5 Ways Anxiety Supports Our Spiritual Growth
Anxiety has grown to epidemic proportions in our modern overworked and overstimulated society. With respect to our spiritual and psychological growth, however, anxiety plays a key role in supporting our healthy development. When we approach anxiety with this understanding, it becomes a tool for our spiritual growth:
SEE ALSO: On Sacred Soul Contracts
Alerting Us Against Danger
Anxiety is a component of our instinctual fight or flight mechanism. When danger is present our instinct ignites the physiological and hormonal response that prepares us for dealing with imminent danger. This is true whether or not the danger is life-threatening, real or perceived. On our journey of spiritual growth, anxiety becomes a way in which the body notifies us that we are on the wrong path or that we are indulging in behaviors or situations which are not supportive of our self-actualization and the path of our soul. As such, anxiety becomes an invitation to change the direction of our path.
Identifying Our Truth
Discernment is the process through which we determine the voice of our true self and the voice of our ego/ false self. The true self is that which knows our truth, path, and purpose. The true self-leads us toward expansion, fulfillment, contentment and joy. The false self-seeks to keep us small, compliant, and “happy” with the status quo, by speaking fear. This is the inner voice that causes confusion, doubt, and worry. When we are seeking to follow the path of our truth, it is helpful to learn the difference between these two voices, to ignore the voice of the small self and follow the voice of our truth.
Empathy is the ability to experience life from another’s perspective and to feel what another person is feeling. Anxiety plays a role in cultivating empathy in two ways. Sometimes the anxiety we are feeling is not our own, but is the anxiety of another person that we are called to help or support in some way. In this way, anxiety is simply an alert signal that our gifts are being called upon to help or support another. If anxiety is something we struggle with as a response to past trauma or conditioning (which is often the case), it becomes a tool through which we can grow in compassion for the suffering of others. It allows us to grow in humility and lessens our judgment of others, thereby increasing the important human quality of empathy.
Letting Us Know Where Healing is Needed
Our spiritual growth and journey toward self-actualization is ultimately about healing. In order to grow and mature as human beings, we have to heal the wounds of our past. Anxiety is often a signal of a wound that is seeking to be healed. When we have experienced trauma (what is experienced as traumatic is unique from one individual to the next) or been conditioned to be on high alert, anxiety often becomes the after-effect. When we do the work of healing these past experiences, our anxiety lessens and what it takes to trigger our anxiety is diminished. In this way, anxiety is simply a signal of our soul’s need for healing.
Along the same lines, anxiety is also a mask for suppressed of unexpressed emotions. As a defense mechanism, anxiety seeks to protect us from the painful emotions of anger, grief, betrayal, guilt and shame. When anxiety arises, it is often a signal of unexpressed emotions seeking their release. Being present with our anxiety is often enough to release these emotions so that we might be healed of our past wounds.
Telling Us We are On the Right Path: This may sound contrary to what is described above. And yet, time and time and time again I have seen anxiety arise in the face of something really good. Every time we take a step toward our truth, toward the path of our highest good, toward the path of our life’s purpose, the small self/ego tries to intervene.
Again, the ego wants us to remain small. So when we know we have made a choice in support of our life’s calling and anxiety arises, know that it is a signal that we are on the right path. Our response to anxiety that arises in this way is, “Get behind me! I’ve got things to do!” As the Buddhist adage goes, “What we resist will persist.” This is absolutely true of anxiety. When instead of rejecting anxiety, we learn to receive it as a teacher and a friend; we are able to find the enduring healing and liberation that we seek while moving ever closer to the fulfillment of the human drive toward self-actualization.
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