We don’t fight our breathing, so why fight our anxiety. You might think I’m suggesting that anxiety is as natural, inevitable and inescapable as breathing. Do you really think I’m suggesting that? It’s exactly what I’m suggesting.
So, there it is—a big step we can take that’ll benefit us immeasurably. We recognize that being a human being guarantees anxiety. We recognize that having brains that produce self-consciousness guarantees anxiety. We recognize that it’s just not plausible to be self-conscious and un-anxious creatures.
So, I’m proposing, collectively, that we embrace our anxiety as totally normal. Because it is.
How ironic how the psychiatric/psychological communities, pre-dating Freud, have taught us that anxiety’s a signal that something’s wrong. We’ve been mass conditioned to accept this weirdly conceived and widely bought postulate. Consequently, whenever we’re anxious, we feel doubly anxious that is means something’s wrong—and that we’re being “gifted” a signal to address the problem.
But there’s only something wrong if we buy the premise that anxiety’s somehow wrong. And I’m shouting from the mountaintops—it’s not! I’m shouting that it’s normal, totally, to feel anxious often, to feel very anxious often, and to feel anxious about an infinite number of things.
Descartes could have said, We are human beings, Therefore we are anxious.
Well, I’ve said it. A few hundred years later.
As a therapist, I sometimes wonder whether the mental health establishment itself hasn’t been scamming us all these decades. After all, it’s made billions of dollars “treating” people for anxiety, profited handsomely for encouraging anxiety about anxiety. Whenever we feel anxious, especially really anxious, we automatically wonder what’s wrong? What’s wrong with us? With impressive creativity, the authors of the psychiatric diagnostic manuals have conceived of dozens of categories of anxiety and called them “disorders.”
But here’s my view: Anxiety itself is never a disorder, in my view. I don’t care what kind of anxiety you’re feeling and how intensely. If there’s a disorder associated with anxiety, it’s not the anxiety itself. Anxiety always, in its many unpleasant, inconvenient and intrusive forms, is just a byproduct of being human.
Disorders associated with anxiety occur when we sufficiently capitulate to our anxiety such that we compromise and constrict our lives. I stress—anxiety itself never reaches levels of disorder, rather it’s the process and habit of our capitulation to it that can cause disorder.
And so, yes, it’s smart and wise to work hard and diligently at recognizing, facing and accepting our anxiety; to stop demonizing and blaming our anxiety for holding us back; and to pursue all the good, productive, constructive agendas we can identify, anxious or not.
By no means am I suggesting this is an easy practice to undertake. But I’m suggesting it’s a worthy practice, and one that change our lives.