Anxiety: Not Being Needed & What to Do About It

Anxiety: Not Being Needed & What to Do About It
by Wally Swist

The recognition of our identity is essential to the health of both our human soul and our psyche. 

“Compared with 50 years ago,” there are “five times as many working-age men completely outside of the workforce” the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks cite in a 2016 New York Times article. This idea implies what the American poet Bert Meyers wrote regarding the haunted feeling of being unneeded in his poem entitled “One Morning” from The Dark Birds: “I told myself/ a single man’s/ like water where/ nobody swims.” 

Social isolation precipitates a whole host of negative emotions and can result in ill health. Research has revealed that seniors of both sexes who experience the anxiety of loneliness are three times more likely to succumb to premature death than those who are active and making themselves useful. The keys for preservation are significant here: staying engaged and, through that practice, finding emotional resilience in preserving one’s integrity. These are priceless prescriptions for health on multiple levels.

Sharing isn’t often thought of as a possible panacea by many of us who suffer from loneliness and the anxiety, which can usurp our best intentions to remain positive and proactive. However, the Dali Lama suggests a question that can actually become a guided meditation to begin our day: “What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?” Such a question completely takes oneself out of a continuous circle of self-pitying thinking—a lugubrious dialectic of self-abnegation. 

We can each be taken out of ourselves if we take on what the Dali Lama prescribes as our need “to make sure that global brotherhood and oneness with others are not just abstract ideas that we profess, but personal commitments that we mindfully put into practice.” In other words, we affect others as we do ourselves. The result of such positive psychological karma is possibly as the 13th-century Buddhist priest, Nichiren, advised: “If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way.” 

Even if one finds the wherewithal and courage to set forth on such a path, what about today’s truculent political climate? How do we go about lighting fires for others to see by if the one that brightens our ascent out of the shadowy realms of anxiety and loneliness isn’t the flame by which others are able to see clearly enough at all to find their own way? 

The Dali Lama answers such questions with an intrinsic gleam of wisdom: “The problems we face cut across conventional categories; so must our dialogue, and our friendships... Many are confused and frightened to see anger and frustration sweeping like wildfire across societies that enjoy historic safety and prosperity. But their refusal to be content with physical and material security actually reveals something beautiful: a universal human hunger to be needed.” 

For the Dali Lama to reveal the answer to our questions within the experience of anxiety itself is a relevant philosophical axiom worth our time contemplating daily. §


Wally Swist is a writer whose books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder, Invocation, and The Windbreak Pine. Forthcoming books include: The View of the River, Candling the Eggs, and Singing for Nothing from Street to Street: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir. For more information, visit