Somatic Anxiety

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

The body’s anxiety is different from regular anxiety!

Regular anxiety is a sensation that just about everybody would be anxious about: driving in icy conditions. At rush hour, in London (on the wrong side of the road.) Wondering if there’s enough money in your account for the check you’re writing. An angry person next to you has a weapon.

When you’re experiencing regular anxiety, a change in the circumstances — being FROM London, or having a lot of winter-driving experience, or knowing there’s a policeman on the way, or being able to verify account balances, would relieve the stress. 

A person with somatic anxiety, a type I often deal with, will feel quite justified in what s/he’s frightened of: spiders give me the creeps, I’m afraid I’ll fall from a height, public speaking terrifies me, etc.  But with many people, if you solve that anxiety — removing the hazard, or something — they’ll transfer that fear and pre-occupation to something else.  Medical professionals call this free-floating anxiety.

Another big source of anxiety that I help with, stems from a person’s awareness that they can’t do something that they think they ought to be able to. Examples might include reading aloud (or even just reading), conversing successfully with a new person, or balancing a checkbook, or passing a test.  In those cases, working on increasing the number and strength of connections can build confidence that “I’m up to the task.”

The huge take-away from this is that if your unconscious or subconscious is anxious, it can lead to a harder time with

  • learning academics, including dyslexia
  • being present
  • being graceful (ie, anti-clumsiness)
  • being socially adept
  • being happy
  • processing sensory information (including hypersensitivity to light and noises, which leads to further anxiety)
  • paying attention
  • focusing
  • being still
  • memory
  • depression
  • emotional control and resilience
  • being able to see both details and big picture
  • feeling safe
  • making friends
  • being able to organize and remember

This is because if there’s a shortage of enough strong connections in the earliest-developing part of the nervous system, that should have developed by the time we were three, higher-level resources are recruited to perform those tasks.

What SHOULD produce anxiety in an unborn baby or newborn — because s/he is immobile and vulnerable — should NOT produce a feeling of unsafety in the rest of us. But the “danger-alert” awareness gets pushed, so we look for what might be a problem. Again, higher-level resources are recruited to bring us to a feeling of safety.

The consequences of this back-of-the-mind, subconscious / unconscious alert is wide-ranging and can be devastating. The alerts are more like a dimmer-switch than a regular light switch: you can learn them in a range from a very little bit to totally automated.  The less you’ve learned them, the more disruptive they are to anything you/your body needs to learn later on.

So, in varying amounts, the body’s automatic way of helping its chances of survival can lead to great inconvenience:  senses go on hyper-alert, to become aware of the very first signs of potential danger. This leads to a dislike of bright lights, loud sounds (and low pitches), dislike of smells, dislike of tactile input. This last could be just a tags-in-clothes, seams-in-socks, or even just not liking to be touched.  (This was my first awareness that we didn’t know why infants with autism would stiffen and scream when being cuddled). It can result in picky eaters. We may avoid movement, or seek it (or other sensory input) out.

People who are chronically anxious will do their best to stay alive by doing their best to control all that they can. This can result in a controlling personality, a dislike of change, insistence of having their own way, including a huge inability to regulate their emotions. People can have all they can do to deal with the anxiety, leading them to be easily overwhelmed with life. That can mean avoidant or addictive behavior.  It also can lead to fewer resources that would be dedicated to things like sensory processing, learning to read, or focusing and paying attention.  With the interior wiring chaotic, memory and organizing one’s life can also be impaired.

Evidence is increasing that, with chronic anxiety giving chronic adrenaline, a chronically tense and stressed body perhaps has a role to play in autoimmune diseases, gut issues, aging, impaired trauma recovery and so much more.

A stitch in time saves ever so much difficulty!