LOVE as a Holistic Healing Approach to Anxiety
As a therapist, I have seen people with a variety of anxiety symptoms walk into my office: children, adolescents, and adults. They all explain the symptoms of the tight chest, racing heart, sweaty palms, feeling like something in their throat, nervousness, hives, and others including worry and negative thoughts. These symptoms can create stumbling blocks and challenges in daily life that for many is exhausting and debilitating. My work is typically, to offer mindfulness strategies to calming the body and cognitive behavioral approaches to supporting the change needed with the thoughts that get in the way. However, for some, anxiety continues to be a long-term challenge and what I find is that fear is always a sign: an indication that love is not being experienced enough for themselves and the experience of loving connection with others.
Dr. Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. in his book Beyond Anxiety & Phobia, as a guide to holistic approaches to anxiety says, “Love is an innate force in the human heart that moves us toward unity with the “OTHER” in its multiple forms.” He talks about love as moving us toward each other and fear is moving us away from others. He says, “fear is a part of our instinctive nature that propels us away from a perceived threat” and “it’s a separating force intended to preserve our individual integrity from threats to survival” (Bourne, 2001).
Fear is the opposite of love. When you are in fear, you are disconnected from the opportunity to experience love and give love. Love however, can be a catalyst to helping and supporting the healing work of anxiety. Love is a powerful approach in addition to traditional treatments to support and heal us at a deeper core level where the fear originated. There are things we can heal and shift that can impact our relationships with ourselves and with others and improve our daily life when we dig deeper below the anxiety. It can bring us into more self confidence and trust in ourselves but also building emotional boundaries that support self-love, healthy connections with others, and bring us into our personal spirituality as well.
However, sometimes to heal the fear means we may have some rough patches along the way with intense emotions and reality checks on what is not working and what needs to be let go with gentleness and kindness for ourselves and others. Love is such a powerful force when we can come to work towards healing with ourselves, the connection we have with the people in our lives, including our creative endeavors and the connection with the work that we do. Love can surprise us to reach heights of inspiration and motivation that uplift us in ways that we never thought we could do or be, or create. Sometimes love can seem magical as our minds cannot comprehend it but our hearts can.
To heal with love, we need to open up our heart and become aware of our fear that goes back into our repressed early memories that we have held inside, that keeps you from connecting with yourself and others. I believe love is a deeper dive into healing and growing into your self-worth and self-compassion by healing that which has been held deep inside and only unveiled when we go deeper into connecting with the fear and beyond. What is below the fear has to be brought out of the dark into the light.
“There is no greater act than to loving yourself because in the act of loving yourself is loving others.” –Brene Brown
Love, in many religions and cultures across the world is believed to be the highest attainment or state of being for all of humanity. At the core, I believe we are all trying to come to a closer connection of love for ourselves and others and healing that which gets in the way.
Brene Brown, a research psychologist who has written several books using the data she has collected on shame and fear, has used the data from interviews of thousands of people to understand these emotions. She describes love as a need all humans have that includes belonging and that what separates people who have it and those who don’t is a belief in their worthiness (Brown, p.23, 2010). She states, “we are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” (Brown, p.26, 2010).
Learning to love yourself and others can be an enormous challenge when you experience anxiety symptoms, fears, or worries that keep you from trusting yourself and trusting others. Most experiences with anxiety and worries may at the core have developed early in childhood due to critical parenting, parents with their own childhood history of abuse that impacted their own parenting and attachment with you, including if you have experienced the loss of a parent, parents who divorced, or the experience of abuse whether physical, emotional, mental, sexual or spiritual. Because fear closes the heart and limits how much we trust and open to others we end up spending so much time protecting and defending our hearts from experiencing love of another or creating situations that exhaust and deplete us with nothing left to give to ourselves. However, when we open up to love it can move mountains, bring us into more courage and bravery, compassion and self-worth by leaning into our vulnerability and challenging ourselves to move beyond our limitations and blocks.
Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection says, “Love is cultivated when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.” And, “love is something that is nurtured and grown but also has to exist within the connection of two people. Love also extends out to others by how much we love ourselves” (Brown, 2010).
My first child was born 30 years ago, it was so long ago yet it feels like yesterday! I was turning 22 a month after he was born. His birth was such a profound experience, as many mothers and fathers will agree, it’s an experience you never forget. As I was laying on the bed and as the nurses placed him wrapped in the hospital blanket in my arms, he was crying and as he cried, I spoke to him softly. When his eyes met mine there was this connection that I cannot forget! A feeling for the first time, a recognition that he knew me, trusted me, and felt safe in my arms. I felt profound, heart-felt love, not only to fulfill my role to protect, love, care, and keep this little soul safe. As I share this now, I have a felt-sense in my body and mind beyond words. I remember that as days and months went by, this profound experience of love, strength, and protection to be a mother moved me into deeper love in a way that I had never experienced before and had no words at the time to describe. I felt in a flow of love, not only for my child, but for my being.
In my experience, unconditional love can lead us into a deeper awakening of our strength, our authenticity, seeing the beauty that escapes us about ourselves and therefore in others. Embracing courage to do something we are so deeply afraid to do and healing parts of ourselves that block love is an important energy and step to reach for. I believe that life itself is always moving us in ways to bring us closer to love by becoming aware of what gets in the way of that love that wants to be seen and felt by you.
These memories move through my body, specifically my heart, my eyes, my face, and belly as I write and think about his birth and that particular year. Love was a catalyst to healing for me. He was my first born and being a young mother brought forth normal fears and anxieties of stepping into the role of being a mother. This profound step to being a mother and deeply held love for my child brought me into not only higher states of joy, happiness, and unconditional love but also to all the fears that came with it and the expectations I had to do all I can to be a good mother. However, as I stepped into this role, I also began to experience terrible anxiety symptoms.
My deep loving experience of joy and happiness also arose memories of my grandmother and her love and protection as she had been more of a mother to me growing up than a grandmother. My maternal grandmother who passed away when I was 14 had a turbulent relationship with my mother and I with mine. Right before my grandmother passed away from cancer, my mother and grandmother stopped speaking to each other due to betrayals and lies between them. I remember my grandmother coming to see me at school and I would not speak to her as a result of the expectations and threats from my mother. I remember the walking away from her and not speaking to her the last time I saw her. The overwhelming anxiety, guilt, and shame for the way I left our last conversation arose as memories that I had shoved away now appeared in my memory bank. I felt and sensed it in my body as I stepped into this new mother role and connected with the love I felt deeply for my son and learning to care for him. I began to notice through the anxiety and memories that I never really grieved this important mother in my life. I never had addressed the pain inside until I could experience the love of being a mother.
I believe that is what Brene Brown talks about when she talks about when she says “what gets in the way” to stepping into your authenticity and accepting yourself. What got in the way for me to step fully into my mother role as a result of not having grieved the loss of this important mother in my life. Now, the anxiety was blocking my own capacity for love of self, casting doubt in my abilities, and trusting in my own capacity to be a mother. Until I grieved my grandmother and reconnected with her love again through my own grief and my spirituality that was awakening at the time, I was able to feel the forgiveness for myself and her forgiving me. I came to understand what she had gifted me: the unconditional love, her presence, her safety and protection. She instilled a learning of what it means to be there for another, care for another, and protect them the best way she knew how. I realized she was always with me connected within. I was not alone. I was supported and guided. I could trust in myself. Of course, with the help of neighbors who I was close to, my husband, and a community of friends and others I expanded my ability to open up to the support around me.
Tich Nhat Hanh in his book, The Teachings of Love, points out that if you look at another and discover the goodness and beauty within the other person, you have a chance to discover the same thing within yourself because looking at the other person is looking at yourself. You have a chance to discover that love is something real; each of us is given opportunities to experience love as something that really exists (Nhat Hanh, 2007).
I believe that the love I experienced through my son’s birth was the catalyst to opening up to the grief that needed to be healed by bringing my strength, personal power, resiliency, and self-compassion to rise up to meet life. To be a good mother, my goal was to do what I could to be more self-aware about how I think, what I feel and what I need so I could meet the challenges ahead. Loving myself meant building my self-care capacity, being open to others support, learning emotional boundaries, grieving and healing the wounds that sat in the dark waiting to brought to light.
If you are in need of coaching from a holistic approach of mind, body, and spirit and you have done the traditional approach and need alternative approaches please reach out by contacting me through email or my office number.