Most of us are familiar with this monster named “anxiety” that comes when it wants to, wrecks our entire system, and simply refuses to leave.
It’s annoying and scary at the same time. While it comes up with a very noble intention of keeping us safe and protected and warns us of any potential danger, harm, or threat, having to deal with it frequently is draining.
The fact that it is accompanied by a number of physiological changes makes it difficult for us to cope with it even more. Eventually, it becomes a state—an emotion that we would want to avoid or run away from at every given opportunity.
But for how long?
We can’t keep running away all the time.
We can’t keep ourselves confined within our walls, to feel secure and let life pass by.
Instead of fighting and resisting this state, this feeling, if we begin to understand what it means for us in a given situation, then we can slowly take away its power to impact every area of our lives.
So what is this anxiety?
Simply put, it’s a state of heightened worry, nervousness, or apprehension about a situation that comes up, especially when the outcome is uncertain.
We humans aren’t so well programmed to deal with uncertainty. If given a choice, we would like to know the how and why of everything! It’s essential for our sense of security and stability.
When we know what’s going to happen, we can comfortably sit back and enjoy the ride. However, when we don’t know, it creates havoc in our internal life because not knowing comes as a package of many possibilities and that’s what scares us.
What if we get stuck with an outcome we don’t want?
What if we don’t like what we’ll get?
What if we don’t know what to do when faced with an outcome?
So many “what ifs” and no answers—that’s enough to send the mind into a tizzy!
Whether we realise it or not, a part of us would always try and control something or the other. Control over the outcome makes us feel safe. However, it’s only an illusion because we can never control or guarantee any outcome. The idea of control is flawed.
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
We will never know everything about anything and it is this uncertainty that pushes us toward the illusion of control so that we can create a sense of pseudo-safety for ourselves by coming up with a million “what if” scenarios. The mind comes up with these scenarios and we entertain them because we think that in this way, we will be better prepared to deal with something unpleasant when it eventually comes up.
But in the process, all our energies get caught up in only managing this anxiety, fear, and these number of scenarios that our mind conjures up. Sooner or later, our entire system becomes an anxiety-producing and managing machine.
“The what-ifs and the should-haves will eat your brain.” ~ John O’Callaghan
The fundamental problem with this “what if ” thinking is that we get stuck on the scenarios and the questions. Instead of breaking the situation down into its “known elements,” we only focus on the question. By repeating this “what if” a dozen times in our minds, it only creates more and more anxiety and we get even more anxious about the fact that we are anxious!
Therefore, here are some things we can do to cope with anxiety:
Break down the situation: into what you know and what you don’t know about a particular situation.
Find out more information: about those aspects of the situation that you are currently unaware of.
Identify variables: every situation has some constant and some variable factors. Constant factors stay the same throughout. It’s the variable that creates anxiety. Variable factors are those which are not under our control. For example, you can control the time and effort you put into your studies or work. But you can’t control the marks that you get or the feedback you get from your boss. Those are the variables.
Focus: on what you can do and do it well. You may end up with a crappy examiner who decides not to read your paper carefully. But the fact that you gave it your 100 percent would play a pivotal role in helping you keep up your self-esteem.
Prepare, not control: Why must everything be about control? Shift your focus to preparing for various outcomes rather than obsessing over the possibilities. For example, instead of torturing yourself with “What if I don’t get this job…,” shift your focus to “If I don’t get this job, I will…” and then prepare for such a possibility. Keep backups ready.
Explore the deeper fear: Anxiety is usually the manifestation of a deeper fear, which may or may not be related to the situation(s) in which it shows up. Eventually, we have to dive deep within ourselves to uncover the deeper fear causing the anxiety and worry.
The feeling of anxiety usually comes up when we are not prepared to deal with an outcome we don’t like and don’t want.
This, in turn, is tied to a deeper fear that we don’t want to confront about ourselves. Our anxiety is just a shield that protects us from our own vulnerabilities.
“What if I am rejected…”
“What if I am not good enough…”
“What if I’ll be left alone…lonely…”
Our anxiety is nothing more than our self trying to keep us away from the deepest part of us that needs healing because to heal it, we’ll first need to expose it and that itself is painful.
Yet, the only way to break this cycle of constant worry and anxiety is to dive right in…into those parts of our selves that are wounded, hurt, afraid, and need to be healed.
Eventually, we have to let go of the fear, the worry and allow ourselves to be in the present.
Eventually, we have to find our ways to trust ourselves to embrace our vulnerabilities with gentleness and compassion.
At the end of the day, anxiety and worry are the guards that our subconscious creates to protect us from a pain that reaches into the depths of our souls.
Eventually, we have to find a way to free ourselves from that pain and anguish and breathe into the present moment.
“Keep walking into the storm Your rainbow is waiting on the other side.” ~ Heather Stillufsen