Anxiety Culture has a great piece on worry that really stirred my pot. Anxiety is a persistent problem in our culture, and it seems to strike the affluent and poor, healthy and unhealthy, male and female, young and old alike. Anxiety is a particular breed of that umbrella term we toss around, stress, and it’s really insidious for a number of reasons. For one thing, as the piece notes, we’re sort of acculturated to be worriers. Worrying is seen as a really responsible, adult thing to do. If you’re nonchalant and fancy free, something surely must be wrong with you. Just as we give great credit to being overworked, underpaid, stressed, tired, busy, and overwhelmed, we give worrying a lot of authority.
It’s not natural, it’s not healthy, it’s not even moral (our Puritan ancestors are turning in their graves). There is no great moral imperative or increased value that worrying can confer upon you, yet we all act as if this were the case. In fact, I think worrying is a pretty immature reaction to life’s challenges. And because worrying – anxiety – is so self-perpetuating, it can quickly derail into a vicious, even neurotic cycle.
Here’s the truth: worrying is misplaced emotion. I don’t know if it’s our culture’s emphasis on sparing feelings, but passivity and enabling seem to take the place of properly assertive actions, and worrying is part and parcel. If you are worrying about something, you are attempting to control what cannot be controlled through the course of your thoughts. But no amount of thinking and fretting can change whatever is causing you insecurity. In fact, by worrying, you are possibly shirking your responsibility. Instead of owning the situation creating our insecurity, we rely on the psychologically addictive cycle of anxiety. This grants the illusion of control without actually requiring action or responsibility. Perhaps we do this because we can’t bear to accept reality as it is; perhaps we feel that acknowledging our insecurity in a nonjudgmental manner is somehow relinquishing control (or perhaps deep down we just don’t want to do anything about our troubles). But remember, no emotion or thought is a tangible thing! They only hurt you if you make them the focus of your life.
For some of us, anxiety becomes so paralyzing, we need to seek professional help to get “unstuck”. But I believe many of us can free ourselves of the trap of anxiety if we simply own our feelings of insecurity and let them be, focusing instead on action. Worrying is a false sense of ownership over your problem. The truth is that by worrying, you are not controlling your insecurity at all – it is controlling you. And thus the cycle continues.
Photo Source: The Archer Pelican