Anxiety is our Friend

From a Talk Given by Robert J. Solomon, M.D.

My topic today is anxiety, something we all experience at one time or another. My approach to the subject of anxiety, however, may be quite surprising to many of you.

In the traditional mental health field, and in medicine in general, there is this idea that anxiety is the enemy, and that we have to do everything we can to attack it in order to eliminate it. The use of medication or techniques such as slow, steady breathing are perfect examples of this approach. Many people believe they must use something outside themselves to attack something within themselves—the anxiety in this case—in order to feel better.

I am not saying that such approaches are not useful. They certainly can be. But in and of themselves, these external solutions do not get to the heart of what is creating the anxiety in the first place. And this brings us to the topic of this talk.

The truth is that anxiety is our friend rather than our enemy. Anxiety actually has great value. Why am I saying this? Because the experience of anxiety is something our body creates in order to communicate to us that we are out of balance. This imbalance could be in our physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual realm, or any combination of these. In other words, the anxiety is created to get our attention. It is telling us that what we are focusing our attention on, and thus creating in our life, is not in our best interest.

You can think of anxiety as being no different than hunger pains. Why do we have hunger pains? They are the body’s way of communicating to us that we are low on fuel. Is the discomfort of hunger pains a bad thing? No, it is an essential ingredient in helping us maintain our well-being. In fact, if we didn’t have hunger pains, we would probably die. We wouldn’t know when to eat, what to eat, or how much to eat. Chaos would result.

Each of us has within an incredible resource whose purpose is to maintain and promote our well-being by reestablishing balance in our lives.

Experiencing anxiety is no different then feeling hunger pains. Anxiety is the body’s attempt to direct our attention inward to our inner wisdom. Each of us has within an incredible resource whose purpose is to maintain and promote our well-being by reestablishing balance in our lives. Thus when we are feeling anxious, the first thing to do is to connect to this inner wisdom and ask for guidance as to how we have gotten out of balance and what we need to do to get back in balance.

The answer could be as simple as that we are working too hard, not getting enough sleep, worrying too much, or not spending enough time connecting with friends or family. It could be any number of different things. The important point to remember is that the answer is always within us and completely available to us.

So anxiety is a messenger. It is our job to pay attention and to recognize what the anxiety is telling us. The information and the solution are always there, but are we listening? This is a very important point because when we don’t pay attention to the anxiety, our bodies send out a louder signal. As time goes on, we can experience increasing levels of anxiety to the point where panic attacks may occur. And if we still do not pay attention, our bodies shut down until we are finally forced to listen.

In summary, the key to resolving anxiety is seeing it for the gift it is. Our bodies’ capacity to create anxiety is an example of its brilliance. When we experience anxiety, it is simply our body informing us that how we are choosing to navigate our lives in this moment is not in our best interest, and thus not consistent with promoting our well-being. When we embrace the truth of this understanding, we are well on our way to leading a life of greater peace, harmony, and joy.