Anxiety in a Nutshell

Since creation human beings have been given a whole set of emotions and feelings. Disregarding whether the feeling is bad or good has its own reason and design. In an article published by Barbara L. Fredrickson titled “The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology. The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions”, there is a report on detailed research into the roles and effects of positive emotions. However, setting aside the positive feelings which make us more spiritually alive, it is important note that such negative feelings as fear, panic, pain, etc. have their functions as well. One of the most basic imperatives they serve is protection and the instinct for self-preservation. However, it is no less evident that if an individual becomes overly obsessed by one of those negative emotions, the flow of life, as well as all vital activities, may be in jeopardy. 

One of these negative feelings is anxiety. Basically, anxiety is a completely normal feeling which we experience from time to time. To some extent, this may be helpful since it keeps us “awake” and stimulated. Yet, there are many examples of people who are suffering from continuous anxiety concerning past, present, future or even, in some cases, unrealistic concerns. Namely, according to statistics published by The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects 40 million adults in the USA and is the most common mental disease. What is the reason for this? Why do so many people overthink, and dive into anxiety and what can be done about it?  

According to research undertaken by James Clear, the main reason is the fact that most people now live in a Delayed Return Environment. Does this not make sense? Then let me clarify. Many aspects of our modern life are made to delay rewards until some moment in the near or not-that-near future. For instance, you work but get a salary at certain intervals rather than immediately.  You need to study hard and achieve a lot in order to be accepted at a good university which will result in a good career and status in life.  The same goes for some common things. You should make efforts and invest your energy and time in order to achieve desired results which may take some time to be realized. To make a long story short, most of your actions and choices today will not benefit you immediately. And this is exactly what leads to anxiety and stress. Living in a Delayed Return Environment, we still have minds that are adapted to a more Immediate return environment where every action has an immediate result. Therefore, once we do not get the expected result immediately or as soon as we would like, we tend to worry and overthink about all the possible “what ifs”.

Historically, anxiety was a very useful feeling since, much like fear, it helped us to make decisions faster, in that way saving human lives in the age of living in the “wild”. Nowadays, our style of life has changed. We no longer need to run away from our predators and hide in caves. However, there is nonetheless a mismatch. Living in a world of uncertainty about what will happen next day/next month/next year, whether our plans and dreams will be realized or whether we will be alive at all, in other words, living in a Delayed Return Environment, is the biggest reason why people feel anxious.

On the other hand, if we lived in an Immediate Return Environment, it would hardly be possible for people to feel anxious in a long-term sense. For instance, consider infants. Have you ever seen a baby with chronic anxiety or stress? That is because children, at an early age, live in an Immediate Return Environment. When they feel scared, hungry, or just in a bad mood, they start to cry and as a result, almost immediately a parent, the embodiment of help, comes. At this stage, fear, pain, or anxiety vanishes. And this is how it is with animals. Once they feel danger, they run away. The feeling of anxiety or stress is relatively temporary in both cases.

It is obvious that people cannot just turn off the option of feeling anxious or stressed. Quite evidently too, we cannot change the way our world and time work. However, there are plenty of things we can do about ourselves in order to decrease these so-called negative feelings. All of the available tactics are quite simple and possibly in the “I’ve heard it several times before” category. Moreover, they will not solve all problems all at once. What they will certainly accomplish, however, will be to give a sense of clarification and security. Therefore, it might be a good idea to consider even those you have already heard.

One of the first and probably the most important thing in the fight against anxiety is the understanding that once you have a clear vision and confidence in your actions, there will be no place for anxiety. Therefore you should make things as clear for yourself as possible. How to achieve that? Break all those huge, heavy, and long-term problems or plans into small ones. Shift them to your daily routine, simplifying the task and simultaneously, getting closer to the point of solution or achievement without stress. Instead of trying to swallow all the relevant information at once, poring over well-thumbed pages the night right before the exam, make a habit of learning every day for a few hours. Instead of complaining about your weight and feeling anxious about your health in the future, say no to pizza tonight while watching a film. Instead of being afraid of whether you will be accepted at the desired university, start planning things beginning right now and not a few days before the application deadline. Instead of being afraid of being alone or not with the right people, pay attention to the facts of with whom and how often you interacted this week. The list of “instead ofs” is endless. However, it will really work if you do every planned point continuously. Doing so, you will satisfy your immediate return need (completing daily tasks) and partially solve your long-term problems or plans (delayed return) which will result in a decrease of anxiety and stress.

One may say that this still does not change the situation since there are so many external factors which have a direct influence on the result, including the ones you cannot control. That is true. However, a person and his attitude are decisive parts of the process. At this stage, I believe it is vital to mention one more thing which has a bigger value than any of possible goals, achievements or any other thing you may worry or feel anxious about – your inner health and peace. This may sound trivial, but this is the most valuable and significant thing. To some extent, the understanding that none of the external factors, which may be so individual (job, achievements, scholarship, relationships, better status in life, admiration and acceptance by others, etc.), is worth your inner health. There is no meaning in running for something or someone, getting stressed and staying in a continuous state of anxiety because once you lose your inner peace and harm your inner health, none of the previously mentioned things will compensate.

Our modern world is a place that is full of stresses and problems, this is hard to deny. Moreover, some of them cannot be solved immediately or cannot be solved at all. The fact of being involved in a continuous process of thinking and wondering about the future gives rise to a lot of pressure. However, the way out is simpler than it may seem. Make things better today, inch by inch, and take care of yourself. Then, even while facing the Delayed Return Environment, you won’t let anxiety rule your life.

Photo: Shutterstock

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