On Anxiety

Despite its seeming palpability and insufferable intensity, anxiety not only can be widely misunderstood by others, but it can be gravely miscomprehended by us, the unfortunate sufferers as well.

It seems as if hope has been extinguished and elaborating is endlessly futile when we are confronted by those who think that anxiety is nothing but mismanaged nervousness. Of course, at first, we attempt to present the details of the torment we suffer, covertly hoping to garner some support and avoid looking helplessly fragile. But at times, we indulge in our anxieties-- and the countless ways, like isolation, we use to cope and mitigate the anxiety.

There often could be apparent reasons that render our anxiety legitimate: a fear of a humiliating failure, of grave health problems, a fear of being abandoned, from looking like mutton heads in social setting or simply a fear of being anxious and panicking, again. These fears leave the anxious living in a limbo between his head and reality, incapable of deriving the tiniest bits of enjoyment from any conversations or activities. It’s a vindictively capricious bully lingering in our heads, rendering our days a living nightmare. While medical intervention is sometimes helpful and necessary, a number of values, or say, perspectives, can be equally helpful.

An essential idea that should be often nurtured and truly embraced is that what we value the most, and hence what we dread losing-- fame, wealth, prestige, love-- is not essential to grant us happiness and fulfillment. In other words, even if our anxieties were proportional projections of the futuristic reality, we will nevertheless be just fine.

We live in a world where we are, it seems, susceptible to all kinds of dangers; we, naturally and quite cautiously, feel that we ought to be alarmed in order to shield ourselves and those whom we love from any catastrophic tragedies. Consequently, our worries serve as a mechanism that accurately and incessantly predict and prepare us for the worst. “What if,” is the most prevalent question we worriers ask ourselves in anticipation of the future. We then become on our toes, alerted and petrified, raging with excruciatingly shivering body, with a nauseous stomach, and a palpably pounding heart.

Montaigne’s famous aphorism, “my life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened,” no doubt lends us some calming relief. Yet, it does not take so long for the same or a different intrusive thought to spring up in our endlessly worrying mind. We then become preoccupied in a vicious cycle, a cycle that bullies and imprisons us in our own heads, not engaging in the outside world-- no matter how interesting or exciting it could be.

We, after failing to calm ourselves, seek reassurance from those whom we trust; we seek their reassurance to be reminded that our fears and doubts are absurdly exaggerated. The fears, however, have an underlying foundation that renders the future insurmountable: that if our fears came true, then we can’t get through just fine.

Thus, a helpful way to tackle the anxiety is to further intensify our fears, and imagine the worst possible scenario coming into existence. But also, consequently remind ourselves that we can be fine just with too little in our repertoire; we also ought to genuinely comfort ourselves with the fact that most of what we want is not what we need. If, for instance, we are worrying about a vindictive health problem befalling upon us, we should not look for statistical facts or words of comfort from a friend to calm our storms. But we must to remind ourselves that even with diseases, financial losses, and romantic heartbreaks befalling upon us, we can and will be fine.

Seneca, the astute Roman Stoic philosopher understood this well. He repeatedly and quite rightly emphasized that we need too little to be happy, and the promise that an extravagant mansion and luxurious furniture and bedding will at last grant us the peace of mind we always strove for is deceiving. He even made the seemingly appealing suggestion that one should sleep on solid floor as a reminder of how simplicity does not mean misery, quite the opposite sometimes. The point is not to start sleeping on caves’ floor and living a bohemian lifestyle; it is the relentless ambition to understand that we should seek success that we deserve knowing that no matter how badly the reality defeats our expectations, we can and will be just fine.

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