Anxiety is Not an Accident

by | Oct 5, 2014 | 20s, Anxiety | 59 comments

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIf you follow my work you know that I view anxiety quite differently than most people. Instead of seeing it as something to eliminate as quickly as possible – usually with medication – I see it as the soul’s way of communicating, via the vessel of the body, that something is awry inside and is ready to transform. Eradicating the anxiety before you understand its message would be like stamping out a headache every time one appears and then realizing that the headaches were trying to communicate an imbalance in your brain chemistry that needed attention. And of course we do that all the time with our myriad of quick-fix band-aid solutions for getting rid of physical pain as quickly as possible.

Perhaps the biggest deterrent to healing from anxiety is the belief that it shouldn’t be happening: that if you were in a different relationship or lived in a different city or had a different job or had more money then you wouldn’t be suffering from anxiety. We’re so culturally addicted to the belief that our internal states are determined by external circumstances that it’s like swimming upstream to develop a different mindset – one that invites you to take 100% responsibility for your pain. I’m not saying that a different job or city might not be more conducive to well-being, but if that’s the case the decision would come from a clear-headed, open-hearted place inside as opposed to a decision fueled by anxiety.

The belief that your anxiety shouldn’t be happening stops you dead in your tracks from doing the work that needs to be done. It’s fighting against reality because the anxiety IS happening, and every time you fall prey to the escape hatch mindset you miss the golden opportunity you’re being given to heal and grow.

Let me also say here that sometimes it can take years to understand anxiety fully. This, again, flies in the face of the cultural mindset that leads us to expect a quick-fix, that fails to understand that the work of the soul takes time. Soul-time is not technological time; we can’t press a button in our psyche or read one book or take one course and expect all of our pain to be washed away. The true inner warrior understands that we heal in waves and cycles, and that the same wound can appear at deeper and deeper layers for years or even decades. That doesn’t mean that you’re living in a constant state of misery or anxiety. It means that when you take anxiety under the wing of your genuine desire to learn it ceases its hold of misery and transforms into a companion of messages on this path of life. Paradoxically, once you embrace anxiety the underlying need usually stops manifesting as anxiety but instead reveals its true face as one of the myriad core feelings: grief, fear, loneliness, uncertainty, disappointment, jealousy. It’s like simmering down the symptom to arrive at the crystal of root cause that lives at the center.

Just as your anxiety is not an accident, so the events of your life are not an accident. My clients often express the feeling of regret over choices or experiences that negatively affected them. Regret is almost always a function of failing to see that every experience in life carries with it the opportunity to learn and grow, and that, quite often, there’s a force bigger at play that guides us toward painful experiences that carry within them the crystal of opportunity for growth.

What if you could adopt the mindset that everything in your life – every symptom, every challenge, every experience – is designed to help you grow? How would your life be different?

And yet… and yet… most people tend to gravitate toward regret. We live with regret until we understand deep in our bones the purpose of the experience.

I recently made peace with one of the few areas of regret I’ve lived with in my life. When I was twenty I traveled to Brazil for four months for my junior year abroad program for what turned out to the most terrifying, traumatic four months of my life. While I’ve understood intellectually why that experience was important for my life, it’s taken me twenty-two to get it so deeply that the regret bellied over into true awe and gratitude.

I never planned to go to Brazil. Having spoken Spanish all through high school and into college with near-fluency, I always planned to travel to Spain. But then the Brazil bug bit me: I had taken a Brazilian dance class the summer after my Freshman year of college and I was hooked. I danced all summer. I danced through the next year. I listened to Brazilian music. Quite impulsively, I changed my plans and set into motion an experience that would alter the rest of my life. And Rio de Janeiro, where there was already a program in place, wasn’t enough. No, I had to travel to the Northeast, to Salvador, Bahia, where the true dance and music originated. So I designed my own program, got it approved, learned Portuguese in nine months, and left. In January 1990, instead of getting on a plane to Spain, I headed for Brazil.

Brazil pummeled me; it was nothing like the fantasy I had built up on my mind. In a single moment, I was yanked from my safe, clean, tree-lined, upper-middle class life and hammered down into the middle of a life I had never known on any level. I lived in favelas where cockroaches the size of snails lined the floors and ceilings with such ferocity that white paint turned black, witnessed a man get shot during Carnival, walked past pools of fresh blood on the streets on a daily basis, and had trouble finding anything healthier than Guarana to drink (basically sugar water). For months I ate what I thought was crushed peanut cakes from vendors on the side of the road only to learn at the end of the trip that they were actually crushed shrimp cakes that had been sitting in the hot sun all day.

For me, those four months in Brazil was a living nightmare. Yet, what I know now, it was also what initiated me into my life’s work. Some people are initiated through ancient rites in the middle of a forest. I was initiated in Brazil. And when I look back now, I can clearly see that I was pulled to Brazil by invisible forces (a divine plan, perhaps?). The dance, the music, some unnamable something pulled me there. As if I was hypnotized, I had changed directions on a dime. It was out of character for me to be so impulsive, but nothing was going to stop me; I had to go.

Had I not gone to Brazil I don’t know that I would be here today, writing this blog, doing the work I do, offering healing through my words and heart. It’s one of my deepest privileges to be doing this work, and tears come to my eyes when I think about the alternatives. Had I not gone to Brazil I might be living a different life, one not punctuated by anxiety, somewhere else with someone else with some other kids. A chill creeps up my spine as I write that as it resonates as wrong in every fiber of my being. As terrible as anxiety and panic can be, I can’t imagine who I would be without knowing them intimately. How could I help others, how could I mother my highly sensitive son, how could I become a humble human being aware of my own perfect imperfections had I not descended into the darkness of soul where anxiety and panic dwell like apparitions in the night? Had I not gone to Brazil I might still be walking around in my glass castle of illusion and fantasy.

But what I know so strongly tonight is that the phrase, “Had I not gone to Brazil,” is non-sensical. I did go to Brazil. I had to go to Brazil. Brazil pulled me there and perhaps had something to do with the bigger plan of my life to become a midwife of soul healing. One of the only positive memories that I hold from Brazil was attending a ceremony in a hidden alley with a wise, old healer. During the ceremony, while in the middle of a trance, the healer looked up at me and said, “You have healing hands.” For years I thought that meant I was supposed to work with my hands directly through some form of healing bodywork. Now I know that he meant that I would write, and that through my words I would offer healing. And perhaps he also meant that I have healing capabilities in the hands of my heart.

My experience in Brazil came flying back into my consciousness lately, and I took it as an opportunity to see if I could flip the regret into gratitude. In the imaginal realm, I sent my current, loving self back to one of the most traumatic experiences I endured there: getting pulled out into a riptide and nearly drowning. When I time-traveled back to my terrified, twenty-year old self sitting in the sand, I sent my loving parent self to sit down next to her to wrap her in the wings of my arms and tell her, “I know you’re scared. You’re going to be okay. This is important. You’ll understand it one day. It’s all going to make sense much later.” Nobody told me that at twenty, but I know it now with every fiber of my being, and when we time-travel we can heal the hurt and scared places inside. In other words, the realm of the unconscious is timeless, so when we bring the wisdom and healing that we hold in present time back to the past, we heal the past as well.

When I emerged from my time-travel, for the first time in twenty years I felt gratitude toward Brazil. For the first time in over twenty years I can truly say, “Thank you.”

Brazil wasn’t an accident. Nothing in my life has been an accident. And your life isn’t an accident, either: not your anxiety, your wounds, your failures or your traumas. In fact, the great sages teach that the seed for healing lives at the center of each trauma, meaning that whatever your greatest challenge is will also be your greatest strength. I see this so clearly now with my trip to Brazil: the trauma I endured there initiated me into many years of anxiety and panic, but it’s that very anxiety and panic that led me to my life’s work.

The same is true for your struggles. When we can flip the mindset that life shouldn’t happen the way it does to a mindset that holds that life is unfolding exactly as it needs to unfold, we step more easily into the river of growth and learning. We are here to grow, and growth isn’t easy. In fact, it’s when life hurts the most that we grow the most. Quite often, it’s difficult to see what we’re meant to learn in the midst of the pain, but if you take the time, even years later, to shine the light of consciousness onto what has been your greatest challenges, you will find the crystals and diamonds that live in the center, the gems and jewels that you could have only found by enduring your own dark night of the soul.


  1. Okay, okay, once again, I’m in tears. I tried to be all nonchalant reading this but just not working. I am so grateful for this shift in mindset that’s been gifted to me through your work. The “and is ready to transform” part following the “something awry inside” is a part that I’m just now really meeting at depths I didn’t know existed. It’s like I keep circling down through the dirt until it’s not just fresh water that comes up, but a whole other side of the world. and it really is all seeming to be about bringing my presence to some part of ME and not the outside world at all. It’s not just a way of making peace with what is, but such a necessary ritual my own being *has* to show up for in order to be whole. Anyway, I rambled, but thank you!!!

    • Not rambling at all, Lala. A poetic comment from a beautiful soul. Thank you.

  2. Wow, Sheryl your sense of intuition to what your subscribers are going through astounds me (yet again!)
    Just last week, I found myself ruminating (again) about how different things might have been for my husband and I, and our families, had he proposed to me now (because I’m essentially looking after myself better than I have in a long time)

    It didn’t take me long to realise, however, that the changes I’ve made to my self care came about precisely because of the challenges we encountered during the difficult time of our engagement. I’m sure I can confidently say that without those challenges, I would not have had my eyes opened to the world in the way they are now.

    I can’t say I’ve fully healed the hurt and pain I feel towards what we experienced, but I see that slowly the layers of the onion are revealing themselves.

    Thank you for putting what I’m experiencing so beautifully, and for giving me hope that my healing is ongoing. And thank you for sharing this private piece of yourself with us


    • Thank you, Rpeli. Yes, it can take YEARS to make sense of a painful experience, as you can see from my Brazil story. Keep peeling and gently simmering, just as you’re doing, and eventually you’ll arrive at the crystal center of understanding and acceptance.

  3. Thank you for sharing the story of Brazil. It really put things into perspective for me.
    I can truly relate to your story after having been deployed to Germany back in
    2011. The experience really changed me and upon my return I made not one but several
    life altering decisions of which one included leaving a 9 year relationship. I kept feeling
    guilty but then came to realize that I was basically just “living” and had been suppressing
    desires I had acquired and crushed over a significant amount of time. I feel much
    better now but had suffered serious anxiety to the point where I was on medication.
    Everything seems much clearer now. I know now why these events took place and I
    no longer beat myself up with such guilt and anguish over my life changing decisions.

    • Christine

      I’m glad you found peace. Just wondering what brought you to this site? Was it because you were contemplating whether to end your nine year relationship?

  4. I’ve followed your work for over a year, Sheryl, and it never fails to surprise me when your words come floating out of the ether, completely in tune with where I am. There’s a fearful voice inside of me that is so very loud, a voice that tells me everything that you say is complete hooey…but then I read something like this, and I don’t feel alone anymore and it makes some sense. It’s so easy to slip into that fear and it can colour everything. I am anxious most of the time and am quite, quite isolated. As you have written so many times, this puts those close to you under a microscope, which is so unfair. “You don’t love him, you don’t have enough sex, you’re not attracted to him, you’re throwing your life away, you want to sleep with as many other people as possible etc etc…” And yet….and yet….

    I know there is an alternative. I know that I am testing myself. I know that I am constantly checking myself….but your work and posts such as this help me to understand that a thought is just a thought and I don’t HAVE to engage with them. All too often, I let them pull me under, when I don’t have to. It’s never going to be 100% plain sailing, like on days such as today, but I know that I’m not alone.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. I guess I just wanted to show other readers that it’s ok to still have “moments” and to also thank you for holding my hand just when I needed it.

    David xx

    • David, your comment is so true! I have had each one of those thoughts, and even this morning I’m running the risk of engaging with them YET AGAIN while I sit here at work thinking, “maybe I wouldn’t feel this numb with someone else…maybe this is all a sign and I’ve just been lying to myself. Maybe I never loved him to begin with and I’m just settling…” With a combination of a depressed calm, these thoughts can get quite convincing. And yet… and yet…I don’t have to succumb. I no longer need to be enslaved by my thoughts and my fears, and my seemingly incessant desire to alienate myself from those that love me to keep the sad, abandoned little girl inside me from being too hurt. That inner fear that says “if you leave first, you can prepare for it; do the hurting before you get hurt.” How difficult it is to ignore her sometimes, and to ignore these fears when I feel alone, empty, and depressed.

    • Thank you, David. You are far from alone. One of the gifts of the internet is that it allows us to peer into a worldwide psyche where we see that thousands if not millions of people struggle with the same exact thought, feelings, and experiences as us. Hopefully, as we gain clarity of self and mastery over thoughts, we can all heal together as well.

  5. This is very encouraging for me considering I have anxiety all the time…What I have learned is to ask myself what is it that I’m telling myself to make me anxious or what is it that Im trying to control….I find that when I ask these questions the anxiety subsides….Thank you Sheryl for sharing…. this has given me a different perspective on how to embrace anxiety and not try and suppress the feeling.

  6. Your work has been as enlightening as always. I’ve recently stumbled upon your work after running into problems in my new relationship, specifically in terms of attraction. Sometimes, quite often actually, I would look at my partner and notice how physically unattractive she is to me, it has really caused multiple problems for us and I am struggling to accept the person I am dating and i’ve wondered on multiple occasions whether we could last, however, she is an amazing partner, she tries to join me in my interests and enjoys doing little things that make me smile, she is open and listens to me even when I’m having these doubts, my friends and parents like her immensely, and I love making her happy and I really enjoy having conversations with her when I’m able to push these thoughts aside, we both care for each other really deeply, which gave me even more anxiety when I read in various online forums that in these situations, you should just leave her for someone else to appreciate. this often causes many days of depression and anxiety for me as I simply wish to stay and love her, but I’m so afraid that I’m not attracted to her and that I don’t love her, that I’m just leading her on, do you have any opinions on this?

  7. This is a fantastic article and I truly believe in harnessing the power of anxiety. There have been times in my life where it has demobilized me but it was for a reason. A combination of life factors and mindset contributed to this. I’ve learned that just my perspective alone is enough to cause an anxiety attack.

  8. Another beautiful post Sheryl. I want to thank you especially for talking about regret. Your own and that of your clients. Much like not feeling “in love” with your partner all the time, I think feeling regret is one of those taboos no one talks about. I feel like for so many years I have felt like the only person in the world with regrets. I was ashamed to have regrets. Like it was a sign that something was wrong with me and my life. I know this post will set me on a different path, one of embracing my regret as a normal part of being a human being, and that will be the first step toward developing a more enriching relationship with regret. Thank you.

  9. Hi sheryl,
    I have been reading your work for quite sometime now. I find it very relieving and helpful as I have been dealing with relationship anxiety since March. It all started when I allowed others to put the fear of losing my amazing loving partner, into my head. Having never once considering the thought of losing him to obsessing over the thought, I drove myself into a panic attack. I communicated to him everyday exactly what I was thinking(God bless him for his strength). He’s been so supportive of what I’ve been going through and the dark thoughts that cross my mind. Ever since I’ve allowed fear to enter my mind, its hard to tell the difference between what’s fear and what’s truth. Although my anxiety doesn’t occur nearly as often as it did, I still find myself focusing on all the things my boyfriend doesnt do. “He doesn’t take me out anymore” “he doesn’t show me affection anymore” etc. Where in the past, these never bothered me. I feel like my comment is all over the place but this is exactly how my mind thinks. I guess I’m just scared that im accepting my fear as truth and maybe id be happier if I were with someone who did show me affection. But then again, when I think about it, my ex showed me affection ALL the time and it made me feel smothered. Maybe thats my fear trying to find reasons to flee. Idk.

  10. Thanks again Sheryl, and thanks David for your comment, I can so relate to what you are going through

  11. I fear that I’m accepting my fear as truth because I don’t cry or have attacks anymore like I used to but I still get spiked. Does that make sense? It’s like I’m getting better but I still have the thoughts and the fact that I don’t react like I used to, I’m accepting it as truth. That if my boyfriend showed more aflexion I’d be happier. Or if he took me out more I’d be happier. Idk it just doesn’t make sense. For everything to be perfectly fine and then BOOM one day I’m considering running for the hills, leaving everything I love behind. All because he doesn’t hug or kiss me when I want him to. I feel like I’ve become really selfish during this point of my life. I keep wanting more and more and when I get it, it’s still not enough. I know you don’t reply to all comments and i completely understand. But if you or anyone else could please respond and help, I would be forever thankful.

    • It sounds like you’re making your partner entirely responsible for your happiness, Britt (which is very common). The healing work for you is to learn how to become your own best friend, you own source of support and wisdom. That doesn’t mean that we can’t rely on others but that we learn that we can attend to our own pain and fill our emptiness.

  12. Sheryl this a beautiful post! really touching, i love that with each challenge you see as an opportunity to grow. I really admire your mindset, honestly its so refreshing. Like David, my anxiety will sometimes latch onto thoughts of ‘what if what sheryl is talking about isnt true, what if youre the extreme case, how could you end up with your partner after having such bad anxiety about him etc.’ but i know this just fear. I find it almost funny now that ive noticed a pattern in my anxiety, its so desperate to stop us from loving and risk being vulnerable that it will literally tell us anything. I often find that after i have some clarity and realise i really do love my boyfriend, the anxiety then moves on to well what if his feelings arent enough, and then when i have clarity that his feelings for me are more than enough the anxiety will then shift to what if something is your relationship is wrong? i.e red flags. that latest what if is whats been on my mind lately, but i know deep down there are no red flags, no abuse, no betrayal, no addiction, he doesnt try control me where i go, who i see, who i talk to etc. so i know this is just my anxiety trying to hang its hat on whatever it can! i just find it ironic how convincing it can be and how it projects onto perfectly good people! thanks again for the post! love from Ireland x

  13. This is so beautifully written – you definitely have healing words! About a year ago you helped me with my wedding anxiety through your e-course and I have continued to follow your blog for more inspiration and insight into myself and all sorts of life situations 🙂 Recently, I found out my thyroid cancer came back and this post has given me so much inspiration and has encouraged me to look at these circumstances in a different way. Thanks so much for what you do!
    Lots of Love,

    • Sending you much love and prayers for healing, Laura.

      • Thank you 🙂

  14. you honestly are such an incredible woman sheryl 🙂 i dont think i could ever thank you enough for your wise words, and i think one of the many reasons me and so many others appreciate your work so much is because of how relatable you are! youve been through this and you done the work and you came out the other side and seen the light! you are the perfect example of how anxiety is gift 🙂

  15. Unless you’ve been there, you don’t know how it feels to have someone walk away from you, telling you how absolutely wonderful you are, looking at you with pure loving acceptance in their eyes as they start dating someone new because “nothing was wrong but something wasn’t right”; because “if I’m constantly having these nagging feelings it can’t be right”. You don’t know how it feels to look at someone you love who seems angry that the universe won’t let them be with you, like their feelings come from outside instead of inside. You don’t know how it feels to find this site and share it with this person that you love and have them tell you it describes exactly how they feel and yet still say “but how can I know unless I date more people.” You don’t know how it feels to express concern that the same thing will happen with the new guy and it will be even harder for her only to have her blow it off as “well, if so I guess I’ll need to date around more then.” The limbo is nearly unbearable, trying to move on and be healthy when you’re almost certain this person you love is going to really need you one day and if you move on you won’t be able to be there for them.

    Sheryl, I pray more people find your work. While I can’t understand everything someone who suffers from anxiety goes through, I’m certain that it’s better to face it with the support of people who truly understand. I pray more people find you before they abandon people who genuinely love them.

    For those of you who suffer, please, please reach out for help. Please do the work. If you are in a real relationship with a genuine and loving person, they may not be able to fully understand, but they will try. You don’t have to feel GUILTY about how you feel, it’s just a feeling. But please, please reach out for assistance, talk to your partner. If you’re here doing the e-course or really putting the work into understanding be proud of yourself. It takes courage to really look inside of ourselves and face the things that frighten us.

    I hope none of this compounds anyone’s anxiety. I’d only ask that you please, please try to face it now with this person who really loves you. If you’ve at least tried and it doesn’t work out you can make a decision together, you can know that you did the best you could, before you act and are stuck feeling guilty about what you DID instead of just about something you felt.

    • It is really enlightening to read the other perspective of all of this amxiety. Thanks so much for posting, I’m so sorry you’ve been through a difficult time…but please know that these words of encouragement mean a lot x

    • I used to be just like your partner. I truly believed some cosmic force was pulling me from my loving partner. I convinced myself in last relationships that they were never doing enough for me. From Sheryl’s work, I have realized how much pressure I can put on partners when I was not in touch with my own soul. I didn’t love myself, believe in myself, respect myself. How could I expect anyone else to do that for me. I am so sorry you have been hurt like this. I pray and hope that you will find peace in this situation and know that by posting that you really are speaking to many of us who need to hear the truth. That our actions greatly affect others negatively when they are done out of fear. I would encourage you to take one of Sheryl’s courses. They are life-changing.

    • Thank you for sharing this perspective with us. It has helped remind me that there are two of us in this, two souls being impacted, together.

      Sometimes, the feelings of anxiety and depression get to be so much, you think about ending it all: your relationship, and even your life.

      Your words remind me that I’m fighting for us both when I wrestle with my demons… so, when fighting for me doesn’t seem worth it anymore, perhaps fighting for him will.

  16. Dearest Sheryl,

    I’m so grateful to have found you! Your “healing hands” have catapulted my growth and healing to places I couldn’t even conceive of before. You’ve been instrumental in helping me save my own soul. Thank you for having the courage to do what you do. Thank you doesn’t even seem like enough, but hopefully, with your sensitivity, you can feel my profound gratitude. I am really looking forward to working with you during the Trust Yourself course in November. <3

    • Looking forward to getting to know you through Trust Yourself :).

  17. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for another beautiful post. I have been reading your blog religiously for the past several months, and it’s helped me so immensely. So far, it has helped me ride the transitions of being in relationship with the current love of my life. Now I am going through work related transitions, and seeing your writing in a new light ~ as a guide through a different kind of soul work (so far, my healing has mostly centered around relationships).

    Thank you for being there.

    One thing about the line that when life hurts the most, we grow the most. It struck me because I’ve done a little work around this as a sometimes false belief. I do believe that some of the most difficult experiences in my life led me to some of the most rewarding and important places; but it has also been healing to let in the truth that I can still grow when I’m not in tremendous amounts of pain, for instance, being in a healthy relationship, or working with a loving community of people. Perhaps they are different types of growth. One thing your work is currently helping me do, is acknowledge my core feelings around work transitions, and embrace my anxiety, to allow the growth that I have faith is happening, happen smoothly. Maybe it’s a period of grace.

    Thank you again so much for writing and inspiring / I’ll be reading.

    • Yes, we can absolutely grow during smooth and healthy times as well!

  18. Sheryl, I sincerely hope that you are right about anxiety being there for a reason. For the past 7 months I have suffered the most awful post wedding depression/anxiety. It literally came over night, 9 months into my marriage and hit me like a bus. I was incredibly happy prior to this and always described being newly wed as “wonderful”,”the cherry on the cake”. I just woke up one morning not happy at all and questioned everything and could not control my thoughts and it completely overwhelmed me, i couldn’t eat etc etc. My husband is the most amazing person with the kindest of hearts and our relationship is healthy and loving. I didn’t suffer any anxiety when he proposed or on our wedding day,not an ounce, it was what I wanted so though it was meant to be. Now every single day I ask myself do I love him, is it all enough,have i made a terrible mistake etc. This is going to seam crazy but I have always wondered am I in love (why would you marry him I hear you say…) BUT – I absolutely adore this man, I moved 400 miles to be with him and left all my family & friends and I was more than happy to do this as I just had to be with him-it felt right. it was us against the world and I 100% felt that as long as we were together I was happy and he was all I needed. I was content,affectionate and couldn’t get enough of him and got separation anxiety when away from him (which felt nice at the time). To me these are loving actions so i though I must be in love, (i have nothing to compare this to as not the relationship type,im 32 and figured i just dont love particularly easily). its like I love him but am unable to fully open my heart but I really want to. I am terrified to ‘soul search’ as I fear the outcome will mean we are not meant to be. I desporatly want to be with him and be happy and would love to say to myself with confidence,I know I’m in love with this man. On rare occasions when the anxiety has lifted I really do feel a sense of love but then fear will cloud everything and leave me confused.

    I suffered a terrible illness during our engagement which left me terribly depressed and unknowing if I would be able to walk down the isle by myself, fortunately everything turned out well but I do worry if going from such a low to such a high has had an effect. I’m usually a happy person but I just wasn’t strong enough to deal with the illness.

    I want to subscribe to an e-course to help me,if anyone could advise which one would be best I would be so greatful. I have read the book but feel I need to go further.

    Sheryl,without you words I fear I may have walked away from my marriage. I am forever greaful you went to Brazil!!! You really do bring me piece and clarity when I need it most.

    Thank you and sorry this post is so long. I do feel very alone and unable to speak to anyone about how i really feel. Any help/advice on e courses from anyone would be so appreciated

    • I’m so sorry you’re struggling, but I assure you it will lead to awakening and gifts you’ve never known. I strongly recommend the Conscious Weddings E-Course. Although I created the course for engaged women and men, it’s become quite clear that the material applies equally to anyone suffering from relationship anxiety. It will offer you the tools, information, and perhaps most importantly, the support you’re looking for. You’re not alone and you don’t have to endure this struggle alone.

  19. Thanks for the blog and all the ways you help us Sheryl. The way I’m starting to think of things is like this. Everything thats happened since the beginning of time, has happened in exactly the only way it ever could and the only way my life could turn out is the way it has. If I apply that to my own life, I see that all the bad stuff, the anxiety, depression, loss and pain, its only a part of me that builds the whole, which includes various other good parts. I think with anxiety I overfocus on the bad parts and this makes a distorted picture. Your trip to Brazil wasn’t a picnic on the beach, but as you say, it sent you towards so much beautiful things, your husband and children and all of this work, your big picture has a lot of beauty.

    I’m also trying to apply this to life in general. I don’t know if you remember but I was talking to you on one of the phone groups about my anxiety over death. I’m still struggling over this, but again, I’m trying to look at the bigger picture and not over-focus on death. So I have to accept I’m mortal and when I’m gone I’m gone, but I also have to think that this is the only way it could ever be. Paraphrasing from the Untethered Soul, that life couldn’t exist without death. All the great things in life, love, music, food, wouldn’t exist without death. So I’m trying to look at the big picture and appreciate that my life doesn’t go on in SPITE of death, but it goes on because of death. Everything I love and everything I’m afraid to lose, including myself, only exists in a universe where death exists.

    But as I say, I’m still struggling. Its hit me in the gut a lot today, that one day I’ll be dead. Since the anxiety first really hit its focused on my relationship, then my sexuality, and then death, and death really dwarfed everything before it. Sometimes I worry that this issue, this fear, is too big, and that even this work cant save me. But I guess I have to try anyway, and I have noticed some small improvements.

    • Yes, of course I remember that conversation ;). As I write in this post, some of our deepest issues take the longest to heal. You’re struggling with your fear of death, which, as you know, is at the core of anxiety for many people. You’re wrestling with this, writing about it, reading, thinking, grappling with the fear it incites. And perhaps all of this inner work will result in some way that you help others one day as they struggle with the fear of death. You’re a very deep thinker, lennonpie, especially for one so young. Hang in there as you wrestle. It will release its hold on you at some point, and you will be the wiser for it.

    • hi lennonpie,

      I just wanted to recommend a book to you called “Fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

      It deals with fear of death. It is very, very wise, and was very comforting (and continues to be, 3 reads later!) to me.

  20. Sheryl,

    This may seem slightly off, but what if I feel like I’m restricted by my spouse? He doesn’t restrict me, but sometimes I feel as thought I have to restrict myself to be with him? Does that make sense? And then I think, well, does that mean I think I’m better than him? Is he smart enough to be with me? Or, does he actually love me enough to be with me?

    I feel silly writing this and I’m definitely in a spike right now. Not from your blog, which was beautiful, but from what happened right before I sat down to read it. I definitely feel silly right now…

    • Tara, I feel the SAME WAY! I seem to restrict myself with him for some reason, perhaps something that grew out of fearing if I “bettered myself” that I would grow apart from him, or think I’m better than him. Then I worry, “well, does that mean I’m with him for the wrong reasons? Does that mean I’m settling for some guy just because he likes the messed up me?” Even though he’s wonderful and loving and prior to my relationship anxiety, I thought we were perfect for each other. Part of me feels like I restrict myself like this because I grew up watching my father restrict every little thing my mother wanted to do for herself, and then told us that she was selfish for doing so. So I am TERRIFIED of working on me, of doing things for me, because I feel guilty. Maybe this has transferred into this current fear of feeling like I’m restricting myself?

      Sheryl, what do you think? This is a new one for me, too, and I feel horrendous and confused about it. I’m worried it’s not anxiety twisting my thoughts around, but just me being unhealthy and forcing my relationship even though I love him.

      • Sarah,

        I think this is my fundamental anxiety spike, as well… the nagging sense that I’m restricting myself in order to feel or maintain a connection with my girlfriend because I sooooo want it to work. I’m not sharing this to spike your own anxiety, but to hopefully offer some encouragement and awareness you are not alone in struggling to navigate your head and your heart.

        You’re situation sounds a lot like mine, and I think it’s heart-wrenching and causes a lot of anxiety because we seem to be so compatible “on paper” with our significant others, but struggle to sense the feelings and peace we believe love should carry.

        Regarding my girlfriend, I so want to love and be loved by a woman of this caliber. I was first drawn to her (we met online) because even over e-mail I sensed a strong moral character and deeply compassionate spirit. I even remember thinking when reading one of her earliest e-mails, “I think I kind of love her,” as in I sensed a depth of connection or potential there that I hadn’t in some time. I have since learned we also share a long list of common values, compatibility in love languages (we both highly value affirmation and affection), and we are consistently and intentionally good to one another and both mature enough to know that love is a daily choice. And we address our few differences with thoughtfulness, goodwill and compassion. In short, we’re just good to one another.

        But it feels forced. It feels insane and awful to even write that. But despite all I just wrote above, when I am “fully present” there often emerges a strong sense that “it’s just not there,” and I often wrestle with an ambiguity or lack of physical attraction toward her.

        Again, don’t let this cause alarm or spike your anxiety. I’m writing this to encourage you that your path, no matter how seemingly insane, is not unique. And I’m also encouraging you to be present, but to do so with patience. What I mean is, make an effort to stop restricting yourself, even if it brings an inner terror that it means you will lose this guy, but also stay put… at least for a significant season. Let the feelings and anxiety wash over you, even if in the moment they seem (“seem” being the operative word, here) to only confirm that you two aren’t meant to be. Choose to love him today, anyway.

        It’s quite possible those feelings carry a deeper message, and that your anxiety toward your partner has more to do with some deeper wound or fear than your genuine feelings toward your partner (you’ve already touched on some family dynamics in your post). I mean, how often have you seen your own fears, thoughts, circumstances mirrored – almost verbatim – on this website by people who have grown to experience healing and relational love? But our effort to control the outcome by restricting ourselves only exacerbates the situation. Give your heart and head a season to flesh this out, but do it from a place of being present and intentional love toward your partner.

        Be present. Be patient. Love your partner, despite the terror of the moment.

        That’s my two cents. And, as you might have guessed, I wrote this as much for myself as for you, ‘cause I’m right there with you ☺

  21. oh hang on…
    I think I may have just stumbled across the answer.
    Your paragraph on regret was speaking to me but I couldn’t quite make out how.
    I read it over and over.
    Can it be I have never made my peace with the cancer situation?
    I’ve remained so angry at it for so long and what it cost us emotionally.
    I’ve never taken the time to look at it from the perspective of how it made us grow.
    What it actually gave to us.
    I’ve been so fixated on what it took from us.

    Oh wow.
    Thanks Sheryl

  22. Sheryl,
    My jaw dropped as I read your description of the experience you had in Brazil. The imagery was so startling…and in fact, last night, I even had a nightmare about giant cockroaches!! They were all over my body and every time I went to swat one away, another one would reappear. I was terrified, just as you must have been. My dream keeps coming back to me today, in a very positive way actually. I guess the key is to make friends with these cockroaches, to get to know them, disgusting and frightening as they are. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your past and for reminding us once again that it’s the scary ‘stuff’ of life that helps us grow and learn to open our hearts. Much love, xxx

  23. This article is just, wow. I began reading it yesterday and finished today and I must say that it’s PERFECT timing. I recently signed up for the conscious wedding e course and quickly began to feel better about my feelings as I’ve been like many of the posters here. I fly out to get married four weeks today and I’ve never felt so much peace. I say the timing is perfect because today, I happened to speak with my long term ex, the break up with whom I have struggled for a number of years. Feelings of immense guilt have really tormented me but speaking with him today has brought me such healing. This article has 100% compounded today’s breakthrough. I could go on but words can’t express how I feel as I type.

    For me, Sheryl’s work, thus the work I have begun to do and God’s timing have been life changing for me. I’m certain that this work will also benefit me as I eventually transition to motherhood and the rest. Sheryl, you are a real blessing 🙂

    • Thank you. Many blessings to you on your final stretch as you transition into marriage.

  24. This is the best and most important piece you’ve written in the last 2 years. Hands down.

    That’s a bold statement, I know 🙂 But I just read it aloud to my newlywed husband and completely teared up when you talked about healing hands.

    Thank you. Truly, truly, thank you. Your message has changed my little 27 year old life!

  25. Thank you for your writing. I am on quite the journey of life and love, in between careers, determining if the man I’m with is the one I choose to marry (I did your ecourse!), and other big questions. I think sometimes anxiety begets more anxiety and I find myself becoming frustrated with not knowing how to just “snap out of it” even though I wholeheartedly know to honor my unique journey. I appreciate your reminder that all is unfolding perfectly and that anxiety is a gift in its own way as one of those challenging life teachers. At least it allows me to exhale a sigh of relief that although I’m not exactly where I hope to be in making some big decisions, it will all be okay. I think there is so much anxiety sometimes when choosing the right partner in ones late 30’s (after a divorce), with the biological clock ticking so loudly, with figuring out what for career and where to live. Uncertainty, disappointment, fear…as you mentioned, are all base causes. I will try and explore this more deeply in a meditation to search for the opportunities of this time that I’ve become so anxious about. I know it’s a gift but I get scared I’m somehow missing something. Thank you again!

    • Thank you, Kim. None of this is easy work, but if you stay with it you’ll find the lessons you’re meant to learn.

  26. Kim,
    I understand how you feel. My anxiety started almost a year ago, just before I hit 30. :). I am starting to see my anxiety as a blessing in disguise. After seeing a therapist that actually told me “maybe the way you are feeling, is a sign from God that you should leave” I was shocked first of all because I started to believe that maybe she was right, and second because I have never doubted myself before with my relationship. So why I was doubting myself now? I don’t know yet if it’s because I was going to hit 30 biological clock ticking and all, or because I realized that this man was here to stay, besides my anxiety and all my imperfect traits. Luckily I found this site, which has been an eye opener. It has change my vision on life and anxiety.

  27. I was just wondering if adopting a puppy with your partner be considered a big transition , and give you anxiety at first ??

  28. I undertook a skype session with Sheryl last year. I had doubts about my partner and felt that I’d had them from the beginning of the relationship. Sheryl asked me “how do you think you would feel if he left you?” and I answered “relieved”. She advised me I really wouldn’t know how I would actually feel should that day ever come, not really. I have done no work on myself since. I just let the problem perpetuate and continued to feel anxious about it. I am now sitting here in an empty living room feeling empty inside. Yesterday a part of me died when my wonderful partner told me he didn’t feel the same way about me anymore. I had struggled internally for so long about my feelings for him, I’d failed to even consider his feelings for me may change as I constantly fought, and voiced, these feelings of anxiety and did nothing to control them. I will never let anxiety rule me – and ruin me – ever again. I start my work TODAY.

    • Hi Alana: I’m so sorry for your loss. Sometimes, sadly, this is what it takes to wake us up and inspire us to do the work. You are fully capable of doing what needs to be done internally to make your necessary changes. Now is the time.

  29. I am ashamed as a man to be going through this; I usually thought its women stuff. my anxiety triggered during
    engagement, though I wanted to cancel
    the wedding because of the anxiety but
    the time was too short.
    I went ahead with the wedding, shedding tears on my wedding day.
    but since after the wedding till date, I
    still struggle with depression. it has
    been the most painful challenge I have
    ever faced in life and is ruining my career, my social and spiritual life
    and the worst thing is that its making me regret my marriage and I feel no love for her again. I have suggested to my wife that we will
    need a separation so that I can
    work on my emotion, but I am just ashamed of letting people know that I am unhappy in my marriage. Its now ten months of unhappiness. Coming across this blog gave me a glimpse of hope today. Where should I start from? I will be glad to hear any response

  30. Hi Sheryl. So relieved to know that there is a special soul out there like you taking time to research and understand relationship anxiety. I was diagnosed with GAD 6 years ago and I’ve been put on medication and also seen doctors who don’t understand my anxiety and that I only get anxious when I’m in a relationship. I first had an anxiety episode 6 years ago because I started feeling unsure of my boyfriend then. I was so bad I became disfunctional and literally thought I was losing the plot completely. I’ve been in 3 relationships since and none worked out cos of my fear of feeling unsure and then getting anxious. I’m now with an amazing man I don’t want to let go. I was crazy about him and moment the butterflies went after a few days I started to feel unsure thinking now I don’t like him. But I’m trying to face my fears as it will be stupid to lose a man like him. This year I have had so many peaks of anxiety the moment I feel unsure. The moment I’m not anxious I can enjoy him and count my blessings. I feel like I’m in a constant battle with myself cos I find relationships stressful. When I am single my anxiety subsides as I don’t have a relationship to face. Point is, it will happen with anyone I meet once the “infatuation” stage wears off. I want to keep this man, he helps me through my battles and doesn’t have the urge to run but to support me and stand by me and be with me long term. Thank you for your work. You have given me so much hope. I thought I was crazy and alone. Love from SA!

    • I’m glad you’re here, Mich. Have you considered the e-course? Working through intense relationship fear is best done with effective tools and community, which is what the course offers.

  31. Sheryl, thanks for your thoughtful writings and work.

    I found the words below on another of your posts, “What if I learn to trust myself and then…” and it spoke directly to my situation, but I must confess, I sense I might be the exception (yes, I know, the wounded self always thinks its the exception!).

    I’m in a loving, compatible dating relationship, but when I turn inward to “attend to self,” I sense peace only when I consider ending the relationship. She is a remarkable woman, full of character and kindness, we are highly compatible “on paper,” and we are consistently good to one another. But when I am fully present with myself, I sense anxiety toward our relationship, a nagging sense that I don’t truly desire her as a partner, and that I already know what I’m supposed to do (break up). It feels like I am forcing it, quite frankly. I welcome your thoughts, as I certainly care this woman, but seem incapable of loving her fully and freely from my deepest self, at present.

    I want to do the interior work, whatever the result, but I am afraid I’m going to lose (and hurt) an incredibly supportive and kind woman in the process (I should mention that I have rOCD and anxiety tendencies, as those undoubtedly play a role).

    Again, I welcome your thoughts!


    “My response is, first, to offer reassurance: I’ve never seen someone in a loving, compatible relationship choose to leave after choosing to turn inward and develop self-love and self-trust. It just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen because people who find their way to my work almost invariably are blessed to be involved with caring, honest, wonderful partners. It doesn’t happen because you already know that your truth is that you don’t want to leave otherwise you wouldn’t feel terrified of discovering that your truth is that you want to leave! And it doesn’t happen because your anxiety isn’t a warning sign; it’s a defense mechanism.

    • Anxiety can masquerade as “the peace of knowing” but you are the only one who can ultimately learn to decipher what is deep truth and what is anxiety masquerading as truth.

      • Thanks, Sheryl. I look forward to working with you to gain those tools of discernment.


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