His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso
Anxiety is such a normal state in the modern mind that we may hardly notice it. Yet, the idea that one could live free of anxiety is nearly inconceivable. People worry about not having enough money or not enough food or not enough friends, or losing their money or their friends or their job or their home. They worry about the weather, or the government, or nuclear war. People worry about traffic, over population, crime, the environment. They worry about what other people think about them. They worry about their weight and their health. They worry that they might have low self esteem. They worry about making the wrong choices. They worry about dying and about going to hell thereafter.
Many of us thrive on the propulsion of insecurity. In school, a certain amount of anxiety is instilled to motivate students. If you don’t study you won’t pass the test, and so you will fail and you won’t get the great job that waits for you down the road. This sort of apprehension can be helpful. Fear can be a powerful motivator. It gets us revved up and energized. If you are jogging and feel very tired, you might want to stop and rest, but if you imagine someone chasing you, suddenly your body will feel a burst of energy, and off you will go. In the same way, our imaginary fears fire us up and get us going in daily life. How many of us use our anxiety about failure to get us up in the morning? Like caffeine, it wakes us up, and like caffeine it can become addictive.
It can also be crippling. Anxiety can wear us out physically and mentally. Worry creates stress, which means it makes our load heavier. It means our bodies and minds have to work harder. When we worry chronically, we may develop all sorts of somatic complaints, because we don’t get the rest we need. The body in a constant state of activation can’t heal itself. The constantly worried mind cannot find peace.
Worry has been defined as problem solving when there is no solution. When working on a problem, if a solution arises, the problem is solved and you can stop working on it. You can relax. When you worry, your mind works over the problem. You don’t get a solution, so it goes over it again and again. Then you may start worrying that there is no solution. You may get into an endless loop of cogitation that leads to nothing. While you are ruminating on the impending disaster, you have few mental resources left to deal with other things going on. You lose awareness of life.
Some people are addicted to worry and anxiety because they imagine there is virtue in it. They want to see themselves as serious, concerned, thinking people. With all the problems in the world, it would be foolish not to worry, they tell themselves. Their worry is a sign of their compassion -- their solidarity with the downtrodden. Which would be a good thing if it led to action to help solve problems. However, in many cases, the worry is a smoke screen that covers up feelings of impotence and futility.
So what is a person to do?
Steps to Recovery from Anxiety Addiction:
- Recognize you have a problem with anxiety. Become more aware of your thoughts, and take note when you are stuck in unproductive patterns of worry.
- Identify the specific problem that worries you. Write it down, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it just to keep it from being forgotten.
- Get more information. Understanding can reduce worry, since our fears are often based on limited or false information.
- Identify solutions. Be creative. Write down all the possible solutions to the problem you can think of without judging them. Then go back and pick the most useful solutions.
- Do something. Take action to resolve the problem.
- Talk to other people. Discuss your problems with someone else who may be able to help you reframe the problem or might help identify solutions. Avoid people who will collude with you in worrying.
- If there is no remedy, let go of it. Fretting will not improve an unpleasant situation. See if you can enjoy the wonder of your particular dilemma.
- Be positive. Remember that wonderful things can grow out of crises. Losses can turn into gains with the snap of a transformed thought. Guide your thoughts in a positive direction and you will be more likely to obtain positive results.
- Be patient. We have the capacity to endure much and recover. Problems are not always solved right away, but time has a way of smoothing the rough spots.
- Take care of your body. Eat good food. Get enough exercise. Get enough rest. Have some fun.
- Be mindful. Practice meditation to develop greater awareness. Practice carrying that mindfulness into everything you do.
© 1998 Tom Barrett