Anxiety was never a part of my life. Then a couple of years ago through some unconnected personal events I found myself having small bouts of it.
As far as life events go they weren’t catastrophic. Each day people go through horrific experiences that put my so-called problems to shame.
Even so, this series of events required me to reevaluate my approach to life and relationships. It made me confront both my own morality and my own ego. Self-reflection often reveals moments we regret and feelings we would prefer not to have. That’s why most people prefer not to do it.
William Butler Yeats said, “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”
Anxiety is common in today’s world though I had never suffered from it. I have negative emotions like anger, nervousness and shame as most people do though, for me, anxiety was never part of the mix.
Anxious feelings came over me in bed. I would wake up in the middle of the night or on a morning feeling anxious. I couldn’t identify the reason why I felt that way but the feeling was real.
It was mild anxiety. The kind that is the precursor to the the body-freezing-with-tension type anxiety that some people end up with. If anxiety comes on a scale then the type I had was at the low end of it.
I’d question myself why I was feeling that way but I could never put my finger on it. Sure, life events were the root cause but I couldn’t pin down a single reason that made me feel anxious.
Anxiety stems from fear and fear stems from our ultimate fear of dying.
Fear of anything like flying, public speaking, heights and snakes all stem from our fear of death.
It was 4:30am and it had woken me up again. As I lay there I asked myself “What are you fearful of? What is making you anxious?” I didn’t have an answer.
“Do I fear loneliness? No.”
“Do I fear the future? No.”
“Do I fear someone? No.”
I then asked the ultimate question.
“Do I fear my own death? No, I don’t”
Life is a journey and one I plan to stay on for as long as possible despite coming to terms with my own mortality a long time ago.
If I wasn’t fearful of death then what is there to be anxious about? Well, nothing, actually. My body was dealing with a tension that I had yet to let go of.
I lay in bed and began deep breathing. I pictured my lungs expanding and contracting to ensure I had the adequate oxygen I need. I pictured my heart beating in rhythm to deliver blood and vital nutrients around my body. I pictured the neurons in my brain sending electric signals to one another, making memories and storing information.
This is what the Buddhists call ‘getting in touch with your body’ and it’s something I practice as much as possible.
I felt a sense of calm and fell back into a deep sleep knowing that if I didn’t have the fear of death then I have nothing to be anxious about. It was a powerful moment.
Coming to terms with our own death is something we don’t contemplate in Western society. People might throw out a “YOLO!” (you only live once) on occasion when preparing to do something hedonistically outlandish but that’s as far as they get.
Read all the great philosophers of old and they encourage it. The Stoics meditated on their own death daily. As did the Japanese samurai warriors. If regular people acknowledged it instead of putting it back of mind perhaps they would get anxiety.
Me? I haven’t felt anxious since.