Scrolling through Instagram and a video from the Holistic Psychologist, Nicole LePera, pops up. She is talking about ways to heal trauma and habitual tendencies through becoming more conscious and connected in the present moment. She explains that our habitual tendencies are rooted beneath the surface of our conscious mind, and the more we practice those habitual tendencies, even unconsciously, the further ingrained they become. What if we could become conscious of our habitual tendencies, get to the root of what causes anxiety, and just be happy?
Why Do I Feel Anxious?
The only way to set ourselves free is through becoming aware of our unconscious thoughts, feelings, & habits... and making new choices. The only place a new choice can occur is in the present moment.
Most people have a hard time with seated meditation, feeling pulled in a million directions by racing thoughts, feelings of unease, or FOMO (fear of missing out). As I continue to watch the video, The Holistic Psychologist suggests easing into meditation by becoming consciously aware and grounded in the present moment through other means, like going for a walk in nature for example. She approaches these topics with a lot of compassion and personal experience in applying the tools she recommends in her new book How To Do The Work. I find myself relieved that more people like her are sharing a holistic approach to psychology. Unfortunately, my appreciation doesn’t last long before I am gripped by feelings of anxiety.
As my heart begins to race I start to notice a feeling of anxiousness rise throughout my body. I feel propelled to do something to alleviate the sense of subtle anxiety that has crept in. My thoughts begin to speed up and I feel as though something is wrong. I take a deep breath and start to observe myself from the heart. Why do I feel so insecure all of a sudden? Why do I feel anxious?
What if the causes of anxiety are connected to unconscious thoughts and emotions?
According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is defined as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. Oxford defines anxiety as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome, "he felt a surge of anxiety".
Each of us has experienced anxiety at one moment or another in our lives and know all too well how it can creep in out of nowhere and begin to drive our actions in directions that we would not have otherwise taken.
The question I find myself asking is, “Why do I feel anxious?” What causes feelings of worry, nervousness, and unease, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere?
When I feel anxious it simultaneously propels me to take action while also feeling somewhat paralyzed... as though I am a deer in headlights. It is as if a car is suddenly racing towards me and I need to take immediate action to save myself but feel frozen in uncertainty of what to do. Anxiety can be mild, debilitating, or result in High Functioning Anxiety.
Anxiety comes with varying levels of intensities, from stress to panic attacks or even PTSD. Anxiety can trigger reactions in the body, causing one’s parasympathetic system to be thrown into “fight or flight”, a natural response to stress which temporarily lowers the immune, digestive and reproductive systems as your body prepares for what it perceives as a threat to its survival. Being in a state of anxiety on a regular basis can have major impacts on physical, psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing.
What Causes Anxiety?
What if the experts are right and there is so much more to our mind than what is often accessible on the surface?
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung helped to popularize the concept of the unconscious mind and revolutionized Psychology by bringing the study of the unconscious into collective awareness. There were some major differences between Freud’s and Jung’s take on the unconscious (and the psyche in general). However, in a nutshell, they identified what many wisdom traditions have taught throughout antiquity. There are worlds unfolding within each of us and we are only beginning to scratch the surface.
At Joan of Sparc, we work to increase awareness of our unconscious tendencies through the process of inner work. Ciela Wynter, Founder of JOS, wrote an adventurous and awe-inspiring book that provides support in navigating through the unconscious realms of the psyche through The Inner Journey. Turning inwards and discovering what is happening beneath the surface of our lives is a courageous and life-changing process, one that has the ability to create healing in the most unlikely of ways.
5 Steps to Move Through Anxiety
By slowing things down when anxiety arises and giving ourselves the space for self-reflection, anxiety can become less consuming. Here are 5 steps to move through anxiety and begin to explore the root cause of it in our lives:
- Acknowledge anxiety when it arises. This is the first step of becoming conscious.
- Pause. Breathe and connect with your heart.
- Take a step back and begin to observe. How do I feel right now and what actions is anxiety propelling me to take? When did I first start feeling anxious today?
- Take a heart-based action. What is the next most heart-based choice or step I can take right now? Sometimes this is taking a quiet moment to myself, nourishing myself in some way, or letting someone know that I need some time before making a decision.
- Explore through self-reflection. Once you feel ready, enter into a meditative space either through seated meditation/prayer or journaling, and inquire internally into why those feelings of anxiety are there. Allow for spaciousness without needing to know immediately. Patience, curiosity, non-judgment, and honesty are helpful allies for the process of self-discovery.
Ok, But Why Do I Feel Anxious?
As I started to reflect on the feelings of anxiety that came up for me after watching the video of the Holistic Psychologist recently, I realized that there were multiple layers happening in my psyche simultaneously. Sometimes anxious feelings can carry on for a while before I consciously acknowledge them, however this time, I paused right away. I took a breath and started to observe myself in a gentle and curious way. What I noticed surprised me.
I realized that somehow (within a few seconds) I had gone from watching someone speak about topics I am also passionate about (Holistic Psychology, mindfulness, the unconscious mind, empowerment, etc.) to suddenly feeling anxious, uncomfortable, and afraid. What caused this?
As I began to inquire within myself, I noticed that part of my anxious feelings were connected to feeling as though she was doing something that I really wished I could do, if only I were as (educated, wise, articulate, etc.) as she was. There was an anxious feeling that I needed to somehow “catch up” and prove myself in the world, as though she had something I didn’t and I needed to get it as fast as possible. It did not feel good.
All wrapped up into a few split seconds were thoughts and emotions which had propelled me into feeling anxious out of seemingly nowhere… except it wasn’t actually out of nowhere, it was just occurring outside of my full conscious awareness and recognition. Until I slowed down and acknowledged what was unfolding in my psyche, and then it wasn’t unconscious anymore. And quite honestly, once I was able to see my feelings and thoughts for what they were, the anxiety started to dissipate.
Honesty in Personal Development
I don’t know anyone who wants to acknowledge when they have fallen into a spin cycle of insecurity, comparison, judgment, pride, and envy, etc. but my guess is that we do fall into those cycles way more often than we think. When we practice being honest without judging ourselves for behaving unconsciously, something real happens.
When we start to free ourselves from our habitual tendencies, it frees up energy for more creative and productive purposes.
I have some more inner work to do to fully unravel my tendencies towards comparison, but in being actively engaged in the process, through inner work, I have already experienced so much freedom from unconscious, self-inflicted pain. As I continue being honest with myself (and others in my life) through my process of personal development, I am left with a sense of pervading wellbeing that spills out into my relationships.
Through practicing self-honesty, I am able to support others more powerfully through the work I do as a Sparc Session Facilitator. It inspires me to create a safe space of non-judgment for the other person to share as much or as little of themselves as they feel comfortable with. The result is almost always profound. I’ve watched more people than I can count burst into tears in the first 15 minutes of our session, and by the end, every single person has articulated profound insights resulting in greater clarity. Through doing inner work, I am able to encourage others in their process of self-reclamation both inside the sessions I facilitate, as well as in my personal life.