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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Health and Spirituality Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

Does anxiety have anything spiritual about it, or is it mainly a psychological problem?

Answer

Anxiety is one of the human conditions that can be viewed from a holistic perspective, so indeed it can have a spiritual component to it which can be reflected in several forms:

1. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl has called our attention to the type of anxiety which follows from the belief that one's life has lost its meaning. In other words, if I begin to believe that my life is without purpose, the result can be anxiety.

2. Some persons become anxious when they lose their spiritual focus. For instance, during recent years, many practicing Catholics have found their faith shaken by the sexual abuse scandals among clergy. The resulting spiritual confusion can be a significant source of anxiety.

3. Existential philosophers have long suggested that persons experience a fundamental anxiety relating to our awareness of our mortality. Many of us try to deal with such "death anxiety" by avoiding the issue.

4. Ethical and moral decisions can be a source of anxiety, either before or after a decision is made. A clear example is the issue of abortion. I have spent time with women who were either struggling with anxiety prior to making the decision, or who were troubled by anxiety subsequent to an abortion. They were not sure that they did "the right thing."

5. The spiritual path itself can cause anxiety. Most formal religions, if followed in the manner in which they were intended, create a difficult lifestyle, calling us, for example, to live with few creature comforts and/or to speak out publicly against the many forms of oppression. As author Annie Dillard has written, if we really understood what religions are about, we'd request seat belts and crash helmets when we go to church!

While various medications can assist in the management of anxiety, it should be clear that the above manifestations of anxiety point to a need to reach out for help and guidance from a spiritual director, pastoral counselor, or professional therapist who is at ease in addressing spiritual issues.

03/14/98

Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.

 

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