One in 14 people in the world today suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety paralyses: it prevents people from performing the simplest of activities and can lead to isolation, depression and even suicide. To make matters worse still for sufferers, this genuine medical problem is often viewed unsympathetically, as simply a kind of weak will. (‘Pull yourself together’, ‘Just get on with it!’ ‘Where’s your backbone?’)
Learning to conquer – or at least cope with – anxiety is vital to us living full and happy lives. In addition to the help already out there for people living with anxiety disorders, researchers from Cambridge have developed some simple, practical ‘rules’ for getting control of our anxieties, which we can all apply in our daily lives. You can see these explained in this TED talk.
Do it badly
We can often be overwhelmed by thought of getting it wrong, and the anxiety this generates prevents us from getting started. We need to start living by the motto ‘Do It Badly’. If we stop worrying about getting it wrong when we do things we’ll put less pressure on ourselves and find it easier to get going on whatever it is we want to do. And the chances are, we’ll discover at the end that we did it pretty darn well.
We need to be less critical of ourselves, and treat ourselves with compassion. If we make a mistake, if we embarrass ourselves in public, we must forgive ourselves and move on. We wouldn’t get away with treating our friends so judgementally – so why do it to ourselves?
Find meaning in life through benefiting others
The researchers have discovered that those who have found a purpose in life, who know that others need them and are dependant on their love and labour, are much more resilient when the hard times hit.
The philosopher Socrates believed that if we truly knew the right thing to do, we couldn’t help but do it in every case. For him, there was no such thing as being weak-willed – being prevented from achieving what we know to be good for us because we are overcome by temptation or fear. Failing to do the right thing resulted from ignorance rather than any flaw in one’s character or psyche.
It is unsurprising that many modern thinkers haven’t adopted this insanely optimistic assessment of human action. It simply does not gel with our many experiences of failing to do the ‘good’ things that we know we should do, or even simply things that we (think? we) want to do. Our January gym memberships fester into February while we catch up on Game of Thrones… But maybe if we add the knowledge that we can do these things badly and still benefit, we’d take a little of the stress out of starting to lead the ‘Socratic good life’.
At Happy City we believe that finding purpose through connecting with others is a vital ingredient maintaining our mental wellbeing. But if anxiety is holding us back from working towards our own prosperity, it might be well worth taking a little time to remember these simple rules and #InvestIn cutting ourselves a bit of slack.
Imogen Smith – Happy City Contributor