At the Heart of Anxiety

“The final stage of healing is using what happens to you to help other people. That is healing in itself.” – Gloria Steinem

“Why me?” people often ask when they’re dragged into the underworld of anxiety in any form. “Why do they have it so easy? Why does it look like everyone else glides through life when I struggle?”

I’ve written many times on this site and in my courses about the gift of being highly sensitive and the gems that are gleaned from doing our healing work. And I’ve touched on the final stage of healing, which Gloria Steinem succinctly summarizes above, which is to take what you’ve learned and help others.  The two are intimately linked, for it’s those who embrace the gifts of their sensitivity, which means attending to anxiety, who are more easily able to live life in alignment with their true selves. One of the most gratifying aspects of my work is watching my clients and course members synthesize what they’ve learned and fly into the world. This passage from a member of my 2015 round of Trust Yourself program comes to mind:

I have to tell you that my life changed because of your 30-day program. Not only did I quit my hospital job to go on my Buddhist Pilgrimage to India and Nepal, I have begun the work of becoming a Humitarian Relief worker – a lifelong dream. My work as a Hospice Nurse, which I returned to after quitting the hospital, is per diem status which gives me the freedom to be gone for chunks of time. I have let fear go and stepped into courage to follow my passion. My first mission is in September, when I will join a small group of committed clinicians to trek into the Upper Dolpo Region of Nepal for 30 days where we will offer 5 clinics along the way. We will be visiting some of the highest settlements on the planet (hiking between 10K and 18K ft) and moving through terrain on the Tibetan Plateau of the Himalaya that has only been open to foreigners since 1992. I cannot begin to imagine what I will learn. I pray (and trust) that I am of service to those we endeavor to help.

I read once if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose. I needed to Trust Myself to do this, and I often have to remind myself things you taught me, so I still listen to your MP3s – so wonderfully supportive – and I continue to trust and KNOW that I am on my path.

Many people find my work because they’re struggling with anxiety. They’re struggling in their relationship or in their work or with their health. But mostly this means they’re struggling with their own inner realms, for we know that anxiety, however it manifests, is a doorway or portal into Self. At the heart of anxiety is a call for healing. And at the heart of healing is an invitation to bring the runes of our suffering into the world. By “into the world” I don’t mean in a grand way, like the Glorias cited at the beginning and the end of this article. I mean in any way that calls you: bringing more compassion to your children (because you’ve learned to be compassionate with yourself first), bringing more kindness to the earth (because you’ve learned that you deserve kindness), following a lifelong dream, as the member shared above. When anxiety decreases, love and kindness increase. And any time we walk with more love and kindness we make the world a better place.

We heal not only for ourselves. It’s a starting point, yes, and a very important one, but ultimately this inner healing naturally ripples outward. The world needs you to do this work. Sometimes when resistance is high and the ego says insists on not budging, by which I mean a client is having trouble committing to the daily tools required to lead to change, I’ll say, “If you can’t do it for you, can you do it for your future children?” The same is true for joining a course like this. I often hear, “But what if I learn to trust myself and I realize I need to leave my relationship?” Like I said, at the heart of anxiety is a call for healing, and when we commit to healing we grow our capacity to love, not shrink it. Does growing our capacity to love lead to the end of loving, committed partnerships? Short answer: No. (For the longer answer, click on the link above.)

Healing is not navel-gazing. It’s not selfish, luxurious, or periphery. It’s what our world needs, and it needs it now. It needs each and every one of you to reach into the depths of your soul and find the strength, courage, and commitment to take full responsibility for your pain, learn to work with your thoughts and tend to your feelings, stop waiting for someone else to do it, for someone else to rescue you, and instead step into the power of your path. It’s not your mother’s job or your father’s job to fix your pain. It’s not your partner’s job to fan the fire of your soul and make you feel alive. It’s your job and yours alone. And the time is now.

The quote at the top of this article is from the documentary, Seeing Allred, about the powerhouse attorney Gloria Allred. I don’t know how Gloria Allred healed the trauma that she suffered in her twenties when she was raped at gunpoint by a doctor in Mexico, became pregnant, then endured a back-alley abortion, but I know that she took that trauma and spent the rest of her life advocating for women and the underserved in this country. She has single-handedly and with a conviction and unflappable self-trust I rarely see changed the face of our culture in countless ways. She doesn’t care what others think. She doesn’t try to win popularity contests. She moves forward with a vision and passion to help, and she sees this commitment to helping others as everyone’s responsibility. I wholeheartedly agree. And what I know in my bones is that the ability to help others must come from as whole of a place inside as possible, otherwise it’s just one more way that we distract and avoid our own pain.

“First we cry and then we march,” Gloria Allred says. I love this quote because it speaks to how important it is to feel our pain and turn inward before turning outward and taking action. But the action is equally as important. We march in different ways. Sometimes we march by telling our stories with vulnerability. Sometimes we march by raising our children. Sometimes we march by learning to love ourselves and another human with as open a heart as possible, softening our fears and moving toward intimate love every single day.

But we march so much more effectively when we turn inward first and learn to trust ourselves on the deepest possible level, when we’re not constantly second guessing our decisions and allowing others’ opinions and perceptions to guide our actions. If you struggle with caring about what others think, if you struggle with making decisions, if your perfectionist and inner critic is at the helm of your ship, and if you’re waiting for someone else to do the hard work for you but know that it’s time to develop enough of a Self that you can begin to take the reins, please join me for my next round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt. The program begins on Saturday, April 28, 2018 and I look forward to seeing you there.

25 comments to At the Heart of Anxiety

  • lauren

    Hi Sheryl,

    This post really resonates with me. I am suffering from doubts about my career path. I am in law school (mostly because my dad told me I should go), but really do not want to become a lawyer! I actually have no idea what I want to be! I spend all day feeling incompetent and like a failure. I am in my twenties (so I know this is normal).
    I wish I could just meditate for a few minutes and have an A-HA moment and figure out my life.

    I am the product of hugely successful parents and feel like an imposter no matter what I try! I just want to do something that does not make me feel like I am betraying myself in a major way. I love how this article tells me to turn inward and to try to trust myself without letting the things that others say get in the way of my truth.

    • It takes more than a few minutes to have an A-ha moment but it sounds like you’re on the right track in terms of taking the first step of naming that you’re doing something that you don’t want to do to try to please others.

  • Gemma

    I was suffering with terrible relationship anxiety after moving in with my partner of 7 years and fiance of 2 but reading your blog posts has really helped me come through to the other side. I think this section just hits the nail on the head “It’s not your mother’s job or your father’s job to fix your pain. It’s not your partner’s job to fan the fire of your soul and make you feel alive. It’s your job and yours alone. And the time is now”. We have to take responsibility to fix our own pain and fill our own well of self which is hard after relying on other people doing this your whole life. However I’ve recently started recognising when I’m filling my well of self and it feels great to know it’s something I have control over.

    Thank you for all your help Sheryl, I don’t know if I would still be with my wonderful partner now if it wasn’t for you and your blog posts!

    • Understanding at the level of wisdom (as opposed to mind) that we have to take responsibility for ourselves is KEY, and how wonderful that you’ve been able to receive and implement this truth.

  • I love your posts Sheryl. I respect and appreciate my sensitive nature (I didn’t always when I was younger), but also have hard times with the anxiety that seems to go along with it. Maybe over time I will see more the gem-side as you described, and less of wanting to wish away the anxiety.

    • There’s nothing fun about anxiety, and of course you want it to go away. But yes, anxiety and sensitivity do so often seem to go hand-in-hand and the more we embrace our sensitivity and decipher the messages embedded in anxiety the less we suffer and the more we learn.

  • Ammu

    I realised what I am, like the relationship that I am in has made me realise what kind of a person I am and makes me want to become a better person. I just wanted to mention that what you said here, is exactly what my boyfriend told me yesterday. He told me its only compassion and heart to help others can actually stop you from becoming selfish as a result of your anxiety..

  • Ammu

    I am having relationship anxiety for last 6 months with physical symptoms like tiredness and headache and lack of interest for things. My fear and critical mind is making me question everything, the nature of my relationship and also is sometimes critical of my amazing boyfriend. Often we ave conflict when I get overwhelmed with the intrusive thoughts and difficult emotions.

  • Ammu

    I have commented on various other blog posts of yours. Your posts and my boyfriend has made me hold on and believe that I will heal, if not immediately, but with time. Even at most of the times, my anger and other difficult emotions make me question every aspect of my life, i know that I will reach the end of the tunnel that I am in.

  • Eleonora

    Thank you for yet another blog post that feels true. Related to how us sensitives can help the world I would like to add something I heard Pema Chödrön saying:

    Only if you have experienced fear, can you know fearlessness.

    With love and appreciation,

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    I needed this blog today, I felt anxious today that pit feeling, after i had this thought i have been doing the tools, i should be feeling good, i should be feeling completely broken free anxiety. I feel like im still stuck in this anxiety, breathing, journaling, is there more i should be doing more tools, or is time? Am i still transitioning im not backwards i just still feel stuck. Even on my good days, i still feel i havent completely broken free from anxiety, is it in my head? I still free im stuck im in knots coming from my stomach.

  • Angela

    Am i missing something? Sheryl

  • Mr. North

    Hello Sheryl,

    I wanted to finally reach out. I have been reading several posts and I have gone through the first 10 lessons in the RA-course.

    I have a story I want to share, and I would love your wise thoughts in return. I talked to a friend of mine a year ago about my girlfriend and I shared some thoughts regarding my doubt. She replied:

    “It takes four seasons to understand a new friendship/relationship so give it some time. Youth has the immediacy factor while wisdom has the observation factor (like at least a year!!!). Feelings take time to mature while the friendship takes care of itself when all the factors of a good friendship are there. Are you laughing heartily with one another – as you need to make one another laugh. Are you both good communicators with one another. Can you almost finish one another’s sentences without knowing it?…that kind of thing. You want to fall in love with your best friend.”

    I can honestly say that I can say yes to all that she wrote. Except that I haven’t fallen in love. I love her very much, deeply. But I have rarely felt butterflies. The thoughts of marriage and children have only briefly surfaced in my mind. I am truly with an amazing creature. A beautiful being. And I am sad. I am sad for not having those thoughts. For not truly appreciating her. It often makes me cry. With the fact that I love her so much but the feeling of being in love is absent.

    I have had several girlfriends and can honestly say that there have always been some red flags. In this situation there are none. I couldn’t possibly ask for a better partner. Still, every day I feel uneasy, unhappy. Every day I think to myself that his relationship must soon end. Those thoughts make me unbelievably sad and I cry, hard. I have been so fortunate to have met a girl that is everything that I have always envisioned as the perfect match in terms of values, drive, ambitions exercise, nature, family and so on. And she is beautiful too.

    I have always believed that love is a feeling, and I have used my feelings as a compass when it comes to love. I keep failing. So out of frustration this time I started searching. I could not accept that I would also let this girl walk. So I searched the web for guidance and I found plenty. At first I was told that doubt means don’t. Something I have always adhered to. But I could not believe it was that simple any longer. That we have no control or saying when it comes to feelings. So I started to read that love is action, love is a choice. Ah! I thought. Can I choose love? And I also read that doubt does not necessarily mean don’t. That doubt could be a symptom of anxiety, relationship anxiety. I completely bought into it and the more I read the more I could see myself in the writing. It fit so well. I started doing the work with the help of you, Sheryl. I was crying as I discovered your work. When I saw that I was not alone. When I saw that it most likely was nothing wrong other than he fact that I have commitment anxiety.

    I have gone through much of your work by now and every time I read your work I relax. I see my girlfriend through somewhat different glasses. But soon after I put it away the intrusive thoughts come rambling back. They are there every day. Every day! I am so tired, and sad. I no longer have much hope that what I am truly experiencing is relationship anxiety. I have definitely had my periods of anxiety but never before over a relationship. Maybe the feelings are vital after all. I have just never experienced this before and I don’t know what to do.

    My father tells me I am an idiot (somewhat jokingly). That girls like that don’t grow on trees. That I should settle down soon. That I am lucky to have a girl like that love me.

    I remember reading the book 7 habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey where he has conversation with a man and he writes:

    “My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
    “The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
    “That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
    “Love her,” I replied.
    “I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
    “Love her.”
    “You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
    “Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
    “But how do you love when you don’t love?”
    “My friend , love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

    Is it really that “simple”? I have been showing so much love. Because I truly want to. And yes, I feel more loving towards her. But I still feel very uneasy. Not much changes in my heart.

    Friends I have spoken to says that your mind can fool you but your heart never lies.

  • Leslie

    Dear Mr. North,
    Ah, butterflies. It is a drug, isn’t it Mr. North? That feeling of time and space collapsing to a pinpoint until nothing exists but you and your lover, your souls becoming one in a rapturous explosion of light and feeling? Everything suspended, like a film on pause?
    Have you had that experience? The heart palpitations? The intense longing? The feeling that every moment in her presence bristles with energy? If you’ve had that feeling, count yourself lucky, I guess. You know what the poets are making a big whoopdy-do about.
    From the vantage of 25 years married…I look back on the last time I had butterflies—over 30 years ago—and it was over a man who was a serial cheater. What did I have in the end? Dead butterflies.
    Think of the great love stories, Mr. North. Romeo and Juliet. Antony and Cleopatra. Lots of passion and yearning and cortisol spikes and oh, crap, look, tragedy, too! Shakespeare, the greatest psychologist of them all (no offense, Sheryl), he knew the drill, big love means big trouble. That’s always how it was for me, anyway, flat on my face in dog poo…every time!
    In my experience, it doesn’t feel quite so perilous when someone really loves you back. That vertiginous sensation of being completely out of control in free fall without a parachute, never existed when I felt loved. Because I felt safe, well, or “safer.” Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be reading Sheryl’s wise words if I felt completely safe.
    I never felt like 10,000 volts went through me when I met my husband, but I sensed something so much bigger, the night we met—28 years ago almost to the day—I thought to myself as we talked, “This man has a soul.”
    And given our temperaments—we are both passionate, noisy people—the relationship has never lacked for all the things that come with passion. Relationship anxiety for me. Career anxiety for him. Fights. Deep affection. And profound love, the profoundest I have ever known. Like breathing it is, that vital.
    We’ve grown up quite a bit, Mr. North, and endured the many mistakes of our humanness and the triumphs, too. Do I feel “love” every day? No, not really. Sometimes, I hate him like crazy. And sometimes, I must to admit, he’s a bit like the furnishings. Kinda there.
    It’s during those fallow times that it’s important for me to feel in love with my own life and my own creative projects while also finding ways to lean into him. Years ago after he had been gone for a week backpacking, I made him a peach pie for his return. I had missed him, but not desperately. But in the act of making that pie, something I knew he would enjoy, I felt so warm and connected, well, it was then that I learned, love is action.
    Go make your girl a pie, Mr. North. Whatever that looks like for her and for you. And hopefully in 25 years you will still be riding those undulating currents of love. Up and down, and around, like a dance.

    You have my very best wishes.

    • This brought me to tears, Leslie. This is especially poetically poignant:

      “From the vantage of 25 years married…I look back on the last time I had butterflies—over 30 years ago—and it was over a man who was a serial cheater. What did I have in the end? Dead butterflies.”

      Dead butterflies. Isn’t that just what comes when you pursue a distancer who isn’t ready for real love? Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

      • Leslie

        Oh, yes! What’s interesting, too, is that when Mr. Dead Butterflies boogied, I didn’t even miss him. My ego was bruised, badly! But my heart…not as much.

  • Angela

    So you dont complete break free from anxiety, so why have many people who have done your course. Have broken free frim anxiety, they have spoken to you about their challenging jpurney and then they said they never felt so good. I hate to think that i have to deal with this anxiety all my life. You have said in your courses with time you break FREE from anxiety, especially after i have done the work, i wanna completely be free from this annoying bullshit.

    • Anxiety is a messenger, so it will arrive when we’re off-kilter in some way. When I talk about breaking free from anxiety what I mean is that we can break free from allowing it to take over our lives. Once you understand the language of anxiety and attend to your inner worlds, when anxiety does come it doesn’t last because you’re able to decipher its messages and do the work of turning inward.

  • Angela

    I totally understand Sheryl, I will continue to donthe tools daily, it just gets too much sometimes. I feel i am being punished from my family with their immature narcisstic behaviour and negative attitude. I feel so overwhelmed when i feel stuck in anxiety thats another issue i have to face daily. Yep i find it so irratating and exhausting. I do feel better, its just annoying it interferes with my life. 🤗😘

  • A

    Sheryl your posts always have the most perfect timing. My boyfriend and I have been together for over 7 years now and we’ve been living together for about 3 years. Ever since we got together we always talked about a future together and marriage. We’ve definitely had a few bumps along the way in terms of losing our passion towards one another, lack of communication, fighting and I made the horrible mistake of giving attention to a “crush” I had on a guy at work (long story short things got inappropriate and we flirted a lot and hung out but I lied to my partner about it). Although I didn’t sleep with this other person I betrayed my partners trust and put my energy somewhere else. And for that I was extremely sorry and regretful. So we decided to work on our relationship and I started seeing a therapist. I’ve worked a lot on myself and after that happened is when I started feeling this anxiety. But it wasn’t just about my relationship. It affected all aspects of my life and spiraled out of control. It’s gotten a little better with the help of therapy but I still struggle a lot.

    Fast forward to now and things have recently gotten better for us. We’re having sex more often (we had the longest dry spell ever) and there’s a peace between us. It’s easier to connect. We definitely still struggle with fighting and my anxiety will still get the best of me at times but I’ve been thinking of seeing my therapist again to help me with this. So many people we know are married or are getting engaged and it made me think about our future. I also recently saw on social media that one of my exes just got engaged. And I didn’t feel jealous in any way…it just made me feel like I want that too. And I would like to share that with my boyfriend. But my anxiety is tapping me on my shoulder saying “ You only want to be engaged because everyone else is doing it.” “You’re not being genuine.” “What if you’re living a lie and you don’t really love your boyfriend.” I know these things aren’t completely true but it’s so scary and confusing. I’m still going forward and plan on getting engaged soon like we talked about, but it’s also so painful to have these thoughts. It almost feels like sabotage because in a way it’s like I think I don’t deserve my happy ending.

    • A

      I would also like to add that I notice my anxiety will hang it’s hat during the most difficult of times for me. Lately I have been struggling with anxiety so badly and depression (I suspect I must be at least a little depressed as I don’t feel too good about myself or certain aspects of my life). My family has been impacted by addiction recently and that’s definitely taken a toll on me. Sometimes I feel numb about certain things and it’s like I’m just going through the motions of life so to speak. And ever since I was a kid I always had to be my own parent. I don’t have the best relationships with either of my parents and that has probably affected me the greatest. I always carry this emptiness with me and a deep sadness. Because I still feel alone.

  • Ana

    Vow such a powerful text, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us and speaking about topics that nobody dares to. Just bought Your Wedding planner! It’s amazing. Thank you
    :))

  • Faith

    I am training to be a counsellor myself here in England (two more years at least to go) and obviously with this kind of training, you can’t hide from your problems. I have suffered with relationship anxiety ever since 2001 and this contributed to the end of my first marriage. Now on my second marriage and five years into it, I have constant doubts and worries. Chances are, I can’t essentially be helped with this, but I’ll give it a shot. As those who suffer from RA know, we deal in absolutes, it must be set in stone that we are meant to be with this person. Otherwise, we torture ourselves continuously.
    The difficulty I have in my recovery is, my husband has hoarding disorder and chronic disorganisation and has for many years. His long road to recovery has begun, but still, I wonder am I doing the wrong thing remaining with the person? I have generalised anxiety disorder as well, so the mess does trigger me quite often. I want to believe I am doing the right thing; the potential for growth is massive, but it does affect my mental health, but at the same time I don’t want RA to beat me. This would be my last realtionship as I have put myself through hell for years….I do have a feeling what the answer will be; it is an addiction get out now?