How Spirituality Became an Essential Coping Skill for Anxiety
My spiritual journey helped me manage my anxiety in the most comforting and effective way. When I was 13 years old, I noticed signs of anxiety, and over time it intensified. It was not until I was in my twenties and attending psychology classes in college where I recognized I had anxiety, and that I had been suffering far too long.
I remember the very first time I experienced an anxiety attack. I was in my eighth-grade history class and broke out in hives and could not breathe. I remember thinking, this is so embarrassing. After a trip to the nurse’s office, I finally calmed down and the hives went away. I soon learned, my reaction to anxiety would cause hives, but it was not without multiple trips to the doctor’s office and even once to the emergency room. Doctors would treat my symptoms as a skin issue or an allergy. No one ever suggested that it was a reaction to anxiety, so I suffered.
Over time I learned, I could relax by listening to music. I also learned putting ice on the hives would help. It wasn’t until I was in a college classroom, however, that the proverbial light bulb went off and I was able to understand I have anxiety. I connected the dots from all the years I experienced hives and understood that they were a reaction to anxiety.
Thanks to coping skills and embarking on a spiritual journey I am happy to share I have been able to lessen or stop anxiety symptoms sooner and faster. Through this healthy lifestyle, I am mentally stronger, and I am pleased to share that I no longer break out in hives.
Our Thoughts are Powerful
Anxiety is a mental health disorder with feelings associated with fear and worry and impacts everybody differently. Anxiety puts us into survival mode known as the flight, fight, freeze response. It takes over our brain and disturbs our thoughts and feelings. It is believed that we have between 50,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day, most of which are subconscious and often self-defeating. One study showed that 80% of those thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive. Simply put, our thoughts are powerful.
To counter negative thoughts, we need to interrupt our ‘default thinking’, where we put the brain “under supervision” and have conscious, positive, self-affirming thoughts throughout our day. Changing our negative self-talk and recognizing the stories we tell ourselves is the first step toward managing anxiety.
Try this: When you are spiraling down a negative path, halt your thinking and shift your perspective to empowering thoughts. For example, tell yourself “I am capable of great things. I am grateful for my healthy body. I am full of love and compassion. I am worthy of greatness.”
Ego versus Spirit
When I am experiencing an anxious situation, I often remind myself that I am a spiritual being having a human experience. One way to understand this concept is to recognize the difference between the ego and the spirit.
The ego can be described as the human mind or the human self. It is reactive, impulsive, and seeks to protect. The ego is full of excuses, justifications, and blame. On the other hand, the spirit or higher-self is kind and gracious. It seeks what is best for the greatest good of all. It is connected to our soul’s purpose. It is forgiving and faithful and surrenders control and allows life to simply happen.
It is important to understand those two parts of ourselves, to learn how to quiet the mind long enough to connect to our soul.
Your first instinct will often come from the ego, that is why we must give ourselves time to process and reflect before we make decisions and say or do things that we do not mean or want to do.
By building this relationship with ourselves we learn to trust our spirit-self. This foundation will help us tap into our self-awareness and recognize when we are reacting with an ego mindset. We can shift that energy back to the spirit.
A client once asked me, “Why do we always react and listen to the ego first?” I thought that was such a great question. The answer that I came up with was that we are humans raised by humans which means we experience trauma and have negative life experiences. Ultimately this means we are flawed by nature. We are not perfect. The human mind is powerful. We must find ways to connect to our higher self and develop an understanding of what that truly means.
What does it mean to be a spiritual being?
Spirituality includes practices and disciplines such as prayer, meditation, gratitude, breathing exercises, and other rituals that connect you to your higher self or your spirit. Making the connection between mind, body and spirit is the key to healing trauma and managing anxiety. When we can understand and build a relationship with our souls, our angels, our God, then we can accomplish so much more than when we try to do things with just our ego minds, and bodies. For me beginning my spiritual journey was how I was able to best manage my anxieties which were negatively affecting my body.
My thoughts were full of worry and fear, and this altered my perception and how I viewed myself and the world around me. By incorporating spiritual practices into my daily life, I was able to manage my anxiety in the healthiest, most productive way.
One easy way to develop a spiritual mindset is to practice patience and have grace with others. When we can see other people as human beings who are struggling, then we can find forgiveness in our hearts and act with more compassion.
Here is an example of how this has worked in my life recently.
I received an urgent call from my mother that my dad was admitted to the emergency room. He was having trouble breathing following a positive COVID-19 test. My mother shared that the hospital administration would not allow her to stay with my father due to restrictions. Upon hearing this, my first reaction, my human reaction, was anger. I began yelling, “This is ridiculous! Families need to be there, how can we advocate for him at this time of need?”
I felt my heart start racing and my anxiety and fear kicked in with full force. At that moment I had to stop myself and say, “Tammy this isn’t helping.” I got off the phone with my mother and began connecting to my higher self. I took a deep breath and changed my thinking to “he will be okay.” I then called on my angels to protect him. I then shifted my perspective to being grateful for the outcome I wanted, which was him being released with medical treatment and a better understanding of what he was experiencing. I kept taking deep breaths.
After I calmed down, I called my mother back. I shared how I had faith and I helped to reassure her that everything would be okay. Throughout the rest of the day whenever my worried, angry thoughts would kick back in I would stop myself and restate more positive faithful thoughts. I sent my father, and the hospital staff, love, and blessings energetically through my mind and heart. Later that day he was released with a treatment plan, and he is currently on the mend. I am grateful.
This is just one example of how powerful our mind is and how connected it is to our bodies and behaviors. If I would have stayed in that place of fear, I may have called the hospital and spoke aggressively, or worse, have shown up to the hospital looking for a conflict. I could have spent my day spinning my wheels worrying, in a state of panic, putting my body through so much unnecessary stress and pain.
Our spirit is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than our minds. We need to connect to it and allow it to work to our benefit. I connect to my spirit through journaling, guided meditations, breathing, prayer, and asking my angels for signs and protection. I will often get outside, place my hand on my heart and breathe. I will then say, “I am safe, I am okay, I am protected.” At that moment, I release all that does not serve me, and I surrender to my higher power. I have faith that everything will work out as it is supposed to.
Surrender — Stop fighting with yourself
I often find the answer to cope with stressful life events is to surrender. As humans, we want to control everything and often seek perfection instead of looking at the bigger question and asking, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?”
When we find ourselves making the same mistakes repeatedly it is time to ask some tough questions, “What am I missing? What am I supposed to learn? How can I do this differently and grow?” This is how we grow on a spiritual level. This is how we get closer to living life’s purpose; by learning the lessons and making the changes we need to in life.
Try this: Make spirituality a priority in your life. Consider learning about different spiritual practices and disciplines. Take action and start doing things that develop your spirit. Allow your higher self to take the lead more often in your life and quiet that ego-mind. Stop judging, complaining, and making excuses. Stop looking to blame and justify your bad behavior and begin accepting, forgiving, and healing. This is the way to living your life’s purpose and gaining that balance in your life.
Your anxiety is showing up as a reminder to reconnect to your soul, use it as such and it can become your greatest gift instead of a perceived weakness.