Anxiety: being on edge

Anxiety is partly an inner battle of ideas. Photo by CJ Dayrit on Unsplash

Those who live with anxiety will know that it ebbs and flows, and we don’t always know what causes the fluctuations. One minute we can be calm, and the next we can be haunted with a profound sense of unease.

It can be as simple as lack of sleep. Sleep is a fundamental contributor to our mental health, and not enough sleep affects our concentration and our emotional control. It is humiliating to us, because we like to think of ourselves as spiritual beings, not animals. But we live in animal bodies, and sleep and rest are crucial.

But anxiety can also be caused by conflicts of ideas. Perhaps we want to work harder, but do not want to neglect things outside work. Or perhaps we want to have a relationship, but do not want to compromise our independence. This is not a physical problem; it is a conceptual problem.

The physical and the mental combine. If we have poor sleep or nutrition, then we are more prone to inner conflicts. When well rested, inner conflicts simply don’t bother us in the same way. But when our bodies are tense and weak, confusions and contradictions seem much bigger issues.

So, when we are managing our own anxiety, we need to attend to two things. Firstly, we need to attend to our basic self-care, and ensure that we are well fed and rested. And secondly, we need to attend to our inner, more spiritual self-care, and ensure that we spend time accepting and exploring the different ideas that make up our minds.

If we don’t spend time exploring ideas, then we will feel conflicts in our bodies. We may pretend everything is OK, but our body will demonstrate to us that something is wrong. We will feel ill, or uncomfortable. We may get unaccountably angry at those nearest to us, and lose our patience quickly.

On the contrary, if we take the time to explore what is going on in our world of ideas, then we can begin to find ways to reconcile inner conflict, or at least begin to find acceptance.

I spend half my life working with clients to explore their thoughts and feelings. Each one began their counselling journey sensing that something needed correcting. They were aware of an inner discomfort, often felt in a bodily way. Over time, they dared to look at what might be going on inside.

Often, clients will blame their surroundings for their problems. Of course they are right – circumstances do cause problems. But in counselling, we only have a therapeutic alliance, and a chance to explore. I can’t go out into the world and change it for them. I wish I could. But I can work with the main instrument of change – the client themselves.

When we are on edge, we have an opportunity to learn something. Some discomfort, some imbalance, some incongruity, is telling us to look closer. It might be something as simple as physical self-care. But it might also be quite a deep calling to explore how we look at life, and perhaps to find new ways of thinking, feeling, and experiencing, that make us wiser than we were before.