When it comes to anxiety, I like the analogy that many of us behave like a pond full of ducks. We attempt to appear calm, confident and peaceful above the water while our webbed feet are going like crazy under the surface. Henry David Thoreau wrote that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. He must have spotted a duck or two at Walden Pond.
What got me thinking about anxiety was partly a National Public Radio program I heard recently and my own experience as I tuned in. I caught the first bit of this program in the car on the way to work. As I pulled into the company’s parking lot, I listened to a PhD-ed author talk about anxiety as a fear of fear, but was quickly distracted. A group of fellow employees came out the front door of our office building, talking and laughing as they made their way toward their car.
I was sure they were looking at me sitting there in my car, and probably even talking about what an odd bird I was for lurking in the lot. I decided to hop out and wave them down to explain my behavior, but I surprised them. They didn’t even know I was sitting there. I returned to my car in even more of a kerfuffle than before, just in time to miss the end of the program on anxiety. As is true with most essentials of a happy, productive life, anxiety is an emotion that works best when in balance. Anxiety can be a good thing. It drives us forward, moving us out of a state of complacency or boredom. Yet, too much anxiety can freeze us up, making us worry about what’s coming next. Healthy anxiety keeps us in the present moment, alert to the many possibilities in front of us. Unhealthy anxiety drags us into the unknowable future. I love Woody Allen movies. He’s so good at playing a person who’s made a mess of his surroundings. He acts out angst and second-guessing perfectly, yet manages to make it funny at the same time. When we laugh at the characters he plays, we have an opportunity to laugh at ourselves. And that may give us a better remedy for unhealthy anxiety than any duck or PhD expert can serve up.