Why Do We Feel Anxiety, Stress And Overwhelm.
In my previous post: Do Traumatic Experiences Make You Feel Stuck In Life, we learned that if we don’t heal from past traumatic experiences, they will keep hunting us back.
In this post, we will learn how this is happening and how we can resolve it.
Constant Feeling Of Anxiety, Stress, Exhaustion And Overwhelm.
A few years ago, I read a great book by Danny Penman and Mark Williams: Mindfulness. A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. And they perfectly explain why we feel the way we feel.
Can you relate to those moments when you are going to sleep and want to rest before the important day? But as soon you put your head on the pillow, your mind is flooded with thoughts and worries.
The more you try to stop thinking about it, the more you actually think, and soon you get anxious and stressed that you can’t sleep.
Hours pass, you didn’t sleep, and the next day, you can bearly concentrate.
You have those thoughts constantly popping into your mind that you didn’t sleep last night and feel tired. But when you go home, you have so much work to do, and you are already behind your schedule.
That was the story of my life. Tasks and to-do lists seemed never to end. Overwhelming busyness crept into my life.
That constant feeling of anxiety, stress, exhaustion and overwhelm was catching me around every corner. It seemed like I got stuck in it.
The breakthrough come for me when I realised that I consistently repeat the same pattern in my life and that I’m subconsciously pushing myself into feeling it.
You see, our brain, with its first reaction, doesn’t recognise the difference between reality and visualisation. Between internal and external danger, often our first response to both is the same.
What does that mean?
If we see a lion in front of us that is an external threat, or if something that is happening today triggers emotions from our memories of past traumatic experiences, a painful memory that is an internal threat, our brain can react to both in the same way.
It’s the most primaeval instinct, called the fight-flight, and we will add to this freeze response.
What happens when you see a lion in front of you? You are either ready to fight with the lion or escape, to run away from the danger. Or you freeze and do nothing.
When this happens, your brain sends a signal to your body about danger. And your body tightens because it’s ready to fight, flee, or freeze. But in all cases, your muscles tense. This is our natural reaction. We can’t change that, it’s our biology.
The Impulse That Triggers Anxiety, Stress And Overwhelming.
Of course, the fight-flight-freeze response is obvious when you see a lion in front of you.
But your brain response might be the same when something is happening today, and it triggers thoughts and emotions associated with your past traumatic experience.
This could be as simple as the sound of a door firmly slammed when your work colleague closes them while rushing to his desk.
It may cause a cascade of negative emotions flooding your mind and body. You may start feeling anxious, stressed and insecure. Because that’s how your father locked the door when he came home drunk after work.
Or you have an open window in your office, and suddenly, far away, somewhere in the background, you hear children laughing at their friends, which brings back a feeling of shame when you were ten years old, and you answered a simple question in a math lesson wrong. Your teacher told you that you are dumb and will never achieve anything in life, and the kids started laughing.
How many times have you woken up in a great mood in the morning?
You felt strong, happy and focused. And then, suddenly, a couple of hours later started feeling insecure, anxious, stressed and exhausted.
And you asked yourself, where the hell is this coming from? Why do I feel that way?
In both scenarios, your brain can be triggered by a perceived threat, a painful memory from the past, and send a signal to your body of danger. Same as with the lion in front of you.
A Vicious Cycle Of Anxiety, Stress And Overwhelming.
When your body receives a distress signal from your brain, it grows tense. Because it’s ready to fight or escape or it’s freezing. And then, the body sends a signal back to our brain that a dangerous situation is in front of us.
The brain gets the signal from the body about the danger and sends it back again to the body. And we are getting into a vicious cycle.
Long-Term Emotional Dysregulation.
Naturally, our moods change. It’s the way how humans are. Sometimes those moods come and go as soon as they arrive.
You can break this signal circling between your body and mind within minutes or hours. You can simply see someone smiling, and you smile back, or you talk with a friend who will cheer you up. Or receive an email with positive news, and your mood will improve.
But certain patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving may cause that sometimes this signal may last for a day, week, month, year, decade and sometimes even for entire life.
A short moment of struggle may turn into long-term anxiety, stress, overwhelm or exhaustion. It’s like part of your mind switched ON to a full alert, then got stuck and refused to turn it OFF again.
This is what happened in my case. Do you remember when I said in a previous post, Do Traumatic Experiences Make You Feel Stuck In Life, that I always felt a clenched fist in my stomach that was holding me back?
Sometimes I could feel it stronger. Sometimes it was realising. But it was always holding me.
Breaking The Vicious Cycle.
The thing is that even if you break that vicious cycle quickly, but you don’t heal those past traumatic experiences, it will keep hunting you back, even for your entire life.
While you can’t change your biology and how your brain senses threat, you can learn to recognize these moments and consciously break the cycle.
It turns out that our brain is wired in a way that will always push us back to the most familiar feeling from our past. Even if that’s the feelings we don’t want to feel, like anxiety, stress, overwhelm or exhaustion.