Anxiety is a state of mind as a result of constant fear of negative outcomes or consequences. When people are experiencing continuous stress and pressure, they feel overwhelmed and anxious. Our physical and mental “systems” are not able to cope with stress on an ongoing basis.
By default, humans are sensitized to negative (= potentially threatening/harmful/dangerous) information: it is hardwired in our systems to guarantee our survival: Our ancestors needed to know about an approaching fire in order to look for safer grounds. Our sensory perception evolved to detect dramatic and horrific events that might affect our safety and health. Knowing about dangers and conflicts was and still is a protective mechanism. The media consciously and unconsciously feed on this mechanism: sensational “news” attract and engage a far larger audience – circulation figures show that conflict and drama sell way better than happily-ever-after-stories.
Social media and other apps have inbuilt algorithms to feed users more of what they “like”. This means that those who want to be “well-informed” and “safe” will get more stories triggering fear and a state of alertness in their “news feed”. As they are seemingly interested in “negative news”, drama, conflict, conspiracy, etc, the system reinforces a one-sided perspective by giving them more of it. This consequently distorts people’s perception of what is really going on.
In addition to this the sheer amount of – sometimes conflicting – information often leads to a “system overload”, caused by confusion and frustration. People in modern societies do not only learn about the fire in their neighbourhood or country, but about all the fires around the world! On top of that, many “fires” are so complex and huge that there is no easy solution – they have been smouldering for a long time and some grew into raging blazes that are not easily extinguished. This stimulates a constant feeling of being surrounded by potential dangers and threats and, as a result, an almost constant state of alertness that overwhelms our nervous system. A lot of people feel exhausted and helpless, not knowing how to react and deal with the issues.
The constant presence and awareness of potential dangers and threats, not only in our vicinity, but also on a global level, the complexity of finding appropriate ways to (re-) act and coming up with solutions to restore balance and the corresponding feelings of overwhelm and confusion lead to stress and anxiety in the collective field. Young ones often are the most vulnerable as they are looking for guidance and need reassurance outside of themselves to grow into healthy and balanced adults.
What we consider “a human” is de facto a conglomerate of billions of microorganisms, all coexisting and collaborating, forming a “microbiome”. Our nervous system, immune system, muscular system, skeletal system, digestive system, etc, in brief, all of our physical systems consist of uncountable living entities actively working together - there is a constant interaction within our body as well as with our surroundings. This makes us incredibly vulnerable and incredibly resilient at the same time.
Our nervous system is intricately linked to our sensory awareness and cognitive abilities. By default we have three innate reactions when we feel threatened or in danger: fight, flight and freeze. All of these are short-term reactions! When our ancestors were confronted with a predator/enemy while out hunting or gathering, they had the option to fight (killing or wounding the attacker or being killed themselves), to run away (sometimes successful) or to freeze (hoping that the attacker’s hunting instincts would be interrupted or that they wouldn’t be seen). Our ancestors faced a manageable amount of common threats (e.g. being attacked by other humans or predators, natural disasters, accidents, starvation) and developed coping mechanisms to deal with them. Most of these threats and dangers were momentary and were alternating with periods of rest and regeneration. Our ancestors also acknowledged the importance of these resting times to regenerate, recover and rebalance. Today, many people are facing challenging situations (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) over an ongoing period of time causing mid- to long-term stress. Climate change and pandemics are examples for circumstances that continuously trigger a nervous system response and put us in a state of constant alertness. This is not sustainable and overall exhausting.
Mental energy aka thoughts, memories and cognitive processes affect our microbiome. If a human is surrounded by fear and stress-inducing impulses, especially on a reoccurring basis, the whole microbiome is in a state of high alert. Any stress-reaction costs a lot of energy and ultimately drains and weakens the organism. This is why impulses from news, social media, conversations within family, community, society have such a dramatic impact on our overall resilience and functionality, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Anxiety is an inevitable consequence. Some people take refuge in denial in a desperate attempt of the mind to cope with a situation that overloads the systems and tips the balance. Others struggle with increased levels of confusion and/or frustration, escape into various forms of distraction and compensation, or show other symptoms of high distress. The amount of people who kill themselves and who suffer from mental and emotional “dis-eases” is telling a clear story.
Here are two main points that I found helpful when working with myself and others:
- No matter if you are dealing with anxiety within yourself or within others: transparency and open communication are key when dealing with anxiety. Acknowledge the “elephant in the room” and address the looming ghost, make it visible! By doing so, the atmosphere (internally and externally) already becomes less scary and threatening.
There is a difference between a stroll in the park and a hike in the mountains. Be honest! Do not tell yourself and others you are going for an easy walk, if you know deep down that the climb up the mountain might be challenging and long. A lot of young ones instinctively and intuitively sense that the issues we are facing collectively are huge and complex. Telling them that there is an “easy fix” most likely won’t convince and calm them. On the contrary: they often lose trust and feel even more confused, unsafe and lost. Create hope, encourage, but do mention and acknowledge the unknown and tricky parts, if you feel any! There is, of course, a measured and (age-) appropriate way to do this. I recommend to be aware of and look at your own emotional and mental energies in this context before you address young ones in a matter-of-fact, caring and purposeful way.
- Stay in the present moment (presencing). Anxiety often arises when our mind projects images based on negative experiences (our own or other’s) in the past into the future, thus recreating and maintaining constant stress reactions within ourselves. Observe your self, the situation, the circumstances right NOW. How does your immediate environment look like right now? Acknowledge that you cannot solve all the problems of the world – at least not by worrying – and focus on what you can do, right now, in areas that you actually can influence (your Self, your family, your workplace, your community). This is empowering and strengthening, especially for young ones, who otherwise tend to absorb the collective “fear and worry vibes” that surround them 24/7 and react with anxiety, withdrawal, denial, distractive and compensating habits/addictions, aggression, depression, eating disorders, self-harming, suicide – the list goes on...
If you live in difficult circumstances and suffer from restrictions, if you feel your energy is drained and you do not have the capacity or ability to actively do something, reach out and ask for support and help. Regeneration, restoration, recovery are primary topics in current times to sustain life on this planet. Being you, finding balance and overall wellbeing is your valuable contribution on this journey! There are more and more people “out there” who feel desperate, lost, alone and forgotten by social networks, but also more and more people who are willing to connect and assist – those two currents just need to meet to form a flowing river…
for young (and old) ones with anxiety
Taking action and doing things that make you feel empowered and connected to natural vital energies are great remedies for anxiety and support you to overcome feelings of stress and helplessness.
1 Plant a tree
Learn about the roles of trees on this planet, why they are so important, how they regulate water absorption and provide clean air, etc. Trees can teach us how to establish and maintain vital networks, integrating and sustaining diversity on all levels. They survive many generations and are key players in promoting vitality and a life-sustaining energy flow.
You can plant trees on private properties, as part of communal or regional planting and restoration projects, on school grounds, public areas – there are many more options and I am sure you will find your ways.
2 Clean & protect waterways
Learn about water cycles, what it takes to keep rivers/lakes/oceans clean, look at water sources in your vicinity and assess their vitality/health, etc. Spending time near or in natural water sources has a deeply balancing and healing effect and restores the natural flow of life energies.
3 Establish a garden
No matter where you live, you can always establish a garden: on the veranda or inside in pots, at home or at school, on a rooftop or in the basement (micro greens) – the possibilities are endless. There are school and community gardens, gardens in public reserves and parks… Growing a garden is empowering and establishes a close link to and understanding of natural cycles and “things that nurture us”. Dig holes to compost food scraps directly in garden beds (or pots/planter boxes) or wherever you need it and learn about growing cycles, food cycles, etc. This is another empowering and way to directly connect us with key factors and drivers of evolution, with a natural power to grow, regenerate, change, transform.
4 Learn about herbal medicine
“We are what we eat”
“He kai te rongoā, he rongoā te kai”
(Māori: food is medicine, medicine is food)
Learn to make tinctures, balms, oils, pesto, medicinal tea blends, herbal steam baths, etc. Boost your immune system with natural homemade remedies and learn what your ancestors used to heal and balance themselves. It is empowering to know basic tools to gain and sustain good health. Young ones love it, and it gives them (and you) practical hands-on knowledge in how to balance, nurture and vitalize your body-mind-soul.
5 Spend a lot of time in nature
Immerse yourself in nature, observe and learn about natural cycles (e.g. tidal cycles, seasonal cycles, moon cycles…). As said before, nature recalibrates your body-mind-soul complex: it calms and balances your nervous system, boosts your immune system and reconnects you with vital energies. Time in nature, amongst trees, near or in natural water sources, is very efficient to de-stress and unwind, allowing us to align ourselves to the steady reassuring rhythm of Mother Earth. Meanwhile, there are more and more studies showing the positive effect of “nature experiences” on mental and physical health – confirming what our ancestors knew already for a long time.
6 Connect with other animals
Most humans are not only social animals, we are also closely connected to other living beings and their systems – no matter if we are aware of it or not. Connecting with other life forms who have kept their natural balance, e.g. wild animals such as birds, or pets (if they have not lost their natural ways through domestication and captivity), gives a sense of response-ability and focus. In order to experience a deep resonance and connection with other species, you need to slow down, open and calm your senses. This happens naturally and brings us into the present moment. The experience of deep connection between two different species allows humans to let go of anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.
Animals in the wild depend on their ability to calm their nervous systems, e.g. after an attack or fright, in order to be able to function properly. Especially flight animals who are used to be close to humans such as horses or sheep can teach us a lot and help us to deal with anxiety and other issues.
7 Cultivate playfulness, fun, laughter
When we play, have fun, laugh, we cannot be anxious at the same time! Being silly, dancing, going wild, joking around… all these things are contraindications of states of anxiety. Often, adults do not allow themselves to go there to retain control and to “keep it together”. Deliberately hold a safe space where playfulness, fun and laughter are stimulated and can be expressed freely.
8 Move your body
Anxiety is often described as feeling stuck in a “dark hole”. Movement requires of us to focus on the NOW – otherwise we might tumble. When we move our body in a playful and fun way, our nervous system calms down and stress (anxiety) is released.
Drumming is another archetypal activity, combining essential factors into a powerful equation:
action/movement + rhythm + earth connection (grounding) = stability, focus, awareness of self/other
The steadiness and continuity of the rhythm provide a supportive and reliable structure and trigger a deep inner knowing and memories of cohesion and coherence – thus counteracting anxiety and stress.
Visualisation is used since ancient times to focus and guide mental activity, set clear intentions and to avoid distraction. There are guided imageries and mindfulness exercises that you can follow. You can also make up your own journeys. Visualising comes natural to young ones who are used to role-play, day-dream, create their own stories. Visualisation techniques not only help to calm the nervous system, but can also support us to keep ourselves focused and motivated and to overcome feelings of despair and overwhelm.
There are, of course, countless other things you can do – follow your intuition and your “fun receptors” to show you the way. Young ones are usually pretty good at this.
If you are looking for more ideas and concrete examples, you will find some inspiration in my books Dance into an Inner Light (Active Meditations and Guided Imageries for children) and Power Tools for Power Kids (over 350 pages of exercises, techniques, activities, recipes, art projects to maintain a healthy balance and to navigate challenges in life, for various age groups).