Many people wish for a total cessation of anxiety and believe their lives would be better in its absence. The mental health industry helps propagate this myth with medications and promises that therapy can and should cure it. There is no doubt that existential anxiety can be one of the most painful psychic states, but it’s also indispensable for an authentic life of creativity and meaning.
If you choose to listen to your anxiety instead of run away from it you gain a powerful internal compass that helps you make important decisions about the practice of your life. Anxiety is really about uncertainty, so when we look honestly at why we are feeling uncertain we gain vital clues about what we need to do to get on more solid ground. Without anxiety there could be no creativity in any meaningful sense. Creativity is a vision of how things can be instead of how they are.
All of the great poets, philosophers, artists, writers, psychologists, and thinkers have been gripped by existential anxiety at various times in their lives and you can see confrontations with the threat of nothingness come up in their writing and thinking again and again. If you are intelligent, you had better get used to the constant companion of anxiety because a gap always exists between how things are and how they can be, and the more aware of this gap you are the more existential anxiety you will feel. All creative geniuses use their anxiety for growth rather than destruction, a choice that all of us have to make in our lives in one form or another. It’s the only real choice about anxiety we have as human beings, since getting rid of it completely would make us something other than human.
Without anxiety life would be pointless and boring. The tingle you feel before an adventure or that feeling in your stomach before talking to a potential romantic partner could not exist. Instead of vibrant, alive, creative individuals we would all become droll, bureaucratic automatons, basically mindless and easily manipulated. Anxiety gives us our edge and the ability to constantly remake our relationship to the world and the people in it.
That’s why we don’t want to eliminate anxiety but rather bring it down to reasonable levels where functioning in the world is possible. For some, it is so disabling that medication is necessary. But feeling no anxiety at all creates a life devoid of meaning. Instead you can decide to invite existential anxiety into your life and use it for growth and creativity instead of destruction and decay.