Because the longer anxiety is ignored the bigger it gets.
When you were a child, perhaps even still now, what was in the dark – the potential more specifically – was always more frightening than what horror you could see. Certain parts of the year these moments are elevated, like Halloween (which is conveniently nearing), but what happens when you’re experiencing these feelings and there’s nothing about?
Why have we become a society plagued with anxious people? Sadly, this isn’t going to be one of those “I’ve done it so you don’t have to” articles – and not just because I despise those articles – because that is not how anxiety works. As much as we may like to help others, we can’t takeaway someone else’s anxious feelings – though, I’m sure some people add to them – unfortunately, there is no “Jesus of Anxiety” who died for our angst.
Instead, we have a wonderful nervous system to take care of us, but we have to manage anxiety ourselves (and with the help of others). Philosophy and therapy are two of the main ways we can learn to deal with our thoughts and feelings, and a couple of quotes l find helpful with regards to anxiety are:
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions; not outside.” – Marcus Aurelius
Stoicism is a great combatant to anxiety, it teaches you how to be in control of your thoughts and emotions, be wary where these may lead you astray and to reclaim that sense of personal agency.
I find it important to not conflate feeling anxious with an anxiety disorder. A good general definition of anxiety as an illness is: A common negative mood state with accompanying physical symptoms (e.g. muscle tension), cognitions (e.g. thoughts of danger or misfortune) and behaviours (escape feared situation or avoid confrontation). Anxiety disorders arise when frequency and/or intensity interferes with everyday activities. The symptoms are ongoing and can happen without reason/cause. It is widely regarded as a future orientated mood state characterised by apprehension due to the inability to predict or control an outcome.
The origins of our anxiety can come from varying and sometimes multiple sources. Biological origins, most prominently our diet (food/drink consumption) and sleep patterns can be a major cause and I always say rule out bodily sources before contending with potential psychological causes – you’d be amazed at the effects of even a slight adjustment to your diet and/or sleeping routine.
Psychosomatic – psychological cause, physical effect – you may notice muscle tension e.g. tightness in the chest (which isn’t heart related). Anxiety can also be from the cognitive appraisal of situations / maladaptive thought processes that we make and have. It also might be related to our personality characteristics; some of us are more sensitive to negative emotion which generally manifests itself into behaviour of withdrawal and/or volatility. We also may have elements of the unconscious part of our psyche seeping through in our everyday life from past events and/or poorly integrated parts of ourselves. There also might be more humanistic features like the process of self-actualisation and/or the pressures to conform which can provide a source for our anxiety.
Once you have an awareness of the anxiety you can begin to understand it, but you have to want to look at it and stare it in the face. What is it exactly that is making me anxious? What am I afraid of that might happen? Then you compartmentalise in detail. Then you set about voluntarily confronting it to the level you can accept – and then you build on that incrementally. The effect is that you don’t necessarily become less anxious, but you become more courageous – and they are not the same thing.
Most people are familiar with the “fight or flight” response; physiological changes in the body to a perceived threat with fear as an immediate alarm. A true alarm is where there is a direct physical threat whereas a false alarm is where there is no immediate direct physical threat. False alarms are the hallmark of an anxiety disorder essentially triggering a fight or flight response. This is usually the result of a combination of generalised and specific biological and psychological vulnerabilities.
From the individual to the collective, or the micro to the macro, we might find ourselves anxious for someone else or about more worldly concerns – and we are not shy of those right now! I make no attempt to hide my thoughts and feelings that we live in a confused and anxious society, these themes can be traced in a number of my posts – and what are my writings but an attempt to making the confounding, concrete and the anxious, ameliorated? You make it manageable, you reduce the damn burden to the point where you are optimally challenged and not overwhelmed. You have to be honest and okay with yourself when things need to be dialled back and when they need to be dialled up.
This article was not meant to be a panacea to all your anxiety woes, but I’ve tried to put a lot into a short amount of space and I hope it’s helped.
Try and have a good weekend folks,
Take care (of yourself – and others, if you can spare it).