Coping With Longstanding Anxiety

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As a general rule built up, longstanding anxiety makes the dimensions of a life problem seem much larger and much more unwieldy than they actually are. Unfortunately most of us don’t perform due diligence when it comes to the uncomfortable aspects of our own lives. We don’t investigate deeply enough to ever discover the true dimensions of the threat precisely because this threat seems too malevolent, too overpowering, too scary, to even approach.

We had a client who came up with a wonderful visual image, which is that many of the anxiety provoking aspects of human existence are like a little mouse that casts a large, terrifying shadow against a wall. As long as we take the shadow to be the real entity while ignoring the mouse we’ll stay afraid, and rightly so! It’s only when we summon up the courage to investigate further that we discover the truth, and with this discovery the life problem is reduced to its true, much more manageable dimensions.

Therefore the proper attitude towards longstanding anxiety, the kind that isn’t cued off by an immediate new threat in the environment but has been attached to this or that aspect of our existence for a very long time, is an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity. We have to summon the courage to turn ourselves into investigative journalists who aren’t as concerned with good and bad or right and wrong as we are with simply getting underneath the surface of what’s going on to discover the true facts of the case. When we perform this due diligence we usually find that the problem is not only smaller than we supposed but that we have many more tools at our disposal for effectively dealing with it than we thought.

We won’t know until we have the courage to look closer though. One way to help build the courage up is to remember that much of the longstanding anxiety in our lives has been present since childhood, and back then we really were less equipped to handle the threats tied to that anxiety. When we go back to a place we knew well in childhood for the first time as adults we’re always shocked to see how small it seems compared to how big it was in our memories. It’s only when we go back and see for ourselves that we see the true dimensions though.