World Anxiety

Photo by Everest Finn – taken 13 miles above Earth

One of the byproducts of being a highly sensitive person prone to anxiety is that you tend to take on others’ pain and stories. This is particularly true if you had an enmeshed relationship with a parent growing up and didn’t learn to solidify the borders of your skin but instead became a porous sponge that absorbed the emotional world of your parent. But the tendency to take on others’ pain and stories is a common struggle for many people regardless of early relationships and speaks to being both sensitive and not having established a full well of Self. For when the waters in your inner well are low, there’s nothing to absorb the pings and bangs of life: every story pings and every pain bangs on those dry, hollow walls.

This often shows up in my work around relationship anxiety when a client struggling to understand the real nature of love and “in-loveness” will hear about someone who broke up with her partner because “she wasn’t in love enough.” Suddenly their friend’s story – even a friend twice removed – is now her story. Or the client who’s brother’s marriage just ended because “they just grew apart” and now he’s convinced that that’s how his relationship will end up. The intersection of sensitivity/anxiety and lack of accurate information creates a landmine of potential explosions; one false move and the anxious mind is now on fire with its story-building.

But it’s not only in relationships that this tendency to absorb others’ lives and pain shows up. It can show up in health anxiety (you hear of someone who has cancer and then you’re scared that you have it); in sexuality anxiety (you hear of someone who left her wife to pursue a relationship with man and suddenly you’re in full-blown sexual orientation spike); and in world anxiety.

I don’t know a single sensitive person who doesn’t feel anxious at times about the state of our world. How could it be otherwise when we’re flooded with every disaster, attack, illness, disease, famine, drought, natural disaster, animal extinction and calamity that befalls every square foot of our earth? We can limit the amount of negative news that we ingest (and I recommend it), but we don’t want to live with our heads in the sand and as soon as we come up for air our lungs are filled with the pain of the world. It’s simply too much to bear.

Consider Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words in Gifts From the Sea (which she wrote in 1955; how much more information we’re flooded with today!):

“But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectual all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse roused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather – for I believe that the heart is infinite – modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands all the people to whom my heart responds. I cannot marry all of them, or bear them all as children, or care for them as I would my parents in illness or old age. Our grandmothers, and even – with some scrambling – our mothers, lived in a circle small enough to let them implement in action most of the impulses of their hearts and minds. We were brought up in a tradition that has now become impossible, for we have extended our circle throughout space and time.

“Faced with this dilemma what can we do? We are forced to make some compromise. Because we cannot deal with the many as individuals, we sometimes try to simplify the many into an abstraction called the mass. Because we cannot deal with the complexity of the present, we often over-ride it and live in a simplified dream of the future. Because we cannot solve our own problems right here at home, we talk about problems out there in the world. An escape process goes on from the intolerable burden we have placed upon ourselves.”

Where can we start, Anne Morrow Lindbergh asks? We start with the here and now. We start with the center of the circle. We learn how to “deal with the individual… and the complexity of the present” instead of siphoning off our anxiety into the projection of the masses “out there.” In essence, we start with ourselves. We do this not with a navel-gazing, self-centered intention, but with the intention to fill our Well of Self so that we can serve our patch of earth in the way we’re meant to serve. People often say to me, “Isn’t it selfish to spend so much time examining my inner world and doing this inner work?” To which I respond, “Anxiety actually creates a very self-absorbed state. When you heal enough of your inner world and fill your well, you can then give from a place of fullness. So it’s the opposite that’s true: healing yourself is the least selfish thing you can do whereas when you’re stuck in your anxiety you can’t see beyond the stories that wreak havoc in your own head.”

By no means am I, nor do I believe is Anne Morrow Lindbergh, suggesting that we stop being activists in the outer sense of the world; we need every amount of effort, actions, and donations we can get/give if we’re going to heal our planet. Rather, what she’s saying is that our current global catastrophe is a byproduct of the mindset of separateness, fear, and divisiveness that we all carry. It’s so easy to pin the source of the problems out there on our political and world leaders. And it’s easy to avoid the battlefield in our psyches where fear and ego like to reign supreme by throwing ourselves into the battle to save the world. Whenever I think of this concept I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Hair where the political activist’s wife and young son are left standing alone while the man charges out to join the rallies for peace. If we don’t take care of ourselves, our relationships, the creatures that inhabit the land at our own feet, and the soil in our backyards, then on some level we’re perpetuating the very problems that we rail against.

Still, when the world breaks and bleeds, we are called to respond and act in some way. As a highly sensitive person, it can be overwhelming when every plea for help ends up in your inbox and you want to help everyone. We can’t help everyone; we can’t save the world. But we can choose one cause, either local or global, and direct some resources of time or money there.

In the dance of external and internal, at some point we come back to ourselves. People often ask me, “How do I fill my well of Self?” It’s a bigger answer than I can pare down to a few sentences, which is why I created my Trust Yourself program. If you’re ready to heal one of the core spokes of not only the relationship anxiety wheel but the generalized anxiety wheel, if you’re ready to learn from the inside out what it means to know yourself, love yourself, and ultimately trust yourself so that you can stop caring about what others’ think, absorbing their stories and develop a stronger internal compass system by which you can more easily make decisions, if you’re plagued by the fear of making a mistake and under the whip of your inner perfectionist, if you feel taken down into despair by the brokenness and pain in our world, please join me and a group of dedicated learners for this upcoming round, which will begin on Saturday, October 21, 2017. We can heal on our own, but we heal best in community.

You can learn more here: Trust Yourself: A 30 day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. I look forward to meeting you there.

45 comments to World Anxiety

  • Nikki

    Hi Sheryl, with the trust yourself course do you ever get people scared to take it because they fear they will discover that they must leave their partners? That’s what is terrifying me, that taking this course will lead to trust inside of me putting off needing to have left my relationship but being too cowardly to do so?

  • Olivia B

    Thank you so much for posting, Sheryl. I live in Las Vegas about 10 minutes from where the shooting happened, and have been waiting all week for your post to come, as I knew you would address it in some way.

    My fiancé and I have been searching for some way to find healing, as we had three friends who were there (they are safe) but the what-ifs start to consume us, and then comes the guilt. My anxiety spiral of the day is fixating on the fact that my fiance was at a concert on the strip the night before and the shooter had tried to get a hotel room right above the crowd but couldn’t. As highly sensitive people, both of us find it extremely overwhelming to absorb the pain of the community, while dealing with our own grief at the same time. It is both a challenge and a blessing to have to drive by the Mandalay Bay every day on the way to work, and hear our neighbors’/coworkers’ personal stories.

    Your post is a good reminder to start by turning off the news for a while and stop blaming politicians as an outlet for our grief. Right now we can only focus on being present with our pain, both as individuals and as a community.

  • jazzmin

    Hello Sheryl!

    Such true words you speak with each and every post. My question revolves around my own experience with anxiety. I recently only experienced anxiety to this extent these last 6 months (at least while knowing it was anxiety), and that just recently resulted in losing a lot of trust in myself and who I “thought” I was. Has anyone ever gone through the trust yourself course and regained the same “self” so to speak? Or will I be embarking on an entirely new quest to discover who this “new” me is? My fear around doing the work is that I will not find my old self, and that is utterly terrifying to me.

    • You will connect with the essential you, which is underneath the anxiety. It might sound scary at the outset but it’s not a scary process at all. You will feel very supported throughout the course as it’s a safe and gentle approach to peeling back the layers of anxiety.

  • Yvonne

    Lately I’ve been thinking if me and my partner was to be sat in a room with no technology, no other people, literally just us in a blank room that we wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation. I do believe that it’s my anxiety just trying to target a different aspect of my relationship. I still struggle now and then with the thought that I don’t love him but It doesn’t bother me as much as it did. I do still think that love should be all feelings and I do something question myself if I’m lying to myself and just staying with him cause I don’t want to hurt him. But still I don’t want to lose him. This is the main area I have struggle with dealing with. Love is not a feeling. Well then how do you know if you love someone..

    • I strongly encourage you to take the Break Free course at some point. I know it’s an investment but it’s one that pays off in spades, and based on your comments it’s exactly what you need right now:

      • Yvonne

        Does the course address everything I seem to be commenting about? Does it sound like relationship anxiety? I also just had a thought “maybe you are scared to leave him because you know if you leave you wouldn’t have this same life without him” we are looking to buy a house together, if we weren’t together then I definitely wouldn’t be buying a house. I don’t want to believe that the only reason I’m still with him is because of the things I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t. I do seem to of been doing better the last few months & I have those moments where I look at him and think to myself “ah I love him”. I just don’t feel love like I did at the beginning of the relationship & he did hurt me quite badly at the beginning so I think maybe all my thoughts stem back to then, but that was like 2 years ago. I don’t want anybody else. I only want him and to come home to him

        • Yes, Yvonne, it’s all quite textbook. Have you and your partner repaired the hurt that happened in the beginning?

          • Yvonne

            Erm, I think so. It was a few weeks into us dating & he told me that he didn’t love me and that he thought him and his ex could of worked things out. & then about a week later he told me that he was just confused, we’ve been together ever since?

          • Then yes the course is definitely for you.

          • Yvonne

            Okay I’ll look into it. Especially as I’ve been someone who can get bored of guys but with my partner I don’t, I still look forward to finishing work and going home to him, I still love having cuddles together and attention. I want to work through whatever issues I may have as I don’t want to lose this relationship.. I have thoughts sometimes (very rarely) that scare me that aren’t about my relationship but like peodophile thoughts regarding kids and it scares the hell out of me cause I’d never do anything to harm a child or anything

  • Onedayatatime

    You put into words what I have been experience for a while now so thank you. It’s been more subtle than huge spikes of anxiety but I didn’t consider it a projection in this way. A part of me recognized my preoccupied thoughts but also found myself trying to challenge that back. It’s become another way to shame or compare myself for not doing “this or that” or “enough”. It’s been hard to sort pin this one down. This site and community is a blessing. And Happy thanksgiving from up north! 🙂

  • Worrier

    Thank you for this. Much of my work in therapy has been trying to come to terms with animal cruelty. I know of some dogs who live their lives on logging chains. I talked to the owner and he would not let us provide a fence or any help. Law enforcement won’t do anything.

    I donate to animal charities. I helped pass law in my city making it illegal to keep dogs chained. I even have a website about how to help neglected dogs. But these intrusive thoughts still come: “No one else will help these dogs if you don’t. They are counting on you to save them. ”

    Feeling responsible for others’ suffering is codependency. But with animals… They are so innocent… It’s harder for me to set a boundary. And it’s harder when I know about particular instances rather than a global problem.

    I agree with you though that right action will only come from a place of love and acceptance rather than a place of anxiety.

    I should probably sign up for your course! I’m so tired of struggling with this anxiety.

    • The vast majority of the people who find their way to my work are animal lovers, so you’re from alone. But yes, the course would help you find more balance around your compassion so that you can establish a healthy boundary around it. It’s a strange thing, but too much compassion doesn’t serve us or others!

  • Lex

    I got your Break Free course and it helped me IMMENSELY, although turning inwards was extremely difficult. I finally feel as though I’m in an anxiety free place which feels so good. My relationship with my partner is starting to feel more like a warm bowl of oatmeal…nothing dramatically emotional or intense. It is a long distance relationship, which is difficult, but we seem to understand that it’s normal to not need to talk all the time but it gives us space to miss eachother. We both have separate lives apart from one another, and I’m learning that it’s OKAY to enjoy my own life while also being able to rest in the secureness of my relationship and love for my partner. Is this what you mean by what real love feels like, Sheryl? It’s something I’m getting used to, and it was not expected for love to feel this way. It’s quite alarming, actually!

  • Kara

    Does the trust yourself course help with impulsivity? (Like buying things, or eating things, or other impulsive things that can have negative consequences)

  • becominglove

    Thank you Sheryl, a soothing tonic for my spiked-nervous system, as always. So much love xxxx

  • Clarice

    Hi Sheryl, I wonder if this course would be suitable for someone who is still mourning the loss of a long-term relationship which ended badly. Sometimes I’m spiked when reading your blog entries because I think we could have made it work. There was a long period of true love and joy in the relationship but it took a turn for the worse and we couldn’t pull out of it. Would this course help me accept the loss and move on?

    • Yes, Clarice, it would help you connect to your core feelings, including grief, disappointment, and loneliness, which are the core feelings to connect to in order to move through the mourning process.

  • growinglove

    I think one of my prominent struggles is that I soak in everyone else’s stories.. I do it with my family, my friends, and feel the need to save them and people please. It’s beginning to take its toll on my health and my partner finds it annoying that I can’t stop feeling guilty for everything. It’s taking a toll on our relationship and I feel like there’s always tension between us because I’m always thinking about what other people want, rather than what I want.

  • HannahR

    This came at a really good time. My RA is nowhere near as bad anymore, I still get days of disconnection, irritation, lack of love etc but I also get days of lots of love, closeness, gratitude, and laughter not just with my fiancé but within myself. BUT my mind tends to focus on other things now. What a surprise! It’s been focusing on animal cruelty and a colleague at work who’s wife has cancer, they are in their early thirties and it makes me so sad I can’t stop thinking about how sad they must be. Me & my fiancé booked our honeymoon yesterday, I am excited but also terrified. We are flying from the UK to Cuba. It is our longest flight that we’ve ever been on, we usually stick to Europe and I am petrified of flying over oceans and I am terrified that our plane will crash or there will be a hurricane or ISIS will make their way to Cuba. I sit there in a panic for ages but then realise I cannot live my life afraid otherwise I will not enjoy my happy life with myself, family, friends and my lovely man.

    I’m not sure on the point of posting this was, I guess to say thanks for your timely post & to say to others that feeling this way is okay and we just have to learn other ways to deal with our anxiety. It is a part of life!

  • Abi

    Is registration open for Trust Yourself course until the 21st?

  • Brianna

    Sheryl what do you say to the thought of “my relationship just doesn’t feel right”. All other intrusive thoughts are not as strong anymore but this one gets me because I don’t know how to respond to it. When I get feeling anxious I start to think of my partner and our relationship and why I DONT want to leave, but all I get is “the vibe of our relationship isn’t what I’d like it to feel like” or “this doesn’t feel right”. I don’t like this thought one bit but I always get tangled in it not knowing what to do with it. Is this something you hear often? Can the way a relationship “feels” be changed for the best? I have done so much inner work and I was starting to feel not anxious at all for the past two days but it seems as though it’s back again 🙁

  • Nadine

    Is there even such thing as learning you are meant to be “just friends”? I keep getting this thought/feeling that maybe my partner and I work better as friends and not romantically. Is this possible after being together for 8 months or is this a resistance pattern?

  • Sarah Beth

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’m looking to possibly sign up for one of your classes. I wondered if it would be better to take the trust yourself program or the relationship anxiety course first? Do you have a recommended order? Thank you! I find solace in your blog!

    • If you struggle with relationship anxiety then I recommend taking the Break Free course first as it’s my foundational course and will offer the solid tools, information, and support you need to get started with my work. After you’ve absorbed that course, I recommend my 30- and 40-day programs (Trust Yourself, Open Your Heart, Sacred Sexuality). I look forward to meeting you there!

  • Marlene

    In your post you mention that it isn’t selfish to attend to ourselves and our inner worlds. I have to agree very much with this. One of the wisest men who ever lived said, “love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. ” How can we sit in empathy for others or truly be open to sharing their wounds if we are unable to do so for ourselves? I have seen in my family clan that those least willing to do the work of exploring their inner world/workings are the least able to have depth of relationship or hold space for others’ pain. I believe the best gift we can give is to learn to love ourselves and attend to our pain so that we can grow past much of it and gain the skills needed to attend to others, too.

  • N

    Would you consider your partner not seeming to put enough effort in the relationship (regarding romantic gestures and feeling as though you’re not being fought for) a red flag? Or is that an empty well of self?

    • I’m sensing from your comments that you’re needing a lot of reassurance, and are also suffering from misinformation about love (as is everyone in our culture). Please read through my blog in its entirety and, if possible, consider taking one of my courses. All of your questions will be answered there.

  • Yvonne

    So I came across something earlier today when I was doing what I know I shouldn’t be (googling) and it spiked me pretty bad. This girl said that she had been with her ex partner for 5 years, they had a house together and everything and it took a lot for her to admit it to herself but basically for the whole 5 years she had never been in love with her partner. She then went on to say that he was her best friend but she didn’t get the butterflies when they kissed anymore if they hadn’t seen one another all day and a few other comments. Most of what she said is obviously what I struggle with. I guess I am finding it hard to believe that love is not how I thought it was supposed to be. I always thought you’d know when you love someone because you would FEEL it, you’d know when you loved someone because you’d miss them all the time & when you’re not with them you’d think about them all the time. Whilst typing this I can kinda see how tiring that would be if that was the case. Me and my partners relationship isn’t like that at all, he is my best friend & we never argue (we have our tiffs here and there but never anything major), I don’t always miss him when I’m at work etc, sometimes when we are speaking on the phone and he will be like “I miss you” and I don’t really know what to say back because I’m not really missing him when I’m at work because I guess I’m so busy to even think about it, whereas he spends the majority of his day driving around so gives him more time to think. I have the odd moments here and there when we could be watchhijf a film and I’d turn to look at him and just feel a big sense of warmth brush over me and happiness just filling me. But when I am always asking myself if I love him, i don’t have the feeling there. I don’t want to lose him but I also feel bad for him because I feel like he doesn’t deserve this. Surely he deserves someone who knows they love him and not someone who knows sometimes and sometimes has days where I am struggling to know what love even is and how you even know?

  • Yvonne

    I’m scared that what if I’m just lying and trying to convince myself I love him and what if I realise 5 years down the line the same as the girl above in story that I never loved him? 🙁 I don’t want that

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