Ruminating over rituals: Dealing with anxiety over rites of passage
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Throughout the journey of life, there are times that signify major progress or monumental transition. Over the span of history, various cultures and societies have established specific rituals to commemorate the key moments of development. Also known as rites of passage, these rituals are fulfilled by communities in different ways. Some are public and celebratory, while others are exclusive and passed through word of mouth.

Regardless of the manner or fashion, many rites of passage hold great importance to individuals seeking progress. Furthermore, these transitions are primarily spread throughout adolescence and the emerging years of adulthood as a person also matures physically. Rituals and other ceremonies tend to end with the participant reaching a new status or claiming a new title. The social pressure to keep up with others and the personal pressure to achieve what one wants in life are abstract, yet psychologically meaningful concepts. Due to their psychological weight, a maturing person may ruminate over these major milestones, which can lead to excess stress and clinical anxiety.

A lot of developmental research has been formulated by renowned psychologist Erik Erikson, who delineated various stages of life, each with their own point of transition. His work exemplifies the fact that people are given new roles and expectations as the generations dynamically cycle through society. As individuals experience rites of passage, three elements are involved in the transformative change:

  • Separation is the initial step of an individual’s journey away from a point of familiarity and social structure toward something new. As one gets closer to the unknown, he or she will gradually learn new skills, tools and lessons.
  • Liminality is essentially the breaking point when a person crosses past the edge or margins of society. In other words, a person passes the threshold or limbo between two stable conditions or stages of life.
  • Reintegration involves implementing what has been learned or sought in a person’s sense of being. One returns from the edge and back toward society with a new role or identity. He or she reformulates an understanding of life, development and an acceptance of oneself with greater ability.

Some life transitions are biological in nature. For growing girls, a major advancement of one’s life is the occurrence of menarche or the first instance of menstrual flow. This event boldly marks a change within the young woman and begins to re-conceptualize her image into a more adult context. Since the onset menarche is a personal, bodily process and symbolizes such a mature quality to others, many adolescent women carry a substantial level of anxiety revolving around it.

To explore the psychological effects of this important phenomenon, a 2010 study looked into a sample of women as they approached menarche. While the start of a woman’s menstrual cycle is a new and unfamiliar experience that could cause excess stress, the study proposed that deviations from the norm, such as earlier-maturing women and victims of sexual abuse, would be associated with a significantly higher degree of anxiety. The hypothesis highlights the importance of a person’s perception of “normal” maturity.

If a person develops noticeably before other peers, one will assume that a larger sense of responsibility will be thrust upon him or her first. In addition, those with a previous experience of sexual abuse will have to cognitively confront traumatic memories associated with their bodies and how those moments were not experienced by others. The study’s results support these claims, as participants with early timed transition and history of abuse both reported higher levels of anxiety before menarche. After the first menstrual incident, anxiety lessened for early-maturing individuals, but not for victims of abuse.

Other rites of passage are based on internal and societal expectations rather than biological changes. For example, graduating from college or other schooling is a moment that brings on an overwhelming sense of pivotal opportunity and decision-making. Due to this anticipation, a fear of failure or shame may strike a person. In fact, so many commencing students express distress over their future that an emerging trend has been informally labeled post commencement stress disorder or PCSD. Cognitive strategies like planning out goals and readjusting one’s perspective of the future are initial steps in reducing serious anxiety.

When attempting to handle one’s own anxiety does not work, finding professional help should be the next course of action. Sovereign Health Group offers solutions to conditions related to anxiety. We have established customized, comprehensive treatment programs for anxiety disorders and a host of other mental and substance-related conditions as well. If you or a loved one is suffering from a psychological problem, contact Sovereign online or call (866) 819-0427 for more information.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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