Recovering from Addiction to Anxiety

"We should try never to let our happy frame of mind be disturbed. Whether we are suffering at present or have suffered in the past, there is no reason to be unhappy. If we can remedy it, why be unhappy? And if we cannot, what use is there in being depressed about it? That just adds more unhappiness and does no good at all."

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:

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© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett