Note: the information in this article was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
Definition of Anxiety
The feeling of apprehension that comes while moving forward, often felt with regards to certain unwanted outcomes in a given situation, or with a situation that you could create. Feels as though you are not at ease with the flow of life. Connected to impatience.
Probable symptoms of Anxiety
- Feelings of constriction and retraction in the moment
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of nervousness when thinking about a particular situation
- Not feeling at ease in certain situations (like among people)
- Mild to intense apprehension
- Difficulty with “just being yourself”
- Difficulty being with and responding to the moment as it is
- Difficulty thinking creatively or spontaneously, or having fun with things
- Procrastination (anxiety related to the experience of doing something)
- Feeling the threat of despair, or despairing in the moment
- Frequent avoidance of situations that, when you think about doing them or are about to, produce anxiety
- Distorted mental imagery and unwanted thoughts. Basically, an unhealthy imagination and terrifying mental environment.
- Repeated nervous desire to check in on the unknown to make sure it isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. For other people, this may mean checking in on them more than you usually might, just to make sure they aren’t who you imagine they might be.
- Catastrophizing, that is, worrying about the worst case scenario
- Trying to “fix” things in life you think have gone wrong, but the problem doesn’t go away, which may bring on worse anxiety or panic
- Indecision and hesitancy
- Episodes of trying desperately to keep something from happening, or struggling with the desire to keep it from happening
- Hoping for things to turn out well while silently feeling lost and powerless as for how they could possibly, or how to bring certain realities about
- A rebellious, ambitious attitude with respect to not being controlled by fate or the powers at be, yet underneath feeling frightened, vulnerable, lost, or powerless with respect to fate
- Wanting things to be true, rather than being open to what is
- Closemindedness, not wanting to take in new information or have reality change
- Negativity towards changes
- Getting overwhelmed
What causes anxiety
While the ultimate cause may be unknown, here are some general guidelines from my own research into the feeling:
The root of anxiety seems most related to an absence of a sense that one is capable of responding to or handling, in a good way, some situation or occurrence that is recognized by you as a possibility. This can apply to both future events and to realities of the present that one knows might be possible.
In response to this sense that we cannot handle something well, or that our response will not bring about good, we can end up in a feeling of constriction.
We can be constricted in this way in anticipation of any area of our experience, be it our thoughts, our outer experiences, our feelings, or the way we might act.
I’ve written here before that anxiety seems caused by a restriction of flow. While part of anxiety may be that restriction – the reason why we end up there does seem to have more to do with a lack of the sense that we can respond to some area of our experience.
As for the connection between impatience and anxiety, impatience seems caused by a fear of feeling something and thus a flight from that feeling, towards another feeling. In a sense, feeling that we cannot handle or respond to a certain feeling could prompt us to try and avoid and escape it, or else to get past it as fast as possible. The closeness of the threat (of the feeling) combined with the sense that it’s not something that can be responded to in a good way, seem to create the sense of urgency that can be the hallmark of both anxiety and impatience.
Anxiety and The Desire to Control
Anxiety about certain situations in life can prompt one to try and control those situations so that they are the ideal version one would like to have, rather than the cases where things go “wrong”.
On the surface, this may seem good – to want the ideal and push away the bad – however, what’s the effect? You may end up unable to participate in the moment as it is, because you’re more concerned about making the moment not be what you don’t want. You can end up looking at both the image of how you’d like things to be, as well as how you’d not like them to be – as a reference, rather than seeing and participating with what’s right in front of you, or else, devaluing things that may be more commonplace, but not fitting your ideal. This can go along the lines of perfectionism.
Also, the desire to control can apply to trying to control people or situations involving other people. This can lead to awkward interactions, unintentionally broken trust, or pushing away those who you never meant to. When you’re not able to be with the person as they are in the moment, accepting that and responding to it, then there can be greater potential that they’ll feel disrespected, or like you think how they are, currently, is wrong somehow. This can also apply to you feeling like you’re not good enough, or should be fixed, or improved upon somehow before you’ll be okay with “being yourself”.
It should be noted, however, that you may find it important, even just being yourself, to improve your choices or act with your definition of greater integrity, effectiveness, or the like – however, this kind of anxious desire to control things in life may disconnect you from the realities of the situation in the moment in front of you, including your inner realities.
Anxiety, Attachment, and Self-Trust
While trying to block one’s self off from the flow of new realities that life offers, one can feel an attachment to the old realities – specifically, to old realities for which one already has a response ready. If the old way works, why go with a new way?
To this extent, one can try, again, to control reality so that it matches realities we’re prepared to respond to, or that we like responding to.
Now, why would one do this? Why not, instead, know the new realities and respond to those?
Well, for one, new realities can present such a stark change that we can feel utterly lost with how to respond. But that itself won’t necessarily stop us from finding our way again.
But if we don’t feel we can find our way, or if we don’t trust ourselves with the task or working through finding our way, it seems we can inhibit the very process by which we can process new realities and find new responses.
Thus, self-trust seems to be a necessary part of finding new responses to new information, and to not remaining attached to old ways. After all, if we only trust what our old self came up with, we won’t be prepared in the moment, as our current self, to make new changes.
(Link to article on Self-Mistrust – can be an important ailment to understand here, in order to detach and operate in the present)
Working through anxiety
What I’ve found to be most effective in working through anxiety is to find the way to feel safe responding to possible situations that you might most want to not happen. That is, it may help for us to try and preserve our ability to respond, through actually going through the process of formulating new responses to situations we may not have encountered yet, or that we don’t feel prepared for in case it happens or is real. In essence, to reduce anxiety, facing our “what if’s” in life seems have a relaxing effect, putting us at greater ease with reality, as we not only see the full scope of what could be (both the preferred and unpreferred), but also feel ready to respond to all of it. This allows us to better focus on and look for what’s real right now, because that’s the most relevant information in terms of how to respond to the moment in which we’re actually living.
That said, here’s an exercise that may help with this process:
Note: whenever you work with feelings, you may feel things unrelated to the feelings you’re focusing on. Those feelings may lead you to things impacting you more than what you’re trying to focus on. Thus, with the following exercise it may help more to let yourself get side-tracked by other feelings when the moment calls for it.
- Consider if the “what if’s” in your life right now. Allow yourself, for a moment, to worry and think of the “what if’s” that are most bothering you, or might be. If you want to, create a list.
- From this list, identify what’s worrying you the most. For that one, really consider what would happen if that reality really was true.
- There are several ways to go about this. For one, you can write out just the story for what might happen, including how you’d likely respond. You can also think through it just in your head. Or maybe you want to act it out on paper or bodily. You can get as specific or as general as you want. For instance, you may write out entire imagined conversations that you’re initially nervous about having, or you might just write out a plan for how to tackle some harsh life event that you’re worried might occur.
- If you still feel worried or anxious, add to the list or work through the most worrying possibilities once again. Once you feel relaxed, or perhaps have moments when you “realize” that you are able to handle certain things, or perhaps have other realizations about what was really troubling you, then for now the exercise as served its purpose, and you can move on. You may feel more able to face life and its possibilities, now, or more intelligent about how you will or can.
Likely Benefits of working through anxiety
- Greater sense of your capacity to respond to all things you could imagine
- Getting back into the flow again (additionally, life feeling more “musical”)
- Greater self-trust, and sense of capability and willingness to receive what reality really gives you (since you’ve taken care of the worst cases)
- Less of a sense of urgency in areas of life that previously you were anxious in
- Easier to relax, rest, and let things be
- Reduced impatience
- Healthier imagination
- More creativity, problem-solving ability, and fun
- More at ease with the reality of circumstances near, far, known and unknown
- More able to “be yourself”, at least in terms of being connected to how you really feel or are experiencing in the moment, as well as your considerations and what choices you’d like to make
- Greater ability to approach reality with curiosity, instead of apprehension (or perhaps other things)
Articles related to Anxiety
Article on Impatience – impatience seems to involve trying to get away from one feeling and to another, through various means. Being anxious about being in a particular feeling can be one reason to try and escape from it.
Article on Fear – anxiety and fear can easily go together, because sometimes you won’t let go of your restrictions on your flow because you’re afraid of what might happen if you did.
Article on Self-Mistrust – if you don’t trust yourself with understanding and responding to reality as it changes, it seems to cause one to go on a sort of lock down, which corresponds with anxiety’s feeling of “constriction”. One can end up trying to shut out new realities, and to try to keep life within the realm of what you know how to respond to, rather than trusting yourself with remaining in tune with new circumstances. Indeed, self-mistrust can oftentimes take the form of worries about one’s self and own capabilities.
Article on Stress – stress and anxiety are very similar. But whereas stress involves not thinking you can be at peace with a situation, anxiety involves thinking that you can’t let go in a given area of life.
Wikipedia article on Flow – this article talks about the concept of flow in the tradition of psychology. In it, it also mentions the connection between flow and anxiety, and how anxiety can “bar” flow. They mostly talk about flow in relation to its utility in completing skill-based challenges.
Oogloog’s Guide to Easing Panic – this article goes through a technique to calm yourself down, relax, and express feelings, so you create a zone of safety where it’s okay to express what’s inside of you to yourself, as a way to work through it. This can help with approaching anxiety as well, since panic is perhaps a more extreme form of anxiety.
Article on the phenomenon of unwanted thoughts and how to approach it – Anxiety seems to be connected to the creation of unwanted thoughts, due to the pressure urgent fear can exert on the mind to answer uncertainties in life. This article talks about ways of thinking about unwanted thoughts, and a myriad of techniques for responding to it.