Emotions like fear and anxiety are meant to help us rather than to become a curse in our lives. For example, if we did not have fear how many stupid things would we do? Fear for the right things we must have — fear for the misuse of weapons, fear of dangerous things and of doing wrong or adharma. Without that fear we would do anything that we wanted to do and end up hurting ourselves.
If we are faced with a poisonous snake, an immediate impulse of fear makes us jump back. How we may then courageously meet that threat is another matter, but the initial instinct of fear protects us. In this context, fear is positive, not negative. But when an emotion like fear becomes excessive or prolonged, or when we fear the wrong things, that can be very harmful.
Whenever we act, we experience some anxiety about the result. This limited anxiety need not be negative. In fact, it makes us careful, it makes us plan, and it makes us perform our actions properly. A certain amount of anxiety for the good of your beloved, a little anxiety about completing your tasks on time — these anxieties are not negative. Some anxiety can help you work properly and carefully, with alertness and enthusiasm.
Once we understand that anxiety is an emotion in the mind, and that this emotion, if not excessive, can actually help us in life, then we can start to observe it and use it effectively.
For example, if you have to prepare for an examination, and if you are anxious to do well, you will get to work immediately. That type of anxiety helps you to prepare. But if you have not studied, and just one day before the examination you suddenly become anxious, of what use is that? That anxiety will not help you.
Controlled anxiety can drive us from our laziness, make us plan, make us execute, make us perform our actions thoroughly and well. Anxiety at the beginning of a project to complete it well can be positive. You can act on it. But after the project is completed, it does not benefit to be anxious. Since the action has already been performed, can you do anything about the result?
People will often say, “Yes, but what can I do? I am an anxious person. Just now you said that anxiety is not so bad. A little more anxiety isn’t going to affect me”. This is like the person who, upon hearing that chocolate may be good for your heart, calculates that if a little chocolate is good, then a whole block must be even better. Yes, a certain type and amount of anxiety is okay, but that does not mean that more is better.
Too much anxiety creates tension, and whatever happens at the mind level also happens at the physical level. If one becomes mentally tense, that tension will be displayed in some physical form. Arthritic conditions can arise from such tension. High levels of anxiety can cause mental problems like anxiety state neurosis, which affects the nervous system. It can lead to nervous breakdown, or even psychosis in extreme cases.
Another common outcome is high blood pressure, which can lead to heart and vascular problems. Certain forms of anxiety are not harmful and can be used positively, just as fear can be used positively. But that anxiety which becomes an obsession, which leads to stress and which renders us incapable of acting effectively — that anxiety should be given up.
We have to deliberate upon how we can give up this anxiety or worry.