Mel Schwartz, LCSW

Rethinking Anxiety

When a dysfunction such as anxiety – or depression, for that matter – becomes so commonplace, we must turn to our culture, which is our aggregate way of living, and examine how and why it’s producing such distress. Those suffering from anxiety are often simply mirroring an overwrought, anxiety-laden way of living. Turning the victim into the problem makes no sense at all. Such a preponderance of people suffering in this way must be a reflection of the effects of enduring an incongruous, if not insane, way of living, fostered by our prevailing worldview. In effect, the way that we are living produces this tragic result.

It is essential to address the underlying causes and not simply suppress the symptoms. The difficulty is that in our quick fix mentality, we believe that if we can quiet the symptoms, all is well. This may benefit the pharmaceutical-psychiatry industry, but not those so afflicted. We must come to see anxiety not as the enemy but as an expression of our struggle in adapting to a way of living that actually imperils us. From this vantage, anxiety is paradoxically sensible as we are reacting to conditions that are toxic. The anxiety can be seem similarly to a fever, which is simply a call to attention that all is not well. So the irony is that by medicating our symptoms away, we ensure continued suffering, for the struggle is never resolved toward a breakthrough; it is merely placated.

Moving Through Anxiety

On the more personal level, the individual taking anti-anxiety medication becomes convinced that they don’t have the resources to deal with their distress, as they become addicted to the temporary relief that the pill provides. In both cases – for the culture as a whole and for the afflicted individual – by trying to contain anxiety, we block our actualization. We must move through anxiety, not defend against it. It should be a harbinger of necessary change and growth, not an external evil to be medicated. 

An Addiction to Analyzing

The worldview to which I previously referred was founded by the thinking of Isaac Newton and Renee Descartes in the 17th century. Their philosophies and insights set in motion our dependence upon analysis and measurement, which taught us that by drilling down to the source, so to speak, we could control and master our lives and our environment. Rational and analytical thinking became the foundation of this worldview. This led to many remarkable advances with regard to modernization of society. Their teaching also had us seek, if not worship, predictability and certainty, which while fruitful in moderation, became pathological in the extreme. It is from this over reliance upon analytical and rational thinking that the epidemic of anxiety became inevitable. Analyzing should be a tool in our mind’s toolbox, but when it’s the only one we reach for, we suffer tragic consequences. Our mandate to subject human experience and emotions solely to rational and analytical judgment in and of itself excoriates us.

This  imperative, which relentlessly seeks predictability and certainty, has caused us to lose our way. Its unintended consequence has been anxiety, as our minds are tethered to assuring proper outcomes as we seek to avoid “mistakes.”  This indoctrination has resulted in excessive worrying, with an ensuing loss of wonder, awe, and imagination that are essential to a balanced and harmonious life. We have lost much of what it means to be human. The result is an existential crisis from which anxiety surfaces.

People inclined toward anxiety lose themselves to the measuring tendency of their thoughts, all the while further separating themselves from a coherent flow of life. The compulsion to compare and measure – so prevalent in the competitive, individualistic culture in which we live – leads to a further estrangement from others. People who suffer with anxiety often become engulfed in their thoughts’ relentless compulsion, which imprisons them with a flood of despair.

Slicing and Dicing Reality

A relentless questioning over decision-making – should I do this or do that – is all designed to protect against making wrong choices, and is consistent with what we call anxiety. It is also emblematic of correlated self-esteem issues as the relentless self-examining destroys any healthy sense of self. Such individuals become captive to their own thoughts, inducing horrific anxiety, as they miss the very flow of life. At the extreme it causes our thoughts to fragment as we slice and dice our life experience into increasingly maddening bits and the addictive nature of anxiety sets in.

Keeping Score

When I have the occasion to go to a baseball game, I’ve noticed that some fans still keep a scorecard, a bygone remnant of my youth. They notate every play of the game, their eyes cast down at the scorecard, removed from the flow of the game. The same is true with anxiety as it removes us from the joy of being present. If your inner monologue is self-measuring and overly critical, you’re missing the flow of your life.

In addition to society’s contribution to anxiety, there are of course particular personal and biographical considerations as well that contribute to one’s relationships with anxiety, which we’ll consider in the next article. I will also share in detail some methods that many of my clients have found helpful in transcending their struggle as they learn to break free from this torrent of fearful thinking.


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Very nicely said Mel! And food for thought here! I particularly like the way you speak about our relentless pursuit of certainty and ‘the ensuing loss of wonder,awe and imagination’.

Matthew Selznick

If you enjoyed this article, there are many more supporting themes I’ve written about at I’m gratified that you enjoyed the article.


Wow! I really liked this article! Especially the idea about looking at the culture when something is pervasive. Anxiety yes. Also obesity. I really like how you think.

Anzor Misabishvili

Great article. I recently moved to the US from a small country in Eastern Europe and I can’t help but notice how complicated the life is over here. There are so many bills to keep track of and worry about that one never manages to relax. You always owe money on a mortgage, a car or a credit card and it takes a toll on mental health. Since I got here I haven’t managed to sit back, relax and read one chapter of the novel I brought with me. It’s been a dream to live in this country and it does have many benefits but I am starting to appreciate and miss the simplicity and slower pace of life in my home country.

Matthew Selznick

What country are you from Anzor?

Matthew Selznick

Hi Carol,
Welcome aboard..

Renee' Garrett


This was certainly informative and very much needed. I am working on living from the inside out, and not allow external factors or futuristic worries to penetrate my present state of being.


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