Dealing With Anxiety Is More Complex Than Simply Getting Rid Of It
In both psychology and our culture at large, we often talk about treating anxiety by getting rid of it completely. Within this framework, there is one outcome for dealing with anxiety: not having anxiety. This thinking can corner people who are struggling, and make them feel stuck with the seemingly insurmountable task of getting rid of anxiety entirely. In reality, it’s not that simple. In fact, anxiety is quite complex, and requires a more fluid way of relating to it.
We All Live With Anxiety Of Some Kind
Why is anxiety more complex? Because I don’t think we cannot have some sort of anxiety in our lives. We all live with anxiety of some kind.
Anxiety is not just symptoms that make up a diagnosis–it is a feeling that we have off and on our whole lives. It can also be useful. We need anxiety to some degree to navigate the world, the streets of New York, and our lives.
Anxiety Can Even Serve A Positive Purpose
While there are circumstances in which anxiety can be overwhelming and tremendously crippling, we can also have anxiety and be healthy. Change frequently brings about a normal amount of anxiety. There’s a reason it’s very common for people to be anxious before big transitions like a move, wedding, or having a baby.
Anxiety can even serve a positive purpose. For example, if you start a new business, you may feel stress and anxiety about how it will go since you never did it before, and know it will take new, hard, or higher level work. We are all reasonably nervous before a big meeting, first date, hard conversation, important conflict, a merger of family or business, or a graduation because it’s likely something we have worked toward for a long time.
How Can We Relate To Anxiety In A More Fluid Way?
Rather than trying to get rid of anxiety completely forever, we should approach anxiety in a more fluid way. By this, I mean embracing anxiety as part of our world, not something that will either always or never be a part of it. Anxiety can be a small part of our emotional lives rather than all of it–we are also lovers, parents, friends, professionals, students, and people that feel happy, sad, fear, hope, etc.
I often talk to patients about what a feeling needs. This includes asking what anxiety needs, and being empathetic about why it’s there, whether a new job, a new group of friends, meeting our partner’s friends, or navigating the tougher, more vulnerable things in life. Anxiety also needs us to lead. It’s not about “solving” or “beating” anxiety, but acknowledging and leading it. Essentially, we tell the anxiety: “Yep. I know you’re in there. I’ll acknowledge you whenever you’re there, and then, I will lead.”
Anxiety often needs us to pick a way of leading, whether going on that flight, doing that presentation, sharing a tough thing with a friend, or verbalizing anxiety to a friend or a therapist. For example, you may feel anxious when you go to a difficult doctor’s appointment, but you can lead by preparing for the appointment by making a list and being assertive with the doctor when there. You can say with power (even though you may be shaking a bit inside) that you need them to slow down, take a look, or explain. Understanding anxiety in a more fluid way means accepting that there may be days and times when we are anxious, but knowing that we can be in charge of the anxiety and decide what to do with it.