Fear, Anxiety, and Discontent
At the root of anxiety is fear. An unspoken, unacknowledged, and unrecognized fear.
It starts as a little seed of self-doubt and uncertainty. It sprouts into a knot in your belly and creates an unsettling feeling. You can’t put your finger on it but something ain’t right.
We start scanning the environment for risk. We are waiting for the shoe to drop. Being smart responsible people we take what seem to be pro-active measures to avoid the inevitable pain that will come. We begin over analyzing people and situations. We run the various scenarios, often making assumptions (sometimes false assumptions), to avoid something from going wrong . The scenario becomes a possible outcome.
A Mind Virus
Further analysis of the outcome creates more anxiety and fear. This becomes a mind virus. All you can think about it and how it will impact you (and the things that matter most to you). The thought of losing something or someone becomes overwhelming. These thoughts of loss, less, or not enough become your dominant thoughts.
With these thoughts on your mind you go into the world determined to prevent them from happening. Decision making becomes filtered by the question “will this result in….”
We go about our business but something feels “off.” We can’t put our finger on what is wrong and we tell ourselves we should be happy, grateful, and “stay positive.” Yet there is a looming feeling of dread. We play it safe and avoid things that might cause any pain. Without fully realizing it we have redirected the majority of our mental powerhouse to “risk mitigation.”
With this unsettled feeling inside us we increase our focus on preventing negative outcomes. We see problems everywhere. Each problem appears as though it could lead to “the end of times.”
The Fear Becomes Real
We feel like we are having a stroke of bad luck. Bad things happen in 3s we tell ourself. We have a tough time focusing, we don’t get sleep, and we become absorbed by problems and negativity. We become ineffective at tasks that are normally effortless to us. We begin to spiral and we can’t focus or think clearly.
Our quality of life, quality of work, and relationships are under attack. Before we know it the unspoken thing we feared becomes reality.
Does this sound familiar? I may have just put to words something you feel and sense daily. If not, you are a very fortunate soul who has mastered yourself and you should be commended. For the rest of us this is a very real dilemma but it is something that we can control. If we decide to take control.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela
From a young age we are taught to be fearless and for most of us there is a stigma to admit fear. When I was a kid there were shirts that were popular that said “No Fear” and you were a cool kid if you wore them.
At the root of anxiety is fear. Being afraid is a rational and normal reaction to something we believe may cause physical or emotional pain. Anxiety is heightened when you haven’t recognized what you are afraid of.
For most of my adult life I suffered from anxiety. Had you asked me what my biggest fear was I would have probably said “nothing.” In reality I had an unrecognized fear that everything I had worked for would be stripped away from me and I would be penniless without a college degree. I wouldn’t attend funerals because I didn’t know how to cope or deal with death or dying
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference. “
-Serenity prayer, Reinhold Neibuhr
Being afraid can be a smart thing that helps us to survive. Avoiding fear is what gets us into psychological trouble. The reality is we need to fear-less not be fearless. To do that we have to have the courage to face reality and be honest with ourselves. The simple act of naming your hidden or underlying fear is the first step to neutralizing it.