to allow the emptiness or pain to be. I’m interested to know if you have written about how to manage negative emotions such as anger and jealousy. Is it suggested to allow these to be felt through the body and acknowledged. Some yogi’s believe these emotions are from the lower mind and we should focus on there opposite such as love and kindness, this could also be interpreted as a form of suppression so I was curious to know what you thought.

    Kindest regards

  • Toni

    I have to say this worried me slightly, when you say resisting the pain, I immediately thought that I must be resisting letting go of my boyfriend And that I will never get peace unless I do. I can’t work out what it is that my anxiety and intrusive obsessive thoughts have been protecting me from, all I can think is that that they’re there because I’m scared of this relationship not working out.

  • lara

    Very good piece…..What do i do next when i am sitting with the emptyness?

  • Brianna

    Toni I thought the exact same thing!

    Sheryl what happens when the emptiness causes anxiey and makes you more empty?

    • Toni

      We always seem to think the same way! Xxx

    • Brianna: The emptiness causes anxiety because you’re approaching it with self-judgement instead of compassion. When you can contextualize the emptiness, it softens the judgement and you can start to approach it with curiosity.

      • Chelsea

        Sheryl, so even when you feel empty an.your still in an anxious state its not necessarily bad? Sometimes when im empty or not feeling anything I question if I even have feelings for my partner at all:/

  • Canuck64

    Thank you Sheryl. I needed to here this today. It made me realize that I am so uncomfortable with the emptiness and that’s why the anxiety keep coming back. I needed this reminder. Thanks

  • Gabrielle

    I totally understand you brianna and tony ,its like what i was trying to say my obsessive mind tries to pick on something ,then in turn i get anxiety ,i think the trick is yes accept the thoughts as being there ,but give your moment that peace ,its not easy but it happens especially when we are living the present moment ,i get these windows when everything is just perfect peaceful and happpy ,they are rare but im working on it !dont feed your anxiety by questioning emptiness in the first place ,just let it be !:)

    • Brianna

      I try to let it be Gabrielle, but it is so hard! Especially when I feel no love :( I hate it so much. I do go through times of anxiety free feelings. But when I get empty I cant take it!

  • Jenny

    I am lucky when i am good i dont get emptiness at all, its only when im stressed i feel numb.

  • Anna

    There are times when I feel the emptiness, but then its like my mind tries to find something wrong. I grab right back on to an intrusive thought, or start to question why I feel empty (which to me feels a bit like peace?). It’s like I stir up the anxiety all over again. In short, when I feel the emptiness I become anxious about getting anxious. Not sure how to “break the cycle”.

  • Brianna

    I was doing really good and then I get stressed out by my family and I started going downhill and somehow that contributes to my anxiety over my relationship and now I am waking up with anxiety again I feel so numb and empty an I just want this pain to go away. I feel like it never will :(

  • Isabella

    I’m still feeling the emptiness. I guess my question would be how do you know you’re in love when you can’t feel it? There are times when I say without my boyfriend I would be devastated and I couldn’t even get the words out because I’d be hysterical over the thought. My boyfriends mom said thats how you know.Even thinking of us ending gets me hysterical so that let’s me know I do love him, but it’s so hard to think happy thoughts about us. Why?! And when I feel empty and think those negative thoughts and have no reaction to them it makes me think even more. There are times when I say I’d be devastated without him and I don’t cry or anything and I’m like what does that mean?! So I’m just curious about other people’s responses and even Sheryl as well. How do you know you’re in love when you can’t feel it?

    • Rae

      Isabella:

      You asked how you know you’re in love when you can’t feel it. Sheryl has reminded me of the value of exploring what “in love” means. Folks with relationship anxiety typically have definitions of love that are distorted, and those distortions or what cause the anxiety. Just the term “in love” suggests that there is some state of undefinable bliss we are supposed to feel, and when we don’t feel it there must be something wrong. I think the bigger question is “how do I know that I love?” It is hard to answer that question with the loud noise of anxiety in the way which closes your heart. When you clear the anxiety by doing the things Sheryl talks about in her posts you will feel love. What that love feels like might be different for you than for someone else so it is hard to describe. Some feel peace. Some feel excitement. Some feel warmth. Some feel comfort. Some feel awe. Some feel a deep sense of gratitude and/or appreciation. While there may be moments of passion, love isn’t skyrockets in flight 24/7.

    • Chelsea

      I have the same issue I know id be.devasted withoit my bf. But sometimes when I get a megative thought like us breaking up I dont always react the way I think I should then that leads me to over think. I cant answer your ques about love but from sheryl work I have learned that love.is a choice an.intention to learn an grow with someone. No one knows the whole answer to what love is or may be right away an may never know,.alls we can do is try.

  • Sarah

    I’ve been thinking on this post the last day or two. It reminds me of the quiet, less anxious time right after my wedding. My husband and I were both a little thrown off as to what the “next steps” were after living with full blown anxiety for several months. I remember feeling dull often. But I think as I accepted that probably meant there was still work to do, those months were months when real healing took place. I had more energy to learn what real love looked like, and let my heart accept important truths like the ebb and flow involved in relationships and in emotions, and to examine my past a little more and start to deconstruct messages from my wounded self. It was easier without the stress of anxiety, where I couldn’t sleep/eat properly, but I think the value in the stillness could have easily been missed. Even now, I often feel sort of dull. I’ve slowly started to learn not to decide “I need a night out” but rather to ask myself how my week has gone, what emotions are underneath the emptiness. I usually find something I’ve been avoiding, and when I face it and cry about it it’s always better. I love how you point out our fear of feeling pain. A great article:)

    • Thank you, Sarah. I love this: ” Even now, I often feel sort of dull. I’ve slowly started to learn not to decide “I need a night out” but rather to ask myself how my week has gone, what emotions are underneath the emptiness. I usually find something I’ve been avoiding, and when I face it and cry about it it’s always better.”

  • Jenny

    its kinda weird, its like your with an amazing person u love them and you know u will never meet anyone like them ever, u realise how lucky u are yet underneath u feel maybe u are fooling urself, maybe ur not happy, u look at other women in realtionships and think maybe they are not happy.

    the hardest part about all of this is anxiety seems so real and I find the more I talk about it the worse i feel because its like creating a problem thats not there. But the problem is there and its anxiety.

    • “the hardest part about all of this is anxiety seems so real and I find the more I talk about it the worse i feel because its like creating a problem thats not there. But the problem is there and its anxiety.”

      That’s because the problem isn’t actually the anxiety but what’s causing the anxiety. If you talk about the anxiety you’ll make it worse. What’s underneath is what needs attention: the stored pain, present pain, fear, etc.

      • Toni

        I realise what’s underneath my anxiety is the fear that my boyfriend and I are drifting apart And I always believed we would be together forever. I’m scared of things not working out, that perhaps that’s already what’s happening? I love him dearly and can’t imagine a life without him. But I must admit as handsome as he is I don’t always find myself attracted to him, I don’t get jealous if I catch him glance at another woman although I know that’s partly because we have a lot of trust in our relationship. I don’t miss him much when he’s away although ill call him a lot. I do believe I love him properly, I would go out of my way to help him if he needed anything and I’d love nothing more than to spend my life with him (although I do question if its really what I want or if I’m just scared if starting again), he is the perfect boyfriend. But I can’t get past the physical stuff, the attraction, lack of sex drive etc.

        I know my issues are due to my skewed perception on love and attraction, and I want to learn to start to se past this stuff, because I know if it wasn’t my current boyfriend, these issues would come up with someone else. (This has happened in all my past relationships).

        I just feel so sad and quiet at the moment and I fear idea sign I’m giving up. I really don’t want to though.

      • Brianna

        Sheryl I know what caused my anxiety. The fear of us breaking up, the fear that I didn’t love himfearing that my negative thoughts are true. So even though I know that’s what caused it why do I still get anxiety and fee empty?

        • Sarah

          Brianna,

          I wonder if you’ve read some of Sheryl’s article on managing fear. It’s really good to identify core fears that cause anxiety/emptiness, but to really tackle them you have to learn to identify the thoughts that lead you down a “slippery slope” of anxiety. For me I remember having a mantra of sorts that I actually said out loud as many times as I needed to to stop the thoughts in their track, or I would be in this cycle of analyzing everything “just one more time” to see if I’d missed something that was “really causing my anxiety.” It’s a really slow process. There’s no quick fix, and there’s really no goal of “get back to where I was”…you’ll end up somewhere different than before, but with a lot of work and journaling/dialoging with your fear it’ll be somewhere better:)

  • Jenny

    true, thanks.

  • Brianna

    When my anxiety first started back in late January, a few weeks later there were times when I would talk to my boyfriend or come home after being with him and feeling alive and happy and then in the morning the anxiety would start all over again. Lately though I’m just feeling empty, drained and not enough aliveness. When I’m with him I’m pretty good. Is this normal? That in the beginning I had more aliveness and now not so much? Anyone else gone through this?

  • chelsea

    Hi, my anxiety was doing good for awhile lately it’s been getting worse again. Its like the fear voices an the clear voices are running together an what seemed to be certain an clear a few months ago isn’t so much anymore. My question is how do you just calm down an not totally run away from one of the best things that have been put into your life,because right now its not clear weather or not I love him an it tears me apart cuz our first few months together were amazing he’s my rock an best friend he’s loving, caring g, sweet, nice, funny, sweet, patient, supportive an so many more things. it just seems like I’m having way more bad days then good now, an don’t want to run away an regret it later which I feel I would. Sorry for the long post any info would help thanks !

    • chelsea

      Also it’s like I’m emotionally drained an tired of battling my own mind, it almost feels like I’m giving up an it hurts, does anyone else have or experience that?

      • Brianna

        I do Chelsea. This really is torturous for me so sometimes I do feel like that.

        • chelsea

          Anxiety truly is a battling thought, it’s like it’s not such a big deal if we end up together or not now, certain things don’t spike my anxiety anymore like the “doubts mean don’t” an like before I was scared to start the course cuz what if I found out we weren’t meant to be but now that doesn’t really scare me, is that cuz doc if we end up together or is my mind trying to tell me something else?

          • Brianna

            That happens to me too sometimes. I try to tell myself that since I’ve thought those things countless times and reacted the same way that I’m used to it and that it won’t have the same effect everytime because I’ve thought about them so much. You know?

          • chelsea

            It’s hard to remember sometimes that the fear, anxiety an doubt can cloud your judgement so bad sometimes an make you “feel” like you don’t love your partner or that you don’t care if you guys break up when in your clear mind an heart you do

          • chelsea

            An us that also makes since

  • Tod

    I used to think of it as “emptiness” too. But then I decided that it was really an “openess” and allowing of what was old and uneeded to move through and be on it’s way. The “openess” was also the invitation of something new to take it’s place and silence, blessed silence, from the old mind chatter, urgings, and negativity that found it’s release.

  • Brianna

    It’s true Chelsea. I feel like my heart ha been ripped out of my chest and I’ll get annoyed easily at him. I miss not seeing him and us the way I use to. If you ever want to email me to talk feel free wwecutie619@aol.com old email lol.

  • Kim

    Brilliant. I’ve recently been in the longest stretch of peace I’ve felt in a long time. I’m tending to my needs in a loving way. I started taking yoga at a beautiful studio near my house, it has helped me so much. It really is about letting go. Any my relationship has never been stronger because of it.

    • Wonderful, Kim. Yoga can be a lifesaver and is a key component, in my opinion, of breaking free from anxiety and filling up on something nourishing.

  • Observer

    This post is spot on. The emptiness is a very real thing and the root of spiritual connection and insight. It’s also scary for a reason–wisdom may be simple, but it is not easy; it asks something from us. We have to be courageous to be in the emptiness. It is not automatic or natural, although it may come more easily to some than to others, much like anything else in life. I’ve found that I have avoided it in the past because I was terrified of what I might learn if I were to really listen. However, when I am in the silence, the emptiness, I’ve found that I am actually also in a place where my fears and anxieties do not live. They seem so small and distant–they require “getting back into” again in order to make sense. From the emptiness, I see them for the distractions that they are.

    I had an important insight the other day which I think would be helpful to share here:

    You are not required to defeat the monsters.

    In fact, you can’t.

    Our minds conjure monsters that are undefeatable. They know exactly where all of our weakest spots are, and that is precisely where they hit. They try to engage us in battle, like a bully who knows exactly what to say that will “get to you” because you already believe it to be true (or you are ready to believe whatever the bully says). In other words, bullies and anxieties tend to prey on people who have already defeated themselves in some way (and that is almost all of us!). So we fight them with one hand tied behind our backs, and we always lose. We are shocked by our losing streak because we assume that if we fight with good intentions, there is no fight we cannot win. Unfortunately that is not true, because as Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, the terrain you fight on is as important as your skills. There are certain terrains that the wise warrior simply avoids because they always mean death. Anxiety–like bullies–always fights on the terrain of death. It creates traps that you can’t escape and fights you when you’re down. It is our internal cowardly predator.

    Our culture and many of our religious traditions like romantic stories about heroes defeating monsters, demons, and bullies. However, in real life this almost never happens, since bullies always insist on fighting on their own terms–which are always terms on which they have already won. (This is, of course, because bullies are cowards who will never fight in a situation in which they don’t already have the upper hand–and that is another reason never to take them seriously.) We think that if we can’t win on their terms, it means we have lost. But that is just not true. The problem is that we have accepted their terms in the first place.

    No person is invincible. There will always be situations in which we will lose. We need to have the wisdom not to spend our lives there.

    It is an immense relief and frees up so much time when we realize that we can just walk away from the monsters. We walk away from them by walking away from their terrain. Anxiety thrives on the masochism of trying to fight bullies with one hand tied behind your back while you are sinking in quicksand. Even the strongest, wisest, most graceful person loses once he or she has accepted the crippling terms of a fight with bullies. (Indeed, in some situations bullies MUST be fought, but the only way to fight them is to reject their terms in the first place–to refuse to enter their terrain. This doesn’t guarantee that we will defeat them, but it does guarantee that we will not lose to them.)

    In retrospect, of course, bullies always look irrelevant and pathetic–sound and fury signifying nothing. They are little other than distractions from being fully present in our lives. We have so little time here. A large part of my spiritual practice is training myself to live my life undistracted by endless losing fights with the swamp creatures who live in marshes and bogs. :)

  • Observer

    I do want to add, in case I am misunderstood, that avoiding the terrain of anxiety does not mean not paying attention to the meta-message anxiety sends: that on some level, we have defeated ourselves and we absolutely need to become inquisitive about how that happened and direct healing attention to those vulnerable places. In my post I was rather trying to emphasize that fighting anxiety on its own terms, in its own terrain, is always a losing battle. The monsters conjured by anxiety are not defeated–rather, we simply go away from them as we no longer find ourselves drawn in their direction. When they do appear, we don’t pay attention to the magical-sounding enticements they use to lure us into their terrain of battle. We see them as ambassadors of vulnerability and welcome them into OUR OWN terrain–our healing terrain in which they are always welcome guests but are subject to our own terms of love and compassion. Perhaps, with time, they will come to prefer our terms to the terms of death and destruction in which they have been hiding. :)

  • Brianna

    When I get aggravated and upset about things; family, friends, work, etc I tend to also start to feel empty over my relationship. Is this normal? Does anyone else experience this?

  • Exploring

    Sheryl, can you say a bit more about what you mean when you say that there is a difference between approaching the peacefullness and emptiness with curiosity instead of judgment. I find I often feel like Toni and Brianna expressed when I have moments of peace, it makes me terrified of being calm.

  • Evangeline

    Hi Sheryl!
    I found your website in the darkest period (yet) of my life. This came after a bad anti-depressant side effect experience that made my dopamine crash completely. A few days after I weaned off of the medication I had felt back to myself, but almost immediately I was enveloped in terrible relationship anxiety. Similar to your situation, after a mere few months into a relationship with an amazing man whom I connected with wonderfully, I found the relationship hanging by a delicate thread. I was filled with doubt and uncertainty, wondering if I had ever loved him, despite how much I knew I did, and what love even was. I thought I was falling out of love with the man who is everything I’ve ever looked for in a man, and that thought alone left me sick and crying day upon day. As I could never bring myself to break up with him, hence the fact that a part of me always knew he was the person I wanted to be with, I searched desperately through the internet for answers (yes, I know, bad choice on my part, but it did wind up leading me here!). When I found your website, I didn’t only see a light of hope–I saw a whole world of hope, with the sunshine that is my boyfriend never too far away. I worked through so much of my anxiety, finding that the core of it was the fear of uncertainty and that I was the culprit of my own anxiety, not my relationship. I worked through a lot of it through communication with my boyfriend and also my parents, as they brought back memories of how much their divorce affected me and helped me realize that I have always doubted love altogether. Also, I have a history with depression and I do not have much self-love or confidence (I’m currently working on that.) It was such a relief, and I honestly consider you my greatest role model.
    A background on my relationship: My boyfriend and I were close friends four months previous to our relationship. I’d never been more comfortable with anyone in my life, and I immediately opened up to him as I would if I were catching up with an old friend. I do not open up to people well, and so it was a beautiful rarity. I’d never thought of him as a boyfriend until I saw through a prior lust to what had been always standing right in front of me. We began dating 2 weeks after this realization. Our relationship is the kind of relationship anyone would consider themselves lucky to have; our chemistry is phenomenal and magnetic. Our conversations never dull; we can talk forever and never run out of things to say. We admire each other immensely–I can listen to him speak about something he’s passionate about even if I do not know of what he’s talking about, because what is important to him is important to me. Our mental connection is one hard to come by, as our beliefs and hopes and dreams are all perfectly in line with one another’s. Our emotional connection is one I consider rare; we are like each other’s homes and that is the only way I can explain it. Early on in the relationship, we both had the “This is the person I’m going to marry. I’m done looking.” mindset. With our relationship came strong trust, stability, safety, and happiness. As somewhere inside me believes that I do not deserve this kind of relationship and happiness (I remember very early on in the relationship wondering “How could this happiness possibly last forever?”), my anxiety took hold and has done anything and everything it could to get me to run.
    Earlier in the relationship, my anxiety came in in the form of fear of abandonment. After the medication mishap I mentioned in the first paragraph, as my emotions rose again from the medicine-induced numbness, I realized I had become more independent and not so abandonment-fearing. I have, like I said, worked through everything that’s been thrown on my plate in this sick game my anxiety plays with me so far. I’ve remodeled my ideas of love and I’ve observed my anxiety-ridden thoughts as I listen to an ignorant person speak; regarding what they say lightly because despite how confident they are in what they’re saying, I can chuckle to myself knowing that in reality they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. But every time I work through my anxiety, or believe I have, the emptiness leaves room for more to creep in. As much as I try to just let in my self-awareness in those times of emptiness, I begin to question myself again. My current anxiety is one I have not read talked about on your website and one I’d rather not search around on Google to come up with answers for.
    Whenever I admire a guy as a person, I begin to fear I’ll develop feelings for them, to a point where I convince myself I have. I have struggled with OCD all my life, so these thought cycles are not new to me. Most of the time it’s completely inappropriate people that I’d never have feelings for even if I’d never met my boyfriend, but 100% of the time it’s people my boyfriend would be devastated to see me have feelings for. I know in my heart that I do not want to be with any of the people I worry about my feelings over. When I trace back to how my anxiety over potentially developing feelings for those males started, I realize that my first thought was always “Well that could really hurt your relationship and give your anxiety/OCD a field day.” The current guy I’m obsessing over is my boyfriend’s best friend. He is more charismatic than my boyfriend by far (it at first bothered me thinking that I thought he was “better” than my boyfriend in one aspect, before realizing that I couldn’t deal with my boyfriend being as charismatic as he, hence the fact that I could not deal with my boyfriend flirting with other people and constantly talking to other people. Guilty as charged, I’m a bit high maintenance and require attention). I do not find him attractive nor am I attracted to him, yet I still have anxiety that I secretly want to be with him. Or that because I have had anxiety over potentially having feelings for him, that I have opened the door to potentially having feelings for him. I know that a relationship with this boy could never work, yet I still have anxiety that “maybe this is my intuition telling me to be with him” (that one’s no doubt from those fairy-tale articles I’ve read online) or that “maybe I want to be with him and just don’t know yet, hence the fact that that was the case with my boyfriend”. It’s to a point where I would be rejoiced if the boy moved so I could have some peace of mind.
    How do I stop the constant worry and anxiety that I want someone else? My boyfriend is all I could ever ask for, and none of the relationships I could have with any of the other guys I’ve felt anxiety over could ever even work out happily. Frankly, I don’t see any relationship with anyone other than my boyfriend ever working out happily because he is honestly my ideal mate. Despite this, whenever I get anxiety over potentially having feelings for or wanting another guy, that guy fills up my mind and I cannot think of anything without an image of him creeping in. They usually aren’t even romantic, as it is not infatuation–I know I do not want to be with any of those guys. This doesn’t stop the anxiety. I am at a complete loss of what to do in this situation.
    I’m sorry for making this so long. Writing this has given me a bit of relief, though. Thanks always!

  • shelley

    I have been on my healing journey for a few years now after having panic attacks, anxiety and depression in my early 40′s. A fair number of women my age have also experienced similar however have not “done the work” as my therapist says :) .
    I spent a few years in therapy doing exactly what you have described Sheryl :) .
    I am doing very well as am now opening up to life ie taking road trips and breaking out of my comfort zone, that housed and protected me from my fears, anger and sadness=anxiety. It feels great to open to life again but this time with a renewed gratitude for everything in my life. I practice yoga, walk daily and try to meditate (this is a hard one). I now have to ” get back on the airplane” which seems to be a roadblock for me.
    thanks so much for your article above; it is like a breath of fresh air and I will share it with my friends. shelley

  • Brianna

    When I got the sampler wedding e-course I really enjoyed Ashley’s interview. It brought tears to my eyes and I was nodding my head after everything she said. She thought and went through everything I am going through (minus the engagement) but did she have that empty feeling as well? Have you ever done an article about her? Would she even be willing to e-mail? Her interview really spoke to me.

    • She’s the moderator on my e-course forum. I hope you’ll be able to take the full course someday as, based on your comments, you would derive so much benefit from it!

      • Isabella

        I’ve been having really bad emptiness. I was doing good until a few weeks ago. I’m so emotionless and I can’t take it anymore. Bad thoughts run through my mind and I don’t have any response. I don’t understand how this happened.
        I was just wondering Sheryl, do you have an article about your story?

  • Keri

    Dear Sheryl, I am able to take some words of wisdom from everything you blog about! Would you consider doing piece on separation anxiety in adults specifically? It is this type of anxiety that has truly been the demise of all my relationships and there is so little information about why an otherwise well adjusted adult is so plagued by what is known to be a “childhood” anxiety disorder!

  • Ruth

    This website is fantastic, reading everyone’s posts has really helped me understand my anxieties better and make them almost feel ‘normal’ and therefore soothing them slightly. For me counselling is a great form of healing but this forum is great to read whenever I need it.

  • Bonnie

    I have been going through this blog and all the posts and it really has helped me so much with my anxiety and fears. I was trying to fight it off for so long that i wasn’t seeing, actually seeing, my true pain that i have kept deep inside of me. Once i saw it and noticed it i could feel it. What is was for me is that i had a low standard for myself, i didn’t actually think i deserved someone like my fiance. Someone who is caring, kind, patience, and everything a future husband should be. I learned from a very young age that i didn’t think i deserve any of that and once i got into a great beautiful relationship and took that step to get engaged, only then it set in to where i thought i didn’t love him but, what my heart really felt was that i didn’t deserve him. I could not see this by myself. My therapist helped me see that all these fears are not what they actually are, that there is a deep pain there that needs to be helped and needs to be addressed, and it was my self worth that i needed to address, which is what i have been working on. Everyday, and any moment i can, i list off in my head or out loud everything i deserve and it has seemed to help me tremendously.
    I am now at the point of emptiness, the emptiness you speak of in this post. It is hard to deal with because it sometimes feels like i don’t care, and like i still don’t love him because i am somewhat emotionless and detached.
    I am trying to work through it. There have been times in the last couple of days where i work myself into a yet another panic because of the emptiness i feel, trying to figure out what is wrong and running through the same anxious questions i have been asking about since the anxiety has arisen. I do not want to go back to that, i want to move forward and feel excitement and my love yet again. I want to feel whole again. There have been moments where i feel whole again through the emptiness but then that empty feeling comes back and i feel sad yet again.
    I really don’t know how to deal with this. It has been a hard journey and i want to make the final steps into rebirth but i am having trouble.

  • Wanting a quiet mind

    Hi everyone…
    Sheryl thank you so much for this website.
    Whilst it all makes perfect sense it’s still won’t sink In that this is my problem. Iv been with my partner nearly three years. When we first met I felt a connection instantly. It was a feeling I’d never felt before. It was like a light from my throat to sacral chakra that was constantly lighting. I got pregnant when we were together 9 months but every bit of it felt right. I’d never been happier. We moved in together and after a horrendous pregnancy and emergency c section at 8 months we had a beautiful baby boy. After the normal struggles of becoming first time parents things settled and our love for each other grew more. I had never felt so secure and safe in my life.
    My childhood was completely fear drivin by an alcoholic abusive father. So Iv know anxiety as a friend since I was young. Panic and over thinking.
    Just as I had my lil boy my nanny who was always my safety net as kids and so close too me was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I am extrely close to my mam and sisters. This was a hard struggle as I brought her for chemo watched her gettin her hair shaved off and go tru a terrible time. All the while this as goin on my partner was made redundant but after three months started a new job. After 9 months he was promoted had a leaving night out. On this particular night I was very anxious of him been out. Please note that never before would I off been. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at him goin out or doubt h for a second previous to this. On this particular night At 3 am I felt anxiety whilst pickin up the phone to call him. Long story short lied n said he was in bed but my gut told me different after tellin him to put me on FaceTime on the iPhone I discovered he wasn’t in bed n saw a girl leave his room… He then told me it was the guy he was sharing with whom was messing around with a young girl from the store. ( this guy has since got married). For three days I couldn’t rest that this was the whole truth n later learnt that my partner had shared a taxi back to the hotel with another girl from the store and she too was in the room when I called. He swears nothing happened. That when I rang he panicked and lied and that it was basically a messy drinkin situation where by he lied and lied again to make it not seem as bad as it looked. I have repeated this story at least 1500 time in my head questioned every fine detail repeating it constantly. In the middle of this my nanny passed away four weeks After the event. I don’t think I fully got to grips with my nannys passing as I took it too well cause the other occupied my mind completely. I have been truffling for the past 7 months and it finally took a nose dive. Fully blow panic and anxiety. Have lost over a stone couldn’t eat and all the sw questions as everyone here but I’m gone to the stage where I don’t knowu thoughts from my mind to feelings to my gut to what’s real and what’s not. I feel like a completely different person that he’s a completely different person n that the life and perception of family that we were was just destroyed. I don’t know is all the trust and security gone is it male issues is it that I don’t love him or what. I’m so confused I want to blow Mykonos out of my head. When I know he’s on his way home I feel physically sick panic and like I’m facing a murderer. It’s like massive fear. I’m afraid to dog deep into me incase I get the answer to leave and the destruction it will cause. The heartbreak for him the upset for our son it will changed life as I know it. All day long all I think about n question is do I love him is it my spirit not allowing me settle caused fit is telling me he’s still lyin anoth that might. I now can’t seem to have sex. Is that cause I no longer attracted to him r the anxiety. Iv started on 20 mg of cipramal two weeks ago and I attend a counsellor weekly to every second week as I have had anxiety before and intrusive obsessional thinking. In this case tho I’m so confused. I’m hoping you can shed some light please. We’re goin on hols next week n I dread it n it’s our best friends weeding he’s best man n I’m bridesmaid. What should be a happy time I feel physically sick. I feel like I’m just leading him on n delaying the inevitable. Pleaaasssehelp me clove and light

    • I’m glad to read that you’re in counseling as your comment extends beyond the scope of what I can offer advice on via the internet. There’s a lot of pain in your story, and also a lot of opportunity for growth. I hope you stay with the counseling, and perhaps seek support for the two of you as a couple.

  • Wanting a quiet mind

    Thanks a million sheryl. From you’re experience though does it seem like its the anxiety cloudy my judgement on how I feel about my partner…. I want it to be fixed and love but I’m so afraid if I go into it the answer will be to leave

  • Giovanna E.

    I’m so glad you posted this, Sheryl. I’m just now coming out of my grief and now feel a void. It’s like I can’t feel anything, especially towards my fiancé. It’s like I’m in a haze! But I’m glad to know that feeling this way is normal and I hope that I can continue moving forward. Thank you so much.