Luxury of Anxiety

In my thirty plus years of working with people in Indianapolis Indiana, struggles with anxiety have come up most often in therapy sessions. Most people that I see are anxious about a variety of issues. They may ask themselves the following questions for the future:

Will I have enough money?
Is my partner right for me?
Will he/she leave me?
What will I do if ________ dies?
Will I ever be peaceful?
When will somebody love me?
Will I ever find happiness?
Will I lose my job?
How will I sabotage this?
What is the matter with me?
What is wrong with me?

Or a person may have anxiety about the past:

Why was I so stupid?
Why did I do that to myself?
Why did I make so many mistakes?
Didn’t I take in consideration of the consequences?
How I was blind sighted and didn’t see it coming?

Anxiety is a luxury in the sense that we really don’t need it. It does not help us survive. If a tiger charged at us we would either flee if we could or, if backed into a corner, we would fight for our life. If a tiger is not present, however, we could worry about what might happen if a tiger were to come into our space. Perhaps we may even believe that our anxiety about a tiger may help us prepare for survival if a tiger were to approach us one day.

Most people who come to see me don’t worry about tigers, but they do have their symbolic tigers that create anxiety. In the present economy, a person may worry about money. One may read about job losses and imagine losing their job. They could even take it to the imagined worse case scenario and think about homelessness. Anxiety often is the worse case scenario and, as we brace for the worst, our adrenaline is pumped, our heart beats faster, and we become mentally involved in our fantasy of anxiety. Our body is equipped for this sudden burst of energy when there is danger, but not all the time when we experience constant anxiety. Consequently, we may become physically tired and sometimes unwittingly cause the worse case scenario to happen because we are not in tune to the present.

The luxury of anxiety keeps us from enjoying the present. Generally, in the moment, we are actually quite safe. Anxiety often causes people to be less safe, however, particularly if something in our reality needs to be responded to. For example, if you are anxious about your relationship while driving in the car, you may fail to see that red light in front of you and could expose yourself to danger. If you are overly pre-occupied with the luxury of anxiety, you may not see your significant other person’s non verbal signs that they are unhappy. For example, you may not see or hear the verbal and physical cues around you and become “blind sighted” when your partner tells you that they are leaving. When we receive the consequences of not paying attention, we may self-loath, which is again the luxury of anxiety bordering on depression. If we continue on the treadmill of the luxury of anxiety, we continue to not see the world around us, with the consequences of a loss of intimacy, job or self-respect.

Some of us may take this anxiety and obsess and create rituals to keep our anxiety at a low level, which may include compulsive acts of counting or creating patterns to feel safe. This continues to debilitate us and make us more vulnerable, and we may not even notice the proverbial tiger in the room.

The key is to lessen anxiety and gently return to the reality of the present:
Some ways to reduce anxiety are the following:

Stay in the present moment (you are doing just fine sitting in that chair)
Breathe with your belly not with your shoulders or chest (deep breathing)
Remember that anxiety usually does not help you
Remember that life has infinite possibilities and your anxiety has just a few
Anxiety is just one or two of thousands of thoughts that you attach to in one hour
Engage in physical exercise to have an outlet for your anxiety
Nurture yourself and love yourself just the way you are
Focus on how you are safe this present moment
Ask if your negative anxiety thought is 100% true (Byron Katie)
Think of anxiety as apart from you and try not to engage or make it personal
Develop a meditative process to practice letting anxiety go

If anxiety is overwhelming, compulsive, and restricting your life, you may need some help to lessen anxiety by going to psychotherapy. If you believe that you cannot cope with your anxiety, talk therapy and/or medication is essential. A therapist can help you get to the root of the problem, as well as offer you some useful techniques.

Anxiety cheats us out of the safety of the present. Anxious thoughts are always about the future or the past; they are never about the present. Anxiety limits us from viewing all of the options available to us. Anxiety is a luxury we simply cannot afford.