Anxiety, another name for challenge | Sunday Observer

Anxiety, another name for challenge

14 August, 2022

Anxiety is love’s greatest killer - Anais Nin

Anxiety is the feeling of being very worried about something. For instance, the fear of unemployment can be a source of deep anxiety. A severe state of anxiety or depression requires medical attention. However, minor states of anxiety such as stage fright, butterflies in the stomach, the feelings we have at a job interview or when we have to attend a party are quite common to most of us. When depression overcomes you, you feel downhearted or you do not feel interested in anything. Sometimes you feel that you have no energy to do anything.

A friend wanted to try his hand at writing, but he found it to be a scary situation. He went back and forth making and unmaking his decision. Every time he gave up the idea of becoming a writer, it gave him the blues. It took him some time to realize that you have to endure a certain amount of worry and concern to achieve anything worthwhile.

The great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard believed that anxiety always arose when we confronted the possibility of our own development. It seems to be a rule of life that you cannot advance without getting that old, familiar, jittery feeling. As a child I discovered it when I was learning how to ride a bicycle with the help of a friend. I was excited to ride on two wheels balancing myself.

Similarly a pregnant woman gets butterflies when she thinks of delivering her first baby. A wave of anxiety arose when my parents decided to uproot our family from the old hometown to find a better opportunity halfway across the country. When we set out aggressively to get something we want we meet up with anxiety. And it is going to be our travelling companion, at least part of the way, into any new venture.


When I first began my career as a journalist, I was frequently required to interview well-known politicians, film stars, businessmen and authors. Before such interviews I got butterflies and my hands started shaking. Later I came across many senior journalists who appeared to be the very model of confident, sophisticated men of the world. Gradually the butterflies disappeared and I became more confident than before.

As a student of psychology I learned that anxiety was sometimes called ‘extinction.’ It means that if you pull yourself up enough you will eventually learn that there is nothing to be worried about. I also learned another fact: You will never eliminate anxiety by avoiding the thing that caused it. A girl who had joined the Toastmasters Club could not deliver her maiden speech for two minutes. When others insisted she stammered out a speech. After a few months, she extinguished her anxiety by confronting it.

The problem is that it is one thing to urge someone else to take on those anxiety-producing challenges. When you are asked to do it, it becomes another challenge. Some years ago, I was offered a writing assignment by a publishing company. I was not very familiar with the subject and I hesitated at first. It seemed impossible and with considerable regret I was ready to write a letter begging off. Halfway through, a thought ran through my mind. It said, “You can’t learn if you don’t try.” So I accepted the assignment.

Challenging jobs

On another occasion I was assigned to translate a book written by a Sinhala scholar. When I read the manuscript I did not understand the meaning of certain high-flown Sinhala words. Therefore I wanted to decline the offer. On second thoughts, however, I reconsidered my decision and accepted the challenge. The author said he was satisfied with my translation. Ever since I have never hesitated to accept challenging jobs because I became increasingly confident that somehow I will manage.

The point is that the new, the different, is almost by definition, scary. However, each time you try something, you learn, and as the learning piles up, the world will open to you. The ultimate lesson for everybody is that you should not let the butterflies stop you from doing what you want. Accept anxiety as another name for challenge and you can accomplish wonders.

Anxiety – the distress evoked by life’s pressures – is perhaps the emotion with the greatest weight of scientific evidence connecting it to the onset of sickness and recovery. In modern life anxiety is more often out of proportion and out of place. Distress comes in the face of situations that we must live with or that are conjured by the mind, not real dangers. We must be ready to confront repeated bouts of anxiety at various stages of life.

Different perspective

Osho has a different perspective on anxiety. He wants you to create a distance between you and your personality. All your problems are concerned with your personality, not with you. All problems belong to the personality. This is simple logic. Whenever you feel anxiety just remember that it belongs to the personality. If you feel a strain, that too belongs to your personality.

When you create a distance between you and your personality, you will suddenly see anxiety disappearing. You can try this method even for other physical or mental problems. If you have a headache, try to be far away from it. Think that it is happening somewhere else in the body mechanism. A point will come when you suddenly see that the headache is disappearing.

Psychologists have suggested various ways of getting rid of anxiety. If you fear to do something, apply the principle of gradual exposure to it. This is like taking a vaccination. When you are vaccinated, you receive a weakened version of the microorganism which protects you. You then develop a resistance to the disease. Gradual exposure works the same way.

Before you expose yourself to the full strength of a situation in which you lack self-confidence, you will first experience a similar but far less daunting version. Once you have done that, you have a ‘booster’ – a slightly stronger dose. Again you have to wait for resistance. Finally, you will be completely immunized against the full strength of the situation.

Laurence H. Snow, Professor of Psychiatry, says anxiety occurs whenever the ego is threatened from any source. A young man on a date with a charming girl feels a sense of emotional pressure. It may be a mild discomfort similar to nervousness. Superego anxiety occurs when the person feels guilty upon doing something that his conscience tells him that he has done something bad. Objective anxiety or the threat of ego infringement by the external world is encountered every day. When you cross a street you hear the blast of a horn. This is objective anxiety. In simple words it is fear.

Anxiety dreams

Sometimes you will have nightmares and anxiety dreams. Additionally, unpleasant dreams may reflect an attempt to disguise one intolerable idea with another which is also uncomfortable, but the lesser of two evils. When exposed to a threatening situation like going for a job interview, going to the dentist or taking an important examination, it is quite normal to feel anxious.

It is part of the stress response, which also makes us tense and vigilant as we wait for new information, wait to take a decision and then probably to act. In that state we may be uncertain at one stage, hopeful at another and hopeless and despairing at another. We may tremble, feel cold and clammy.

There may be feelings of fluttering in the chest, a sinking feeling in the stomach, or an increase in the breathing rate. This may not be abnormal if we recover from it. In some people the threshold for anxiety is low and quite trivial events can be enough to cause a wave of anxiety and anticipation of imminent catastrophe. Simple things like the breakdown of a washing machine or news of an accident on television may be perceived as a major crisis. Sometimes the worry is justified, for instance, if there are family or financial problems or the threat of job loss is looming in the background. However, given time, we make adjustments to all such situations.

Many anxiety sufferers are subject to panic attacks which are acute episodes of anxiety associated with physical symptoms like palpitation, sweating and even fainting. On hearing stressful news, like the death of a close friend, such a person may actually collapse and lose consciousness.

The anxious person has a tendency to arouse anxiety in others, who either seek to avoid him or tell him to pull himself together. Either reaction will increase the isolation of the anxious person and the feeling that no one understands him.

Our method of bringing up children has evoked morbid anxiety states in all of us. By now we know that anxiety is chronic fear. The patterns of fear laid down in our infancy have dominated our whole emotional life. We should indeed have a reasonable fear of the amoral cruel impulses which dwell in the deep levels of the unconscious mind side by side with our impulses of love and generosity.

But these impulses and their effect on our behaviour must be understood. Then the energy of the undesirable fear impulse which goes out in destructive directions can be redirected in the service both of the individual and of society.

Misdirected fears may cause disorders of the emotional life so destructive that the victim is incapacitated. But fear is fear whether misdirected or not. All fears are real, none are imaginary. However, the object of the fear is often imaginary. If the cause cannot be found in the objective world, it may be found in the unconscious depths of the mind where a record of all experiences is kept fresh and with undiminished energy.

Norman Vincent Peale says, “Every person suffering from anxiety should be made to know emphatically that anxiety will disappear only with the knowledge that we are capable of meeting whatever uncertainties there are. We have within us the power, the ability to meet whatever dangers or difficulties that cross our paths. But to do this we must know ourselves. We must be able to understand the secret impulses that spring from the unconscious mind.” [email protected]