Anxiety About Real Things

Sep 06, 2018
pale leaf floating on water with the title Reflections on Inner Peace, Outer Peace

I’ve been treating a lot of patients with anxiety lately. I call it “anxiety about real things.” A lot of times we have anxiety about things that are improbable and unlikely. But there’s a lot going on these days that are real, not imagined, causes of fear and distress among many. Even though the cause of the anxiety might be quite real and understandable – the anxiety still causes suffering, and doesn’t actually help address or alleviate the situation in any way.

I think many of us are looking for direction right now in the midst of what feels like one crisis after another in the fabric of our society. I can’t say I have any answers myself. But what I know from practice is that anxiety can come up when we’re not directly attending to and addressing the underlying feelings that are present.

It’s important to feel, acknowledge, make space for, and forge connection in the midst of the fear and grief many of us are feeling. By doing so, we may connect with the care that underlies these feelings – for ourselves, for our communities, for our world. And when we are able to be in touch with that within us that is bigger than, and is able to hold, the grief and fear – we can act from a place of wisdom.

And action is necessary. Action is what the feelings below want – even need – us to do. We often feel anxiety when we feel powerless. There’s been much research showing the healing effects of activism and volunteerism on mental and emotional health. Taking action doesn’t mean we see results right away, of course. Sometimes, not even in our lifetime. It means that we are using whatever spirit and energy we are given to serve the cause of love — sometimes that is all we can do.

Just as with personal illness, it doesn’t help us to bemoan social illness. The fact is, this is what is happening now. How do we respond to what has already come to pass? When Frodo from Lord of the Rings bemoans, “I wish [this time of darkness] need not have happened in my time," Gandalf replies, "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” No one says it is easy though.

What an appropriate response to the feelings arising looks like will be different for each person – volunteering, protesting, or creating safe and loving spaces to bring light into the darkness. But it’s important to feel, drop into love, and act from that place. Because stewing in despair without acting only feeds the darkness in the world.

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