Anxiety is a modern pandemic. Not because it’s in any way new of course – no sane person could possibly think that being a peasant or facing down a bear armed with a stick wasn’t a touch stressful – but the way we have learned to use the word; THAT’S new.

You feel it in in your darting eyes, in your gasping lungs, in your lurching belly and in your rock-heavy feet.

Anyone that’s ever had a genuine panic attack knows that it’s no picnic and if you’re unfortunate enough to have come up against a genuinely dangerous situation, you’ll understand the process. You feel it in in your darting eyes, in your gasping lungs, in your lurching belly and in your rock-heavy feet. You feel your brain trying to break out of your skull and the urge to run far away, dive into a dark room and hug yourself. Some people experience this every day. Some people can’t leave the house or speak to a shop assistant or meet eyes with even their closest friend.

we keep labelling regular nervousness with grand names that promote victimhood, reliance and reinforced fear.

And then there is what we call anxiety. It does include all of that, no doubt, and many people are genuinely debilitated by this awful betrayal by our bodies. An article in the Guardian today however seemed to suggest that students shouldn’t be made to do presentations on university programmes as they cause anxiety and this is in another class altogether. Who doesn’t get nervous? I used to get crippling stage fright before performances, worse in presentations and sometimes still, speaking up in meetings, despite the fact that my happiest place is presenting to rooms full of people. I’ve worked with young people for a long time and they ALL get nervous. Of course they do; they’re brains are developing, they’re learning all the social rules and they’re constantly reminded that they’re not as good as the older generation. Most of them face up to their fears and move past it with help. Fewer and fewer are making it that far though and its because we keep labelling regular nervousness with grand names that promote victimhood, reliance and reinforced fear. They don’t get better. Especially not if we give them a nice label, pat them on the head and tell them they don’t have to do the same work as everyone else. Better training for our educators can help this, I truly believe it and contribute where I can.

How we deal with anxiety continues to vary. When I was young I was told to take a few deep breaths. We now call it mindfulness and it works for some people. The article above contains a quote from a doctor who thinks it’s a good idea to prescribe beta blockers – the article doesn’t mention any pharmaceutical companies that contribute to his cause but one has to wonder why drugs are being handed out for people being nervous… ultimately the process is: get anxious, use something to calm down. It’s the wrong approach.

we think that calm is the opposite of anxious – it’s not

It’s wrong because we think that calm is the opposite of anxious – it’s not, it’s the absence of it. We put a sticking plaster on it and hope it doesn’t happen again. What we need is the real opposite of anxiety; to reside there; to be so far from anxiety that we don’t even think about it’s absence. If we make the effort and have the tools we can live a life that’s free of anxiety. Not free of nervousness, that’s only possible for the elite few meditators, spiritual practitioners and psychopaths, but nowhere near the crippling bedevilment that seems to plague young people so ubiquitously.

The opposite of anxiety is gratitude. Anxiety is extreme worrying about things we can’t do anything about – or even we don’t even know for sure exists – at least that’s how it seems to us. The actual cause and brain process is way more complicated than that but so is the gratitude framework. It could be that you remember the people you love, or a prize possession. It could be that you gaze at something beautiful, or find beauty in something we sometimes think of as ugly. It could simply be about tasting the sweet air you’re breathing in, delighting at what it’s like to have eyes and see the environment and experience all the divine pleasures of the sensory world. How about a little gratitude for incredible unlikelihood that you even exist, that you’re made of the same things as stars, that your exact lineage of thousands of ancestors met, survived and procreated all the way to you. Personally I like to feel grateful for the full range of human emotions, as hard as they can be to bear sometimes. They are after all a miracle and paint the world in all it’s glorious colours.

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