The Relationship Between Anxiety and Awe
There is a strong correlation between anxiety and awe, or, rather, there's a strong correlation between a sense of awe and a reduced experience of anxiety. This makes perfect sense, as both anxiety and awe involve a specific focus and way of thinking--and each one is the opposite of the other. The relationship between anxiety and awe is fairly simple. The more we seek and create the experience of awe, the lower our anxiety becomes.
The Experience of Anxiety
Living with anxiety can be a bit like having a slumber party in a tiny tent with a large beehive. Someone trying this would likely feel trapped, yank frantically at the zipper only to jam it in the frenzied motion, have difficulty breathing, feel afraid and worried, and think about nothing other than the pain from pending stings, and hear nothing other than the loud buzzing of the bees (Anxiety Symptoms: Recognizing Signs of Anxiety ).
Among other things, anxiety involves:
- Narrow focus
The Experience of Awe
In direct contrast to anxiety, experiencing awe is much like having a slumber party with nature on a beautiful night under the stars. Beehives are located where they're supposed to be, in places other than in a tiny tent with you. Someone experiencing this might breathe deeply and feel relaxed, peaceful, inspired, hushed, and calm.
The experience of awe involves, in part:
- Transcendence (rising above challenges, seeing a greater purpose beyond just yourself)
Creating Awe to Reduce Anxiety
Awe invigorates while it simultaneously calms. Awe makes people feel alive. Awe is a powerful and pleasurable tool that each and every one of us can use to reduce anxiety. Awe is such a great anti-anxiety treatment because it is anxiety's polar opposite. We can use awe to counter and replace any type of anxiety.
Experiencing awe allows us to replace worry with wonder, rumination with a release, and latching on to problems with letting go and simply being. A clinical psychologist and director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, Dr. Robert Leahy, explains that in instilling a sense of the enormity of the world around us, awe clears away the internal chaos of anxiety.1
Awe is similar to the appreciation of beauty. Appreciation of beauty and excellence is a character trait identified by positive psychologists as one of the wellbeing enhancing inner strengths people can possess.
A beautiful thing about the power of awe is that it is personal and it can be intentionally sought and easily experienced. There are no rules attached to awe. Someone might love getting out into nature and find the outdoors awesome. Someone else might have a great appreciation for music or art. Anything that inspires wonder, enjoyment, and letting go of ruminations.
The relationship between anxiety and awe is strong. Because it's an inverse relationship--when one goes up, the other goes down--be intentional about creating opportunities, even small ones, to experience awe and appreciate beauty. When you experience awe, you get out of your own head and into the greater world, universe, around you. And when that happens, anxiety lessens.
1. Flora, C. (2016, March/April). It's not all about you! Psychology Today, 48-56.
Peterson, T. (2016, June 16). The Relationship Between Anxiety and Awe, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/06/the-relationship-between-anxiety-and-awe
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Can you please provide references of published studies that show that awe and anxiety are negatively correlated?
A good starting point is this book: Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengthsand virtues: A handbook and classification. NY: Oxford University Press (and Washington: The American Psychological Association). While this is not a volume of published studies, it is a credible textbook with information on character strengths and virtues (coming from positive psychology). The book itself has extensive references, both at the end of each chapter as well as at the end. I use this volume for both information and as a source for further credible resources. You can also look into the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania: https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/. You might be particularly interested in the Research tab on this site and, within this heading, the Positive Psychology Research Database. It's one I consult regularly. Further, if you are near a university, you may be able to get access to the library's resources. I'm near the University of Oregon and have been able to use their extensive resources, including published studies. When you are looking into the concept of awe and wonder, it's often called appreciation of beauty and excellence. Hopefully this helps.
I need to jog before I work all day. Those few moments in nature do help. I just have to let go. So easy to get wound up. As the saying goes on the need to stop and smell the roses.
I, too, find that getting out and moving before the work day begins is very helpful. (However, I can't jog to save my life, so I walk instead!) Using an elliptical machine or treadmill does help, too, but not nearly as much as walking outside, in nature. Walking outside makes it easier to stop and smell the roses.
thank you for the is.
If you don't think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.