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Of Anxiety and Stress

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Recently, a friend asked me “What is meant by mindful living?” While there were many ways I could have tried to answer this question I decided to respond by telling her that mindfulness is accepting one’s own thoughts and feelings as they are, without self judgment. It is living in the moment rather than the past or future. This is what we do with meditation during which we do not engage in self criticism for having thoughts but allow that to happen while watching them float by.

Melanie A. Greenberg, PhD, in her Psychology Today article, “The Mindful Express,” discusses this same issue with regard to the question, “Why can’t we just get rid of anxiety of stress?” She points out that, in terms of human evolution, we are hard wired for anxiety and stress because they helped make us alert to danger when we lived a more primitive form of life long before modern civilization. That is why we cannot simply get rid of these emotions. Yet, the book stores are filled with self help books that teach us about how we could and should become free of anxiety, depression and stress. In other words, our negative emotions have a purpose and are rooted in survival. It is only when we experience too much of these things that we get in trouble.

For example, anxiety does alert us to danger. However, people experience anxiety in the absence of any clear danger. The fight or flight response, so important for survival in the animal and human world, are key to survival. Do you stand and fight now or flee in order to survive another day? People experience the flow of adrenaline when there is no danger as if they needed the fight or flight response.

That is not to say that there is no reason to feel anxiety or to believe there are no human predators. The modern world carries with it many dangers in the form of dangerous human beings who are violent or in the form of disasters that inevitably occur as part of life. That is why it is unwise to get rid of anxiety and stress. Even today, in our civilized world, we need them.

How do we deal with situations in which there is anxiety and stress in the absence of immediate danger? This is where mindful living comes in. Meditation is shown to have multiple benefits for our bodies and minds. Learning and practicing meditation is a wise thing to do if there is a wish to reduce the stress that comes with modern life. We need to accept the fact that we will have anxiety and stress while using meditation to reduce their negative effects.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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