Embracing the Unknown: Spiritual Exploration Can Help Address and Manage Anxiety
Anna’s chest tightened as she lay awake in bed, closing her eyes every now and then to try and calm herself down. She was waiting for the anxiety to subside. These sorts of anxious moments always seemed to come out of nowhere, and they always gave rise to deeper thoughts and questions. If she accomplished all of the goals she’d set for herself, would she be truly happy, or would that just make way for more? Was her career really what she wanted to do for the rest of her life? Would she be alone forever?
Anxiety is a universal part of every living thing, all the way down to the smallest creatures whose lives revolve around surviving. But these creatures experience what Freud called reality anxiety, a fear around survival-based events like dog bites or enduring a harsh winter. Humans also experience reality anxiety, but our brains have evolved to allow us to reason—a skill that generates anxiety on an entirely different level, one that stems from deeper existential questions that address the nature of our existence.
Robert Gerzon, an author and holistic psychotherapist, refers to this level of anxiety as sacred anxiety. Gerson’s approach to sacred anxiety mirrors the questions asked by those embarking on journeys of spiritual exploration—religious or not. “Sacred anxiety characterizes the dread of death, the mystery of life, and our encounter with the ultimate,” he said. “This is anxiety on a cosmic level, an existential anxiety about our place in the universe.”
The realization that each of us is, at the end of the day, alone inside our mind, perceiving the world uniquely from others yet inhabiting it at the same time. The unease that floods your chest when you wonder what comes after death, whether “you” will still exist in some form, or fade away into another plane of existence. Sacred anxiety encompasses both of these fears, and although Gerzon equates it to a “fear of God,” it’s our uniquely human ability to reason that has the capacity to lead us into deeper anxieties—regardless of our religious beliefs.
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The Importance of Embracing Spiritual Exploration
Though we all experience some form of spiritual anxiety, addressing it is another issue. Often, we’re caught up in waves of other, less existential forms of anxiety—meeting deadlines, making the bus on time, leaving enough time to get ready for our date. But just like tsunamis can form from a series of smaller waves, leaving our smaller, everyday anxieties unaddressed can lead them to coalesce into larger ones before we know it.
All forms of anxiety—spiritual or not—can be harmful when left unexamined. If we ignore our spiritual anxieties during the treatment process, we neglect to resolve the larger fears that hang above our heads, and we may not be reaching the real core of our anxiety. The anxieties and fears that come from our higher-functioning minds may be less accessible than those that are more primitive, but they’re no less important, and we’ll need to learn to manage them and accept that these sorts of questions and fears are natural. Nineteenth-century philosopher and poet Søren Kierkegaard said it best: “Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate…the more profoundly he is in anxiety, the greater is the man.”
Connecting with Your Spirituality
Because the world around us is often the main source of our anxieties, finding the right way to step back and embrace our spiritual side can be quite the task. That’s where residential treatment comes in: the environment is peaceful and calming, and can be a huge departure from everyday life. A treatment program that integrates self-reflective therapies like meditation and yoga is the perfect way to give yourself room to address the existential questions that often underlie anxiety.
Known for its curative effects, meditation is used to treat a number of mental health disorders, including depression. Research has shown that it increases density in regions of the brain associated with introspection, compassion, and self-awareness—all of which are vital to spiritual exploration. Meditation asks those who practice it to examine their anxiety thoughtfully, paring it down to find the why that lies beneath it. Does the idea of death increase your anxiety because you feel you haven’t accomplished enough in your life? Do you think about failure because you worry you’ll disappoint those you care about most? When undertaken with the right therapeutic supports in place, meditation can be an incredibly introspective practice for people who live with anxiety because it helps them follow that anxiety right to the source.
At its core, yoga encourages us to live in the present moment, and to place special emphasis on thinking about our place in the world in relation to others. How can we move through each day with compassion? How can we forgive those who hurt us, and love them despite their faults? Is it possible that, in doing so, what we’re actually doing is being compassionate to ourselves? You don’t have to have the answers to these questions, but yoga (and meditation) can help you ask them, and for a lot of us, that’s half of the battle.
What’s important about both of these practices is that they give you a space in which you can address anxieties across a wide spectrum of intensity and depth: from everyday anxieties about your workplace all the way to questions about the universe and the living things that inhabit it.
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Often, it’s questions having to do with who we are and why we’re here that give us the most anxiety. In a residential treatment program away from the chaos of your daily life, you can face your deepest questions about your role in the universe—as well as those smaller (but no less important or real) anxieties that drive your daily life. There, you can integrate spiritual exploration on your own terms, and head straight to the whyof that anxiety—and that can go a long way towards strengthening your long-term sense of recovery.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment that can help you overcome your anxiety disorder through spiritual exploration. Contact us to learn how you can harness the benefits of holistic therapies to uncover meaning and purpose in your life and live that life free of fear.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash User Robert Lukeman