I love what Rollo May (kick ass existential psychologist) says about anxiety.
He is a real breath of fresh on the subject.
So much of the prevailing talk on anxiety is about getting rid of it.
When instead we need to focus on HOW to manage our anxiety.
Anxiety is a very human experience.
We live in a world of infinite unknowns.
We know that at any moment elements of our life can fall out of alignment like rain drops falling from the sky.
Relationships might fail. People we care about deeply will die. We also know that we will at one point die.
There’s plenty to be anxious about.
I have a theory that it is our expectation that we shouldn’t feel anxiety that creates a lot of anxiety.
It creates too much pressure, which in turn creates,
you’ve guessed it, more anxiety.
Instead we need to allow ourselves to be anxious.
Another great insight Rollo May has on anxiety is that:
“anxiety signifies a conflict” and that actually this conflict is useful. It shows you’re aware of both sides of the issue.
Another wise chap, Kierkegaard, spoke about how with more freedom comes more anxiety.
Basically, we’re all in a bit of bind.
If we want more self awareness and freedom then we’re going to have to tolerate more anxiety.
If we try to erase all anxiety, we are in fact erasing a lot of life’s paradoxes.
So, if it’s not about getting rid of anxiety, what is it all about?
It’s about confronting life’s challenges.
It’s about being able to speak about them truthfully, and make meaning out of them.
We do this by giving space to life’s questions.
What does it mean for me that one day I will die?
What does it mean for me that I can’t be certain that this person will be with me for ever?
What does it mean for me that I don’t know what will happen when I die?
What does it mean for me that I don’t know how today will turn out?
The key is in what changes when we ask these questions.
The answers can often give us rich insights into how we want to live our one, precious life.
I now ask myself the following questions when I’m anxious.
What truth am I not expressing?
What am I holding back?
What do I need to confront?