What is anxiety? Why do we have it?

We are so plagued by doubt and anxiety, so we search for ideas on how to address this problem. Yet do we know what anxiety is?

It may seem like a silly question, we know by experiencing it.

But the definition of anxiety can found.

Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints and rumination. Wikipedia.

If you look at it in terms of physiology is the overactivity of the brain. The excessive firing of neurons, glutamate, GABA and so on.

However this doesn’t seem enough. What about the personal experience of the problem? Why do our minds act this way?

It’s an important question. Unless we know what we are dealing with we can’t expect to know how to address it effectively.

Overthinking yes, but still it the explanation needs more.

The need for certainty

I see it as an excessive focus inwards. Particularity a concerted but fruitless attempt to protect oneself.

We live in a world filled with uncertainty. That presents a problem because such a reality is too unpleasant to live with.

Our response is to try and create some kind of order from the uncertainty.

Anxiety is the process of our rational mind trying to make us feel safer by dealing with uncertainty.

For my own experiences with social anxiety it’s knowing how other people will react to me. Will they laugh, point, stare?

I don’t know, but I need to. So I can avoid such situations all together.

The uncertainty I have over other peoples thoughts and behaviours, some of which I won’t like, is causing me to think too much. Trying to pin down the future. To know the future without any doubt.

Trouble is such knowledge and certainty can never be attained. There will always be doubt in facing new situations.

It’s is said that fortune favours a prepared mind, but the anxious types take this too far.

Our minds go on a rumination exercise, like cows chewing the cud. Trying to prepare for the uncertainty we expect to face or are going through.

Anxiety then, is the desperate but futile attempt to create order from chaos, certainty from uncertainty, safety from danger. But never quite accomplishing it.

It has elements of perfectionism and idealism mixed in there somewhere. As if we can achieve this perfect state of peace and harmony.

This is why I feel anxiety has links with OCD, it’s the same fear, and uncertainty that plays a role.

To be human

I feel it says something about humanity. That we have a need, a desperate need for certainty and safety. Yet when we are living in a world that is the opposite.

It’s The Humanity Project as I call it. The creation and that safety. So much of what the human race does is an effort to make ourselves feel safe.

Buildings to protect us from the elements. Huge bodies of knowledge and ideas, scientific, religions, artistic, and philosophical. All with the aim to convince ourselves we know what’s going on.

Our greatest need is for things to make sense.

Anxiety then can be seen as a desperate attempt to create that feeling of security. Because we need it to function and live our lives.

Reaching an accord

What we need to do is take a step back. Stop trying so hard to create certainty and recognise our limitations.

Accept not knowing, the uncertainty as best as we can. Taking life as it comes at us and stop grasping for answers all the time.

Accept that your can’t be certain about many things.

It’s here we can see different between fear and anxiety. We fear uncertainty but we can stop overthinking about it. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway, like Susan Jeffers put it.

Finding the courage to go out into the world and trying to make something of it knowing it might fail.

It means we need to accept our ignorance, and live with a certainty humility.

It’s also living with fear. The fear that we can never feel certain or safe. When we do it’s an illusion because things can go so wrong, so fast and without warning.

All this means is that means we will always have anxiety of some sort.

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