This is What Often Unleashes Anxiety and Panic

by | Nov 15, 2020 | 20s, Anxiety, Moving, Parenthood transitions, Retirement/Grandparent, Transitions - General | 50 comments

As I’ve shared many times, the panic attack that dragged me into the underworld of my unearthed pain and initiated me into the landscape of anxiety that would become my life’s work occurred at age twenty-one, three months before graduating from college. What stands out in that previous sentence? It’s the piece that many therapists miss when they’re working with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and panic attacks: What transition was the client in at the onset of the first attack?

I was three months away from leaving college and entering the terrifying decade of my 20s. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, no career plans, no job leads. The vast unknown of “the rest of my life” sprawled out before me like a dark and menacing sea, roiling with the words “uncertainty” and “ambivalence” pitching in the waves. Through the fissure of this vulnerable state, my unshed grief and unacknowledged pain – the shadow realms that I had successfully stuffed below the veneer of polished perfectionism and the invulnerable story that said “my life is great” –  came roaring to the surface in the form of a panic attack. Energy can only be stuffed down for so long; eventually, it reaches a breaking point and pops out the top in the form of anxiety and panic. This is often when our inner work begins.

Why is it so important to understand the link between anxiety/panic and transitions? Because if we don’t have a context in which to contain the first attacks – and often each subsequent attack – we’re more likely to try to attach an erroneous interpretation to them like, “This must mean I’m in the wrong relationship” (relationship anxiety) or “This must mean that I’ve caused harm and don’t remember” (harm anxiety). The archetypal anxiety themes are placeholders for the pain that needs attention, and while it can be beneficial to explore these themes from a depth psychological perspective where we unpack the metaphor (never taking them at face value), it can also be beneficial to put the content of the thought aside and instead recognize the pain and needs that are clamoring for attention.

This is why one of the first questions I ask a coaching client is, “What transition were you in when the anxiety or panic first showed up?” I’m asking this question both regarding the current manifestation of anxiety and also in terms of how anxiety first showed up as a child. These are the most common transitions that unleash anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and panic attacks:

  • Loss of a loved one (including a pet)
  • Birth of a sibling
  • Parents’ divorce
  • Starting school
  • Moving
  • A parent going back to work
  • A parent being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness
  • A breakup
  • Going to college
  • Getting married
  • Becoming a parent
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Job loss/career transition
  • Buying a house
  • Midlife
  • Pandemic

As I wrote in The Wisdom of Anxiety:

Most people struggle to some degree through the major milestones in life—kindergarten, adolescence, graduating from high school and going away to college, graduating from college, starting a career, getting married, having a baby, buying a house. Those who are more sensitive, because they’re acutely aware of the fleeting and ephemeral nature of life punctuated by the fact that loss and death exist, feel the daily death-and-rebirth transitions more acutely than the average person. This means that transitions both small and large—dawn and dusk, anniversaries, the change of seasons, birthdays—need to be honored and acknowledged in order for well-being to exist.

While some people can go with the flow during life’s changes, most people experience change as a death experience, which leaves unfinished transitions carrying the seeds for future pain. Change can be enormously disruptive. Therefore, an important step in healing our anxiety is to undergo transitions consciously and take steps toward repairing the effects of the unhealed transitions from the past.

What’s essential to understand is that it’s not the event itself that triggers anxiety; rather, it’s the absence of emotional support and cultural rituals that lead to anxiety. We’re designed to go through transitions; in fact, we’re designed to grow stronger and more resilient through the death-and-rebirth experience that transitions activate. But without loving arms to hold us through pain and time-honored rituals to contain the loss, the emotions can’t cycle through to completion and instead morph into anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and panic attacks. Intrusive thoughts, in particular, become the scaffolding that a child or young person latches onto to try to gain solid ground in the out-of-control experience of surrendering to the tidal wave of loss set into motion by the transition.

The work here is multi-layered: Both to identify the transitions that were occurring when anxiety and panic first hit as a way to contextualize and contain the emotions so that you don’t assign incorrect interpretation to the symptoms and to do the inner work that allows you to repair the unfinished transitions from your past so that they don’t need to keep re-emerging in the present. This includes journaling, bringing the transitions to therapy and allowing yourself to grieve through the old losses, and creating healthy rituals to contain the loss activated from each one.

What were the transitions that unleashed your anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and panic? What transitions are you currently in that may be exposing and/or amplifying your anxiety? Share in the comments below.



  1. Thanks for this. My first serious bout of RA occurred just as I was finishing high school and about to go to university. Once at univeristy I had dreams of becoming an academic, and when I was at grad school I obsessed over my ‘true path’ and came close to a breakdown. I drifted through a few years of generalised anxiety, and then RA hit me very hard again when I met my (now) wife. It continues to bite when we hit transitions – moving home, going back to school (we both work in education) and even the time of year can be big for me in terms of my anxiety. Fascinatingly though, as you say, my anxiety is never focused on the transition itself. It is swept away in the intrusive thoughts about my relationship, which my therapist very aptly terms an ‘avoidance’ of the core issues.

    • This post really hit home today. I’ve seen an increase in intrusive thoughts recently and this post has reminded me of the very present liminal zone we are in now.

      I was in the transition of finishing my university degree and my 20s when my anxiety and intrusive thoughts came to a head.
      An experience I am thankful for but as we all know, it’s never easy!

      • Thank you for sharing, and yes, this global transition is unleashing massive amount of anxiety, both in relation to the pandemic and latent grief that needs attention.

        • My first panic attack and what brought me to your work was after meeting my current partner and father of our baby girl, while travelling solo and most specifically on a Mayan site in Mexico on the equinox 2018.
          I am now 3 months post partum and have had in recent days a flare up of intrusive thoughts. I know not to take them to face value. It’s the transition out of the fourth trimester and my baby becoming its own little person and us getting ready to re-enter life after three months in our bubble. So glad I went through my RA before becoming a mother! Gave me such strong tools to navigate this time of my life. Thank you x And love reading your posts.

        • Thank you for all your posts Sheryl! I have been struggling with thoughts that lead to panic lately.

          Two years ago I started dating someone who I had previously dated and at the time I was going through a move to the university I was going to at the time. I had a lot of relationship anxiety about dating him it took me 6+ months to officially date him again after reconnecting. I was so riddled with thoughts of other guys I thought were cute or had little crushes on. When I would try to kiss him or cuddle other guys names would pop into my mind. I thought I was such a horrible person and I didn’t like him even tho I loved him so much. I finally told him about these thoughts and after I had this courage I really thought I could marry this guy. When I figured this out he told me we should start a break. And we broke up officially a few months later. It’s been a year and a few months since then. I feel like I’ve done so much work around it but I still miss him sometimes.

          This dark night of the soul pushed me into finding things that would help with the relationship anxiety and all the anxiety I had experience through out my life. It lead me to you. I have done so much work and have grown so much I feel like I am a completely different person.

          But lately, after really examining myself the last year or two I have been struggling with my religion I have been a part of my whole life. Wondering if it’s what I want and I think a faith crisis. I also graduated college 6 months ago and have been working full time since then which I’ve never done.

          The last few days I have been ruminating about how I messed up my late boyfriends and I’s relationship and if he was here he would understand the struggles I’m going through (difference in religion was part of the reason he broke up with me). And if I had had this faith crisis earlier we would still be together.

          I sent an anger filled text to him when he congratulated me on graduating 6 months ago and I feel bad that I sent it and I think I was meant to be with him. Thoughts like “He was the one and I ruined it.” “He would get it.” “If I just hadn’t messed up our future he would still be here” keep filling my mind.

          I’m feeling a little lost in life and sometimes I just don’t know where to turn. I think I just needed to write this out and have it witnessed.
          Thank you❤️

    • I’m curious what would happen if you did focus on the emotions triggered by the transitions… letting yourself soften into the grief, fear, vulnerability…

      • My first anxiety attacks started a few months after the death of my grandfather when I was nine. Like so many other times when anxiety has hit me in my life, I first thought I didn’t feel anything about this loss/transition. Then bam – earth-shaking anxiety attacks. The hardest part for me is accepting my feelings. At first, it always appears that if I don’t get my anxiety under control, I am going to experience more loss – failure at school, friends who abandon me because they don’t understand what I am going through, a partner who walks away because they just can’t take it anymore. In the end, those losses don’t materialize, but the potential for them is the first place my mind focuses. Seeing the pattern is helpful.

      • I had my very first panic attack at age 9 when a boy at church camp told me he liked me and asked if I wanted to be his girlfriend. I had a severe crush on him but because I had been taught that God would send me a partner one day, I instantly spiraled into anxiety and panic. I have been struggling with RA ever since and even though I’m happily married and we have a beautiful baby boy, I still have bouts of anxiety.
        I came across your Instagram one night when I was so unwell and one of my friends had shared one of your posts in her story. I’ve been reading your blog and this is the first time I’ve had the courage to comment. Thank you for your work and for bringing so much calm to my anxious mind

        • I’m so glad you found your way here and found the courage to post, and that my words have brought calm and comfort. Sending love.

    • Looking back, every transition was extremely hard for me. I never knew why I am the way I am, other people seemed to slide so smoothly through life. Starting school, high school, university, even getting a pet was a cause for me to go into sever panic mode which made me cry for months, thinking how I just can’t do it. It also made me avoid a lot of uncertain situations and opportunities. I ended up in an abusive relationship in my early 20s, full of highest of highs and lowest of lows. He pursued me for a year before I overcame my (what I know now is) anxiety. That’s what I associated love with. So when I entered my first mature relationship a couple of months ago, with a partner who is available, loving, trustworthy and supports me in all aspects, all while trying to figure out my career path after finishing my masters, in the midst of pandemic, I crumbled.

      I thought all my feelings for him died overnight. I had all these thoughts that were basically unstoppable. It terrified me to a point I just had to figure out what was going on. I was looking for signs, clues, articles, something that would point me to what I should do. I know you say ‘no googling’, but one night (I think that moment was only true sign I got) I ended up here on this page. I read examples of intrusive thoughts in your post and all of them were mine. Finally, I had a name for this agony that set my mind on fire. Finally, I got info on what to do. I had to dig deeper, so I did. I noticed all these anxious patterns, all my panic attacks coinciding with something new starting in my life.
      My career transition overlapped with getting into a relationship – both very unknown territory for me. I didn’t know what calm relationship was. I didn’t know how someone can accept me for me.
      It’s been a rocky road and I just want to say, no matter the pain – it was so worth it and it’s still worth it and it’s always going to be worth the fight.
      I honestly don’t know how to thank you enough for your work. I got my feelings back, not only for my partner but for the rest of the world also. My anxiety targeted him, but thankfully, by reading your wonderful posts, I was able to see the bigger picture.
      Many blessings to you and your family and thank you once again.

      • Kristina: I’m so glad you found your way here – Google definitely comes in handy sometimes! Sending blessings back to you and yours.

  2. This has really made me think deeply about where my anxiety came from.

    When I was 16 (I’m now 35) I was talking to a boy that I liked while on a vacation.

    He was listening to me and I started to find it very difficult to talk and then breathe so I couldn’t talk properly. I then felt like I was going to be sick so I ran off to the bathroom!

    I didnt realise until a few years later that it was a panic attack.

    But now I realise it was because I didnt believe I had anything of worth to say to him! I believed I was unimportant and had very low self esteem. It was so unconscious because I was young and it carried on throughout my twenties. It’s very interesting that you have brought this up now.

    Thank you xxxxxx

    • That makes so much sense, and I’m glad a piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.

  3. My first bout of relationship anxiety came about when I had just started in a new team at work, vastly different to the job I enjoyed and was comfortable in, and I was struggling with nerves about this new job. Other subsequent, significant waves of my RA and intrusive thoughts have come about 1. during another job transition, 2. moving in together, 3. anniversary of losing a loved one, 4. losing a loved one, 5. the onset of the pandemic and lockdown, 6. anniversary of when my RA started and 7. my birthday, both this year and last. I have certainly noticed an increase in my intrusive thoughts the last few days as it is my birthday next week and we’re moving into summer.

    Something else worth mentioning is that I live in Australia and some of you may recall that this time last year we were experiencing devasting bushfires and widespread smoke covering my city. I’m scared of bushfires/fire in general anyway as I grew up in the country, and it was a really scary and anxious time for me, so much so that I had to avoid the news and delete all social media. I’m wondering if I’m subconsciously remembering the fires last year and the anxiety associated with it, and that’s why there’s an increase in my RA & intrusive thoughts about my relationship?

    So sorry to have such a long comment but I got on a roll….and maybe it’s making more sense why I’ve been struggling more recently.

      • I experienced my first severe panic when I was 16. My first boyfriend who I adored ended our relationship after a year, my parents were divorcing and I was told my grandfather who I adored was dying of cancer all within 2 months. It was a horrendous time of my life. My 20’s were riddled with anxiety and then I suffered a severe bout of ROCD with my now husband when our relationship started to become serious and we were moving in together. Thankfully I ignored all the warnings that my brain was conjuring up and we now have a beautiful 10 week old little girl. I have also found the transition to motherhood anxiety inducing and I’m battling with it most days, but this time I’m not quite getting to the panic stage. It’s hard, but it is a battle I will win.

        Your posts have really helped me the last 2 years since discovering relationship anxiety was a condition. Thank you for all you are doing to raise awareness.

  4. Thank you as always Sheryl! One thing that stands out to me about this post is your reference to harm anxiety. I didn’t realize that was something other people have, but I have definitely experienced a lot of anxiety about harming people unintentionally in the past, and sometimes have repetitive thoughts about messaging people with apologies. I remember sending an apology message to someone from elementary school and receiving a message from the person that they are doing fine and that they’re happy (but appreciated my message) — and I was pleasantly surprised that the person was fine. Do you have any recommendations on exploring harm anxiety?

  5. How insanely appropriate this post comes right now. I’m currently in the midst of a transition. I just moved into a new condo (which I am excited about because I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live). Even though it’s exciting, I was so angry, easily annoyed and so frustrated with my boyfriend yesterday while he was helping me move in. I kept trying to understand and put words to my feelings, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even properly convey what I was thinking. I kept feeling to myself yesterday that I didn’t think that my boyfriend was the guy for me and that I’d be so much happier with someone else who understood me. Even though I love my condo so much and the view is absolutely breathtaking, I feel weird. Like I’m in that limbo phase of a transition. I keep feeling called to do inner work.

    I think another part of me is also really struggling with the pandemic. I am quite extroverted and very social so not being able to see friends has been so incredibly hard for me. I think I have also been taking that out on my boyfriend as well. I had a big “aha” moment, when I realized that he’s not responsible for making me feel better, but I am. I’ve thought about doing some crafts for Christmas for my loved ones and getting more into art so that I can have an outlet while I cannot have the social life that I yearn for. I’d also love to dig deeper and read your book, but I have no idea where it is at this point – either in a box here or at a box at my old apartment.

    Thank you, Sheryl for opening our eyes to this deeper understanding of relationships and what they should be. I still struggle with wanting the “disney/happily ever after relationship”, but little by little I am getting better and better.

    • I’m so glad the post came at the right time and helped you contextualize the emotional underpinnings of the irritation with your partner.

  6. I can’t recall a specific time that I first became anxious as a kid. I was really sick and in the hospital when I was two, with a chronic illness that continued into my childhood and only started to get better when I was 12 and a half. I guess the transition I was going through when this manifestation started was the one from childhood to adulthood. I had some anxiety leading up to turning 20, and then went through two natural disasters over the next year and two months, and it was in the wake of the second one that I slowly began to have weird and horrible thoughts that eventually led me here last year.

    • That all makes sense, Riley.

  7. I experienced one of my first panic attacks when I was 8 and my pet fish died. This unresolved transition around death stuck with me and it caused me to have a panic attack at age 20 when another pet fish of mine died. It seemed silly to be getting so emotional about a fish, but I now realize it wasn’t so much the fish that I was grieving but rather the transition of death and what it meant for my own mortality. This made more sense as I began to experience relationship anxiety when I was engaged — as entering marriage is a death of its own (in the sense that there are many things to grieve/shed). I notice the intrusive thoughts enter as I pet my puppy, so terrified about the day when I’ll have to say goodbye to her. I cry just thinking about it. But I know the transition won’t last forever, and neither will the thoughts.

  8. The first panic attack I recognized as a panic attack was when I was 18 years old. My parents were in the midst of divorce but still living under the same roof. I remember feeling trapped in my own head and like I couldn’t express myself correctly.

    I have entered a new layer of healing within the last month as I have more and more anxiety about death and loss. Not only my own death, but death of loved ones and of being separated. Nothing brings me down faster than the thought of being separated from my husband or my mom at the hands of death. I feel as though time is slipping away and that life is too short and the time will come too soon. I also feel guilt for ruptures between my husband and I, because I just feel it’s not worth it to fight because I know if he were to pass away none of the things we are fighting about would matter. I fear that he doesn’t know how much I love him (even though I tell him everyday).

    It’s been difficult to live with because I know how normal it is to have disagreements and fights with a spouse, yet the guilt and fear overwhelms me. This results in me becoming extremely anxious during a fight, over apologizing (which can later lead to resentment), and an undercurrent of fear and anxiety brimming on panic.

    I know that somehow I will be led through the next layer of healing if I can somehow turn toward my pain. It feels to painful for me to force myself to think about the reality of death (which leads to more anxiety)- so I am trying to find a way to stop avoiding this fact and confront it in a way that helps me and doesn’t make me feel more anxious.

    Extra love to all of you at this time.

    • Oh L. I send you so much love and hugs! I’m a fellow ‘death anxiety’ hat holder and have been since my very first panic attack aged 11, intermittently. I can’t say I’m an oracle of Sheryl’s degree, but this pandemic has brought on a recurrence of panic attacks around the topic of death, and what I’ve found that helps is to breathe into the pain – focus on the breathing – and tell myself the mantra “It’s going to be okay. Change is necessary” because I’ve figured that these bouts of death anxiety (and all other forms of anxiety) really spike during transitions and boy has this year been a transition! I accept that underneath it all actual death still scares me, but when my spikes occur it tends to be my ego’s ‘last ditch resort’ to protect me from the necessary pain of transitioning. I don’t know if this’ll help you, but I hope that just the act of sharing will offer you a nugget of comfort during these tough times. x

  9. A few weeks ago I celebrated my 40th birthday. I got hit by a major wave of anxiety. The fear of death, annihilation, the fear of being ripped away from my body, was overwhelming. It felt like I had nowhere to run from this, I felt so claustrophobic, it completely freaked me out.

    Thanks to you and to your work, I was aware of this very big transition. I tried to give my inner child what it needed: to be seen and held.

    My anxiety began with my first day of kindergarten (and continued all year, every time I separated from my parents),
    Followed by a major anxiety episode at 9 when my mother had a miscarriage (which showed up again when I was the same age, during my 4th pregnancy!). Next was on my wedding day, then after the birth of my first baby on the airplane when I left my home town…

    I know that no one was there to hold my emotional pain as a child. My mother always rationalized my pain with lengthy explanations. She also has zero threshold for her own pain. And I’ve found myself parentified, taking care of her emotional turmoil, her marriage, mediating her relationship with my father, at a very young age and throughout my entire life.
    Today, it’s difficult to let go of the anger towards her… no matter how compassionate I try to be, knowing she did her best. The legacy of attachment trauma and dealing with an emotionally immature parent is sometimes too much to handle. The feeling of needing to attach and at the same time needing to defend against the same person is so confusing. Its affects on my marriage are devastating. Still today I have major intimacy issues. I’m married to an amazing man whose touch I’m repulsed by, and I crave unsafe and emotionally unavailable partners.

    I wonder if I’ll ever heal.

    I’m so grateful to you Sheryl. Thank you for your work.

    • Thank you for your comment, and I’m so glad my work around transitions has helped you make sense of the fears that were unleashed when you turned 40.

      You ARE healing, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Healing doesn’t mean that you’re free of symptoms and challenges. It means you’re able to meet these challenges with compassion and curiosity, which is what you’re doing.

  10. Dear Sheryl, thank you so much for your wise words, they come just at the right time! And thanks all of you, who share their experiences here and make the rest of us feel like we’re not alone.
    I seem to have a trauma from stomach flu since my very early childhood. This phobia has been very present in my life and still is, harshly affecting my entire life (socially, future related etc). On top of that I am the oldest of 5 kids and always felt that I’m not enough and I don’t get, what I need. Being a highly sensitive child, all this and a lot of transitions (frequent moving, birth of siblings, death of relatives…) led to a huge bundle of psychosomatic symptoms – I’ve not entirely been well since like ever. Also a more generalized anxiety has occurred during the last years and here I am now, trying to do the work, making another attempt of reaching out and getting the kind of help I actually need in order to work through everything and developing some coping skills, hoping that one day it will be easier for me to move through transitions and make decisions based on compassion and love instead of fear. My RA is also very real, but my husband and I are living with the promise of supporting each other through this and we practice being patient because we know that this process requires time.
    It’s hard, especially now with the pandemic going on (I live in Germany and the situation here is getting worse by the minute) and all, but knowing you’re not alone feels like a soft breeze playing around your feet and whispering to you that this, too, shall pass and in between everything, we have the strength to live with our struggles and move through them.

    • Thank you for your heartfelt comment, Lucia. You’re not alone and I send you blessings for healing.

  11. Dear Sheryl, thank you for this reminder!

    We bought our dream house in January with my partner. It was honestly like a dream come true.
    We’ve been searching for so long and this opportunity just came out of nowhere and it was absolutely perfect and more than we could ever wish for.

    We’ve been working on renovating the house all year and we’ll be moving in next spring.

    Following the initial joy and excitement, in the past months I’ve started feeling really put off and disconnected from it all.

    I’ve been navigating bouts of anxiety attacks and an overall feeling of disconnection from my relationship and my life in general.

    I feel like my anxiety is not only triggered by the house itself, but the fact that it means settling down definitively here in France where my partner is from, while my family and my origins are a 1000 miles away.

    The weight of this choice becoming “definitive” is too hard to bear, it feels like I’m cutting myself off from my family forever. (Even though I never really envisaged living in my country and I like life here in general)

    This is just accentuated by a feeling of lack of love in my relationship as we are both distraught and overwhelmed with the plethora of tasks that come with a full renovation, and the added insecurity and upheaval of the health crisis that has accompanied us all year.

    Sometimes I’m overcome with a gutwrenching feeling of not belonging here, or I just catch myself thinking “What am I even doing here?!” – and this really freaks me out.

    Even being conscious of the undercurrents, I’m having an extremely hard time taming my fears. Is there a particular practice you would recommend?

    Thank you & much love


    • It sounds like there’s a lot of grief underlying the fears. Allowing ourselves to grieve often moves the energy through and can bring us back to the present moment.

  12. Why did I never think to ask this question before? It all seems so obvious now… Thanks for the prompt, Sheryl!

    My first RA panic attack happened after my first kiss, aged 18 (late bloomer). I felt so sick I spent most of the day in bed, thinking I must have flu, when really, it was pretty clearly bone-deep, stomach-churning anxiety. I didn’t love this guy, so I had clearly just made the biggest mistake of my life!

    More importantly, it was the summer before starting university – when I imagined I’d become a new, better me, and, of course, meet the love of my life. So I thought. Neither thing happened and I sunk into a deep depression that took some getting out of. I continued to have the same reaction to every moment of intimacy in the next few years to come, making me doubt every relationship I tried to have.

    Now that my RA has largely evaporated, or rather shifted onto other realms of my life (relationship with my baby, work, especially), I notice big things like moving can be triggers, but so are weekly transitions. I often have bad work-related dreams on Sunday night and anxiety waking up Monday morning. I’ve been trying to get up earlier and listen to meditation tracks to combat it.

    I love Sheryl’s idea of incorporating ritual into your life! Any guides to help do this? I didn’t grow up with a religious tradition, but feel it’s really important to have rituals to mark the passing of time. Especially in lock-down, it feels like otherwise time just flows through your fingers, with nothing to distinguish the days, and leaving a general sense of unease, a kind of ‘what have I done the past days/weeks/months?’


  13. I was 23 and in the midst of a law degree. My long distance boy friend asked me to marry him (surprised me, which we now realize in retrospect was not a good idea!) and within 3 days the relationship anxiety started. I’ve developed more awareness over time that the transition I was in (working my way through a degree that I was academically good at but that I had no passion or real interest for) created a huge uncertainty in my life and getting engaged during that time was a super double whammy.

    • Yes, that all makes so much sense.

  14. This amazing post Sheryl explains all the struggles in my life & why it manifested in Relationship Anxiety. I’ve always been afraid of change (transitions) ……. & meeting my now husband represented the biggest change of all …… leaving home & all the future uncertainty! I’m now 60 & since losing both my parents have had 2 major breakdowns. Your posts have helped me more than you’ll ever know …… & I have had more counselling, which you recommended last year when I was in a terrible state. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being able to put into words what so many of us feel yet can’t understand. You’re work truely is a godsend.

    • I’m so glad you’re here, Lynn, and that my work and therapy have been helpful :). x

  15. This is such an improtant post, thank you.
    Can you tell me how to guide my thoughts to untangle the real reason? Is there more of your posts I can look into? Some practical guide, a step by step would be so awesome.
    Thank you for your words and work!

      • Sheryl, your post is timely, as always! My first bout of intrusive thoughts came as a young kid when my parents had gotten divorced and I had anxieties about what If I’m abducted by aliens, what If I drugs or what if I’m gay. These thoughts festered and I didn’t learn to not take them at face value until your course appeared during my anxiety about getting married. I am so thankful I found your work and started my own.

        I find myself struggling anew because my husband and I are trying to get pregnant again after our son was born preterm in early 2019. The days and weeks after we try are excruciating and I’ve had debilitating bouts of anxiety and depression as a result. I also perseverate on if I need to start taking medication. My question – and I know it is a tricky one – is how to discern when medication might actually be helpful?

        • NannerB –

          Perhaps before considering depression or fertility medications, have you by chance had a full thyroid blood panel done recently?
          (Which would include: TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3, along with TPO and thyroid antibodies to check for autoimmune thyroid disease.)

          Hypothyroidism is EXTREMELY common and prevalent among women, and some of the biggest symptoms are difficulty getting pregnant/sustaining pregnancy AND depression/anxiety. And some people even get hypothyroidism temporarily after a first pregnancy.

          Even if you only have mild Hypothyroidism, a little Levothyroxine might be the “cure” you’re looking for to lift the depression and bring you back to fertility.

          Just a thought that it might be something worth “ruling out” anyway…

          I’ve had Hypothyroidism for 20+ years now…and have had to learn all of this stuff to manage it along the way. I hope you find this message helpful in some way.

          Also… another idea… after you try for pregnancy each month, maybe have a plan to do something fun with your husband that you won’t be able to do for 9 months when you’re pregnant again. That way, if you’re not pregnant “that” exact month, you have something else to look forward to. (i.e. one month we went to an amusement park and rode roller coasters when I didn’t get pregnant.) But it can be anything close by that’s around you. We live in FL, so amusement parks are close by. 😉

          Above all else – Like in Sheryl’s Trust Yourself Course – Trust in your body and woman’s intuition – deep down, your body is wise and will “tell you” what it needs… we just have to learn to be able to go inside of ourselves and tune in and listen. 😉

          Sending Much Love and Many Blessings to you… XOXO

          • This is such a wise, generous, and loving response, WorkingonMe. Thank you. x

            • Thank you both. I did see an integrative medicine physician this summer and she did full panels as well as a uterine ultrasound. My levels are ok, thank goodness! I did talk to my husband a lot over the past couple days and have been writing and praying. To start we are going to stop “trying” and just enjoy the family we have for now. If we get pregnant, great, if not, we’ll cross that bridge in a year or so. I feel a lot more at peace now, though am not sure medicine isn’t off the table. So glad for your suggestions!

  16. I recently joined a group of four women who work out with a personal trainer; I know the trainer well and have previously worked with her solo. I am currently working on losing weight specifically for my wedding in June, and for the last two mornings prior to working out as a group, I woke up with my heart racing and it spreading into my arms, making them feel like noodles. This morning I didn’t go; I felt like I couldn’t because my heart was racing so much when I woke up. I’m trying to figure out why.

    A few thoughts…
    1. Working out with others has always given me some anxiety, but I do feel comfortable with this group of women.
    2. There is one woman in the group who intimidates me because she tries to “coach” me when the trainer isn’t available, so I need to enforce a boundary with her.
    3. I’ve been able to up a lot in the weight I can lift, but I’m scared that I won’t be able to continue to increase.
    4. We weigh ourselves once a week and I have not been losing weight, so I feel shame.
    5. I am in transition from someone who isn’t an athlete to trying to become at least healthy and strong with some endurance. This is uncomfortable and I’m scared of failure, since that’s all I’ve done in the past.

    Any thoughts or advice?

  17. Hi Sheryl!

    There have been many transitions in my life that prompted waves of anxiety/panic, so I want to share some of the earlier ones here. I first remember when my parents shared they were separating, right as they dropped me off at college my freshmen year. I did not know anyone at this college, so this news was compounded by feeling lonely in a new environment.

    I also remember feelings waves of panic and anxiety as I graduated during the 2008 financial crisis. During my time in college, I experienced multiple traumatic events that made me feel fragmented and unsure of what to with my life. Somehow I managed to graduate with honors, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, and had no confidence or clue of how to become “successful.”

    There is a lot more that I have to share, but this feels like a good start.

    Thanks for creating this program and have a lovely day.

  18. Connecting dots today! I entered a deep depression (also marked with almost nightly panic about death) around transitions in university, and markedly so after finishing school and professional training, full of promise, scared of potential and expectations, and heartbroken that I hadn’t met my husband (or anyone) yet. Having a major resurgence this year after working very hard to turn 30 a year ago with grace and acceptance that I *still* haven’t met anyone and am on a very different path than I’d ever imagined. Add a pandemic and some more work and life transitions coming up and it’s been flipping between the health anxiety, orientation intrusive thoughts, and more with such intensity that I’ve been close to despair. I needed to be reminded about the weight of each transition, to grieve each element and make room for sorely missing hope again. But I’m slowly seeing I can’t just shove hope in the mix, it has to be on the other side of looking the tough stuff in the eye – much to my disappointment 🙂
    Thank you, thank you!

  19. My first panic attack was at age 14 after the death of a friend that happened at school from a heart problem. I was convinced that it was going to happen to me. Eventually the panic attacks stop by my level of anxiety was always there. Panic showed back up at age 19 after a move from sunny FL to the freezing Midwest, running from a lot of problems. I moved back to FL and Eventually the panic stopped again. It came back again last year after moving again and also hearing of an uncle (by marriage) dying of a heart attack. I’ve basically been dealing with them since and I have more better days than bad now but I will still have an occasional attack.

    I came across your IG and your work resonated with me. I ordered your book and it has been helping tremendously. I’ve read your blog Death, Eventually and, wow, I’ve never had someone articulate how I feel when I could even explain it myself. I feel like you just “get it” thank you for all that you do!!

  20. Ah Sheryl – my first experience of terrifying real-life anxiety hit me at the exact same age and transition as yours! A few months before leaving university and not having any clue what lay ahead, with no career aspirations. In my case, my heart was broken too as I’d been dumped.
    In fact, I can relate to almost everything shared above. Even the fear of being taken by aliens!
    I’m 52 now and this year has been without doubt the second biggest anxiety and depression episode of my life!
    I think the best we can take from it all is that we can survive! I’ve always been terrified of feeling unhappy and not enjoying life, but sometimes it’s about hanging on in there and waiting for the storm clouds to part 🙂

    Thanks for sharing everyone! Xx

  21. Sheryl –

    I relate so much to everyone here and have had my first RA spout for the past few months. It’s been hard, but I’m working through it!

    Just a little question: Could you talk about dating a person who struggles greatly with depression? Does that count as not being emotionally available?

  22. I had my first obvious panic attack at age 19. I was at an airport in Africa, coming back from working and living there for 4 months. I had been bullied by another girl I worked with out there. It was three weeks before I was due to go off to university in another country to the one I lived in. My long-distance relationship with my boyfriend of a year had deteriorated while I was away. I hadn’t seen my friends and family for months and I was about to go into another huge transition of going to university and not see them again for months. At the airport I realised I’d lost my phone and also found out there were problems with the ticket I had. I couldn’t imagine actually getting home and it all descended like I couldn’t breathe. I remember being convinced the plane was going to crash and I was going to die.

    It totally makes sense that this was during a time of huge transition – cultural (adapting back to life in the UK after months away), going off to university, relationship-wise, and also physically with a long journey home.

    All of those emotions and anxious energy that had built up came out in a very apt place of an airport – one of the most ‘transitional’ spaces! Has been good to reflect on this today.


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