Anxiety Is Your Friend

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) said, “Don’t worry; eat three square meals a day; exercise; go slow and easy. Maybe there are other things your special case requires to make you happy; but these, I reckon, will give you a good lift!”

As important as diet, rest and exercise are to optimum mental and physical health, I’m going to focus on Lincoln’s first admonition, “Don’t worry.“

Anxiety defined

When Lincoln referred to worry, it was to only one of many manifestations of anxiety, which is present in everyone but understood by few. The statement “Anxiety is your friend.” will surely be questioned…until it is understood.

Anxiety is the physical and emotional response to the perception of a threat, and a threat occurs when the mind perceives anything that is contrary to a basic belief . Without anxiety, we would have no way of determining what is dangerous and what is safe. What better friend could one have than that?

The process of anxiety

When a thought or event occurs that is contrary to a basic belief (which is true by definition), the body perceives it as this a threat and reacts with anxiety. The physical and emotional response may range from mild to severe. In any case, the body responds immediately with anxiety and then a defense mechanism in an effort to avoid the threat. When it fails in this task over a considerable period, physical illness results. See the Process of Anxiety flow chart:

A visual representation of the anxieties cause and many emotional concerns.

The Process of Anxiety

It is worth noting that nothing outside yourself can cause anxiety (or any other emotion). It is your basic belief about a person or event that triggers an emotional reaction. Understanding this enables you to accept responsibility for yourself and it is good news for anyone seeking to prevent unnecessary anxiety and improve their mental health.

Friendly yes, but may cause problems

Of course, anxiety has its drawbacks. For instance, when it continues over an extended period, it causes considerable damage to the physical body. To list the physical and emotional disorders resulting from anxiety would take far more space than is available in this post.

The degree of anxiety is frequently not commensurate with the actual severity of the threat. We can become highly anxious over a minor matter, or we can remain relatively calm in the face of significant danger. It would have been helpful if we had evolved with a system for responding to a threat or danger with an “appropriate” degree of anxiety, but we didn’t.

Another problem with anxiety is that it may continue to exert its negative influence on the emotional and physical body long after a real danger has passed. This is seen all too frequently in those returning from combat and suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Two flavors of anxiety: preventable and unavoidable

Many times, we create problems for ourselves when we hold basic beliefs that are outmoded or incorrect; with the passage of time, what we believed earlier may not fit today’s circumstances, or we may acquire knowledge that negates an established basic belief. Holding on to a false concept can cause unnecessary, preventable anxiety.

Anxiety resulting from a problematic basic belief is preventable by changing or replacing it. We discussed how to change a basic belief in a the previous post.

However, there is no denying that danger is never far away, and it sometimes seems that the universe reaches out and slaps the fire out of us. This is only an illusion, of course, because the universe lacks consciousness and cannot have a personal grudge against any individual. Nevertheless, we sometimes experience more than our fair share of adversity and anxiety. Okay, okay…nobody ever said life was fair.

The point is that anxiety is frequently unavoidable due to the nature and complexity of the world in which we live. It is simply not possible to have our basic beliefs in harmony with all that goes on around us. In these cases, it is important to be able to reduce unavoidable anxiety in safe and effective ways. How to do this will be the subject of our next post.

A question for your consideration and comment

What would be on a list of basic beliefs that trigger unnecessary anxiety in your life? (Do not post these in “Comments” if they are too personal.)

Next step: Go to How to Reduce Unavoidable Anxiety