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How to reduce overthinking and anxiety || With IIT Bombay (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
5 min
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Questioner: How should one reduce overthinking about situations or the future? There is so much unnecessary anxiety in students everywhere.

Acharya Prashant: Work! To be anxious you need to be blessed with a lot of spare time. How do you manage the time to indulge in anxiety? I have chosen the word with care—it is an indulgence to be anxious, to be worried, no? There is a subtle enjoyment in all this, right? “I am worried. Something great is about to happen!” One is subtly sipping some juice. It is a covert kind of fun—anxiety, worry. May I say it is related to narcissism?

When you say, “Something bad can happen to me, either right now or in the future,” aren’t you saying you are very important, at least to yourself? “Some really big misfortune is going to fall on me.” Indirectly you are asserting that you are so big that you can attract a big misfortune. Are you that big? Has anything really big ever happened to you? Then how can even a big boulder fall on your head? But there is pleasure in worry. This would sound strange to many, but stay with it. There is a subtle pleasure in worrying.

The opposite of this self-centered worry is immersion in action. Immerse yourself in the right action, and then where is the space and the time to worry? Surely, you are stealing time away from work so that you can indulge in worries and anxieties and fantasies of all kinds. Young people fantasize, don’t they? Some fantasize about beautiful, pretty, exciting things; others fantasize of scary demons. But fundamentally it is much the same thing, is it not? You are using your faculty of imagination to gratify yourself in some way.

You have romcoms and then you have horror flicks, and one is being played on screen number three, the other one on the adjacent screen number four. The audience is much the same, is it not? In fact, some who could not manage a ticket for screen three have walked into screen four. The objective is entertainment. The objective is to move into a virtual, unreal world and titillate yourself.

On one screen, you have a man and a woman doing things to each other‘s bodies; on the other screen, you have the demon doing things to somebody’s body. In either case, it is a bloody bodily business. There is blood and there is a body on both the screens. And in both the cases, in either of the cases, you are glued to the screen so that you can forget the real thing, so that you can forget the fact of your life.

That is what imagination of all kinds, whether the so-called positive imagination or negative imagination, whether it is hope or worry or despair—that is the purpose they all serve: they take you away from the fact of your life. So, you are busy imagining that something very inauspicious, very scary can happen to you in the future; indirectly, what you are asserting is that presently you are alright. Are you alright?

When you are saying that, “Oh my God, what if tomorrow such a bad thing happens?” aren’t you claiming that right now things are almost okay for you? That is what you want to convince yourself of—that you are almost alright. You are not. What demon can hold you by the neck in the future? The demon is already here, right now, and he doesn’t need to hold your neck; he is within you and he has gripped your heart from within. But you don’t want to look at that; you want to avoid that. That is why you manufacture fancies.

Action, work is what we need. Don’t you know what you need to do right now? Let’s assume for a while that your worries about the future are founded in facts. Let’s say some grand evil army is invading your little fortress, and you can see them all coming with your binoculars, and you are estimating that they will reach you in another four hours, those wild hordes, and they are all bloodthirsty savages. They will ravage your fortress; they will put everything to fire. They will slaughter, they will loot, and you are seeing that they are about to reach you in another four hours. Now, what do you do? You work!

If the future as per your imagination is really threatening to be terrible, then that is all the more incentive for you to immerse yourself in the right action right now. Or would you squat and brood? “Four hours—they are coming! You know what they will do? They will rape, they will plunder. They are coming!” Is that what you will do?

If the threat is indeed real, then work. And if the threat is not real, then slap yourself and find some work. What is the point in getting trapped in circular thought?

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