Rituals & How They Help Us Heal Anxiety

What Are Rituals?

Whether we realize it or not, all of us have rituals. Rituals are the perfect activity to relieve anxiety because they are the patterns that keep us feeling like we have some control over our daily lives. Rituals pre date religion as ways of forming structure around individuals and communities.

An incredible article by Nick Hobson outlining his research around rituals explains that [rituals differ from habits because] rituals are:

i) ceremonious, deeply meaningful acts that are shared between people and embedded in a system of historical/cultural significance, but also

ii) arbitrarily structured, highly repetitive set of action sequences that follow a rigid script.

Hobson’s research suggest that when we add a deep layer of meaning to our daily lives we are provided an extra layer of resilience from negative thinking. One amazing study Hobson references states that we are hardwired to pick up rituals even as infants.

Rituals are one of those mental tools we can use not only heal our lives but to thrive. Everyone from individuals struggling with anxiety to high performing athletes and performers can benefit from the conscious, meaningful attention rituals provide our lives.

“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love


How To Develop Rituals in Daily Life -

  1. Focus on the cycles in your life. Everything from our daily calendar to our metabolism runs on a schedule. Most traditional medical systems know this and use it as part of their protocols. For example, according to Ayurvedic philosophy every hour corresponds with a different process taking place in the body. Without getting that specific we can very simply start to add sacredness to the different parts of our day by adding ritual. For example, gentle movement, prayer or meditation upon waking may serve as more therapeutic than immediately browsing your smart phone, Additionally, preparing for bed with breath-work and candles help prepare the body for restful sleep.

  2. Make Returning Home From Work Sacred. Many people come home from work and never get out of “work mode”. Rather than jumping on the phone, television or turning to alcohol, try giving yourself 10 minutes of self care independent of your loved ones. This might involve washing your hands, changing your clothes, deep breathing, sitting quietly or stretching. note The important part is that these things be done in quiet with the intention of leaving your workday behind.

  3. Spend Time In Nature. The research on time spend under trees is pretty significant. Nature provides endless opportunity for ritual. From simply sitting under cherry blossom trees (Japanese tradition called Hanami), to taking photos of nature, try finding your favorite way of honoring the plants that help us sustain life.

  4. Improve Your Relationship With Stuff. Japanese culture also provides lots of inspiration for making our relationship with objects very special. Self help author Louise Hay always reminded her audiences to thank their objects before using them. This simple habit can dramatically transform the way we work, shop, and live with stuff. For example, imagine thanking your credit card for being available with funds every time you used it. How might this change your relationship to shopping?

Want to chat about setting up rituals in your life? Schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation today!