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In defence of anxiety

Anxiety is a normal and everyday experience and yet now it is almost universally viewed as problematic. The majority of people who go to see their doctor, do so because they feel anxious, or because they try not to feel anxious and have shut down their feelings. Anxiety is the body getting prepared to meet a challenge; in essence it is our aliveness. The problem is in how we relate to it. Neuroscientists say that the physiological component of emotion lasts 90 seconds, and the only way that we feel things for longer is that we keep them going by constantly retriggering the emotion by thought. This is what happens in ruminative thinking when people can get stuck in feeling depressed. Thus the way out of this cycle is to not get lost in the thought but to come back to the body, to directly feel sensation in the body, moment by moment which in itself calms the nervous system.

In order to do this we need the confidence, belief and experience that this is possible. What is most frightening about feeling anxious is that it feels alien, (wrong). As a culture the feeling of anxiety is unfamiliar to us; it is not valued and we have very few cultural references for embracing what is happening within us. John Beebe (Integrity in Depth, 1995) calls anxiety a "...starting point for the discovery of integrity." Thus we need to see anxiety as a response to people's life situations and of the world in general. How can we honour what is being called out from us. People need support to engage with this rather than suppress it through medication.

We are not in control, although we can have a profound influence on our life and those of others. Anxiety is the antidote to being in control which can stifle and squash our life-force. It is precisely the feeling of being in control, in command of our environment, as if the world is an object of our desire, that leads to economic and environmental and social collapse. Being able to rest in our vulnerability as people as groups/organisations and society is one of the key pathways to creating a more sustainable and kinder future.

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