Creating anxiety about anxiety is about as helpful as getting angry at angry people. When we become the very thing that we are so fearful of, and self-righteous about judging, the cycle continues, from one relationship to another.
As Gandhi so wisely put it, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.”
I was recently wandering peacefully through a shopping centre in Bris Vegas that I have been frequenting since my teens when I needed to make my routine visit to the ladies room. As I shut the toilet door, the face of a terrified woman in an advertisement stared back at me. The message promoted a service specialising in anxiety treatments and the slogan inferred that you could never escape it, that it would be like a boogie monster, always waiting to get you, any time, anywhere.
I stood transfixed, ignoring my full bladder, looking at the desperation on this woman’s face and remembering those black chapters in my life – as a suicidal teen, a single divorced mother, and an addict in early recovery – when anxiety was a constant state of being. I would wander aimlessly around this very shopping centre, emotionally crippled by the fear-based belief that I was, and always would be, a hopeless, incompetent mess. I felt relieved that, during those phases of my life, advertisements like these were not posted on the toilet doors.
We all hear the new age mantras that tell us to ‘let go’ or ‘hold on’, but these generalisations only feed our anxiety if we don’t know how to apply them. Do you ‘hold on’ to an abusive relationship? Do you ‘let go’ of the right to visit children? They say that “wisdom is knowledge applied”, but if you don’t have healthy guidance for applying the knowledge, how can you act wisely, face your fears and overcome anxiety?
I was visiting a rehab recently to conduct a group when I noticed on a whiteboard in the group room the following words: “Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” So the obvious question is: when and how do we creatively use that bloody tomato called ‘anxiety’ that we all have in our emotional garden?
I can offer a suggestion that always works for me, which is to view anxiety as a healthy, inbuilt human alarm, like an internal amber traffic light, indicating the simple need to be cautious and listen to our truth. Constructive outcomes result when we honour anxiety without shame. Freedom from our fears is how we master inner peace.
So anxiety can be used as a useful key to unlock that heavy door of fear. Waiting for us on the other side is a rare and beautiful freedom and self-respect that we only discover when we are brave enough to face our anxiety, rather than feed it with fear.
Anxiety is a normal and healthy component of being human. In the wise words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”