It’s easy to think that anxiety is a puzzle you can solve, a problem you can biohack your way out of. This many milligrams, this many hours of yoga, this many positive thoughts and helpful affirmations. It seems, on the surface, as though you can follow the formula and see your way through.
This is not how anxiety works.
Most approaches to anxiety presume that the problem is in your head. The problem is, actually, in your body.
Your emotions have something called a motor cortex, which means that as soon as you begin to feel them, your body initiates a physical response. You tense your throat, you tighten your stomach. Once triggered to maintain these states for long enough, your body stops responding to what it perceives as a current threat, and starts to enter allostasis. This is what happens when your body starts to anticipate future needs and stressors, and adjust your homeostasis to meet them.
Over time, you are essentially programmed to remain on high alert — hypervigilant, if you will — long after the potential threat is gone, and even if there wasn’t one in the first place.
The path to healing looks different for everyone.
Some people need therapy. Others need medication. Others need meditation, or spirituality, or to mend their relationships, or adjust their self-talk, or work out daily, or leave a job, or find a new one.
But everyone needs to change their lives in some way.
Everyone needs to change their brain chemistry. Everyone needs to adapt to healthier circumstances. Everyone needs a radical life intervention, and anxiety is often the signal that something is off, even if you can’t yet identify what.
So if you feel as though you’re doing all of the “right” things but not feeling any better, let go of other people’s healing formulas. Reduce yourself down to two simple questions:
What do you need to do to feel better right now, and what do you need to do to improve your life in the long-term?
The answer to those two questions will change everything. And they will change everything because you need to get your body out of its triggered panic survival response. You need to prove to yourself that it is okay to relax into life, that nothing is really wrong, that you are safe. If you are not safe, you need to make yourself safe.
Then you need to make a permanent and serious adjustment to your brain and body. You get to decide how you do this, nobody else can tell you what’s right for you here. You get to determine what this will require you to do.
You have to prioritize the needs and well-being of your future self over your current self, once you feel safe enough to do so. This might require being uncomfortable. This might make you confront a lot of the feelings that you’ve been trying to run from. Either way, it will initiate a lot of healing, as you slowly rebuild yourself into a version of you that you have not yet met before.
You are not permanently broken. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you for feeling the way you do. You are having a challenging but human experience and there are dozens of modalities that you can adopt, at once or altogether, in order to feel better.
You have not failed, you have only found a number of ways that have not yet worked. This doesn’t mean you’re running out of hope, it means you’re closer than you’ve ever been to finding your breakthrough.