In sessions, there sometimes seems to surface a theme of the week or the month. When it surrounds anxiety a recent theme goes something like this:
I keep having panic attacks but can’t seem to trace the source.
I am waking up with strange dreams -almost nightmares- where I am going berserk.
I can’t stay still, I am restless, keyed up and can’t think straight.
My stomach hurts, I can’t get rid of this headache, I can’t think straight.
As we gently begin to explore the context around each person's experience I notice a thread.This person has a real reason to be angry, upset, frustrated, annoyed or downright rageful. BUT...
...they never express it. Something prevents them from saying what they need to say.They have been taught; “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.You can’t upset other people (but it’s okay if you’re upset yourself).”
And then they swallow.
It’s as if they don’t have permission to speak, to share their reality or their experience. To share their own point of view, their intuition, and instead instantly - unconsciously - they shut it down. Like falling asleep or putting that part in a coma. This part of them is “BAD.” It needs to be silenced or “serious consequences” will follow.
So they obey this programming. They shove any inkling of anger down and pretend that everything is fine. Put on a smile and move on.They may even report being "FINE." And they almost deceive themselves that this strategy works.
Until it doesn’t…
Anxiety bubbles underneath their smile
Out of control thoughts start to spin
Irritability and snarkiness follow
And either an all out meltdown or a panic attack ensues.
And they wonder why?
When I gently ask what part anger has in their panic, in their anxiety, in their outburst, it’s as if a lightbulb goes off in their head. A little smirk. Sometimes an ah-ha. And other times an “I shouldn’t feel that way…”
Panic and stuffed anger are linked
I propose that sometimes panic attacks are anger that has been suppressed, pushed down.Perpetual anxiety is the socially acceptable - dressed up big sister- of disappointment, things are not going the way I planned, the way I wanted, sorrow. Anxiety appears as someone who needs love and compassion (and who doesn’t?) so it buys some time and a few crumbs of attention and affection. But the root cause still remains.
What if you gave yourself permission to own your anger?
To say "Hey, I am angry.”
Look at that anger make room for it to exist, to have it’s say, to be given a welcome.
Yeah, that’s hard to stomach, I know. Who wants to make room for anger?
That’s a dangerous feeling, and I don’t want to allow myself to go there, because if I do it might never stop...
Yet anger has a purpose.
Anger is a warning sign that we need to pay attention to something.
Anger moves us to action.
It protects us and our safety.
It helps others know what is okay with us, and what is definitely NOT okay.
It forces us to define and reinforce our boundaries.
Which allows us to relax and be present, when we know we can be safe in our own skin.
And ultimately, isn’t that what we want? To feel safe and able to be present in our life?
Relieving the Pressure Valve
When it feels your anger is unspeakable, then respect that.
Write it down.
Get it out of your head.
Write out all your angry words and feelings, uncensored.
The recipient doesn’t even need to see what you wrote.
This is a time to vent.
After a period of time, you can revisit your words and see if there is something contained within that you need to be aware of. Some action step that needs to be made.
This person constantly disrespects me, makes me feel unsafe and breaks promises. Maybe this person needs to play less of a major role in my life. Maybe I need a new relationship and to move away from them. Or I need to set a boundary and tell this person directly how their words or actions make me feel and what I would prefer in future interactions.
I am not getting my way. I am angry because of that. Maybe I need to speak up for what I want and need. Maybe others can’t read my mind. Maybe this time I can’t have what I want, but that doesn’t mean I never get my wants/needs met. Or maybe I need to arrange to have my needs met instead of expecting others to do it for me.
By taking back your power - what I mean by this is finding the courage to speak out your truth, feelings, wants and needs -even if it's scary to do so; you might find that your anxiety and panic reduces, if not disappears entirely. You may have heard it said fear faced into often melts away, but you won't know that until you experience it yourself.
All emotions have a place. Panic, anxiety, anger. They are all signals that something in your life is out of balance and needs attention. When you honor your feelings and ask them what they are trying to tell you, you might be surprised what wisdom they contain.
If you heed their message and see if there is a way to acknowledge this message, you may begin to make friends with your challenging emotions. For some people, figuring out how to listen to your emotions can be tricky. It can take a little guidance and practice to get comfortable with it. Keep checking in with yourself. Until the next time you’re needing a wake up call and your emotions alert you-that something needs attention.
What is your experience with anger and anxiety/panic?
In your experience are they connected?