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The Only Way To Stop Causing Your Anxiety


I know you don’t want to believe that you are causing your own anxiety, but you are. Sure, genetics play a role in calming agita, but they are not the instigator and promoter of your misery. That would be you, your worldview, and your specific thoughts. 

This is not a bulletin hot off the press, although it may be new information to you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other clinical treatment approaches, philosophy, Buddhism, and meditation all espouse you having the power to alter how you feel and what you do by changing your beliefs and cognitions.

“The School of Life presents: Forget finding happiness, instead find peace with anxiety”

describes a major barrier to peace: clinging to a deep and fervent wish that you can make life risk- and danger-free. Instead, you must accept the paradox that you will experience less anxiety when you recognize that you—all of us— always will have events from within and without to threaten certainty that you are safe and secure. 

As the article’s authors say, “We can never properly be secure, because so long as we are alive, we will be alert to danger and in some way at risk. The only people with full security are the dead; the only people who can be truly at peace are under the ground; cemeteries are the only definitively calm places around.”

Your goal is not, as you think, to live without anxiety, but to live fully with it. The School of Life maintains that, “We can accept the ceaselessness of certain anxieties and rather than aim for a yogic calm state, serenely accept that we will never be definitely calm. Our goal should not be to banish anxiety but to learn to manage, live well around and—when we can—heartily laugh at, our anxious state.” 

Yes, chuckling over anxiety works because it promotes distance from feeling it and provides a perspective on our attachment to it. Most of the things we’re anxious about are events that we’ve concluded must turn out a certain way: we must avoiding catching COVID-19, our child must get into Harvard, we can’t lose our chance at that perfect house that just came on the market, we need to get that job, he or she must love us, or we can’t be happy without losing weight. 

We crave certainty because we are (wrongly) convinced that without life turning out a particular way—The Way We Planned—we need to be anxious because anxious is what we’ve learned to become when we perceive a threat. But we don’t need to feel anxious. It’s just a habit that goes like this: I am anxious that things won’t go my way and when they go wrong I feel anxious because I believe they were supposed to go right. But is anxious really the only feeling to experience when things “go wrong”? How about acceptance, curiosity, disappointment, amusement, sadness, or wonder.

I know that most of you are strongly attached to your anxiety. Truth is that nothing can take it away from you—no amount of prayer or therapy. It is human to want to control life. But it is also part of human wisdom to know and whole-heartedly accept that our ability to make things turn out as we want them to is a myth, a fairy-tale, a major cognitive blooper, a joke on us. A less anxious life can be yours. It just won’t be the one you planned for yourself.