Part 1: Anxiety, Fear and Awareness

"People who suffer from anxiety, depression, or even loneliness or low self-esteem perceive threats far more often than circumstances warrant. Sadly, this overalert state thwarts both positivity and positivity resonance. Feeling unsafe, then, is the first obstacle to love." - Barbara Fredrickson

Unfortunately, we live in a society where millions of people are stressed and anxious.  The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that over 40 million Americans are affected by anxiety disorders.  Suffering from an anxiety disorder is hard enough, but as research shows us, it causes people to feel threatened and afraid more often than usual.  When we are feeling afraid, it is in our biology to look for ways to relieve this fear and find safety.  Some people and organizations know this fact about human nature and use it for financial gain.  However, there are some simple things that we can all do to remove that anxiety and recognize what is causing the fear in our lives.

Why are we anxious?

In 1932, Betrand Russell wrote a great essay called In Praise of Idleness.  In his essay, he noticed that the technological advancements in production were allowing men to produce the same amount of output in half the number of hours worked.  He shows that the logical response to these advancements would be to have the same number of people work half as many hours and spend the rest of the time with their families and hobbies.  This would create a happier and healthier society.  However, companies decided to choose a different path and use these advancements to lay off half of the workers while the other half remained working long hours.  The result was that you still had half the workforce being overworked and the other half unemployed.  Both groups are stressed and unhappy but the company is making more money.  This is one of many examples of how greed has put wealth over happiness.  I believe that our society continues to become more anxious because we are consistently measuring progress with money instead of happiness and our choices reflect that. Psychologists have already proven that money does not equal happiness.  Why don't we act accordingly?

Anxiety leads to fear

Now that we have higher levels of anxiety, research shows that we perceive threats far more often.  Some news organizations and public figures like to take advantage of this in order to make money.  They will spend the majority of the time talking about murder, terrorism, corrupt government, scandals, and conspiracy theories.  They see the opportunity to make money by feeding the fear.  The more afraid we are, the more often we see people as part of groups and separate from ourselves: Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Gun Owners, Immigrants, etc.  These public figures and organizations give us reasons to focus on the differences between each other and our fear causes us to latch on tightly.

That being said, it is absolutely understandable to have different interests and views as other people, but it is a sign of wisdom, intelligence and maturity to be open, understanding and respectful of them at the same time.  It is easy to speak negatively of another but the greatest figures in our history were the ones that understood the true power that comes from turning the other cheek.  Mahatma Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc.

"If we have no peace, it is because have forgotten that we all belong to each other." - Mother Teresa

Let go of anxiety and fear

We often walk through life with blinders on.  We have a very narrow focus which makes it difficult to recognize what is causing our anxiety and fear.  We accept the thoughts and ideas being fed to us with very little recognition as to how they will impact us going forward.  Therefore, I believe that we need to develop our awareness.  We need to open our eyes and become aware of our thoughts and actions in order to see the repercussions that they are having on us and others.  We often glide through life trying to take the easiest path available at each turn.  This causes us to go on autopilot and lose sight of why we do what we do and think what we think.  We are no longer living intentionally.  If anxiety and fear go hand in hand, then I think that awareness and tolerance do as well.  As soon as you are able to create awareness of your thoughts and actions, as well as the thoughts and actions of others, you become more tolerant of opposing views.  We cannot continue to put the blame on others and expect things to improve. In order to make progress, we need to take individual responsibility and change the way we view the world around us.

“Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.”Albert Einstein

P.S. The next post is going to further discuss what it means to develop awareness and some practical ways to remove fears and anxieties from your life.

Photo by Tim Gouw

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