Are you ashamed of your fears? Well, so am I. Or rather: so was I. As men we are often told that who should not be fearful. “Stop being afraid!” my old man always used to tell me. However, that was a bit counter productive, because now I was afraid of being afraid. What can we truly do about fear?
“Stop being such a pussy!”
The advice is simple: “stop being such a pussy!” But how? After reading literally hundreds of pieces about the subject and watching many videos on YouTube, I can say that I gained a lot of knowledge. But gaining knowledge only does not ease anxiety. Anxiety is reduced not by thinking but by doing. And not only that: anxiety is actually caused by thinking.
Thinking, and, especially, the obsessive kind of thinking, can be reduced by the practice of meditation. Meditation calms your mind.
I experienced this myself; meditation works. Using herbs like Valerian or medications like SSRI’s and Benzo’s work as well, but so does drinking beer and using drugs like MDMA. I know, because I tried them. In fact, these substances work as tranquilizers and alter our consciousness but do not ease anxiety in the long run.
The underlying forces that produce anxiety will be back in full force when the effects of tranquilizers passes, and, to make it worse, with an additional low, called hangover. So what it comes down to is simple: you have to calm your mind to reduce your anxiety. No knowledge in the world will ever do that for you. But if you are like me, you still want to know in order to let go. This article tells you what I have learned about anxiety and strategies to tackle it.
Anxiety means leaving your comfort zone
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard has an interesting quote about anxiety: “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” (Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin).
Anxiety is a sensation. This sensation is experienced by most people as an unease. It is an unease that we want to get rid of. Anxiety can make us tremble, sweat, and can be visible on the outside. An anxiety attack (or panic attack) goes together with a racing heart, sweaty palms and even fainting in some cases. This sensation can appear suddenly by a certain trigger or there can be a longer buildup which is preceded by thoughts.
Our aversion to anxiety – or fear – keeps us from doing many things. It keeps us prisoner. So if we, despite the anxiety, still want to do things like giving a speech or travel alone, or approach someone of the opposite sex we are attracted to, we tap into our freedom of action.
Anxiety is a sign
When you are in a pub or club, no one is holding you back to approach the person you find attractive, except you. When you do things that are beyond your comfort zone, you likely experience a certain level of anxiety. It is you, your mind and body, reacting to the fact that you are doing something new.
We can actually see anxiety as a good sign: a sign of expanding our horizon and pursuing freedom. It’s like jumping in a pool of cold water, or taking a cold shower. A cold shower feels unpleasant in the beginning so your body reacts to it by goose flesh, increased blood circulation and increased heart beat. That said, let’s take a look at some ways to cope with the “dizzyness of freedom” that I have discovered in philosophy.
Fear, anxiety and Taoism
What does Chinese philosophy say about fear and anxiety? Taoism has a concept called Wu Wei. There are different ways to translate Wu Wei, but the most common ones are non-doing, effortless action and being in the zone. If you are anxious, there is still something that you resist. You resist it mentally and it manifests physically.
This is especially true when you are trying something new: the mind will become hyperalert as a defense mechanism because its host has entered new territory. So when you are anxious, what does the mind exactly?
Productions of the mind
It creates thoughts. It sketches all kinds of scenarios and fantasies that could happen in the future. These thoughts are not reality, yet they generate anxiety in the body. In some cases, your mind creates such an overload of thoughts that it becomes too much for your nerves to handle. You get a panic attack. So what can Wu Wei do about anxiety?
Your mind is a fantastic tool but can be a great troublemaker as well, and many of its actions are downright destructive. The notion of Wu Wei is making mind, body and the environment cooperate in an intelligent way. It is using the current life circumstances to your advantage and seeking the pathways of least resistance.
Be like water
In a way, it is an art. Bruce Lee once said:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
Water flows, does not force, does not resist, and while it is soft, it still overcomes the hard. Just look at the Grand Canyon, which is basically created by water overcoming stone. To learn more about Taoist philosophy, please watch my Tao of MGTOW series:
Effortless action equals less strain, lower usage of energy and still getting results. It is surrendering yourself to nature and let the universe do its work. An example. I can spend hours worrying about what I’m going to write because, somehow, my mind thinks that worry benefits me while it only exhausts me. Look at these thoughts and you know why:
See? A writers block. The time has finally come. Everyone is talking about it and you should have known that you get one.
What if you cannot write today? Or worse… what will happen if you are never able to write anymore?
Yup. There are no topics anymore. Nothing to write about. You should never have started this, Wolf! It has been a failure from the start!
You see? Only drama. Only crap. And the problem is that our minds tend to produce 99% crap. And this crap is the root of anxiety. The “wise” part of my mind, however, knows very well that worry is counterproductive.
Stop controlling everything
Too much strain kills creativity! Every creative person (and everyone is creative in some way) experiences that the greatest ideas come when you least expect them. These moments are often characterized by relaxation – especially relaxation of the mind. Shower thoughts, anyone?
What it comes down to is this. Trust the damn universe. You cannot control everything. Almost every cell in your body works independently and if you are able to look at a screen and read this they are doing a great job.
Fear is a product of desire
Humans want to survive. When going beyond our comfort zones, we have the desire to survive. An example. Social anxiety stems from our desire for other people to like us or, in other words, the aversion of other people to dislike us. Our desire for an attractive person to like us will create anxiety when engaging in a conversation with this person.
Unless we totally erase our desires, there will be anxiety. We can also be attached to a self-image (for example: I’m handsome, I’m a cool person, I’m popular), and we guard this image fiercely. When our self-image is threatened, we will experience anxiety as well. Although Buddhism states that desire and attachment is the root of all suffering, I think it is very hard – or downright impossible – to be totally free from desire and totally free from attachment.
With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.
(source: The Enchiridion: translated by Elizabeth Carter ca 1750)
This does not mean we should not love and be attached to things and abolish the desire to be with our partner or child, but reminding ourselves of the nature of desire will make it easier to accept the fact that anxiety is a consequence of this.
Meditation eases anxiety
The practice of meditation is about accepting the present moment as it is, and a by-product of this is that it will reduce feeling of anxiety. The core of this practice is embracing anxiety on a non-cognitive level. Which means that the obsessive thinking patterns will (partly) dissolve.
In other words, your mind will be calmer because you are ruminating less about the past and worry less about the future. Also, tethering yourself to the present moment will make life more enjoyable because you have throw this truckload of mental garbage off your shoulders. What an enlightenment! It’s like you have stopped slaving away on the plantation of your mind and went your own way.
To quote the words of the popular guru Eckhart Tolle: “Whatever you accept completely, you go beyond.” His book, The Power Of Now, is a must read in my humble opinion. It teaches you how to live in the present moment. But it is not a quick fix: practice makes perfect. The same goes for meditation itself. I have put a links below the article, which are free meditation resources that will benefit you if you want to start out.
🔗 Free anxiety resources
Chapter 1 – Tao Te Ching