Last week I noticed a new thing that’s been happening to me. I’m not sure when it started (a year ago? Six months ago? Twelve years ago?) but last week I officially NOTED it.

It’s not depression. More like emotional combustion. Like rage and sadness and disappointment and anxiety merged into one. A tension created by the overwhelming urge to be angry at someone or something, juxtaposed by the rational knowledge that this feeling is no ones fault but my own.

In the two days this lasted, I felt disconnected from my life. Not just disconnected, disgusted. The Brooklyn streets I gushed over on my nightly walks the week before were now ordinary and boring. My day-job felt monotonous and never ending. My relationship felt stale. I wanted to run away but didn’t know where.

I wrote it down as a feeling of emotional tension. An overwhelming need to change, move, do something; but not actually want to or know how to change, move or do anything. A restlessness of the soul.

Not restlessness in the way that you can’t sleep at night (though that can be included in it) It’s not being able to enjoy the present. It’s the constant feeling of tension that nothing or no one can fix.

Restlessness Described

It is awful to want to go away and to want to go nowhere. Sylvia Plath

Every joy disappoints. What’s here doesn’t please you, what’s far off you crave.― Anne Carson

All night you waited for morning, all morning for afternoon, all afternoon for night; and still the longing sings.Ruth Stone

Signs of Restlessness
  • A continuous need to be doing something (working, eating, drinking, watching, checking your phone or social media, etc.)
  • An obsession with the new and novel. AKA spending $350 on a hotel room in Manhattan for one night because your Brooklyn apartment is suffocating you. Which leads to the next symptom..
  • Reckless spending which creates more angst and self-hatred
  • Edginess and agitation that leads to emotional outbursts.
  • Telling yourself that a Vodka on Tuesday night is “what the French do.”
  • Hate binging shows like Below Deck and Southern Charm while simultaneously hating yourself for it.

So what’s creating this? Where is this feeling coming from? I could tell you all the theories I found, like you are depleted, you’re not getting enough sleep, you aren’t present, you’re not following your bliss and living out your creative needs. However, I am getting enough sleep, I try to be present and I am living out my bliss. Yet the feeling still comes.

Not to mention, that’s all anything is- theory. Speculation.

I looked into the New Moon in Cancer. This new moon occurred last Tuesday and coincided with a solar eclipse. According to Erika W. Smith,

“This particular new moon and total solar eclipse will be “an emotionally intense luminary that serves as a wonderful release of frustrations within.”

So while it may be that for some of you, I know it’s something deeper for me. Something that can’t be fixed by meditation or sleep. Instead, it seems it can only be fixed by reminding myself of what I’m really feeling when I’m restless. But what is it?

Marie-Louise von Franz was a Swiss Jungian psychologist and scholar who worked with Carl Jung for over thirty years. She wrote more than 20 books on analytical psychology, most notably on fairy tales as they relate to archetypal psychology.

She also studied restlessness, or what she’d call, neuroticism. She believed,

“Restlessness is caused by a surplus of bottled-up energy, which makes us fuss around all the time because we are not connected with the dream world or the unconscious. That energy can take the form of an all-pervading anxiety, a fear that somewhere, something dark is lurking and might happen at any minute.”

Jung saw our restlessness and other neurotic behaviors as symptoms of being disconnected from one’s dream life—from the wisdom of our inner world. Neurotic tendencies like restlessness are often a result of what Jung called one-sidedness—holding fixed, rigid, and sometimes extreme perspectives about yourself, the world, and life.

This coincides with his theory that restlessness is a confrontation with the ego and necessary for our growth. “To be in a situation where there is no way out, or to be in a conflict where there is no solution, is the classical beginning of the process of individuation. It is meant to be a situation without solution: the unconscious wants the hopeless conflict in order to put ego-consciousness up against the wall, so that the man has to realize that whatever he does is wrong, whichever way he decides will be wrong. This is meant to knock out the superiority of the ego.”

I think restlessness is an exorcism. Your unconscious trying to expel the ego and all its attachments its latched onto since the last bout of restlessness. The new moon may very well instigate this exorcism, pull out the demons, but we must know how to battle them when this does happen.

What This Restlessness Means

I am on the cusp of change and the curve is shifting fast. – Audre Lorde

You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul. – Mary Oliver

W.D. Hudson says that birds feel something akin to pain (and fear) just before migration and that nothing alleviates this feeling except the flight (the rapid motion of wings) ― Lorine Niedecker

To get rid of our restlessness once and for all, we need to figure out what it’s trying to tell us. What have our egos become attached to? What is not matching between our thoughts and our actions? Where are we disconnected from ourselves and the world around us?

Where This Restlessness Is Coming From 
You’re Not Paying Attention To New Thoughts You’re Having

I have learned to love the sleeplessness that brings me night thoughts, so different from the thoughts of day, and the sharp awareness of Invisible Presences.
— Renée Vivien

If we were to achieve some kind of a state of bliss, we probably wouldn’t be creative at all. You have to be dissatisfied, in a way, to do something in your life.
— Renata Salecl

You’re Not Listening Enough/Devoting Yourself Enough

“But just as paying attention to another person fosters intimacy and makes us feel less alone, perhaps scientific observation allows us to enter into a similar relationship across species. By listening, by returning to the grove time and again, by tuning our ears to the sounds of beings unlike ourselves, we begin to reenter what Thomas Berry, the Catholic eco-theologian, calls “the great conversation” between humans and other forms of life. This too can have a grounding effect, can help stave off a different, larger, and more gaping loneliness. If anything is sacred, it is this, I think. And by this I mean all of it: the salmonberries beginning to ripen in the bramble; the scratchy, scolding caw of the Steller’s jay that will nibble there; the long, straight trunks of the Pacific red cedars that rise into the sky’s blue cathedral. The web of life that too often capitalism seems dead set on dismantling.”Elizabeth Rush

You’re Moving Too Fast 

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. May Sarton

You’re Ignoring Your Potential 

We must wake up knowing we have work to do and go to bed knowing we’ve done it.
Audre Lorde

If one does not live up to an inner possibility, then this inner possibility become destructive. We often diagnose neuroses and psychotic diseases as not lived higher possibilities Marie-Louise von Franz

It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.  Audre Lorde

You’re Censoring Yourself

The worst thing you can think about when you’re working is yourself. When you look in your mind you find it covered with a lot of rubbishy thoughts. You have to penetrate these and hear what your mind is telling you to do. Such work is original work. Pollock was terrific. I think he freed himself of all kinds of worry about this world. Ran around and dripped, and then he managed to express ecstasy. Agnes Martin

Feature Image: Rachel Cox 

Founder of Words of Women


    • Lauren Holton

    • 2 years ago

    Thank you for this article.

    • Jami Daniel

    • 2 years ago

    There’s been something like a callous growing inside of me, and this article helped me shed it.

    • Sabrina Weston

    • 2 years ago

    I always say I have the urge to do something reckless and I think at those times I’m feeling restless, as though disconnected from my authentic self. Thank you for the thoughtful explanation.


    • 9 months ago

    Hi Lauren,

    Thank you so much for this article. It, deeply, resonates with me. I have several places with which my restlessness is welling up and this article provides a framework that connects with these areas and I can organize the chaos a little bit.

    I love you you called the mass of mixed emotions “emotional combustion,” because it’s a reaction of so many different emotions together that spontaneously combusts in a chaotic way that leaves you perplexed as to how to describe what you’re feeling to yourself. What’s harder is being able to describe this to your loved ones who are trying to understand and be empathetic to what’s happening.

    You’re right, though, it’s not a depression. For me, it leads to feelings of sadness without knowing where to go or how to get to this “nowhere” place.

    For me, this period is making me face a lot of demons within myself. Specifically, the fact that I am not paying attention to new thoughts I’m having – I crave stability and I am not letting go of the things that aren’t serving me anymore; I am moving too fast – I even have a desire to accelerate time to when I’m old because I have a flawed perception that I will be content by the time I am nearly ready to exit the physical realm. My patience is definitely being tested during this period; lastly, I’m ignoring my potential – I have a stirring within me that calls me to do something greater and I don’t have a grasp of what that is or what it looks like. I am frustrated with all the uncertainty.

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The Book of Moods
How I Turned My Worst Emotions Into My Best Life

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