My clinical experience and the scientific literature support the efficacy of overcoming anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapeutic techniques of replacing irrational belief systems with rational thinking. Despite the efficacy of this approach, I have come to recognize that not all anxiety is predicated on irrational thinking.
From an existential perspective, anxiety is predicated on 2 main fears:
- Fear of the unknown (Death)
- Fear of losing what we have
These fears ostensibly are not the result of irrational beliefs. In fact, they are highly rational, objective and an immutably part of the human experience.
Discussions, contemplation, even the mere honest acknowledgement of death is a rare engagement for most. Yet, the fear of death is endemic to us all.
As with the inevitability of death, we will lose all that we have acquired, accomplished, even learned. Anyone who has cared for an elderly relative has witnessed the sad reality of cognitive decline in advanced age and the devastating effect of wiping out a lifetime of learning.
Schooled in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach (CBT), I am a firm believer in its efficacy for diminishing irrational based anxiety, as supported by decades of empirical research. However, a limitation of this treatment approach lies in its application to ameliorate rationally-based anxiety.
What is the correct path in dealing with rational- anxiety based on existential fears?
The solution is to courageously walk the razor’s edge. We must find the delicate balance between handling worldly challenges and developing transcendental, deep meaning and purpose for living.
Living a purposeful life assuages our deep-set fears and gives meaning to the inevitable suffering.
For some, meaning will be obtained through a spiritual practice, others will focus on deep human connections or commitment to the service of others. The beauty of walking the razor’s edge is that it is uniquely personal and within the grasp of everyone.
Every journey begins with one step. Our 2 main fears will come to fruition. Will you succumb to this fear or take the first step in deciding what brings you meaning to this life? Fully living for this meaning will help to ameliorate the fearful experience.