How Connecting With My Spiritual Side Has Helped Me Better Manage My Anxiety

Photo: Getty Images / Lily Hook
Full disclosure: I overthink everything. Literally—from what foods I should eat to how many articles I can write a day as a freelance writer, it’s all chaos in my mind. Many times, my fear of the future paralyzes me to the point where I can’t make a single decision on my own.

According to my therapist, my anxiety comes from the fear that I can’t control everything. But life obviously doesn’t work that way, and there’s so much unknown that it really affects me—think losing my appetite, crying, having a panic attack, and being unable to sleep. Regular therapy sessions had been helping me manage this pretty well in my adult life. That is, until I ended a very intense romantic relationship last year.

This person had issues with emotion, and I often had no idea where I stood. His constant disappearances and on-off periods of distance would send me into a tailspin. I would stay up until odd hours of the night wondering what he was doing while he was out drinking until 5 or 6 a.m., and I was always stuck in a loop with the irrational part of my brain telling me I just wasn’t good enough for someone to give me consistent love. I know now that this isn’t true; that he was pretty much a classic case of avoidant attachment style, but living through it was a nightmare.

When we finally broke up, I don’t think I got out of bed for a week. I reached a point where if I was alone, I would think about him and our relationship. My coping methods were really unhealthy—drinking too much, sleeping all day, or ignoring my feelings by forcing a sense of business. I had intense panic attacks where every bone in my body felt paralyzed.

I chalk it up to fate that I called my friend Khushbu Thadani to ask her for advice. She’s a nutritionist and life coach, and we had worked on a super cool manifesting course a few years earlier, when I was just starting my freelance writing career. I had been new to the concept of energy and raising your vibration then, and it had all seemed a bit too “woo woo” to me. However, I couldn’t argue with the way implementing the practices I learned—particularly focusing on positive outcomes during times of sadness and loneliness—made me feel, so we decided to go for round two.

With her guidance, I started a meditation and gratitude practice, incorporated deep breathing and vision boards, and used my time to write and take online courses on things that really excited me. These strategies helped me stop focusing on what my ex was doing and instead focus on making myself feel like the best version of “me” I possibly could. Within a few weeks, I knew what to do when I reached a tailspin, but unfortunately, the anxiety spirals would still catch me when I was at my most vulnerable.

Gratitude and meditation had helped me. But I knew that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to spiritual practices—and I wanted to learn more. After doing some research on spirituality for beginners (aka me), I picked up a copy of Gabby Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back. She teaches primarily from the metaphysical text A Course in Miracles, often talking about the power of spirit guides, intuition, and an unwavering trust in the Universe, which means that whatever’s going on right now is exactly as it’s meant to be and happening for the highest good.

I needed to believe that this wasn’t all there is—that life wasn’t just about waking up, working, working out, socializing, and going to bed. I wanted to believe that I had a purpose.

This type of thinking was admittedly a big leap for me. I’m Hindu, but aside from celebrating a few festivals and visiting a temple or two here and there, I didn’t really feel connected to religion, even though I always thought there was a higher power I could connect to. But Bernstein's approach felt really modern, and her experience of leaving a high-profile job and finding spirituality after struggling with substance abuse resonated with me.

Still, I know this sounds a little out there, and I know that mental health issues are far more complex than just a supposed lack of positivity. But after struggling for so long, I needed to believe that this wasn’t all there is—that life wasn’t just about waking up, working, working out, socializing, and going to bed. I wanted to believe that I had a purpose that would make me feel more at peace with where my path in life was taking me at that present moment.

Plus, there are some specific benefits to spirituality that have been backed by science. A 2016 study found that positive self-affirmation was connected to changed positive behavior, and multiple studies have found that prayer (along with other more traditional treatments) can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also should be said that mindfulness practices—particularly meditation—are often recommended by mental health professionals to help with mood and manage stress.

So I went all in. I started meditating, praying, working to raise my energetic vibration through breathing and other exercises, and trying to move out of old, negative thought patterns. Whenever I started feeling sorry for myself, I used prayer to put myself back in alignment.

It took a lot of work, but the more I practiced at my faith, the easier life became. I didn’t sweat the small stuff, I managed to actually hold no grudges against my ex, and I became more aware of how my anxiety was sabotaging a lot of really great things in my life. Trusting that there was a better plan for me actually helped me release my need to control all outcomes, and lessened the feeling that life wasn’t unfolding the way I thought it should. My spirituality and faith gave me a sense of peace I had never had before, which helped lessen and mitigate my anxiety when it did rear up in my life.

Again, I’m not at all saying that spirituality alone is a salve for mental health issues. I still have bouts of anxiety and moments where I feel really lonely. These have been decades in the making, and I know they aren’t going to magically go away. I am still in therapy and doing other self-care things to help manage my anxiety. However, I’m more aware than ever of the patterns now, and I have a faith that there is a higher power looking out for me, which is a helpful thing to remind myself of when my anxiety strikes. It’s all a process, but one I think I’m meant to go on to find the kind of love I know I deserve one day. Until then, I’ll just keep on going.

Why one woman thought her high-functioning anxiety was her superpower—until it wasn't. And here's how to cope with the unique hell that is morning anxiety.

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