Anxiety, when boiled down, is the fear of uncertainty. Anxiety, panic attacks, ocd, intrusive thoughts, repeated actions, perfectionism, obsessions . . . these are all ways we try to gain certainty we do not have.
If I’m worried about what career I’ll go into, I analyze, rationalize, and obsess over intrusive thoughts such as “What if I can’t find a job?” or “What if I wind up doing something I hate?” or “Will I ever amount to anything?” I then spend hours and days and weeks trying to answer the questions so I can anchor to the answers and know I’m safe—so I can have a clear, certain direction to hold onto when life gets rough.
But the answer is this: there is no answer. There is no certainty, no clear-cut path, no right or wrong.
Just shades of gray.
If that gives you anxiety in and of itself, take that as proof your anxiety stems from a need to KNOW. A need to know for sure that you are doing the right thing. A need to know that you are safe. A need to know that you aren’t fucking everything up.
My anxiety runs rampant around the need to know. Is this the person to fall in love with? Should I pursue this job? What about that one? Should my background color be blue or green?
I have no trust in myself in these situations. I’m so afraid of making the wrong decision and sending myself spiraling out of control, I turn to obsessive thoughts and actions to try SO HARD to guarantee a good outcome.
And who can blame us? Have you ever played a video game where everything seemed great? Your castle walls were fortified, your people had plenty of money and all the right equipment? And suddenly the game threw you a random event totally beyond your control, and everyone died as you scrambled desperately to save everything and realized, too late, you weren’t well-enough-prepared?
It sucks to say that this is a basis of reality. We can never be 100% prepared. Life does throw horrific curve-balls. And we’ve learned to over-prepare as a way to bar against excruciating pain and loss.
And yet we forget all the times life throws us something wonderful, or a stranger helps us when we’re down, or we feel a safety net behind us, or we mess up and it really wasn’t as bad as we thought.
And we forget we don’t have control over every circumstance and that we don’t have control over knowing the answers.
That’s where we build our own answers and trust. We use religion or wellness or imagination or dreams, and anchor ourselves in that trust. Or perhaps we trust in who we are, at our core.
Because life isn’t a true/false game. It doesn’t follow a right/wrong pattern. And stumbling and falling is the best and quickest way to get to where you’re going. Rather than tiptoeing around the waters, you dive in and realize that you do or do not like swimming. And then you take the next step, be that leaving the water far behind and trying something else or dipping your head under and seeing how far you can go. Neither response is wrong. It’s all learning.
In order to face the discomfort of not knowing, we have to allow it in. Recognize it, and then sit with it. It will feel uncomfortable and scary, maybe even terrifying. Start small. Breathe in the feeling. Breathe out what is needed (look up Tonglen if you need some help). Breathe in discomfort. Breathe out love and trust. Breathe in fear. Breathe out hope. Breathe into the tightness in your stomach, and breathe out joy.