Have you been checking the news? Often? Every day? Is it comforting or ramping up your anxiety? In an attempt to grab and keep your attention the headlines sensationalize the latest traumatic event in order to provoke a heightened emotional response. Your brain is geared to being alert to threats to your safety. Even hearing and imagining worrisome, shocking or disturbing events causes stress hormones to stream into your body. When you watch repeated startling images it can invoke a posttraumatic stress response. Your body does not know the difference between an event you are watching or imagining happening and actually experiencing it.
Anxiety and stress are the most common mental disorders. The current state of the world is exacerbating people’s anxiety and depression. Ongoing stress increases the chances of anxiety becoming a disorder. The two go hand in hand. It has been reported that 1/3 of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic, political divisiveness, economic stress, fires, droughts, floods and other climate extremes, and losses of life, property and homes. Countries worldwide are experiencing similar upsurges of anxiety as instability increases.
By definition, anxiety is marked by “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” It seems each day brings an alarming crisis and mounting uncertainty. It is no wonder that anxiety is rising.
Anxiety can sneak up on you. You may not realize that your fatigue and exhaustion are a result of burnout from mental distress. Your sympathetic nervous system, which pushes adrenaline and cortisol, is working overtime without a break from the necessary calming balance of the parasympathetic system. Burned-out in this case means that your nervous system is overloaded and just like a fuse burning out of an electrical circuit, it damages your neuronal circuits.
Chronic stress is draining. It causes wear and tear on the body and the damage to the brain’s circuitry causes changes in the brain’s anatomy. Symptoms of constant anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness, insomnia, heart palpitations, inability to relax, high blood pressure, breathing problems and poor digestion as well as other impacts to the body can result. Research by William James Fellow Bruce McEwen on the neuroendocrinology of stress hormones found that chronic stress impacts specific areas of the brain, which can lead to changes in mood, learning, and memory. Burnout can result in a loss of motivation, emotional depletion, memory impairment, cynicism, rumination on negativity, and detachment. Your brain is worn out and needs a rest.
How do you manage the bombardment of so many external factors that you have no control over? Your body’s defenses and your sympathetic nervous system will ignite whenever your survival is threatened. This may occur when your values or way of life are threatened, or when you are isolated and alone, unaccepted or unloved.
Detachment is the natural outcome when you are mentally and emotionally exhausted and drained. You want to “chill-out” or numb out with mindless distractions. Mild distractions can be beneficial in the short term. However, when anxiety escalates you may dissociate, or turn to drugs or food to soothe yourself. Sitting in front of the television or your computer for long hours, erratically keeping busy or working until you drop are danger signs. These habits of retreating may become addictions that harm you, deplete your energy and don’t actually stop the anxiety. The underlying threat response is still activated and only temporarily submerged. Regular exercise, being creative, walking in nature, meditating, dancing, playing music that you love, laughing, playing and reducing time spent listening to media are all healthy ways to discharge and de-stress. These are great coping skills and when you understand why these work, you will be able to initiate a higher and more productive level of consciousness.
Connection Creates Security
In the moments you are doing the latter activities like exercising, playing and laughing, you are not separate from yourself. You are fully present and connected. It is all about connection. You are either connecting with life or disconnecting from it. Threat brings out the defenses of separation that purposefully disconnect you. It is easy to see that dissociating and inhibiting your emotions disconnect you from a vital part of yourself…you no longer feel alive or an integral part of life. When you are in that level of consciousness you have a tendency to fall back into controlling life creating even more separation.
A healthy body is always checking for harmony, balance, and a return to homeostasis. You go in and out of balance with continual adjustments taking place. Physical connectivity between the physiological elements and processes of your body is required to achieve relatively stable equilibrium but so is emotional and mental connection to others. When you know that you belong and are supported it gives you a sense of safety and freedom, which not only relaxes your defenses but also reminds you that you are interconnected with life. So…connecting with people that support and love you will ease much of your stress. Having deep meaningful connection with others when you are isolated or the world is contained is not so easy.
Control Creates Insecurity
Relying on or seeking stability in the world or even in relationships can be a never-ending quest. Life and the world are in constant flux. The very best relationships have times of discord. Your body has a marvelously intricate system to maintain equilibrium; yet, it cannot control all of life and external events. Most happenings in life are absolutely not in your control. Ay, there’s the rub. The ego’s threat detection program focuses on attempting to control what it cannot. “If I can fix what is wrong out there or with this person, then I will be secure, I will be safe.” “If I can control external events everything will be fine.” Control is a defensive losing strategy because it disconnects you not only from others but also from security itself. It sets you up to see the world as separate.
As Alan Watts reveals, “There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness, which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I,” but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want.” Without that sense of security, I am engulfed in anxiety and stress.
The Way to Everlasting Security is Interior Connection to Presence
If you can’t find safety in the external world, where can you find a safe haven? What is security? Change is scary because it reflects the impermanence of life. What is truly needed is an internal sense of permanence.
Ultimately, rising up from the debilitating carrion of stress and anxiety is metaphorically like the rise of the Phoenix from the fire and ashes. It is an undertaking and journey of the soul. It is a catalyst for tremendous growth. It requires you to remain present with your experience rather than standing apart from it. There is a place within you that is eternally present that is outside of the noise of turmoil. Presence is the light of consciousness at one with all of life. Consciousness has never been separate. It is permanent, secure and stable.
The Interior Connection to Presence Fosters Interconnection with
the Unity of Life
It is the interior connection to presence that fosters interconnection with the oneness and unity of all of life and relaxes you into the deepest state of security. You are no longer in the illusion that you are separate because you know that you are integrally connected and one with life and consciousness itself.
Embracing Anxiety into Freedom
The sky turns dark and a huge plume of orange and purple smoke billows overhead. A fire has flared up on the mountains above. I am aware of a flood of distressing thoughts. Instead of being engulfed by them, I see them as a warning to be aware. There is a perpetual movement of these thought forms. Instead of grabbing onto them, I am in relationship to the present moment and to what is happening around me. Is there something to be done or not? I experience a burst of sensations and waves of emotions rushing through me. A feeling of fear erupts in my stomach and gets caught in my throat. Can I allow and accept this experience without controlling it? It is almost unbearably uncomfortable. At first I want to control it and push it away. I remember to be aware and accept the anxiousness and fear that is present without needing to be separate from it. As I experience being fully present in the now, my perception expands and I feel the energy of being alive a part of life simultaneously with the sensation of the emotions arising in my body.
Miraculously, more presence in the moment creates an alchemical transmutation within and a higher intensity of awareness. I am more enlivened and conscious. This higher state of connectivity calms me. I can assess my situation and know that I am safe.
Presence is Fuel for Consciousness
Eckhart Tolle describes presence as the fuel for consciousness and higher intelligence. Be gentle with yourself. Your ego defenses are instinctual and strong. Embracing and befriending fear and anxiety is a practice. Each time you accept these raw energies, you will find that it gets easier to be present. Your integrity and interconnectedness are restored. It is because of this total acceptance of all parts of yourself that you no longer feel separate. You are an integral part of life and fully engaged. Your freedom is worth it.
Dorothy Wallis is a former intern at People House in private practice with an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a Psychotherapist, Certified Relational Life Therapist, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, and an International Spiritual Teacher at the forefront of the consciousness movement for over thirty years grounded in practices of meditation, family systems, relationships, and emotional growth. Her work reflects efficacious modalities of alternative approaches to healing for individuals and couples based upon the latest research in science, human energy fields, psychology, and spirituality.
As a leader in the field of emotional consciousness and the connection to mind, body and spirit, her compassionate approach safely teaches you how to connect to your body, intuition and knowing to clear emotional wounds and trauma at the core. The powerful Heartfulness protocol empowers your ability to join with your body’s innate capacity to heal through holistic Somatic, Sensory and Emotional awareness.