Pieter Bruegel the Elder Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Reduce Anxiety

The Surprising Benefits of Having Anxiety

Hi! My name is Søren Kierkegaard, and I'm a 19th-century Danish philosopher.

I struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my life, and today I would like to discuss these matters with you.

Whenever we talk about anxiety, we usually refer to it as an unpleasant feeling we ought to eliminate. That most probably was your motivation when you clicked on this lesson, right?

Yet, I, on the contrary, believe anxiety is a natural state of a human being, which you should not disregard as it gives you the opportunity for growth and the possibility of becoming who you are.

But let me start from the beginning.

When we experience fear, it is focused on something definite (clearly stated or decided). For example, you see an angry dog that is running at you. Of course, you might naturally get afraid. You will fear the dog.

Think of the last time you felt fear? What were you afraid of?

Anxiety, unlike fear, derives from uncertainty — especially uncertainty about your future. You are not scared of something concrete, as in the example with the dog, rather dread "what might happen."

We get the feeling of dizziness when we look at the sheer magnitude of possible outcomes, some of which are very unpleasant.

Think about the last time you felt anxious. Was there uncertainty involved?

Gustave Courbet
The Desperate Man, 1845

What escalates the feeling of anxiety is the fact that many things depend on us.

The successful outcome of a job interview or a project pitch depends on how we act and what we choose. And yet, the possibilities of the result are endless and unknown.

When you are afraid of your boss getting angry at you - that is fear. But when you worry that he might get angry depending on how you perform a task - that is anxiety.

So you worry about your own actions, but you cannot be sure what would be the right way to act.

The last you experienced anxiety, what depended on you?

See, an animal can never experience the feeling of anxiety. It can go through fear, but anxiety is an explicitly human thing.

Anxiety derives from our self-consciousness. When we are aware of ourselves and our freedom to act, we get that heavy feeling called "anxiety."

What is essential to understand is that anxiety is natural to us.

Even the first man, Adam, experienced it from the beginning of time.

God forbade to eat from the tree of the knowledge, and even though Adam had no understanding of the difference between good and evil - this prohibition awakened freedom's possibility. He now could disobey.

Again, knowing that result depends on him, but not knowing the outcome and the right choice is at the core of feeling anxious.

Now, let's think about how we can constructively redirect anxiety.

Since anxiety is inevitable, we have two choices - try to avoid situations that induce it at all costs or embrace it fully.

Think of the times you avoided something because it could have made you anxious?

For example, going to a social event or taking a leadership role in a project.

When avoiding anxiety, not only do we miss the good opportunities, but we also risk never growing to become our true selves.

Acting passive for the sake of eliminating anxiety will only take us to depression.

Of course, learning to live with anxiety will not remove the risk of failing or making the wrong decisions from time to time. But at least those will be done by yourself.

Perceive anxiety as a sign that what you're doing is creating your own being. With every step you make, you are arriving at your true self.

The only way is to find the courage and make choices despite having the feeling of anxiety.

Think about what you might feel anxious about today. It may be a small thing, like a call to invite someone to dinner. Can you promise to go through it instead of avoiding it?

Anxiety is not meant to be pleasant. But it most certainly will lead to who you are.

Remember that he who learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.

Befriend your anxiety!

Søren Kierkegaard

Danish philosopher, theologian, and cultural critic who was a major influence on existentialism and Protestant theology in the 20th century.

Source: Britannica

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