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
Anxiety is a multi-part issue, rooted in a lack of self-trust, desire for control, and negativity towards present reality. As such, a solution must involve these various elements. We must find a way to find self-trust, let go of control, and see the good in what is present. How do we do this?
Self-trust, for one, can be gained through understanding that one is capable of handling scenarios that generate worry, and coming up with real answers to those situations. By coming to conclusions and resolutions on one’s own, it instills confidence that one is able to handle more of life, and that you’re trustworthy when it comes to living your life.
To let go of control, you need to be able to be vulnerable to the flow of life, and to look for answers there instead of in concocted schemes and wishful thinking. There is so much we can attach ourselves to that seems good but are false solutions to the troubles or feelings we’re actually experiencing in the moment.
And to see what’s good in the present, we need to see the flaws in our own negative thinking, pointing out the good to ourselves and finding a way to rise above the crushing negative feelings. We need to feel at ease in the present so we can actually live in that flow.
To that end, the following exercise should help you to alleviate anxieties. We start with worries, because these are the biggest indicators of strong anxiety, then we move on to attachments, and finish with negativities. Negativity, while an issue on its own, contributes fairly lightly in the form of background anxiety. In essence, we’re tackling this issue in descending strength.
Because we’re covering a lot of ground, we’re only going to be hitting the top 3 strongest feelings in each category, but feel free to expand your lists of feelings where you feel it’s appropriate.
That said, let’s begin.
Note: whenever you work with feelings, you may feel things unrelated to the feelings you’re focusing on. Those feelings may lead you to more important things to focus on. Go with the flow and keep expressing yourself, whatever direction that leads.
- What are the top 3 largest worries in your life right now? For each one, write down the worry as well as the biggest associated “What if?” scenario. (example: “Money – What if I lose my job?”) You can use the same worry multiple times, as long as the “What if?”‘s are different.
- For each “What if” in the list, consider what would happen and what you would actually do to respond if that thing happened.
- 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.
- Next, write down the top 3 things you’re holding onto right now. These could be situations you don’t want to see change, as well as things you want to make sure happen in the future. Ultimately, these are things you’re attached to. Add a little note for each one as to why the absence of this would make you feel vulnerable. (Example: “A relationship. Without it, I’d feel lonely, and cold.”)
- Draw or imagine a bag around these 3 things, and imagine that you are holding onto this bag. Now, imagine putting the bag off to the side, and instead open your hand.
- Hand open, consider: What things are actually present to you, without holding onto them? Notice any number of things, and write them down. These could be present situations, realities, feelings, etc. They could even be metaphorical objects, noticed in your imagination (if you go this route, what does each represent for you?). This is to anchor you to the present, and let go of your need for control and attachment.
- For the final part, write down the top three things you feel most strongly negative towards right now, along with why they feel bad to you. (example: “My boss – they’re extremely pushy and unreasonable and they never work with me on anything!”)
- For each one of these negatives, consider a positive angle to take, and have a conversation between this positive side and the negative one, until the negative one’s concerns are resolved. Try to be understanding, patient, and determined from your positive side, and blatantly honest but open to discussion from your negative one. (To follow the last example: Positive: “Okay, maybe we can try talking with the boss about our concerns.”, Negative: “No! That’s not good enough!”, Positive: “Okay, why not?”, etc.)
- At this point, do you feel relaxed, at ease, more confident, and in the flow? If not, consider which section of this exercise still has more for you to work through, and add to whatever list you need to. Otherwise, you’re done! You can always come back to this space to work through your feelings more later on.
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.