Anyone who experiences anxiety, whether chronically or occasionally, has probably received some of the same tired and ultimately ineffective advice:
“Worry is just wishing for what you don’t want.”
“Remember, other people have it worse.”
“Just get over it.”
But anxiety, as we know, is not logical, and it does not relent in the face of such arguments. Rather than trying to force anxiety to go away via logic, how about a little transformative alchemy?
The History of Alchemy
When you first think of alchemy, you might picture wizards of long ago, undertaking a quest to turn lead into gold. But that’s just what lives in the cultural imagination. In fact, alchemy paved the way for modern-day chemistry and likely sought something much more valuable than earthly gold: purification of the body, mind, heart, and soul.
Alchemy, known as the art of transformation, was adapted as a modern practice by Dr. Carl Jung. Emotional alchemy can transmute anything we are willing to offer to the crucible. According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy by Dennis William Hauck, “The key to success in the ancient art had always been the ability to work on all levels of reality—not only on the physical but on the psychological and spiritual levels as well.”
The process of alchemy remains the same, whether one is working with the heaviest of base metals or with our most challenging emotions. No matter what area of yourself you’re working on, the alchemist’s intention is to transform what has become “lead” (valueless, old, heavy energy) within us into “gold” (enlightenment, peace, health).
What Can We Transform Anxiety Into?
When undergoing a transformative process, it’s important to have a clear goal in mind.
At first, it might seem like a good idea to convert anxiety into something like confidence or self-assurance. But these states of mind are little more than an ego-based façade. They hide, rather than honor, our true state. Therefore, this approach would be less of a full transformation and more of a temporary bypass. (In fact, much "self-help" advice encourages us to fake or force confidence.)
Instead, think of anxiety as a bunch of small fears that have snowballed into one giant, indistinguishable mass. It carries an important message for us, but it is too big and unwieldy to work within its current state. Historically speaking, anxiety is newer to the human experience, and thus we have fewer tools to manage it as a whole.
Fear, on the other hand, is something humans have been successfully managing since the beginning of time. As our oldest emotional companion, fear is an important and critical partner in human life, and one that should be honored. When anxiety snowballs into an overwhelming collection of fears, it would be better to transform anxiety back into smaller, more manageable fears and worries, then explore and heal those fears one at a time.
How to Undergo an Anxiety Transformation
According to alchemy, the transformation process requires two important steps: the Inspection and the Confrontation, with Rebirth resulting from the process.
The Inspection stage is about allowing that which has gone unnoticed and unreconciled to come to the surface. This means we must bring to the surface as many habits, attitudes, or beliefs that we can unearth from our unconscious mind as possible. In alchemy, this is the stage that is associated with the element of fire and focuses on bringing things into the light, heating them up, and slowly melting them down.
The Inspection stage means to bring things to light which have remained in the darkness. None of this is about placing blame, but building awareness. You will need:
A willingness to name, accept, and face your anxiety directly.
Some time away from duties and responsibilities so you can focus on addressing your anxiety. This doesn’t mean you need to go on a long retreat; simply that you try to peel yourself away from “life as normal” for periods of time each day so you can attend to this work.
A willingness to bring to light that which is unconscious—your long-held habits, beliefs, attitudes, and other long-term residents of the mind.
A readiness to see clearly how your anxiety has limited your life and your movements, creativity, and expression, and the desire to be free of such limitations.
A willingness to sit in chaos and not have all the answers about the future.
The second stage is the Confrontation stage. The fire has been extinguished, and now we need to sift through the ashes for what is still valuable and what should be discarded forever. Some of the beliefs and ideas you previously held will still prove valuable and helpful to you. Others will reveal themselves to be no longer worth carrying into your new future.
This work is shadow work, for which there are many resources to assist along the way. I recommend the work of Caroline Myss, Andrew Harvey, and the aforementioned Dr. Carl Jung.
This stage requires:
A willingness to walk away from situations, lifestyles, or people that have had an unbalancing effect on your mind and body.
Regular and gentle discernment and rebalancing of your work and lifestyle.
Outside support, such as a therapist or counselor, as you will likely travel back to childhood where many of these beliefs were accumulated.
A willingness to welcome home parts of yourself that have been cut off or denied due to the anxiety.
Once the hard work of the previous two stages is complete, you are ready to be reborn, like a phoenix from the ashes! This is the time to surround yourself with people that truly support you and see you as you are. Without the burdens of your past self, you may feel like a baby deer trying to get your legs under you again. But over time, you will find yourself feeling light, energetic, and ready to live your life to the fullest.
We are not likely to eliminate anxiety from our lives forever. Nor would we necessarily want to, as anxiety is a messenger letting us know there is an imbalance that needs attention. It’s important to recognize that while anxiety may always be a part of your life, you can turn it into gold through emotional alchemy.
As you continue to practice the principles of alchemy, you will see how nothing stays in one stage forever, and that anything—even the most intense anxiety—can be melted down, investigated, and transformed.
Explore more from Keri: "How to Outsmart Your Saboteur Archetype"