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Can we recognize anxiety when we see it?

Several years ago, I underwent a very, very difficult season of life. When my life is all done, I hope to be able to say, “That was THE most difficult year of my life.”

Time will tell, of course. I’m wise enough to know that there are no guarantees. But I’d be quite happy if I never had to face anything quite like that year.

I won’t bore you with details. Suffice to say that year was a perfect storm of pain, disappointment, failure and shame. It came at me from many angles—physical, financial, spiritual, relational, professional and deeply personal.

I refer to it as my “year from hell.”

The year of great sadness.

About halfway through the year, I noticed a marked change in my voice. I found it difficult to speak, as if I were constantly straining to talk.

I sounded like a man in his 80’s.

My wife noticed it, too. We were baffled as to why.

Over time, we identified the cause.


The year’s events created a pile-up of stress. Anxiety was an ever-present companion. One way it showed its ugly head was constriction in my throat, causing strain in my voice.

We did some research and discovered that this is actually a thing. It’s called, “Old Man’s Voice.”

Pretty creative name, eh?

Turns out that “Old Man’s Voice” is a common symptom and sign of anxiety.

This proved to be very useful information for me. Now I had a mechanism to identify elevated levels of anxiety.

This is an important step in effective regulation of anxiety. If we are going to get to the place where we’re able to have our anxiety without anxiety having us, we must first be able to identify when our anxiety is heightened.

Many are hijacked by anxiety; unaware they are even anxious. They haven’t learned to identify the signals their anxiety is triggered and on the prowl.

We each have our unique manifestations of elevated anxiety:

· Chewing fingernails.

· Pacing the floor.

· Overeating; undereating.

· Constant sighing.

· Excessive talking and laughing.

· Upset stomach.

· Tension in our neck and shoulders.

· Whistling.

· Mindless scrolling through social media.

The list is endless.

The important thing is to learn to recognize when we are doing whatever we do.

And then to ask ourselves, “Why?”

What is this behavior trying to tell us? What are we anxious about?

On more than one occasion I’ve been sitting with someone in conversation and noticed their foot moving rapidly up and down. I’ll ask them if they are doing okay.

“Yes. I’m fine. Why do you ask?” they’ll reply.

“Well, it seems like your foot is trying to tell me something. I wonder what it’s saying?”

This is often their first awareness of their anxiety.

Until we learn to recognize the indicators of anxiety, we won’t be able to master it. Once we see it, then we’re on our way to more effective regulation.

By the way, there’s a rationale behind “Old Man’s Voice.” The root word of anxiety is “angst.” Angst carries a fascinating meaning: to choke, constrict, strangle.

This is the work of anxiety. It constricts and chokes. The corresponding tightness strangles us, physically as well as metaphorically.

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I was recently interviewed by Katarina Todorovic with Mystic Mag. Follow the link for the article.


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