“I Have Anxiety. Does that Mean I’m Crazy?”
As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I frequently encounter people suffering from anxiety. Some of my clients come to me after years of combating feelings of fear, heart palpitations, stomach pain, weakness, helplessness and overall agitation. They feel out of control because of these sensations. Someone struggling with anxiety never knows when these feelings will arise or how to stop them. Naturally, they come to me asking, “What’s wrong with me? Am I crazy?”
The short answer is, “No, you’re completely normal!” In fact, your body is working exactly as God created it to work.
If you’re still with me, you might be wondering if I’m the crazy one. How could these feelings be normal or part of God’s plan for humanity?
Let’s journey through the brain to learn about the Limbic system. I refer to this section of the brain as the “Animal Brain.” The Limbic system does not think; it merely reacts. The Animal Brain’s job is to keep you alive by helping to regulate your hormones, respirations, heartbeat, etc. You and I can’t stop the Limbic system from operating; it’s constantly running in the background.
This part of the brain is also responsible for the “Fight or Flight” response. God, in His infinite wisdom, gifted us with this response to keep us alive in times of imminent danger. When we perceive a threat, our brain sends a message (in the form of hormones) to either stand our ground and fight the threat (Fight) or retreat from the danger (Flight).
When you are in the state of Fight or Flight, you may feel your heart rate increase. Your stomach may feel sick because your body does not want to waste energy digesting food. You may feel agitated as your body builds adrenaline to prepare you to either fight or run from the threat.
Do these symptoms sound familiar? Do they remind you of the feelings you have when you feel anxious?
That’s because, to the Animal Brain, all threats — real or perceived — get the same response. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a bear attack or a burglar in your house. Instead of a bear, it might be a big test, a first date, a new job, a big decision or maybe just dinner with family.
The first step to managing feelings of anxiety is to realize that you are not crazy, weak or have anything wrong with you. The truth is that your body, working in this natural way, is doing exactly what God created it to do. You are simply reacting naturally to your perceived threats and fears.
Understanding the body’s natural response to threats helps empower you to conquer your fears and live in peace. When you do this, you get off the “hamster wheel” of an anxious cycle. When you initially feel the anxious response, and that acknowledgment makes you even more anxious, you become anxious that you are anxious — which could continue until you are in full-on-panic-mode. This empowers your Animal Brain — You’re right! We are in danger!— which increases the Fight or Flight response.
But when you allow yourself off the “hamster wheel” of anxiety, you are saying, “Animal Brain, I know what you are doing. I know you a scared, but we are safe. God created this response, and therefore it is good. But I don’t need it right now.”
Mastering control over the voice of the animal brain is an important skill to acquire. Once you get off of the hamster wheel, the skills that help reduce anxiety are more effective. Some of these include deep breathing, grounding (making yourself aware of your surroundings through your senses), mental imagery, calming music, journaling and prayer.
Individuals who suffer with anxiety often feel alone. But they aren’t. Everyone suffers from these same feelings! The roots of anxiety come from our nature; God created our bodies to protect us because He loves us.
So, the next time you are feeling anxious, free yourself from the fear and guilt that so often comes with anxiety. Know that God loves you and that you don’t have to be on the hamster wheel anymore.
You aren’t weird. You aren’t crazy. You’re human.
Catherine DiNuzzo is a Licensed Professional Counselor and operates DiNuzzo Counseling, LLC, a fully digital counseling practice, 100% faithful to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, making counseling available to anyone around the world via a secure online portal. Check out more at DiNuzzoCounseling.com.
Disclosure: The purpose of this article is to begin a conversation about anxiety. It is not all-inclusive to all the causes or treatments. If you feel that anxiety is impacting your life in a negative way, please reach out for help. Suffering from anxiety can feel lonely, and there are people who can help. You do not need to do this alone.