Anxiety is where there is uncertainty and one cannot tolerate it. Many areas in life contain uncertainty, but whether you feel anxious depends entirely on psychological factors. The evolutionary reasons for anxiety were to make us more vigilant and alert. But anxiety can become chronic, and then it actually lowers your ability to respond to danger effectively because the constnat arousal leads to fatigue and hypersentivity in the wrong places. You feel you need to control things which may seem uncontrollable. You are constantly on the lookout. But since you cannot control everything, you have to accept some uncertainty, which causes even more anxiety, leading to a vicious cycle.

Our sensitivity to anxiety is individual, and some feel it more than others. Usually it is a combination of physical sensations and worrying thoughts. If you feel ancxious more easily, you are probably more sensitive to situations where you perceive uncertainty. You may have thoughts about all the bad things that can happen, but what distinguishes anxiety from fear is that with anxiety the threat itself is uncertain. If you are afraid of something you have identified the threat, such as a fear of snakes, but when you are anxious you are afraid of yet unknown consequences. For example, you might feel anxious and worry that you could pass out on the street. What causes anxiety is then not knowing what happens once you passed out. In other words, anxiety can cause anxiety about anxiety, because you also might worry about what happens when you worry.

So, uncertainty is the underlying theme of anxiety. And there is plenty of uncertainty in the world. However, whether a specific uncertainty is tolerable or not depends on your perspective and what you see as relevant and meaningful. Finding out what is meaningful and relevant to you, can help to narrow down the areas where you feel anxious. It can also help you to put more emphasis on those areas where you feel stronger and more confident. So, connecting with yourself to feel what is truly important to you can help against anxiety. Whenever anxiety encourages you to disconnect from yourself, doing the opposite is what can actually help you escape the anxiety.

Anxiety is also linked to how comfortable we are with change. When you are anxious you may worry about changes in the future. However, instead of playing through all the potential future scenarios, which I may have no control over, it can help more to build a sense that whatever fortune throws at me, I will be able to manage. And this again is easier if I can connect with myself and feel my strengths and resources, which is one of the pillars of therapy. Rather than negating the non-negatable, uncertainty, it may be easier to say, whatever comes my way, I will manage. It also means connecting with the world, which helps us overcome larger obstacles than if we were on our own.

Consequently, communication is key to overcoming anxiety, learning to connect better with yourself and the world around. Both are goals of most psychotherapies. We may sometimes be afraid of engaging more with ourselves and others, but it is worth remembering that this fear is not caused by too much but too little information. The more we know about ourselves, the more we actually want to find out about ourselves. Meaningful information os a good antidote against anxiety, and it is yours whenever you want to look at it.

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Christian Jonathan Haverkampf