Addressing any mental hurdle or issue head-on can help us fully heal.
Personally, I credit therapy as being essential to achieving my goals. Though there’s still a lot of work to be done, I’m grateful that the stigma around mental health is beginning to change for the better.
One of the primary challenges that many people face regarding their mental health is anxiety. Whether it’s been a problem they’ve always faced throughout their life, or it’s something that comes and goes, the effects of anxiety can be crippling.
That’s why I’m pumped to share today’s episode with you!
My guest is Dr. Ellen Vora, a well-known holistic psychiatrist who has made a difference in the lives of many people. In this conversation, we cover the difference between true and false anxiety, how to properly heal from trauma, and how we can all turn our anxiety into a superpower!
Ellen Vora, MD, is a holistic and board-certified psychiatrist, acupuncturist, and yoga teacher. She takes a functional medicine approach to mental health — considering the whole person and addressing imbalance at the root, rather than reflexively prescribing medication to suppress symptoms. Her focus is everything from physical health, sleep, nutrition, digestion, thought patterns, relationships, and community, to one’s connection with nature, creativity, and purpose.
She is also the writer of the book The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body’s Fear Response, a practical, informative, and profoundly hopeful book that fully explains the origins of anxiety and offers a detailed road map for healing and growth. This is aligned with her goal of empowering people and helping them lead fulfilling lives.
Dr. Vora received her B.A. in English from Yale University and her M.D. from Columbia University. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.
Anxiety is an emotional and physical response to a situation that we perceive as potentially stressful or dangerous.
While it’s normal to experience anxiety in some instances, it can quickly develop into an unhealthy condition when it becomes uncontrollable. To make matters worse, many people who feel anxiety don’t know what to do to help themselves, leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
To navigate this situation, Dr. Vora explains how anxiety is diagnosed. She refers to using the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), a classification of mental disorders produced by the American Psychiatric Association. The manual was an effort to standardize diagnoses and treatment between different practitioners and facilities. If you have enough symptoms that qualify for a diagnosis of clinical anxiety or panic, you can refer to it to unlock medication.
However, in the holistic approach that Dr. Vora practices, only two classifications exist — true and false anxiety. So how are they different? She explains,
“False anxiety is our avoidable, unnecessary, and preventable anxiety. Simply speaking, its sources are these seemingly benign aspects of modern life that are tipping our body into a stress response.” – Dr. Ellen Vora
For some, this might sound as if their suffering is invalidated. However, what Dr. Vora is saying here is that there is a path out. This path has to do with managing the ways our physical body gets out of balance whether by a blood sugar crash, inflammation, chronic sleep deprivation, micronutrient deficiency, too much strong coffee or alcohol, or something else.
“Now, what remains after you’ve taken care of these sources of false anxiety is true anxiety. That’s purposeful anxiety and not something to medicate away. It’s not a nuisance and not something to pathologize. It’s something to slow down and listen to. … It could be a relationship that we’re in. It could be something to do with our work life. It could have something to do with our community or the world around us.” – Dr. Ellen Vora
Dealing with anxiety can feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle due to factors that intensify our symptoms. However, knowing the differences between true and false anxiety gives us the beginning of a framework that can help every individual to have a healthy and more enlightened way of approaching anxiety in their lives. If they think that their anxiety is caused by their lifestyle, they can reduce it with self-care techniques like getting a good night’s rest or keeping in tune with their body for a better diet.
On the other hand, if you’re still feeling anxious after changes have been made, you might need to stop and listen to what your body is telling you. Once you have listened to it, honored it, heeded the messages, and taken steps accordingly, you can remove the discomfort caused by anxiety.
Instead, you can have a feeling of purpose — a very different kind of charge.
As Dr. Vora mentioned, true anxiety is what’s left when we start changing our lifestyle and avoiding habits that trigger our stress responses. She also adds that it can come from relationships, work-life, or world events around us. Previous work relationships or bad past childhood experiences can leave us with physical, emotional, and psychological effects.
Luckily, there are ways to heal from trauma. Using her expertise, Dr. Vora suggests ways we can fully heal from it.
Dr. Vora believes that individuals have seven energy vortices in their bodies. These chakras spin and draw in energy to keep our bodies’ spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health in balance. Some of this energy comes from speaking our truth and self-love. Unfortunately, there are daily practices that hinder us from developing this energy.
“The world conditions us — especially women of trauma — to please not disappoint people and solve their problems. So, we give our false yes all the time. … And every time we do that, we either flake it at the last minute, get stretched too thin, [become] burned out, or resent the other person. … As we systematically silence our truth, it’s every time a little betrayal of the self.” – Dr. Ellen Vora
In her own words, Dr. Vora reminds us that speaking our truth about whatever is going on at that moment, even if it’s scary or hard to say out loud, is an essential step in healing from trauma.
Doing so builds a sense of inner peace and self-esteem. It gives voice to what you’re experiencing, regardless of what others think. Speaking your truth is also a way of standing up for yourself, making you feel empowered, especially if you were once powerless. In the long run, it can even help you deal with a range of problems such as anger issues, relationships, and physical health.
What Dr. Vora shares reminds me of the concept of radical self-love. It is being in a state where you believe yourself to be more than enough. It’s connected to being radically honest with yourself and other people. Though it may cause a momentary feeling of stress, letdown, or disappointment, you’ll feel proud of yourself for being honest.
As mentioned by Dr. Vora, anxiety can stem from our daily habits. Some of these habits include drinking too much caffeine and alcohol.
“Coffee is like our savior and one true friend. It’s not inherently bad due to its antioxidants and magnesium. It’s also associated with a lower risk of type two diabetes, Parkinson’s, and suicide. However, we’re all different. … So, even if it’s great, if you’re sensitive and it makes you tremulous when something stressful happens — life is always gonna show up with a stressor. So, maybe it’s not the right substance for you.” – Dr. Ellen Vora
So, while coffee gets credit for relieving us from a state we don’t want to be in, it can also create other problems — the same is true with alcohol consumption.
It initially puts our body in a state of relaxation but somewhat forces us to restore homeostasis so we can stay alert in case of emergencies. That’s why after you’ve had a few drinks, you might find yourself not sleeping well and becoming irritable, and the next thing you know, you’re picking a fight with your partner.
Sleep deprivation is another area we can work on. It can increase hunger, sugar cravings, and weight gain — leading to stress and other adverse health outcomes. This creates a vicious cycle that makes it harder to improve our health.
Again, friends, there are many effective methods for treating trauma, but finding one that works for you can take time. Some ways to keep the negative factors in check are sticking to a healthy diet, getting at least seven hours of sleep per night, and practicing meditation or yoga to reduce stress levels.
While no single approach will work for everyone, know that trauma is treatable. So don’t despair!
Many people believe anxiety is a purely biological phenomenon — that it’s just your body reacting to outside stimuli. Yet the reality is much more complex and often closer to home. Thankfully, as Dr. Vora pointed out, there’s a way to navigate and deal with it — sort out sources of false anxiety to effectively deal with the true ones.
Once we’re able to identify our real anxiety and we’re able to listen to it, we can then turn it into our superpower instead of viewing it as an enemy. A good example is when some people shame or call out anxious folks as too sensitive. Dr. Vora explains:
“Culture frowns on sensitivity, but I think that the same people that can’t handle crowds are the ones truly attuned to other people’s needs. They are the ones that pick up on the body language, microexpressions, and realize that someone’s not feeling heard or someone’s not getting their needs met. … That’s what the world needs sorely now. We need people with their finger on the pulse who can sense and suggest a course correction.” – Dr. Ellen Vora
Isn’t that good to hear? Dr. Vora gave us ways to deal with anxiety, overcome it, and use it to our advantage. It just takes some effort and dedication on our part.
Overcoming anxiety also starts with self-awareness to help us identify our stressors and triggers and change them if needed. From there, we can then transform it into a superpower!
Lots of people suffer from anxiety — it’s a fact of life. And for many, it can be challenging to deal with. It can prevent us from doing some things and even hold us back from our potential. But as Dr. Vora shares in the episode, we can use our anxiety to help us get out there and become a powerhouse in this world.
According to Dr. Vora, this is the definition of greatness:
“Greatness is fulfillment. That’s individual, so it’s whatever that means to you.” – Dr. Ellen Vora
Anxiety affects our greatness or stifles it, but only if we will allow it. That’s why it is essential to understand its nature and start taking steps toward navigating it.
What amazing wisdom from Dr. Vora!
If you want to know more about her work, check out her website and Instagram and get her book, The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body’s Fear Response.
Oh, and don’t forget to tag Dr. Vora, @ellenvoramd, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram with your favorite takeaways from the episode. Please also go to Apple Podcasts and subscribe to The School of Greatness YouTube Channel. Leave a five-star rating and a comment on our page so we can help more people to find their greatness.
If you’re ready to turn the anxiety that’s been holding you back into the thing that propels your life forward, I encourage you to join me for Episode 1,240 of The School of Greatness!
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