Everyone, regardless of temperament, has a voice of self-doubt and pessimism waiting for a chance to take control of their internal conversation.
When that voice is in control, you're experiencing anxiety.
There are, of course, people who have anxiety disorders that require medical treatment. But both severe anxiety and milder forms have the same root cause, and thus share a main line of defense, says the Swiss-British philosopher Alain de Botton.
"The single most important move is acceptance," de Botton writes on his website, The Book of Life.
In his books "The Architecture of Happiness" and "Status Anxiety," de Botton explores how anxiety, the fear of things outside of one's control, is responsible for a wide range of negative emotions, from anger to despair. To take action to move beyond these states or avoid them in the first place, we must first accept our situation instead of rejecting it.
When we become anxious, we let negative possibilities — "I will never be good enough for that job title;" "All my relationships are destined to fail" — become faux realities in our heads until they have a physical effect on us, limiting our productivity and happiness.
De Botton says the next time this happens, you should remind yourself that the "what ifs" you construct are not solutions to your worry. It can seem easy to think that everything would be alright if you could just take that vacation in the Caribbean, have a new apartment, have an ideal romantic relationship, and have the job of your dreams with a hefty salary.
But, de Botton says, "there will be anxiety at the beach, in the pristine home, after the sale of the company, and in the arms of anyone we will ever seduce, however often we try."
When we accept situations rather than mentally try to escape them, we can take the first step to saving ourselves from a constant pulling downwards.
To help with this, it's important to understand that at least some degree of anxiety is part of the human condition. "There is no need — on top of everything else — to be anxious that we are anxious. The mood is no sign that our lives have gone wrong, merely that we are alive," de Botton writes.
"Everyone is more anxious than they are inclined to tell us," he says. "Even the tycoon and the couple in love are suffering."
It's why, he says, part of acceptance is accepting anxiety itself, recognizing that it is perfectly normal. This acceptance will allow us to see that it is not our private burden, and thus we can share our thoughts with others before they overcome us.
And while it's everyone's individual task to overcome their anxieties, de Botton writes that "we can at least hold out our arms to our similarly tortured, fractured, and above all else, anxious neighbors, as if to say, in the kindest way possible: 'I know.'"
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