Did you know the inability to experience your emotions causes anxious sensations? But that does not mean it's part of an anxiety condition.
One of my favorite concepts to challenge in session is the idea of "My Anxiety." It's often a term people will use when they are struggling with both an anxiety condition and emotional regulation. People suffering from an anxiety condition will often begin labeling uncomfortable emotions as an anxious state or part of an anxiety condition- like generalized anxiety, OCD, or panic disorder.
In treatment, people gain insight into the purpose of the body's fear system, learn how to improve interpretations, and explore ways to recover through experiential learning.
It's empowering and life-changing to learn how to interact with your own mind and body. With time and practice, every decision to challenge an unhelpful fear response and re-learn a new strategy becomes an opportunity for recovery.
In this process, in session, we challenge the concept of "My Anxiety." It's really just a bucket full of many uncomfortable emotions and experiences that are undesirable. The struggle to feel uncomfortable feelings is not always part of an anxiety disorder, but part of the human experience.
Let's take a closer look at how using the term "My Anxiety" helps us avoid feelings.
Let's look at two examples:
1. I begin working with a new colleague, and I'm finding that I don't really like the person. I experience them as selfish and rude. I have multiple experiences of being treated poorly. In my mind, I can't see myself as disliking a person and want to offer compassion as a personal value. I begin to project these feelings on the other person because I am uncomfortable with feeling dislike and anger toward another human being. I may start to think my colleague does not like me. My unexperienced emotions will begin to generate anxious feelings. This is not related to an anxiety disorder, but anxiousness as a natural byproduct of not allowing myself to experience dislike or disgust about another person.
2. Let's say I'm an adult about to bring my first child into the world. My father was neglectful and absent in my life. Now, he has requested a desire to be in my child's life. Let's say I have not allowed myself to feel the insecurity, sadness, and loneliness from my childhood. I may lash out at him or deny him access to my life as having him too close to me creates "anxiety" about the relationship. If I allowed myself to experience the emotions, again long overdue, I might choose a path to healing.
How can you tell if you're tossing painful life experiences and sensations into the "My Anxiety" Bucket?
Listen to your language. You'll hear yourself using the term, try to pause and reflect on the situation. Try to find two-three emotions that you are not allowing yourself to acknowledge or experience.
Pay attention to sensations in your body. Different emotions are experienced in various locations in your body. Shame may be experienced as heat in your face or chest. Heaviness in your heart region is loneliness or sadness. Frustration and anger may feel like a burst of energy. If you pay close attention, you will see that these sensations are not anxiety symptoms. The anxiousness comes from not wanting to experience the long-overdue emotions and avoiding action to resolve your suffering directly.
Separating human emotion from an anxiety condition is often illuminating for many people. Many people are surprised to find that these thoughts and feelings are buried and unearthed. Also, it's a simple process to pause and explore the inner world of physical sensations.
You can trust yourself to feel everything. At all times.
About the Author
Kama Jensen, MEd, LPCC, is the founder of Conscious Living Counseling & Education Center in Fargo, North Dakota. She offers contemporary anxiety interventions to those living in rural areas. Kama provides CBT-based treatments for adults struggling with disorders on the anxiety spectrum, including stress disorders, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and health anxiety. She enjoys addressing common barriers to successful treatment of an anxiety disorder, including social awareness skills and executive function skills.
Her counseling experience includes providing assessment and mental health services in for-profit and non-profit organizations, private practice, and academia. Additional work history includes serving as the Executive Director of a mental health organization and teaching masters-level counseling courses.