Worry and Anxiety

IMG_2947One of the first questions I ask a new client who’s struggling with relationship anxiety is, “Did you have anxiety as a child?” It’s no longer surprising to me when the client says no because I can almost guarantee that she’ll answer affirmatively to my next question, “Did you worry a lot as a child?”

For some reason we don’t correlate anxiety with worry. Perhaps it’s because there’s still some stigma attached to the word anxiety, so culturally we latch onto worry as a more palatable term. Yet it’s essential to understand that worry is the mental manifestation of anxiety. Experiencing nameless dread or identifiable dread as well as being called “too sensitive” or “overly sensitive” as a child are other indicators that anxiety was likely present.

I ask this question because it’s important to understand that if you’re struggling with relationship anxiety it’s easy to blame your relationship as the source if the problem, but when you can draw a line through your life and connect the dots at the junctures when you experienced anxiety it can help you remove the projection from your partner and begin to take ownership for the anxiety that has lived inside of you for a long time and is now presenting itself as an opportunity for healing.

So let’s take a look at worry starting from the beginning.

If you worried as a child it’s highly likely that at least one of your parents was a worrier. Anxiety is hereditary, so if you were exposed to worry growing up, even if it wasn’t verbalized, you likely absorbed it. Take a moment to think about who in your family is a worrier. My clients often know without a moment’s hesitation which of their parents, if not both, handed down the tendency toward anxiety.

I understand this inherited trait quite well as I come from a long line of worriers. I’ve inherited many wonderful qualities from the strong women from whom I’m descended, but I’ve also inherited a propensity toward worry. I’ve heard stories about my overbearing great-grandmother (after whom I was named) who would exert her control over her three daughters, and later, my mother. I can recall with specific detail the look in my grandmother’s eyes and the pursed line of her lips when she was worrying about something, and I know that she suffered from panic attacks throughout her life. And my mother, who has worked her tail off to transform her worry into faith and serenity, spent much of my early years worrying about her kids. She’s shared with me that when my brothers and I were young, every time she left the house she would get a mental picture of the house going up in flames. So I know that, while there was also tremendous love and safety, I was gestated in a pool of worry and grew up with that nagging, unnamable fear nipping at my heels until it erupted in my early twenties in the form of a panic attack.

Many of my clients and e-course members who suffered through engagement anxiety are now pregnant, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single one of them has shared with me that they’re worried about the health of their baby and/or their ability to be a good mother. An element of this worry is normal, natural, and unavoidable, for as I talk about many times in my Birthing a New Mother e-course, worry is the work of the motherhood. When you love someone, you worry; that’s just the way it goes. Every first time a mother worries about the health of her baby and her ability to love her child and every second time mother worries if she’ll have enough love for another. All normal. But when the worry escalates to the point of despair and panic, an intervention is needed.

I’d like to diverge here for a moment as there’s a message in the New Age world that says that if you’re worrying or sad or scared during your pregnancy, you’re going to negatively affect your growing baby. I believe this is hogwash and only amplifies a woman’s anxiety because now not only is she worrying about whatever she was originally worried about but she’s also worried about how her worry is going to affect her baby! What a mindf**ck! And I’ll share this anecdotal story just to put any of you pregnant women reading this at ease: I have a dear friend who found out she was pregnant just a few weeks after her best friend died. Then, about a month later, she received the news that her husband’s brother and his wife were killed in a tragic accident, leaving four children behind. And then a month later one of her closest friends was killed in a car accident, leaving behind her husband and young son. All during her pregnancy, while she was grieving deeply, she worried about how her unstable inner state would affect her baby. She was certain that he would be a fussy, difficult, unsettled child. Well, he was born two months ago and he’s truly the most mellow, happy, smiley baby I’ve ever met.

So how do we effectively work with worry? Worry is the opposite of faith. It’s a blockade that protects you from the powerlessness and vulnerability of being human. When you’re spinning on the habitual hamster wheel of worry, it’s your wounded self/ego trying to protect you from the softness of your heart by trying to control an unpredictable outcome. Many people don’t realize that worry is a form if control, that the small, fear-based self holds tenaciously and unconsciously to the false belief that if you perseverate enough about a certain topic you can ensure the desired outcome. Conversely, the ego believes that if it lets go of the reins and stops thinking about it then the worst possible scenario will occur. In other words, the ego believes that its state of high-alert hypervigilance circumvents negative outcomes.

When the ego lets go and you make a choice to stop worrying and instead hand over the reins to Life (since that’s where they are anyway), you will probably feel like you’re free falling. That’s when it’s essential to replace the negative habit of worry with a positive faith and prayer practice. For it’s only when you let go of worry can you align yourself with the flow of life and open the space for something wiser and kinder to enter.

Here’s my three step approach for replacing the negative habit of worry with faith and serenity:

1. Acknowledge the worry

Notice where it manifests in your body and place your hands on that part of you. Imagine the two most loving hands in the world covering your hands as you bring a moment of compassion to your fearful place. Also remind yourself that worry is not a character default but a consequence of your profound caring and love gone awry. Had you learned to channel your care toward faith early in life you wouldn’t have developed the worry habit. Bring compassion to your worry, reminding yourself that it’s a morphed manifestation love.

2. Gather it up

Together with the imaginary hands resting in your hands, see yourself gathering up the worry like a cloud and tossing it into the air. If you’re in a place where you can literally throw your hands and arms into the sky, even better.

3. Release it

Say a prayer or words of release. The prayer that I like is, “Please help open to whatever is in my highest good.” I may also pray for a desired outcome like, “Please keep my kids safe while they’re playing on the icy creek,” but I recognize that my prayer doesn’t necessarily effect the outcome any more than worry does. Still, when we align ourselves with faith and spirit instead of fear and control we’re raising our frequency and creating a healthier internal environment where serenity can breathe.

So next time you’re feeling worried, give it a try. It can’t hurt. If you do this enough times, eventually you will create a new habit and will start to anchor yourself in a practice of surrender. And if you have a child struggling with anxiety, you can easily teach the above steps to him or her. I’ll be talking more about this over the next couple of weeks as I share some stories about our son and our cat.

37 comments to Worry and Anxiety

  • Kiyomi

    Perfect timing and always, wonderful article. Thank you!!!!

  • Christy

    LOVE!! I needed this. Thank you. This is awesome.

  • Jen

    Thank you so much for this article. Describes me to the letter and really helped me already. Will definitely try meeting my worrying with empathy from now on, not with annoyance anymore.

  • Kim

    I was a constant worrier as a child and has even got worse has I’ve got older . I was in a fatal car accident when I was 4 and lost my one year old sister my mum then wrapped me in Cotten wool ever since she was so afraid of something happening to me that as I grew older I was then afraid of everything fear has controlled my life I don’t drive I’m scared to walk on my own I’m scared to have children incase they die and I’m a big sufferer of rocd . I wish the anxiety would stop so I could live happy without stressing over everything .

    • Given your story, the worry makes complete sense. The deeper work is start to attend to your inner child with love and compassion so that you can, over time, replace the fear with faith. You probably also need to grieve the loss of your little sister and allow yourself to open your heart to any other pain that’s been stored inside.

  • Kiyomi

    I just wanted to add: I think sometimes when we’re not feeling anxious we tend to not realize that we’re still worrying. I tend to think that everything is fine if I am not obsessively thinking or having physical and anxious symptoms but later realize that there is still a constant humming of worry and fear constantly playing in my head. Interestingly, I have definitely realized that I picked a lot of this up from my mother who was constantly anxious and worried when I was a child. Thank you again, Sheryl!

    • Well said, Kiyomi. Thank you.

    • Sarah

      This is an insightful comment! I think as I was reading this I was thinking something similar. I’m 7 months pregnant right now, and I have had relatively little in the way of strong anxiety (somewhat surprisingly I think!). But I’ve noticed the past few days how my thoughts often throw up “has my baby moved enough today?” or I’ll suddenly worry about having a still birth, or wonder if my baby will be as healthy and cute as my niece and nephew who were born this past weekend. And while none of these things result in debilitating anxiety (as was the case when I was engaged) there is a “hum” of worry flitting through my day. Thanks for your comment Kiyomi!

  • Brianna

    Awesome article Sheryl! I’ve been feeling like I’ve been going downhill again! I’ve been very empty and getting anxious.i love when it says how some are scared to let go of this worry thinking that something bad will happen because that’s how I feel. I always gell myself if I can relax and not think bout it than things can become better and my boyfriend and I will get bak to the way we were, but then I’m like what if Idont spend time thinking of it? Then something might happen. I even started praying a lot when I got the anxiety, praying about my boyfriend and I. I would pray at a certain time and would get anxiety when I missed the time. I know it wouldn’t matter if I prayed or not but its like I had to. Now I’ve gotten so tired of the praying because its not relieving me and I don’t want to do it anymore and then anxiety comes up and is like why?? Why don’t you want to pray anymore? Does this mean you’re over everything over him? What does it mean? And then I feel empty and anxious.

  • Sam

    How to manage fearful badthoughts ?? I m very normal but suddenly some bad thoughts get me into panic and i get confused what to do at that moment?

  • Renee

    This was exactly what I needed today!! Looking back I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. As I child, through my first love, my first marriage which resulted in divorce, the anxiety and worry was always there. Now in a new relationship, I’m trying very hard to just have faith and let the my wounded self go. I constantly pray and tell myself to stay positive. I struggle alot with being alone, feeling empty and painful anxiety. From past experience, I know I’ll get through it with a loving support system. Thanks Sheryl and everyone for sharing! It truly helps! Blessings to all.

  • Teri

    Wow, Sheryl, another beautiful “Aha!” moment, thanks to you. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and only recently have I begun to put all the pieces of my past, as far back as I can remember, to make some sense. I have worried my entire life. My mother was the worrier and she would tell me how worried she was the moment she gave birth to me because my nose was crooked. Unfortunately her anxiety later became abusive. As the picture becomes more clear to me, your e-mail came and “Aha!”

  • Jennifer

    Ladies, thanks for your vulnerability and honest sharing. Sheryl, thanks for your skillful and deeply felt article. It seems counterintuitive that attention to one’s inner life could help manage one’s anxiety better, and become better contained. I appreciate the Inner Bonding process to connect to younger self that had no words for the anxiety she was feeling, and without the sufficient container of available and present adults to feel the enormous feelings. I have found for myself and others, those uncontained feelings can manifest as anxiety 🙁 Feeling them, however big and remaining present to them actually helps them to move, but the threat (and fear) of being engulfed is a fear, I think from childhood. many blessings to all, Jennifer

    • “Feeling them, however big and remaining present to them actually helps them to move, but the threat (and fear) of being engulfed is a fear, I think from childhood.” Exactly, Jennifer. Thank you for your ever-wise and supportive comments on my site.

  • Elizabeth

    Impeccable timing! Sometimes I wonder if you are in my head with me :). Since going through the e
    course, I’ve developed a heightened awareness of just how often I worry- man is it a lot!! It’s sometimes difficult not to worry about worrying so much, especially with OCD involved. Anyway, thank you again for another helpful and insightful article.

  • Stephanie

    Love this! Thanks Sheryl!

  • Jared

    Wow fantastic Sheryl! What a great way to replace stress with easy-going joy! I’m going to start working on being a more faith-filled person.

  • Christina Boertlein

    Sheryl- can you do a post on the effect of pregnancy and a baby on a relationship/ relationship anxiety?? That would be great!

  • Serena

    Thank you Sheryl! I think you were in my living room listening to my best friend and I talking about fear and faith today. We were both raised Catholic but have since identified more with the Buddhist philosophy in our spiritual journeys. However, we have struggled to maintain faith in the face of traumatic events in our respective lives and as you said “Worry is the opposite of faith. It’s a blockade that protects you from the powerlessness and vulnerability of being human.” It is my intention to adopt a daily routine of meditating and reflection because I know how much I worry even if just inside my head and heart when triggers take over and lead me back to the trauma and loss of the past two years.

    My question to you is how as a parent do you help your child work through their worry and fears (other than shedding my own habit of worrying and modeling that for my children)? I often read how you work with your son and his anxieties/fears which is so helpful to me as my daughter is quite a cautious child who worries quite a bit. I have also read Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, which has been a wonderful resource. But, how do I help my daughter while I work on changing my own habits?
    Thank you!

    • I’ll be writing more about how I help my son work with his worry in a couple of weeks, but I will say this: The more you can infuse a sense of spirituality into your daughter’s daily life through meditation, prayer, connection to nature/seasons, and meaningful rituals (and anything else that resonates for you and your family) the more she’ll be able to find and develop her own faith practice. AND, it’s all a work in progress, meaning that we do the best we can with our kids but there will inevitably be ways that we don’t or can’t meet their needs and that’s also part of their learning journey. More soon!

  • Esther

    Thank you for sharing this Sheryl. Happy to see your take on anxiety alongside worry.

  • Rachel

    Wonderful article Sheryl – thank you!

  • Michelle

    I love this article, Sheryl. It is so uplifting. I also was a constant worrier as a child- and my mother and grandmother have been constant worriers- they both have been through their hate of traumatic events and in affect, most of my mothers. Daughters have become worriers, especially needing to feel in control. Your work has helped me better understand it all so much and I’ve been able to let go of the need to control and worry, day by day, slowly. Thank you!

    Thank you!

  • Michelle

    I meant that they have been through their “share” of traumatic events, not *hate*. Autocorrect mistake.

  • Laura

    Great article! I can relate to everything you wrote.

  • Aimee

    I love this! I have been having some serious anxiety regarding my boyfriend, and it’s literally making me sick. We have only been together for about 5 months, but it seems like the entire time, I have been worried about whether I really want to be with him or whether he is the right person for me. But I was obviously attracted to him initially, right? He is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. He is kind, caring, he listens to me and supports me. I’ve told him my concerns with my anxiety and he STILL wants to be there for me and help me through it. What a catch, right?! But I just worry that if we ever decide to get married, then I will suddenly realize I’m making a mistake. And I don’t want to waste either of our time. I don’t want to wake up in 30 years wishing I had done something differently. And it pains me to have these thoughts, because I know what a wonderful person he is, and I WANT to feel that “in love” feeling with him. I wonder if there is some inner peace in me that I haven’t found yet, and when I do, maybe everything else will fall into place….?

  • Anne

    Thank you again, Sheryl, this really speaks to me again. You already helped me to start seeing my grief which I need to learn to attend to. Now I read your words about anxiety, it has been a huge subject in my life. When I was a teenager I wrote down “when I was little I thought my fear would leave once I am grown up”, understanding that fear was always with me since I was a little child, coping with nightmares and sleeplessness for years until my mum brought me to a child psychologist. During studying I dealt with real anxiety disorders, not being able to leave rooms- I still didn’t know where my fear originates from. Nowadays, I am “just” a strong worrier – I can’t seem to stop painting all possible worst case cenarios. I feel your words really started something. I read that worrying is a way of controlling and I understand that’s my problem. Still I feel convinced that I actually CAN change the outcome of situations by worrying – way to go ahead of me.

    I will appreciate every line you’ll write about changing worries to faith and I am so grateful with all you’ve already shared, it’s so precious for me!

  • Sill

    So as I have recently experienced a slight freeing of being the “host of hell” (fear, doubt, worry, guilt, these things have been on and off again sitting at my table) I would like to share some knowledge that made them less present. I’m sure this is known but its a good message to keep out there.

    First off, the whole marriage process that society presents to us (white dress wedding) is incredibly materialistic and constricting. Essentially geared so that you spend money! At its core I feel marriage should really be about love and freedom. Meaning a marriage in your back yard just between the two of you is just as valid as the whole white dress wedding with witnesses and a legal contract. I mean honestly why would you ever give the law the power to make your marriage valid? Its interesting how I learned for me that marriage happens over time and through those moments with your partner where things are profound in a loving way between the two of you. Not necessarily all in one moment.

    One thing I really struggled with was the whole till death do us part thing and a lot of anxiety was surrounding this. It overwhelmed me and made me feel sad, I could not figure out why. Then I realized that trying to uphold this possibly unrealistic till death do us part filth was trapping myself.

    MARRIAGE IS NOT A CONTRACT! You do not force your heart to someone! You should always have the freedom to choose throughout your life who you want to love. Not stay confined to someone out of contract or proving you can keep your commitment or sense of duty or guilt or anything like that. Living a life of love requires that you be authentic, honest and loyal for you. Love has nothing to do with contract and is best if kept as a priority above all things. If you ever find yourself in love with someone else then if you value it all you should be true to that regardless of societal constricts.

    Realizing this then lead me to understand that this whole one right person thing was false for me. There are so many souls in the world and you could fall in love with many of them if you choose. There is more than likely at least a few people in the world that you could be happy with at different points in your life. That is the beauty of diversity.

    I was also worried about making a wrong choice and then realizing that I had wasted years of my life. I think that you are the only one who can determine whether you have made a mistake or not. If every relationship has positive and negatives about it then at least if you have made a mistake by your own judgement its not like you did not gain positives out of it. So no relationship is at least without its silver lining. Your probably making the most informed decision you can at the time and with what you know about yourself. So its all good.

    So love really is part choice. I think there has to be something there first between the two of you then you choose whether you want it to develop further. So knowing that I would be true to a life of love above societal constricts helped ease my anxiety.

    Hopefully this helps

  • SJD

    I hope everything is well, Sheryl, as I know you live in colorado and all the floods that have occurred there in the last few days. My thoughts are with you! it’s the least I can do after all the help you’ve given me with your articles.

  • Sam

    Sheryl, this is one of my favorite blog posts ever. Your words, “the false belief that if you perseverate enough about a certain topic you can ensure the desired outcome” couldn’t explain better what I’ve been feeling since I was proposed to 1 year ago.

    I am someone who never had ANY relationship anxiety for our first 2 awesome years together. Then, when my now fiancé and I were out at that fateful dinner, and I realized he was about to propose, I had what I have deduced to be a panic attack. The first panic attack of my life, but not the last. I actually never desired marriage, I just always knew I wanted to be with this partner as far into the future as my 25 year old mind could perceive. Has anyone else experienced that same situation?

    Once the marriage proposal entered the picture, my doubt, judgements, and anxiety flew through the roof, and have never left. We agreed on a long 2 year engagement, partly to save and not enter marriage with debt, and partly because I secretly am freaked the hell out. My fiancé knows I’ve had some struggles with doubt and anxiety, but I’m sure he doesn’t realize it consumes me every day. Whereas I used to worry about whether he loved me enough, now I wonder if I love him enough.

    My anxious mind wants me to believe that if I just worry and ponder hard enough, I might finally get to the bottom of it and decide, once and for all, if I’ve made the right choice. But I know that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know I need to dig deep, but I don’t know where to start in my self-reflection. And it doesn’t help that I am rigidly attached to the outcome that we do get married and “succeed” in marriage. Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome. Love this website, it’s been my only source of sanity.

  • chelsea

    Sheryl or to anyone else who may be able to help, I have been doing really well on my anxiety for awhile now and then it came back, it comes and goes again. It’s like you get so used to your good days and the bad are still lurking around the corner. Some days I can see our future clearly and I know I want marriage and kids with my partner than other days it’s like it’s not so clear, is this normal? Also another thing that has started recently is that some moments I want to kiss and be intimate with my bf and then the next it’s like I don’t want to kiss him or be intimate with him and that tears me apart because that makes me feel like I don’t love him, I mean I should always want to kiss and be intimate with my bf right? Is this a normal thing or not so much? Any insight would help.