Everyone suffers from anxiety, some more than others. We feel it a little when we lose the 5 dollars we thought was in our pocket, and a lot when we think about our future.
Coping with anxiety is something we all must learn how to do, but some struggle more than others.
Maybe your feelings of anxiety are particularly intense, maybe you never learned how to properly cope with the feeling, maybe it strikes you for no apparent reason. Perhaps you’re struck with panic attacks unpredictably, or suffer from a chronic ‘baseline’ of background anxiousness.
Whether all, any combination, or even none of the above apply to you; understanding what anxiety is and why it happens allows you to help yourself and those around you cope with the anxiety felt every day. Learn new perspective on anxiety, and pave the path to peace of mind, with Capital Choice Counselling.
The Two Faces of Anxiety:
(Note: the following draws heavily on the work of Soren Kierkegaard; a 17th century Philosopher who devoted much of his work to analyzing anxiety. For a more in-depth understanding of this work, we recommend you take a look at this video, episode 79 of this podcast, or any of Keirkegaards published works.)
Being free isn’t free. The price we pay for our ability to do what we want is anxiety.
Every decision we get to make is a choice between paths. Do I go this way, or do I go that?
Small decisions can feel large when we aren’t entirely sure where the paths before us go. Deciding which one is best out of the near-infinite number available requires us to be completely aware of exactly where each path will go, and we never have that information. Even deciding not to make a decision is still a decision, and it brings us down it’s own path whether we like to or not. Surrounded by all these paths leading in so many different directions, we feel lost.
Even when we confidently make a decision, sometimes we can find that our path leads us somewhere we didn’t think we’d end up. Our past selves made decisions in the interests of our present self, but our present self is a different person with different experiences, needs, and preferences! We look around and don’t like where we are, and feel trapped.
Any experience of anxiety can be looked at as either feeling lost, or feeling trapped. These are the two faces of anxiety:
1: Feeling Lost Among Infinite Paths
Picking Doritos is an experience in anxiety.
All you wanted was some chips, and you’re confronted with hundreds of options. Doritos’s alone have more flavours than can be counted, and you have to pick the very best one for you.
Except you haven’t tried them all. Maybe you like how cool ranch sounds, but you’re afraid that if you end up not liking them, you’ll have wasted your money.
So you decide to take a risk and buy them. Trying them out, you think they’re pretty good. But as you chomp away you can’t help but think about that Sweet Chili Heat you saw, and your experience of the chips you bought is impacted negatively because of it.
Life is a lot like picking Doritos.
Except instead of flavours, we have to choose things like majors, careers, partners, investments, and more. We must pick from a near infinity of options, and it’s not so easy to just go ‘back to the store’ and get another one if we find the one we picked doesn’t suit our preferences.
Life forces us to commit to our decisions with very little understanding of where they’ll take us, and this is a terrible burden. We want to pick the best path possible, and therefore much our life becomes the endless weighing of options; we never stop speculating as to the possible future outcomes of our decisions. This is the first face of anxiety.
2: Feeling Trapped On One Path
We expect children to make massively important, life-defining decisions on behalf of adults when we expect them to know ‘what they want to be when they grow up’.
Children have no idea who they’ll be as adults, what they’ll like, the experiences they’ll have had; they don’t even know the nature of the careers they select, and yet all the same we expect them to make a decision. Then they become these adults, and are trapped in the life set out for them by an ignorant child.
Simple by being alive, we are required to have our present self make decisions on behalf of our future self. When we become this future self, sometimes we find that our past self made the wrong decision. This is the feeling of being ‘trapped in the finite’, when the path we chose takes us somewhere we don’t want to be, and going back is impossible.
Maybe you don’t like your significant other, your job, where you live, your car, etc. In all these cases you’ve invested heavily in your choice, and going back now would mean to lose all that you’ve worked for. Choosing to taking another path would require a period of intense discomfort.
Starting at the career you’ve always wanted might mean a massive pay-cut. Leaving your husband or wife would mean divorce proceedings. Living where you’ve always wanted would require a complete lifestyle change! Living the life you don’t want to avoid paying the price for the one you do is the second face of anxiety: The feeling of being trapped on the path your past self set out for you.
How To Healthily Deal With Anxiety
Both these forms of anxiety are separate sides of the same coin. Whereas one deals with infinite choices, and the other only one; both are expressions of the same thing: Anxiety.
So how do we deal with them?
Dealing with Being Lost in the Infinite:
At some point in your life, you made the decision to expect yourself to always make the best possible decision whenever life choices presented themselves.
This was a terrible decision. You made it in the hopes that it would lead you to the best possible future, but it will only ever leading you again and again into stress and anxiety.
In order to know which of all possible decisions is the best one for any given choice, you’ve got to be able to know exactly where each choice will lead you. Nobody can know exactly where their choices will lead, so expecting yourself to do so is to expect the impossible! No wonder it causes anxiety!
The key to avoiding anxiety when it comes to constantly speculating the future outcomes of your decisions is to always try to catch yourself when you’re trying to make the best possible decision. This is not something anyone will ever be capable of, so instead hold yourself to a more reasonable expectation.
When important life-decisions pop up, instead of making the best possible decision, try to just make ones that don’t seem so bad!
This might not lead you to the utopic future you imagine for yourself, but it will have the effect of massively reducing your anxiety, now and into the future. After all, would you prefer a future that looks like the one you want but feels full of stress and anxiety; or one that doesn’t quite look like your fantasy but feels calm and happy?
Dealing with Being Trapped in the Finite:
Its a peculiar, but exceedingly common, for people to choose a lifetime of agony to avoid temporary discomfort.
A lot of people unknowingly work very hard to hide from themselves the cost of staying on their current life path. We put significant time and energy into convincing ourselves we like our lives to to avoid the tremendously painful realization that we don’t!
The pain of recognizing that you do not like your life is not to be understated, but it is required in order to access a life that you do!
When we work at justifying our current lot in life, we also work to undermine the value of the life we really want. We bias our decision making in favor of the decision our past-self made, in favor of what feels like the path of least resistance.
This kind of thinking causes us to focus only on the costs associated with accessing the life we want, and the benefits of the life we’re living.
But to truly make a rational decision, it’s important to also look at the costs of living your current life, and the benefits of the one you truly want!
If you hate your job, you ought to be honest about it, and consider every day you work there another cost of living your current life, and weigh that against other considerations like salary and benefits. The same can be said for your relationship, home, or any commitment you’ve made in life.
We’re not telling you you ought to ‘jump ship and follow your dreams'; merely that to make the decisions that will fulfill your needs, you need to be honest about what fulfills your needs!
Capital Choice Counselling
Anxiety is a struggle every human being has to contend with, but nobody has to do so alone. If you’re battling with it, and would like more perspective and insight like that above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Capital Choice Counselling.