Inviting Anxiety Into Our Psychic Living Rooms
Most of us try to deal with our anxiety by doing something, anything, to take our minds off of it. We resort to various diversionary tactics. This might be watching television, reading a book, pacing around, buying something, using drugs or alcohol, socializing, working a lot, or any number of other activities that aren’t necessarily good or bad in and of themselves but are being used in this case as defense mechanisms and are therefore bad from the point of view of human growth and self-actualization.
We have to understand that anxiety always has mortality, symbolic or real, as its backdrop and this makes the prospect of confronting or god forbid embracing it downright terrifying. Even if we consciously tell ourselves our anxiety is no big deal or that we’re dealing with it effectively our suite of evasive behaviors betray us, they prove we feel a strong need to keep our anxiety at arm’s length most of the time.
In the simplest terms embracing anxiety seems like the same thing as embracing death. The prospect of letting down the psychological defenses seems to spell the deterioration of our psyches, or maybe the very destruction of our psyches in the form of insanity, not to mention possible biological death. After all, many of the symptoms of anxiety really do make us feel like we’re going to die – palpitations, pounding heart, tight chest, excessive sweating, uncontrollable trembling and shaking, shortness of breath, choking sensations and difficulty swallowing, numbness or tingling in extremities, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and lightheadedness, and hot and cold flashes are common symptoms.
It’s actually quite logical to want to keep all of that at bay, through whatever means necessary. But the paradox here is that it’s precisely keeping anxiety at bay rather than working through it in order to hear and respond to it’s important message that keeps it constantly pounding away at the front door, about to break in. We try to push our anxiety down into the basement, we try to repress it and just go about our lives as best we can, when what we need to do is invite our anxiety into our psychic living rooms, we need to start treating it and thinking of it as a trusted friend rather than a feared adversary. The noise a smoke detector makes might be aversive but it is a very effective way to alert us to a pressing problem in our immediate environment that needs to be resolved. Our anxiety is the same way. Yes, the symptoms are painful, but that’s because mortality, symbolic or real, is painful. But symbolic and real mortality are part and parcel of the human condition. We can ignore that truth all we want, but ignore it or not we’re all exposed to countless deaths, small and big, over the course of our lives.
When we invite the anxiety, and the mortality looming behind it, into our psychic living rooms we can grow more comfortable with the full force of the immediate symptoms of anxiety, we can sit with them rather than try fruitlessly to chase them away, we can grieve if we need to, we can make necessary life changes if we need to, and we can come to terms with our own mortality. By inviting anxiety into our psychic living rooms we cut through the vicious cycle we’ve created, where by repressing it through various diversionary tactics its power over us has actually increased not decreased.