Anxiety is like a shortcut. When faced with uncertainty, the normal response is to stop, consider what might happen, and make a decision based on the best prediction you can make. But the anxious person doesn't go through this process; they jump right towards feeling afraid. No one enjoys uncertainty. There is always a tinge of anxiousness when you don't know what the future holds. But going straight into fear is the worst way to handle the situation because fear is almost never a good advisor. It blocks clear decision-making, and exaggerates the risks and dangers that might lie ahead.

If you are an anxious person, you need to stop making the leap into fear. But how do you do that? It requires a new way of approaching uncertainty. Life is always uncertain, and until you can embrace this fact, you will imagine risks, dangers, and threats that never materialize. Yet, suffering in your imagination is just as painful—perhaps more painful—since dealing with a crisis is always easier than waiting for one in a state of dread.

The Anxious Self

Many spiritual traditions speak of separation as the real cause of human misery. Separation can mean being apart from God, your soul, or the higher self. But the terminology isn’t important; even the word "spiritual" isn't crucial. What is crucial is that people are divided inside. One part of the self opposes another part. With guilt, the good fights against the bad. With anxiety, the strong part of the self is at war with the weak part.

When a situation arises that can be handled well, the strong part feels confident, competent, in charge and in control. When uncertainty crops up, the weak part feels afraid, helpless, and hopeless. Anxious people never settle this inner conflict. They are so divided that when they feel afraid, the weak part is "the real me." When they are not afraid, the strong part is "the real me." In fact, neither is the real self. The real self is beyond conflict; it is whole and at peace. So the long-term approach to anxiety is to rise above the inner war to find a self that is more whole.

Next: What self-judgment really sounds like


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