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Addiction and Anxiety: It’s Not About Just Relaxing

If you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a while, then you’ve probably heard all of the annoying advice already. Don’t be so uptight! Just chill out! Relax and let some things go!

Sometimes you hear these comments from others, but more often you hear them inside your own head. In your darker moments, you wonder what’s wrong with you, why you can’t seem to dial it back.

True, you’re tired a lot of the time, but it’s hard to slow down. You spend all day fantasizing about sleep only to find that your anxious thoughts keep you awake at night.

Healing from Anxiety: More than Just Relaxing

While we’re wholehearted advocates of meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques, long-term healing from anxiety means more than “just relaxing.”

Healing requires that you address the mental and emotional issues and upsets that caused the anxiety in the first place.

The True Nature of Anxiety

If you read last week’s post on Addiction and Depression, then you know that we define depression as “anger turned inward.”

When you turn your anger inward and refuse to feel it, the result is an internal wall. Soon you start to feel cut off, disconnected, and numb to your feelings … in other words, depressed.

Further, beneath every experience of anger there is a hurt that is present. We describe this dynamic in the Anger, Hurt, Loving Model.

But if you refuse to feel the anger, chances are you’ll refuse to feel the underlying hurt as well. As a result, you end up with two “walls” within.

Your emotional energy vacillates between those two walls in an internal pinball game, bouncing back and forth between the refusal to feel your hurt and the refusal to feel your anger.

This wired-up, bouncing feeling is what we call anxiety. Anxiety is the ungrounded experience of having your emotional energy trapped between internal walls.

Moving from Anxiety to Panic

What happens when you’re operating at a baseline state of anxiety, and then life throws stressful events and situations your way?

What happens when you’re already anxious, and then you get handed an impossible deadline or a divorce or a difficult diagnosis?

Well, then the bouncing energy speeds up. You have energy rebounding on and off of those internal walls very quickly, and you experience what we call “panic.”

Getting to the Root Cause of Anxiety

The traditional psychiatric definition of anxiety disorder reads:

“A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”

This definition is helpful in terms of describing what anxiety looks and feels like, but it doesn’t address the reasons behind the “uneasiness and apprehension.”

We’re interested in exploring the driving forces behind those internal states, because we find that once we can do that, we can help people to heal.

Anxiety and Addiction

As you now know, there’s a significant connection between depression and anxiety; they’re part of the same system that creates internal suffering. And people who experience significant mental and emotional pain are at a higher risk for addiction.

Having a mental health condition such as depression and anxiety along with a substance addiction is called dual diagnosis. Most people who struggle with addiction have a dual diagnosis. Substance abuse and untreated mental health concerns go together!

How does this play out?

You stuff and deny your feelings in an attempt to escape the pain that they cause you. Consciously or unconsciously, you say to yourself, ‘I don’t want to feel this anxiety, stress, and panic. So, I’ll find something that helps me to stop feeling these things.

Chances are that you’re not trying to hurt yourself or others, or get addicted to drugs. You’re just seeking out a way to lessen your mental and emotional pain.

What’s the Good News?

The good news is that once you learn how to allow yourself to feel your “off-limits” feelings in a safe, healthy way, you can begin the healing process.

You can learn to offer yourself compassion, to care for the parts of yourself that have been hurting for so long.

That said, at the beginning it’s vital to enlist the support of a compassionate witness. This is someone – ideally a professionally trained therapist! – who is willing to sit with you and give kindness to the wounded parts of your psyche.

Becoming Your Own Counselor

A great therapist can teach you how to become your own counselor, how to tend to your own wounds going forward.

It’s like getting a paramedic to teach you first aid. Eventually you can do it on your own, but at first you really need an expert to show you how it’s done.

If you do this emotional work, you’ll find that you can dramatically decrease your felt need for addictive substances.

And then you can close your eyes and meditate, enjoying the newfound sense of freedom and spaciousness within you.

But only if you want to, of course.

Addiction and Anxiety: It’s Not About Just Relaxing

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Addiction and Anxiety: It’s Not About Just Relaxing. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2017
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