Anxiety and the call to wake up
Back in the 70’s, my own awareness around (anxiety/stress) body tension began way back when I was a district nursing sister, having taken on a student district nurse and being responsible for showing her my work and giving her supervised practice.
It was, in my experience, the time when nurses were being made aware of listening skills to help improve communication with our patients.
We were invited to attend a meeting for a listening skills workshop. During this workshop, the speaker took us through a relaxation technique. And, at the end, I was astonished to find how tense my body had been. I guess I was woken up to the fact that my body held tension, and it was not a pleasant discovery, because now I was aware of tension and tiredness taking this student around with me during my rounds. Basically, I was experiencing stress.
Over the years since then, I experienced short episodes of anxiety/body tension caused by life-changing events, difficulties, demands, personal issues that arose from my childhood, buying a house, giving birth, becoming a mother, giving up the job I loved, coping with family commitments, and so on. Layer upon layer of normal life handing me both challenges and opportunities.
However, my body and mind were not at peace.
I had taken the childhood metaphorical 'knocks and bumps' and identified them personally as 'not good enough', 'had to try harder', 'I am not liked', 'I can’t do it', 'I have to be seen to be busy', 'I have to be seen as managing well', 'I can’t admit I am having difficulties', 'I must get this right'. This was the mental state that took me through school and into nursing, and on well into my life in some shape or another. It has been said that nurses seek that profession to heal themselves by healing and caring for others. Nurses were also said to not be very good at self-care, and I guess there is truth in that. Our focus of attention is on the other to distract from our own issues and not on ourselves.
But there is a price to pay for a lack of focus on ourselves, particularly around the feelings of anxiety in which I will lump physical tension, scattered mind, distorted self and world view, distorted beliefs, autopilot behaviour, fear and anger, and often involving depression.
In my experience, not waking up to this in myself stopped me from being a real person. To avoid feeling this anxiety/tension, I put on a facade of coping and managing while nursing, and then in motherhood and as a wife and a young mother. The face of competency, boundless energy, getting on with it all, not being aware that I had a right to have my needs met or that indeed I had had any needs that I would let be known to myself or others.
Then came a final break in me when I could not go on the way I was. As Eckhart Tolle said,while in the deepest despair of depression, "I could not go on doing this to myself". Who am I and who is myself? This led to his wonderful teachings that started with 'the power of now', where he explores in depth the workings of the mind and body states.
It took me a while to discover that to be a more real person requires not believing all the lies I was telling myself. And not believing what others told me either, because often whatever they said about me in a critical way could say more about them than me. I had to discover that the childhood subsequent beliefs I internalised and took on as 'me' are not who I truly am. For example, criticism and impatience from my teacher while being helped to learn maths led me to believe I was useless at maths. I have since learned via an online course that I actually can do maths! I have also met many a budding artist who, at an early age, had their work condemned and so never set brush to paper again, believing they were no good at art!
So, we are conditioned by our parents, caregivers, society, culture, religion, schools, and workplaces in an effort to socialise us, make us good citizens, or be a part of groups and get on with others, but that conditioning means that it is conditional. The process requires that we conform, and it teaches us that to receive approval we must do or say or be something that others want us to be. We then divide ourselves into good and bad, right and wrong, nice or horrid, loved or unloved, and by then we have lost our true selves and disconnected from that inner place of goodness, peace, stillness, and sense of inner security.
This is the call of anxiety.
Anxiety is pointing to a new way to look at life and self. It is asking us to take a good inventory of our purpose and meaning, our values, and what is important to us. It is asking us to challenge distorted thinking patterns which will often have their root in our past conditioning. We need to learn about how we are in our daily lives; to really know how and why we are thinking and behaving in the way we are. Without that insight or knowledge, we are only on autopilot and sleepwalking through life. Anxiety is a call to wake up and reconnect with our inner place of goodness, peace,and stillness.