No wonder you are anxious

The life coach Katie Shannon (and fellow Baltimorean) recently wrote something on Instagram that made me stop scrolling and put my phone down.

“Anxiety is the price I pay for being my own higher power.”

I pay a high price for my anxiety. I’m almost always worried about something.

Most of the day, I’m either fretting about getting more work done. Or judging myself for having too little money or too much fat on my stomach. Or wishing I’d said something different. Or people-pleasing. Or craving something to numb out with, like caffeine, alcohol, weed, masturbation, or shitty TV.

There are times when I feel a relative peace, sure. When my body relaxes, and my mind’s chattering fades into the background. When what’s happening in the moment is more interesting than the content of my thoughts.

But only when I’m with the right person and they’re giving me the right sort of attention. Or when I’m traveling somewhere new and exciting. Or when I’m just drunk or high enough.

And that’s Shannon’s point. At least how I read it.

I don’t resonate with the concept of a “higher power.” So, I think of it as “something beyond myself.” Or simply, “connection.”

Anxiety shows up when we’ve lost connection and think we have to do something to get it back.

If we work a little longer, then we’ll feel fulfilled. If we drink another beer, then we’ll feel relaxed. If we post the perfect post on Instagram, then we’ll feel loved.

Like so many things, this all goes back to our first few years of life. To when we were a baby, dependent on our parents and other caregivers to care for our needs.

Somewhere along the way we lost trust that our needs would be taken care of. Which is inevitable. No parent can provide all of their child’s needs 24/7.

This childhood distrust carried forward into our adult lives and shows up in different ways for each of us.

Maybe you don’t trust in the natural unfolding of life. You‘re afraid you’ll be bored if you let things happen on their own.

Maybe you don’t trust in life’s natural abundance. You don’t believe that there’s enough love and connection for you.

Maybe you don’t trust in life’s natural perfection. You can’t see that everything is whole and complete even if it’s imperfect.

Maybe you don’t trust in life’s natural oneness. You don’t trust that everything is connected even if it appears separate.

The bottom line is you don’t trust that you are worthy of love, connection, and wholeness. So you feel you have make it happen for yourself.

The spiritual teacher A. H. Almaas writes:

You try to relax, you try to quiet your mind, you try to make yourself feel better or make yourself feel worse. You are always interfering, trying to make something happen other than what is actually happening. You can only do this if you believe you have your own separate world and you can make things in it happen the way you want, while really, it is not your choice at all. You are alive today not because you want to be, but because the universe wants you to be.

Side note: That’s what’s so fucking aggravating about this capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist society we live in.

It runs on anxiety. It normalizes a frantic energy to always be doing. To always be working, investing, building your resume, starting a side hustle, buying things, grinding, working out, vacationing in beautiful places, doing, doing, doing.

And then on top of that, the rich and powerful use fear and anxiety to keep us at each other’s throats. They use racism, sexism, and other ways to divide people to keep us from blaming them (and the political and economic systems that benefit them) for our suffering.

Luckily, I’ve found a few practices that dial down my anxiety most of the time.

Meditating regularly. Going to therapy. Connecting with nature on walks and hikes. Learning about capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. Organizing in my community and workplace. Helping out with mutual aid in my neighborhood. These things help me feel stable, fulfilled, and connected, not grasping as hard for the next distraction.

But it’s when I remember that I don’t have to do anything to be okay — that I don’t have to be “my own higher power” — that I feel a simple, basic peace that reminds of how connected with everything I truly am.

Hi, I’m Jeremy, a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. Subscribe to my weekly email on how to be more mindful about your job, your relationships, and politics here.

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Photo by Mariana Zanatta.