Does anxiety have anything spiritual about it, or is it mainly a psychological problem?
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
Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist
in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology