Anxiety is part of being human. Yet most people feel uncomfortable with anxiety; so they tend to attach it to something external to make sense of it. Freud pointed out that free-floating anxiety often gets attributed to objects or situations, such as spiders, heights, even aliens and, yes, the end of the world.
Another example is a person who frequently fears that something dreadful is going to happen. Will our son drink too much? Will I get cancer? Will a driver crash into me? Will someone break into our home? Although we can do some things to avoid disaster, we cannot control everything even if we are hyper-vigilant.
Ironically, it doesn’t matter if specific bad events do not occur, precisely because people who externalize anxiety are living in a state of fear and worry. Being in a constant state of anxiety prevents a sense of inner peace, enjoyment, and the ability to laugh off some otherwise annoying nuisance. When people spend too much time fretting about what could happen and all the things that could go wrong, they lose sight of the fact that at this moment everything is just fine.
That doesn’t mean we should be naive or ignore potential danger. We need to be aware of our surroundings and avoid danger when it is avoidable. However, we also need to be able to appreciate the present moment regardless of what the future may bring. In fact, with wisdom and practice, we can manage to experience a state of inner peace even in the face of actual pain and loss.
How we use fear is under our control. We must find a happy medium between
1) checking out our surroundings for danger and planning against negative things happening in the future, and
2) letting go and appreciating the Now, understanding that much of life is not under our control.
Take the worst-case scenario: the possibility of an apocalypse. Why not live every day as though there is a split chance between this being the last day of life and it being the first day of the rest of a long life? Then we will have no regrets.
To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.
You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD