UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young
Judging from the clients I see in my practice, it seems that anxiety is reaching epidemic proportions. What is startling to me is that in addition to seeing it in teens, young adults and in the middle-aged and seniors, I am seeing it in children as young as five or six.
At the same time, I see how sped-up and intense life has become, and I cannot help but think that the two are related. Modern life cannot, in any way, be considered our natural habitat.
Think of how important it is for most people, that if animals must be kept in captivity, that they are provided as natural an environment as possible. Well, we are animals.
Imagine if you performed the following experiment on animals: you altered their diet and provided them with food that is highly processed, lacking in nutrition and high in sugar, salt and perhaps even caffeine. You altered their sleep schedule so they could no longer rest when tired, and you kept them stimulated with noise and activity so they did not get sufficient sleep. You enclosed too many animals too close together so they could not have their own space, which increased the likelihood of conflict.
You forced them to keep running on a treadmill, even when they were tired, because they had to follow a schedule, and you reduced the amount of sunlight and fresh air to which they were exposed.
Without a doubt, what you would get would be animals suffering from anxiety. They would have more illness and more stress. They would fight with each other more often, and they might even pull out their hair.
Life was not always as it is now. When I think of paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, there seems to have been a lot of lounging around, which was not just a solitary activity, but appeared to be a social event. The people look very relaxed and content, comfortably dressed in flowing robes and bare feet.
There was a time when people went to sleep when it got dark and awakened with the sun. They also spent a lot of time in nature, because nature was everywhere. In big cities today, we have children who have never seen a forest or a river. I remember in Sunday school when I first heard the Twenty-Third Psalm. I did not know for sure what the words “He leadeth me to lie down beside still waters; He restoreth my soul” really meant, but I was filled with a sense of calm.
How do we reconcile the pace and demands of modern life with the need to frequently restore our souls? Will we forget what it feels like to experience our soul? What will happen to children who never lie on the grass looking up at the clouds, search for four-leaf clovers, chase butterflies, eat carrots from the garden or make mud pies?
Anxiety may be an alarm going off when we have become disconnected from our souls and all that is good, true and meaningful. The more natural our lives, the more soulful we are.
Time in nature, fresh air and sunshine and organic, whole foods all keep us grounded and connected to the soulful part of our being. They also help us release those things that may be physically or emotionally toxic.
Anxiety may also be a sign that our lives have become out of balance. If you no longer feel you are driving your life, but rather are running along behind just trying to keep up, it is time to take inventory. What may be needed is more unscheduled time for breathing, walking, talking, looking at stars or even taking a nap.
Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of Growing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For articles and information about her books and CDs, visit (www.gwen.ca). See display ad this issue.