Here’s What the Reversal of Roe v. Wade Really Means

You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.

Whether it’s their close friends or the ideological company with which they cavort.

Or those whom they favorably quote.

Consider Justice Samuel Alito, who, in his recently leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, made it clear whose authority he believes we should rely upon for assessing the legitimacy of abortion.

That authority?

Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th-century English Judge.

In his decision — in which he says the Court misinterpreted history when they legalized abortion in 1973 — Alito references Hale, who insisted that abortion was a “great crime.”

Even though Hale wasn’t an American judge whose meanderings might be seen as a matter of national importance, Alito insists his views are relevant.

Why? Because they speak to the common law tradition to which we should be largely bound and from which he believes Roe grievously deviated.

And he says this even though no state outlawed abortion for the first century of the nation’s existence, despite that common law history.

In other words, the founders didn’t give a damn about Judge Hale.

But according to Alito, Hale is the authority to whom we should look for guidance here.

This tells us a lot about Samuel Alito and the thinking of the anti-abortion right-wing.

Because Sir Matthew Hale wasn’t merely a jurist who viewed abortion as a horrible offense.

He was also one who imposed death sentences on women for witchcraft and devised the theory that a husband couldn’t be guilty of raping his wife because:

…the husband cannot be guilty of rape… upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up to this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract

Lovely.

This is the individual to whom we should listen.

A man who murdered women under cover of law and justified their rape under the same.

He, and not our own notions of right and wrong, should guide us.

He, and not women themselves, should be the arbiter of how their pregnancies progress, or if they do.

This is what the right has always believed: that the thinking of long-dead men (especially white men and Christians) should take priority over modern notions of justice and equality.

Especially when those modern notions might have been influenced by those who would have been previously forced into silence.

This was never about “state’s rights” or even abortion, per se

Anyone who believes the fight to overturn Roe has been about abortion alone hasn’t been paying attention.

It was never that simple.

Nor was it about returning these matters to the states.

Oh sure, some conservatives would insist that was their only purpose.

They would say things like, “Nine judges in DC shouldn’t tell people in Alabama or Nebraska how to think about the sanctity of human life.”

In other words, states should be free to live by their own moral convictions on such matters.

If Mississippi wants to outlaw abortion, it should be allowed. If California wishes to keep it legal, so be it.

But they never meant any of that.

Now that Roe is to be overturned, those who fought to make that happen have revealed their true selves.

They now admit their desire to obtain a nationwide ban on abortion if Republicans reclaim control of both houses of Congress.

Which shouldn’t be surprising.

After all, if you believe abortion is murder and that embryonic and fetal life is morally equal to the woman carrying it, it stands to reason you wouldn’t be satisfied with banning abortion in 26 states.

Once one decides a woman has no right to bodily autonomy and that she can be forced to sacrifice that body to another being against her will, federalism becomes a trifle.

But not only that.

Far more than abortion is at risk.

By ruling that the legal basis for Roe was faulty — that an implicit right to privacy exists in the Constitution — the Court has thrown down the gauntlet against the last half-century of jurisprudence regarding sex and gender.

Privacy was the basis for the Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which struck down state laws against contraception.

If there is no right to privacy, there is no right to control one’s reproduction even before becoming pregnant.

Though no state would outlaw all forms of contraception, it is certainly conceivable that several might seek to ban birth control pills, which some believe (falsely) to be abortifacients.

Beyond matters of reproduction, Lawrence v. Texas, the decision striking down so-called sodomy laws — really, the outlawing of homosexuality — relied upon the principle of privacy now put in the wood chipper by the highest Court.

And since Alito’s opinion insists rights aren’t real if they haven’t stood the test of time over many generations, it seems almost certain that he and his reactionary colleagues would find overturning Lawrence and once again outlawing LGBTQ folks acceptable.

As well as marriage equality.

Although Obergefell v. Hodges rested upon more than implied privacy rights — it also turned on notions of equal protection — there is little doubt that Alito would apply his anti-Roe logic to that decision.

Indeed, he already did in his dissent to Obergefell: an opinion for which he didn’t have a majority then — but likely would now.

The real goal is domination and control — the restoration of traditional hierarchy

It is time to face the facts.

First, those who still say “there’s no real difference between Democrats and Republicans” are unworthy of being listened to about anything beyond restaurant Yelp reviews at this point.

If you’re one of those who thought it would be no big deal if Trump won, or if some Republican Senator in your state did — so you sat out the elections or voted for some third party candidate so you could feel pure — seriously, fuck you very much.

Second, know this: the war on Roe was never about abortion so much as restoring traditional hierarchy and authority.

Outlawing abortion and limiting, if not banning, certain types of birth control strips women of sexual autonomy and restores hegemonic sexual power to men.

Which is precisely the point.

They aren’t principally concerned about fetuses and embryos, let alone “babies.”

As Margaret Renkl noted in her recent New York Times piece, if they were, they would support policies that would bring down abortion rates dramatically by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies.

They would want expanded access to birth control and more comprehensive sex education, which actually works, unlike the abstinence version.

But they have supported neither of these.

Why? Because their desire to limit abortion and save fetal life was always less important to them than restricting sexual activity outside of marriage or sex for pleasure without the possibility of procreation.

Additionally, as Renkl notes, if they’d been concerned with reducing abortions, they would have supported expanded social safety nets for families and children — affordable child care, paid family leave, and more comprehensive health care coverage — rather than seeking to slash these.

But in each case, they took the position that would make it more difficult for parents to raise children, increasing the likelihood that a pregnancy would end in abortion.

Because this was never about saving babies.

It was about controlling women and maintaining traditional hierarchy, which, in the economic sense, would be challenged by larger safety nets.

If that doesn’t convince you, there is one final proof that the right cares only about controlling women and nothing about “saving babies.”

Namely, the way conservatives address in vitro fertilization.

Jessica Valenti has pointed out that if fertilized eggs are “persons” in the womb, they must also be persons when waiting to be implanted in a woman who has stored them for later usage.

But if so, why do abortion opponents not seek to prohibit the discarding of such “persons,” which occurs all the time, usually after successful implantation and once a couple (or single woman) decides they don’t want more kids?

Why don’t pro-lifers seek to prosecute couples who discard their “extra babies” or the labs who do?

When Alabama State Senator Clyde Chambliss was asked this a few years ago, he gave the revealing answer, noting that “the egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

Right, because abortion restrictions are not about saving human life, they are about restricting the rights and autonomy of women.

The right-wing is solely about domination and subordination.

It is all they have ever been about.

The Republican Party and its ideological leaders are the enemies of women’s liberty.

They must be defeated, finally and forever.

Not compromised with.

Not understood or brought into some broader bipartisan coalition.

Crushed.

Roe vs. Wade is Dead, Our Lawmakers Have Failed Us Once AGAIN

Well, it’s happening.

As America’s celebrities gathered in all their wealth and glamour at a Gilded Age themed Met Gala in New York, news broke that according to a first draft majority opinion that was leaked to Politico, the conservative Supreme Court has decided to strike down the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that guarantees a woman’s right to abortion.

I struggled to fall asleep on Tuesday night.

All night long I tossed and turned as the news sunk in, unable to shake off everything that I was thinking and feeling. We all knew it was coming, didn’t we? But, that does little to prepare us for when it actually happens, does it?

I have become accustomed to essentially being told by those around me that I’m just too angry. Too divisive. I expect too much. I live in a fantasyland. I’m silly. Naive? Oh, I’ve heard that more times than I can count. I’ve heard it all. Well when it comes to this issue, I don’t have the patience for any of it.

Yes, I am angry. Absolutely livid.

In all honesty, though, I think I might be more sad than angry.

Obviously, I’m angry at the right wing. I’m angry at the fact that this decision was made with those responsible all too aware that this was going to do nothing to prevent abortion. This will kill women, and they know it. Of course, it’s not lost on me either that these are the very same people who claim to care about life, while at the same time refusing to do anything to help the women and children they’re forcing into these circumstances.

Do those who claim to be “pro-life” want to ensure that school lunches and breakfasts are free? Do they want to ensure they have access to a free, high-quality education that will continue through college? Do they want to ensure the women being forced to carry a child will be able to feed, house, and clothe that child? If she or the child gets sick, do they aim to ensure there is access to healthcare that’s free at the point of service?

Of course not, and they don’t even deny it.

In the eyes of the Supreme Court and those who support this decision, women are incubators and nothing more. This is not about life this is about control. This is about ensuring that it’s even more difficult for women to attain economic freedom and control over their lives. This is about upward class mobility and ensuring fewer and fewer people — obviously for women overall, and Black and Brown women in particular — can achieve it.

And then, there’s the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party whose refusal to even attempt to codify Roe vs. Wade into law with the House, the Senate and the White House in their control is absolutely unforgivable. The Democratic party would rather fundraise off of this than respond with substantive action. The Democratic Party, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, supports anti-choice Democrats like Henry Cuellar simply because of that D next to their name.

They must be so proud.

But hey, as long as those panicky fundraising emails deliver some money, it’s worth it, right?

How can you not be disgusted?

And then some brushed off the importance of the Courts. Those who insisted it really wasn’t going to make much of a difference and Trump’s impact on the judicial system was no big deal. Well, considering this wouldn’t have been possible if he had not won, I’d say that it was, wasn’t it?

I am exhausted. I am devastated. I am angry.

But I refuse to feel powerless. If they’re going to wage this all-out war, then we must fight back. No lawmaker should be able to visit their offices at home without someone questioning them about codifying Roe vs. Wade into law, and the steps they’re going to take to make it happen. I don’t want to see a single fundraising email or text message from any of them over this. Personally, I don’t even think I could stomach hearing Nancy Pelosi talk about it. They sicken me, and until they actually take action I have no patience for any of them.

Now is the time to channel anger into action. It’s time to fight.

Suddenly Mitch McConnell is Concerned About Dark Money?

Of all the people operating within federal politics today, few — arguably none — have been as nefarious or effective throughout their career than GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell. Over the course of decades he has succeeded in achieving some of the devastating core goals of the elite, and the country has felt the effects. Perhaps one of the stealthiest and consequential avenues McConnell has used to achieve the goals of the donor class was through packing the courts, which in turn allowed for their victories in cases like Citizens United now over a decade ago.

Citizens United, which was arguably the nail in the coffin when it came to protections from dark money infiltrating the American political system, has only fueled deep seeded divisions and the feelings of hopelessness that accompany a political system where lawmakers are responsive to high dollar donors as opposed to their actual constituents.

All that being considered, when it comes to his reasonings for not supporting Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, McConnell’s comments were interesting to say the least.

Brendan Fletcher with NBC news writes:

“On the day President Joe Biden announced Jackson’s nomination, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared she “was the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups.” During the first day of Jackson’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, feigned concern about the “troubling role of far-left dark money groups” in the judicial selection process.”

At this point, sickening doesn’t even begin to describe this level of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

It goes deeper than that, though.

Doesn’t this serve as a clear indication of how acutely aware the GOP is of the disdain the American people have for the clear corruption within our political system? It takes a level of manipulation and frankly sociopathy for the people most responsible to take that anger, and flip it on its head. The unmitigated nerve of Mitch McConnell of all people to feign concern about dark money influencing politics is incredible.

Of course, as obvious as it might be it feels necessary to point out the fact that there are absolutely no “far left” dark money groups, let alone any that are powerful enough to hold sway over Democratic lawmakers. Mitch McConnell is merely doing what the GOP does best: feeding into the fears of their base because they have absolutely nothing else to offer. McConnell knows that sending these dog whistles will appear to his base’s vehement hatred of “antifa”, and their misguided belief that the Democratic party is somehow beholden to them.

If discussions of “far left” dark money groups gets the base distracted from the fact that it’s right wing elite like Charles Koch who have bought and purchased the GOP, then of course McConnell will feed into it.

Again, what else does he have to offer the average voter?

Congress Needs Term Limits, or At Least, Age Limits

There are currently 14 octogenarians in the U.S. Congress. That’s a little over 3% of Congressmen. Of those 14, however, are some of the most powerful names in both the U.S. House and Senate.

  • Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House, is 81-years-old
  • Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Minority Leader, is 80-years-old.

There are even a few pushing 90, including:

  • Chuck Grassley (age 88)
  • Dianne Feinstein (age 88)

Ol’ Chuck even plans to run for reelection, where if he wins and serves out his term, he’ll be 94.

Dianne is in the middle of a term that will take her to age 92 by the time she finishes.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect and revere elder statesmen. The wisdom they can impart and the experiences they can draw from are unmatched in the population.

But governing requires energy and fresh perspectives. It also demands freedom from conflicts of interest, which I’m not confident someone has after 40+ years in government.

People should rarely if not even be driving in their late 80s let alone governing.


Age Limits

In a country of ~330 million, the United States has a deep pool of potential candidates. Yet the same people stay in Washington D.C. forever.

This current Congress is one of the oldest on record. Half of the U.S. Senate is 65 years or older. The House is not much younger.

Age of Congress

We have maximum age limits in many other parts of society, so this should not be controversial. Here are some examples:

  • Pilots — they have to give up their wings at age 65
  • Military — age 28 (Marines) to 39 depending on branch

Certain U.S. states even impose maximum age limits for judges and politicians (generally set at age 70).

Other countries have similar limits for judges and politicians, including:

  • Australia — age 70 for judges on federal courts
  • Brazil — age 70 for all public servant
  • Canada — age 70 or 75 for judges (depending on court) and 75 for federal senators

So while I do not profess to know the exact age limit for Congressmen, I know there needs to be one. Chuck, Dianne, and others should be enjoying their glory years and giving someone else a turn at captaining the ship.


Term Limits

Not only is Chuck Grassley 88-years-old, but he’s worked in Congress since 1975. As of 2022, that’s 47 years in Washington D.C. It’s time, Chuck.

The same can be said about President Joe Biden who has worked in Washington D.C. since 1973.

Regardless of political ideology, after decades spent in Washington even the most morally sound person can get too entwined in the district lifestyle of lobbyists and special interest groups.

Which is why term limits are necessary.

Incumbents have major advantages over any challengers, so relying on the standard democratic process is insufficient. Their financial advantages, in particular, give them a significant leg up over any other candidates.

Reasonable term limits would level the playing field and encourage fresh perspectives after a certain period of time.

Democracy runs on the fuel of bold ideas. It is hard to incentivize boldness in Congressmen who know their jobs are all but guaranteed. Fresh takes and challenges would only serve to strengthen America’s flailing democracy.

It might also encourage more Congressmen to put country over party.


Cleaning Up Congress

Term and age limits are not going to clean up Congress completely. There are rampant financial conflicts that should be easy to address, although it’s admittedly hard to get Congressmen to regulate themselves.

But term and age limits would mitigate conflicts and reasonably ensure new blood. No elected official should get too comfortable on their taxpayer-funded salary.

And octogenarians should be enjoying their lives, not engaging in the polarized battle that has become U.S. politics. Maybe a fresh group of candidates — actually willing to work with one another — is just what the country needs.

Ted Cruz is a Racist Hack

His questions to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson reveal his contempt for Black people and the intelligence of us all

At the risk of sounding like a broken record — after all, what I’m going to say about Ted Cruz is something I said recently about Tucker Carlson — sometimes repetition has its virtues.

This is especially true when referring to birds of a feather who together drop their shit from telephone wires on the unsuspecting who walk beneath them.

And so, let it be proclaimed loudly and clearly: Ted Cruz is a racist asshole.

We know this because he treats Black people as interchangeable pieces on a racial chessboard who should be expected to answer for others of their group, in a way he would never expect of whites.

Cruz is also a hack, by which I mean a fraud who deliberately distorts reality for political purposes using out-of-context quotes from those with whom he disagrees to smear them and those he views as adjacent to them.

We know all of this because of how he comported himself yesterday in the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Cruz (who thirstily searched for himself on Twitter once his performance was done) demonstrated both the racism and the hackery during his allotted time to question Jackson.

Cruz’s attack on The 1619 Project was a racist and dishonest smear job

First, he quizzed the nominee about The 1619 Project because of a speech she had given in which she praised Nikole Hannah-Jones, who orchestrated the New York Times series by that name.

Cruz, noting that several historians have criticized the series, implied that Jackson’s favorable mention of it suggested she agreed with all of its contents. Presumably, this would include Hannah-Jones’s own essay for the Project, in which she argued that one reason for the American Revolution was the desire of white colonists to preserve the system of slavery.

Cruz, who thirstily searched for himself on Twitter as soon as his performance was done, demonstrated both the racism and the hackery during his allotted time to question Jackson.

Before addressing Cruz’s attack here, I want to point out that this view, though controversial, is not as outrageous as some might believe. Gerald Horne presents evidence for it in The Counterrevolution of 1776, as do Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen in their volume, Slave Nation.

I have no doubt Cruz has said favorable things about Thomas Jefferson. And yet, no one would presume that he agrees with Jefferson’s documented raping of his human property, his ownership of hundreds of Black people, or his comments about how, regarding whites and Blacks, “the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

Although Jefferson’s racism and rapism are infinitely more offensive than even the most uncharitable reading of Hannah-Jones, no one would seek to hold Cruz responsible for the former just because he has opined as to the greatness of the Declaration of Independence.

Yet Cruz expects this of Jackson concerning Hannah-Jones, simply because she said some kind words about the 1619 Project.

Likewise, it is inconceivable that anyone would quiz a white nominee about some speech in which they had praised the Constitution by asking how they felt about many of the framers owning other human beings and virtually all holding racist views.

Yet, in this case, Cruz has asked Jackson to justify her praise of the 1619 Project, based on one part of Hannah-Jones’s writing, which itself is only one small part of the larger work. Why, other than the two women’s shared race, would Jackson be expected to do such a thing?

The difference, driven home by Cruz this week, is clear — it’s racism.

White people can say and do racist things, and other white people don’t have to answer for them, even if those secondary white people have praised the first group.

But if Black people write things that merely offend your historical perspective, any Black person who has said something nice about the offending writer can be called on the carpet for it and interrogated like a common criminal.

Got it, racist, thanks.

Cruz’s attack on Ibram X. Kendi’s books was equally dishonest (and racist)

Cruz then did the same thing — seeking to hold one Black person accountable for another — in his discussion of Ibram X. Kendi’s work in the children’s books Antiracist Baby and Stamped (for Kids).

The link between Jackson and Kendi? None really, except that Jackson sits on the Board of Trustees for Georgetown Day School, a progressive private school in DC, and Kendi’s books are among several that GDS either uses in class or has referenced in recent years in some of their racial equity initiatives.

(Apparently) if Black people write things that offend your historical perspective, any Black person who has said something nice about the offending writer can be called on the carpet for it and interrogated like a common criminal

For Cruz, whose own daughters attend a private school in Houston that also recommends and uses Kendi’s work, this was enough of a link to grill Jackson about her views of it, or at least his dishonest caricature of that material.

Cruz notes that according to Antiracist Baby, children are either “taught racism or antiracism, there is no neutrality.” To Cruz, this suggests that kids are natural-born racists, and he asked Jackson her view about that, even though that isn’t what Kendi is arguing — quite the opposite.

As per the research on this matter, he insists that racism is taught. By not deliberately instilling antiracist thinking in young people, they will grow up to participate actively or passively in racism.

While one might find that hard to hear, it’s undeniable. Historically, that’s precisely what has happened.

Most white Americans, for instance, were not enslavers, owners of segregated businesses, or terrorists who attacked sit-in protesters. But most white people sat by and never actively fought against enslavement or segregation either. Most went along. Kendi’s point is that this is not neutrality. It is passive but real and meaningful participation in evil.

Cruz may not like the sound of it. But that doesn’t make it untrue.

And the fact that one Black person said it in a book on a reading list at a school on whose board Jackson serves doesn’t mean she should have to address it at all. Likewise, she also shouldn’t be expected to weigh in on Hemingway’s alcoholism and propensity for violence if the school teaches A Farewell to Arms.

So too, when Cruz turned to Kendi’s book for teens, Stamped (for Kids) — a version of his award-winning volume Stamped from the Beginning — he distorted its contents while expecting Jackson to weigh in on them.

For instance, Cruz notes, with much indignation, that Stamped (for Kids), which Kendi co-authored with Jason Reynolds, includes the line, “Can we send white people back to Europe?”

Of course, he ignores the context of this sentence, which, if read correctly, would change the author’s meaning from what Cruz implies (that Kendi is an anti-white bigot) to what he intended.

And what is that? By reading the entire passage, it’s obvious: namely, to tell people of color to “go back” where they came from — something they hear often — is absurd because they are as much a part of America as white folks.

Kendi and Reynolds were trying to make that point by asking how white people would feel if, for instance, Indigenous persons asked, “can we send white people back to Europe?”

It wasn’t meant to endorse European repatriation. It was meant to demonstrate the absurdity of racism.

And Ted Cruz knows that.

Cruz’s claims of Judge Jackson’s link to Critical Race Theory is peak bullshit

Likewise, Cruz knows Judge Brown doesn’t use Critical Race Theory in sentencing decisions. But he suggested as much when he displayed a poster board with a snippet of a sentence from one of her speeches, in which she noted how criminal sentencing policy raises all kinds of issues, including those posed by Critical Race Theory.

It is obvious to any honest observer that Jackson was talking about how sentencing policy raises the kinds of questions about racial injustice that CRT has long addressed.

And that’s true.

The history of sentencing policy obviously raises these issues.

From how rape and sexual assault were treated when committed by Black men as opposed to white men to modern-day differences in sentencing for powder instead of crack cocaine, such issues have been raised.

Critical Race Theory has long pointed out the consistency of such disparities to suggest that racism in the law has functioned more as a feature than a system glitch.

Jackson was reflecting on that inarguable point, which emanates from CRT but is understood by most anyone who has observed criminal sentencing in America.

However, to Cruz, Jackson was suggesting she used CRT when handing down sentences in court. As if she would listen to the trial, then sneak off to chambers, open up a book by Derrick Bell or get on the phone with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, or Mari Matsuda and seek advice on what to do with the defendant in front of her.

Again, as with his distortions of Hannah-Jones’s work and Kendi’s, this is a ridiculous reading of Judge Jackson’s comment, and Ted Cruz knows it. Since he has no doubt read the full text of the various quotes he snipped and blew up onto poster boards for the hearing, his representation of those statements cannot be seen as anything other than deceptive.

In short, Ted Cruz is fully aware of precisely how full of shit Ted Cruz is.

Which, by now, is possibly the one thing he has in common with most of America, regardless of political party.

Anxiety Is in Your Body, Not Your Mind

As someone who deals with anxiety and panic attacks often, I compiled all of the information and wrote this blog

Everything happening in your body is good; you’re prepared to survive this tiger encounter. There’s just one small problem. It wasn’t a tiger. It was a tiny prehistoric weasel. Now your body is primed for fight-or-flight, your heart is racing, you’re totally jacked up on adrenaline… but there is no danger.

This is your body on anxiety. Replace the (nonexistent) tiger in the bushes with social media, traffic, politics, Covid-19, money, childcare, climate change, work stress, family drama, etc. and you can quickly see why anxiety is the most common mental illness in America, affecting nearly 20% of the population. Modern-day humans are basically a bunch of freaked-out Neanderthals in fight-or-flight mode 24/7.

“Anxiety is an impulse in our body that says, ‘I’m not safe right now,’” says Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, the author of Widen The Window: Training Your Body and Brain to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma. “It’s automatic, really fast and unconscious.”

Your survival brain vs. your thinking brain

In her work, Stanley makes the distinction between the thinking brain, our neocortex, responsible for decision-making, reasoning, ethics, conscious memory, learning, and the survival brain — the limbic system, brain stem, and cerebellum — which handles our basic survival, emotions, implicit memory, and stress arousal.

One of the survival brain’s most important functions, according to Stanley, is neuroception, an unconscious process of rapidly scanning the internal and external environment for safety and danger. When danger is spotted, your survival brain sends an instantaneous stress arousal message to your body by turning on the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in the release of specific hormones that lead to certain physical sensations related to our heart, breathing, and digestion. “Whatever’s happening in the survival brain has these tremendous ripple effects through our body,” Stanley says.

As Stephen Porges, PhD, a psychologist and the creator of the Polyvagal Theory, explains in an interview with PsychAlive, “These responses are not voluntary. Our nervous system is picking up information in the environment, not on a cognitive level, but on a neurobiological level.”

Importantly, when we’re caught in a defensive response, the thinking brain is the last to be aware that something is wrong.“The thinking brain isn’t what decides whether we’re stressed, whether we’re feeling threatened or challenged, whether we’re going to turn stress on, whether we’re going to turn emotions on,” Stanley says. “Stress arousal and emotions belong to the survival brain.”

So if you want to track your anxiety, your body, not your thoughts, will be your most accurate map.

The talk therapy trap

Unlike our prehistoric ancestors (who might have dealt with anxiety by running, panting, or shaking like a dog and letting the cortisol work through their system, according to Stanley), modern anxiety sufferers turn to their trustworthy friend, their thinking brain. “Most people identify anxiety by their thoughts because most people identify with their thinking brain,” she explains.

The problem is that when it comes to regulating our nervous system after a stress response (read: anxiety), our thinking brain is the absolute worst tool for the job. That’s because, according to Porges, even after becoming aware of the physical response, we often don’t know what has triggered that response. For Stanley, a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, this realization was a huge turning point. “Recovery from stress and anxiety is a survival brain job.”

We are a cerebral culture, which makes us very equipped to deal with problems that require reason and logic — think moral dilemmas — and less equipped to deal with problems where cognitive reasoning can just make them worse. Having a “fight or flight” response to running late to brunch may seem like an overreaction, but sitting in traffic, you are physiologically experiencing it all the same. We use our thinking brain to try and decide if the issue is “worth” being anxious about, and then we try to force our nervous system to comply. “Our consciousness gets disconnected from our body in those moments,” says Stanley. Your thinking brain decides that you have nothing to feel anxious about, so you spend your days walking around telling yourself that everything is fine while still feeling the physical symptoms of anxiety throughout your body. Even worse, your thinking brain may start to criticize and shame you for still being anxious even after it’s told you that everything is fine.

If you, like me, have spent many years in talk therapy analyzing all the reasons you’re anxious, this is probably a hard pill to swallow. Not only did all that talking not do much to alleviate anxiety, but it could also even have made it more acute. “Our survival brain wants to keep us safe, but when we disregard our body and its signals because we’re so caught up in our thinking brain’s stories and thoughts, the survival brain actually perceives that as even more threatening,” says Stanley. “Like a toddler, it’s going to tantrum louder until its message gets through. And that’s why it becomes such a vicious cycle.”

Take, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the most common forms of talk therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, “CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” Sounds great, right? While this kind of analysis could be profoundly helpful when dealing with family issues or working out an ethical question, when it comes to anxiety, which doesn’t take place in your thinking brain, it places the focus on the thought (“I thought there was a tiger!”) and not the physical response which preceded, and even caused, the thought (“my heart is racing and I’m full of adrenaline and I need tools to calm down”).

“We don’t necessarily want to be aware of and feel the discomfort in our bodies because anxiety in our bodies is uncomfortable. Instead, we want to try and fixate it and give it this external object,” explains Stanley. But if the external object didn’t cause the anxiety, then fixing it won’t alleviate the anxious feeling.

A bottom-up solution for anxiety

While talk therapy and medication are still the mainstream solutions offered for chronic anxiety, other modalities exist that offer a body-first approach. And while these modalities are still considered “alternative,” an increased interest in “brain science” and neurobiology along with continued research on mindfulness and mind-body connections are shifting our psychological understanding from focusing only on the mind to seeing the brain and body as a cohesive unit.

Part of the challenge, according to Pat Ogden, PhD, the creator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, is that you need to close the loop that was started when your body first went into a stress response. Ogden uses the example of a client who is Black and frequently stopped by the police without cause. When this happened, the man understandably felt himself getting angry and his body tightening up: a “fight” response. As part of their work together, Ogden helped him identify and act out the physical de-escalation his body needed in order to return to a regulated state, in this case getting to strike out and defend himself within the safety of a therapy session. “We want to complete that impulse in mindfulness so that his brain is integrated and it’s not held in his body anymore,” says Ogden

Ogden points out that part of the limitation of talk therapy is that anxiety is often related to a dysregulated response connected to an implicit memory, which then gets incorrectly pinned on a current experience or thought. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the current content,” says Ogden.

Stanley, who offers a mind fitness training course to help people build resilience, focuses on mindfulness techniques. And while at this point it’s a cliché to tell anybody with anxiety to take 10 deep breaths, her course has helped thousands of people, including active-duty military. “The military is very experienced in stressful situations, and they’ve trained themselves to turn on the survival brain but don’t always know how to turn it off,” says Stanley. Studies funded by the Department of Defense showed that Stanley’s method significantly helped improve cognitive performance during stress, lower perceived stress levels, increase regulation, and foster a faster return to baseline after stress arousal.

When your body is having a stress response, the first thing is to become aware of objects that help the survival brain feel safe, like what you can see and hear. “One of the best ways to help the survival brain feel grounded is to bring attention to where our body is in contact with our environment,” Stanley says. She suggests focusing on the contact between your feet with the floor, or your body in your chair. As soon as the survival brain perceives groundedness and safety, it automatically starts the recovery process.

Obviously, when you’re caught in a moment of severe anxiety, trying to breathe deeply or be mindful can feel almost impossible. In those situations, what you need is to get the adrenaline and cortisol out of your system. Stanley suggests jumping rope or running up and down stairs. After 10 minutes, try a mindfulness exercise again.

Is there any role for talk therapy, or trying to think logically about your anxiety? Absolutely. But only once your body is regulated, Stanley says: “After we have helped our survival brain feel safe and stable, then we can work on our thoughts. Otherwise, our cognitive response continues to be biased by our stress and emotions.”