There is not a man in the world who doesn’t suffer from anxiety. It varies, some people experience it on a paralyzing level, a physical experience which makes it difficult to move and take action, make decisions. The majority of us experience it on a lower level, but it still dictates our lives, fear does. The first time I experienced a conscious, physical anxiety is when I realized how good I felt before. It was during the time I was writing a book about anxiety. When I was younger I was considered brave, I wasn’t afraid of anything. As a soldier in the army, bullets would fly past me and I didn’t flinch. For me, the anxieties became stronger with the years, and they are still present. At the worst times, the anxiety could make me sink into depression and helplessness.
I see it on a daily basis, patients come to me for therapy and they are not aware of the anxiety which overrules their lives. It starts with the simplest every-day decision making, such as a guy not chatting up a girl because-insert here every type of excuse- she’s out of his league, it’s not his day, etc. These may all be true, but it is the fear of rejection which denies the guy the opportunity to explore this. It can be found in another mundane example, how you invest your money in the bank, never taking a risk or taking a chance, fearing it can go wrong. The anxiety is stronger than the curiosity and sometimes the desire to succeed. It is scarier to fail. Many women have anxieties about sexual intimacy. More than one woman has described to me feeling their spirit exit their body as they were in bed with someone, so as not to feel like they are part of the act. One of the most difficult patients I treated was a lawyer, he led a normative life. Good job, steady girlfriend. One day he started having anxiety attacks, recurring hypochondriac thoughts. He believed he had cancer, degenerative illnesses, anything. It took over his life, he almost lost it. In an indirect way it probably was one of the reasons for his divorce, he became too weak. He had to take medication, and in his case I believe he will always have to take it, in order to live a happy and fulfilled life. I believe that anxiety is the core of all negative human emotions like anger, embarrassment and frustration. It follows us throughout our entire lives, from our childhood until the day we die.
I come from a scientific background, neuroscience, biology, facts. It was when I started studying evolution thoroughly that I really understood that until then I knew nothing. Everything starts from the brain. The amygdala is the part of the brain in which the anxiety is formed, sending the anxious signals to other parts of the brain which are responsible for different functions. As we humans became more aware of our surroundings and existence, we evolved and started to develop more complex characteristics. Although genetics are an inherent part of anxiety and we are born with the potential for fear, we are taught that we acquire it throughout life. This is not true, just look at the animal kingdom as an example, different types of dogs, for example, show different levels of anxiety, some of them bark more, they are more timid and fearful. Their genetics makes them more anxious.
What is true is that in this culture of excess that we live in, with the abundance of opportunities and decisions we face daily, this anxiety becomes more present. We want all the options offered to us. The more options we are faced with – the more anxiety we have to deal with. With every decision we make, there is the knowledge that it might not the most optimal one for our ‘survival’, and this makes us anxious. Existential anxiety is still at the very basis of our human emotions and fears. Oftentimes, specific seemingly-trivial anxieties are just manifestations of our existential anxiety.
I have a group of students who I work with on public speaking. It’s amazing; public speaking is the most common fear among people. The reason for this is that in this day and age people grow up in a group environment, public speaking becomes a top priority on how people perceive us and what they might think. Of all the things in the world to be most anxious about, it ends up being speaking in front of a crowd. I see big changes in them after they work on this fear, after they practice confronting it. When someone recognizes these fears and confronts them it becomes much easier to face it, and lessen the hold that anxiety has over us. We all have to face anxieties, constantly, and there is no way to avoid this. There are ways to confront them, though. Positive thinking is a good way to battle these anxieties. It has to be practiced. That’s what I work with, looking at a difficult reality with an optimistic viewpoint, and trying to find realistic ways to deal with it. From experience I can say that whoever deals with their anxieties all the way through, wins. They gain their life back.