Spirituality is something that has been important to me, as it has been a big part of my healing with anxiety.
Often people ask if mindfulness is spirituality, and the answer is: it depends on how you define it. For me, spirituality means living your life for something greater than your thoughts and feelings. That’s it.
It does not mean you have to be part of special group, have certain beliefs, or do any chanting. I believe it is something we all inherently have and something we can all cultivate in our lives. For some it could be going out into nature and connecting with the natural world. It could be living for your children and loving them as best you can. It could be doing your job to the best of your ability and with integrity. It could be prayer or meditation practices. It could be loving your partner and cooking them a meal. In my view, anything that connects you to something greater than your thoughts and feelings is spirituality.
So to go back to the original question: Can spirituality heal anxiety? I believe it can.
Let’s look at some of the mindfulness skills that I help people develop and see how they match up with spirituality and anxiety.
Inherent in acceptance is the idea of giving up fighting with ourselves. When we want to control and make things a certain way, instead we pause, breathe, and let be.
We come to a place of just being, allowing, and seeing clearly. This requires an ability to step back from our thoughts and feelings and enter a new space – a rather spiritual space where we are beyond our thoughts and feelings. From here, our anxiety, fear, and worries don’t seem so big. And we are no longer fighting with them or making them worse.
This is the path to healing anxiety.
Separation from Thoughts.
When we see that we are not our thinking, an incredible weight is lifted. We no longer have to buy-in to what our mind is constantly telling us to do.
This is especially true of our anxious mind that can run amuck and tell us all sorts of “Watch out for this!” “This bad thing will happen!” or “You are going to fail!” So getting this separation from our thoughts puts us in a spiritual space. A space where our anxious thoughts do not run the show. Rather, we are just the witness of the thoughts. Witnessing them with love, we can begin to heal.
When we direct our attention back to the here and now, we let go of our anxious mind that is constantly worried about the future and what bad things could happen. We can just sit and focus on our breathing. Or we can become very present to the sensations of eating a food we love. We notice our thoughts and feelings arise in the moment, and know that we can just be with them, rather than react to them.
We are here, now, and we are safe. Anxiety doesn’t stand a chance.
Living our Values.
This is, to me, really the crux of spirituality.
We commit to something greater than ourselves and live our lives for it. We consider what we want to stand for in our lives and commit our actions to this end. We could want to be the best chef we can be, most compassionate friend we can, present wife/husband we can be. Committed to our life’s mission, we can leave our anxious thoughts and feelings behind. They may serve as information, but our values lead the way.
For example, I recently gave a presentation on mindfulness for an audience. Before the presentation, I felt anxiety and fear about what others might think of the presentation, would they get something from it, etc. I knew these thoughts were not “me” so I took some deep breaths, returned to the present moment, and connected to what was important to me. Delivering a presentation that could benefit others was far more important than my fearful thoughts. I connected to that purpose, of benefiting others, and let it lead the way.
How would you live your life if your values led the way, instead of your anxiety?
The path of healing anxiety is, in my view, a spiritual path. It requires you to go beyond your thoughts and feelings, become present, and commit to something greater.
Remember, no one is perfect, and committing to our values takes practice. I still get lost in anxious thoughts, but now I know how to let them go, return to the present, and connect to what truly matters.
So explore your spiritual side, whatever that means to you, and see how it puts your anxiety in the back seat, and puts your values as your guide.
Dr. Ellis Edmund, PsyD. is a psychologist in Oakland, CA. In his training, he focused on learning Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness and continues to practice ACT with his clients. He specializes in Individual therapy for anxiety and mindfulness stress reduction for groups, individuals, and in the workplace. You can connect with him on Facebook or on his website!