This Article in Two Sentences

Anxiety can close down your perspective and prevent you from achieving balance in your life. By facing up to anxiety with certainty and honesty, greater life balance can be achieved.

Defining Anxiety

We define anxiety as worry or nervousness, typically directed towards some anticipated future event, but for most of us, anxiety is something more abstract. It’s a flurry of panic. It’s a filling up of your body with this uneasy fluttering that leaves you on edge for as long as it stays. It’s an all-consuming cloud in the mind that just won’t rest.

Why do we get anxious? There’s really as many causes for anxiety as there are people. According to NoPanic, in the UK, issues such as depression and anxiety are more common in lower income households. The better the financial situation, the less likely people are to be affected by anxiety.

This correlates with what the American Psychological Association found in 2007. In their study, they were able to show that the number one cause of stress for most families in the United States of America was money, closely followed by their workplace and then family.

According to Healthline, anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come.

If it’s about the future the question then is: why are some people apprehensive where others look to the future with excitement? Why do some of us fear what’s to come while others run towards it with open arms?

Three Deep Breaths, Then What?

When we’re feeling anxious, most of us do the same few things. We take a few deep breaths, we might count to tent or have another thing we do – like rub our thumbs and fingers together or take conscious note of a few things we can see, hear, smell, taste or touch.

For a second, an hour, a day, balance might return to our lives then. And these are effective moment-to-moment solutions to rising or overwhelming panic. They can do us the world of good in a tight spot, but there comes a point where rinsing and repeating the same strategies doesn’t get us anywhere. There comes a point where we’re still feeling anxious just as much. And, even after using these techniques time and time again, we still get anxious the next time.

The thing is that anxiety in the unknown – it’s like yeast in sugar-water. And, just like with yeast and sugar, what results from anxiety in the unknown can be intoxicating. It can take you over and warp your sense of reality and it can lead you to do things you would never do if you weren’t anxious.

Anxiety can cause overthinking. It can lead to concocting and entire altered version of reality in mere seconds. But what happens when we bring the unknown out into the light? What happens when we inject certainty into the equation.

Certainty as a Tool for Anxiety

Anxiety is the work of the mind. And, if anxiety has any power over anyone, its power is in the ‘what if’. It deals in ambiguous futures and worse-case scenarios. And as part of trying to remedy anxiety and bring balance back to our lives, we often find ourselves trying to prevent potential disasters. Disasters that we have invented, tragedies that we have dreamed up leaning on the desk at work and staring into space. How many times have you had an argument in your head that never came to be? How many times have you imagined yourself solving a fictional problem in anticipation of it happening?

Anxiety grows in times of uncertainty. These times may be small and fleeting or they may be for days or weeks at a time. But it’s in these periods that anxiety creeps in and uses fears to warp reality and have you expect the worst.

Racing to meet a work deadline might turn into a desire to get fired for missing a deadline. Waiting for an important letter to arrive could end up with blaming the postman.

When you’re experiencing an anxiety episode one thing that can help is to ask yourself ‘What do I know for certain?’

Separating Certainty from the Unknown

 When working to meet a deadline, you might start to worry about what will happen if you don’t meet it. Anxiety might lead you to believe that your boss will be so angry with you that they would fire you. In the heat of the moment, consumed by panic, you may be entirely convinced you’re about to lose your job. However, unless your boss is known for not giving employees second chances and unless you have missed multiple deadlines before, it’s unlikely that firing you would be your bosses first response. This is an example of something you don’t know for certain being passed off as a certainty by anxiety.

Do you know for sure that your boss will fire you for missing one deadline? No. Do you know for sure that time and effort you have put into your work thus far will go unnoticed? No.

What do you know for certain?

Taking a step back from the situation, you might find that you became so consumed by your sense of urgency that you forgot that your boss is a human too and that, just maybe, if you asked them, they would give you longer. Of course, this won’t always be the case, but rest assured you have tried your best and you explored all your options along the way.

The Backdoor to Opportunity

While certainty can go a long way to calming the nerves and reducing anxiety when anxiety has its hold over you, the real trick is reducing how often you get the attacks. To do that, what is needed is a new way to approach the unknown.

As mentioned already, anxiety thrives in the unknown. But it’s not all that thrives there. That said, when we’re anxious, it can feel like anxiety has a monopoly on all expected outcomes of a given situation. If you are late leaving for work, anxiety would have you expect that the roads will be a nightmare and you’ll lose your punctuality bonus. If you’re pushing a deadline, anxiety might have you believe that your boss will fire you for missing it, despite no expressed intent to do so.

Anxiety can be assuaged often times by asking the question, ‘What do I know for certain?’. But even when we have the answer to that, there’s still a lot we might not know. What do we do with that gap in our knowledge? Anxiety would fill it with worries and panic but we can do better.

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” – Hafez of Persia.

In those gaps in our knowledge, in uncertainty, there is potential. Anxiety may have you believe that it’s a certainty you’ll be fired if you miss that deadline. And, while you’re panicking about that, you’re fixated. You’re concerned more with the problem than the solution. While anxiety would have you push and push to the deadline, there may be another way.

Honesty as an Antidote to Anxiety

The first port of call when dealing with anxiety for most of us is a few deep breaths. When we’ve done that, we can ask ourselves what we know for certain. Then we need to be honest with ourselves about our capabilities and what is available to us in the moment. Honesty and objectivity are key when facing up to anxiety in the name of a balanced life.

When you know what you can be certain of during an anxious episode, answer these five questions honestly and objectively as possible:

  • What is within my control here?
  • What am I worrying about that I can’t change?
  • Is there anything I’m only looking at from only one angle?
  • Who can I go to for a second opinion?
  • Do I have all the information I need to solve the problem I really have?

Looking again at our example of the work deadline, the choice of your boss to fire you or not is not within your control. To a certain extent you can make that outcome less probable, but ultimately whether they fire you or not is not down to you.

What you can control is how you handle the position you’re in before missing the deadline. You can also control how to approach the boss before or after the deadline is missed. And you can control how you handle the news, be it good or bad, after the fact. In this way, you can focus your energy on things you can influence rather than things you can’t.

A lot of people who struggle with anxiety find themselves fixated on things they wish they could change but can’t. You might find yourselves wishing there were more hours in the day or that you had said something different to a loved one yesterday. This can cross over into regret but it can equally lead to feelings of embarrassment, self-hatred or frustration. Needless to say, feeling this way often isn’t conducive to a balanced life and should be faced up to with honesty. Accepting what we truly cannot change is an important part of overcoming anxiety.

In Summary

Anxiety can take you over and warp your perspective. In this way, we can find ourselves only looking at things from just one angle. We can get stuck in one way of seeing things and that can lead to exacerbated stress, poor choices and even more anxiety. How many times have you worried about something so much that you invented new things to worry about? When we’re only looking at things from one perspective, a worry about whether we locked the front door could become a worry about whether there’s a burglar in the house already which could snowball into swinging cricket bats at hanging coats. To reduce anxiety and increase balance in your life, do your best to see things from all angles with honesty and objectivity.

They say misery loves company and that may be true but anxiety doesn’t. It’s at its most frantic when it’s allowed to witter on at your inside your head. Bringing your concerns to a grounded and clear-minded friend or member of the family can be a great way to make sense of the things that are worrying you. Is there someone you can turn to for a second opinion about what’s bothering you? They might be able to shed some light on the situation and offer things you hadn’t thought of. If nothing else, talking things through with someone else can help you to recognise blind spots and find solutions.

When you’ve asked yourself the previous four questions, and sought help from someone outside of the anxiety, you will find that the understand the real root of what’s been worrying you.

Depending on the depth of the conversation you had, you find have found the root of your anxiety all together. It may be something you expected or it may be something else entirely. Regardless, asking yourself this final question will make all the difference.

Having all the information to make an informed decision going forward is key to removing the cause of future anxieties. In fact, for a lot of us, anxiety is often caused by a lack of knowledge or skill in something we care about it. It may be a specific situation or a whole area of our lives.

Some people worry about dating because they lack social skills, knowledge or confidence in themselves. Others are anxious about the future because they don’t have the knowledge or skills to define what they want to make of it.

Whatever you are anxious about, in many cases, the right knowledge goes a long way. But we should be careful to differentiate between knowledge and information. Information can be found just about anywhere. Information is also largely useless and can contribute to anxiety. Knowledge, however is acquired through research, study and asking good questions.

Worthwhile knowledge is attained from speaking to an expert on the field you’re struggling in. Worthwhile knowledge will always reduce anxiety because it gives you confidence and shows you more about what you’re in control of.

In the Life Balance quest within Questly, we look at how you balance your life and remove stress. You can take the quest here:

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